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78: Titikaveka Church, Cook Islands, Pacific
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Titikaveka Church
Mystery Worshipper: The ferret.
The church: Titikaveka Church, Rarotonga Island (Cook Islands), Pacific.
Denomination: Cook Islands Christian Church – essentially Congregational. Historians claim to detect some elements of Methodist, Anglican and Baptist practice also.
The building: Rectangular building (dating to 1841) made from hand-cut coral blocks, with pitched corrugated iron roof supported by tree trunks.
The neighbourhood: Titikaveka is a small coastal community, subsisting largely on agriculture and tourism, on the south side of the island of Rarotonga, the most populous of the Cook Islands. The total population of all 15 islands is only about 16,000.
The cast: Rev Iana Aitau.
What was the name of the service?
Combined service with baptism ("combined" means that the service was in both Maori and English – most Cook Islanders are bilingual).

How full was the building?
Almost full. I stopped counting at 200.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were given a lift to the church by one of the regulars, so he guided us to some seats.

Was your pew comfortable?
Can't say I remember it, so it can't have been too bad!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Noisy! Families kept arriving during the first quarter-hour of the service, and exuberant children were dispatched to let off steam outside throughout the proceedings.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Kia orana" – Cook Islands Maori for "Welcome". The first words in English followed shortly after: "Greetings to all our brothers and sisters in Christ."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Most regulars had their own hymn books and Bibles. There appeared to be no books for visitors, but the words of the more modern hymns were put up on an overhead projector.

What musical instruments were played?
For the most part the choir and congregation sang unaccompanied in four-part harmony, though several newer hymns were accompanied by synth and bass.

Did anything distract you?
A paper hornet (a large red-and-yellow tropical wasp with long dangly legs) cruised idly around the church until selecting the hat of a woman two rows in front of us for detailed attention.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It reminded me of what Methodist services used to be like some years ago – reverent and with spirited singing. But the singing here was in a league of its own and explains why the roof has to be tied down...

Exactly how long was the sermon?
25 minutes: 15 minutes in English and 10 in Maori.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
I can't speak for the Maori part, but I would rate the English part at 8.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The importance of faith, taking the example of the woman with the flow of blood (Mark 5), and using supporting texts such as the centurion (Matthew 8). It is our faith that is important – not the faith of Jesus, but our faith in Jesus.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Undoubtedly the marvellous singing. Hearing the entire congregation repeatedly launch into four-part harmony was unforgettable.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
About halfway through the service, a sudden tropical downpour drowned out everything for about five minutes.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
During the service, the minister invited all visitors back to his house afterwards. So we were happily ushered over the road to his house, where we were plied with coffee, cake, pawpaws, pineapples, etc.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Several church members had already prepared a generous spread for us, anticipating that there would be several visitors. They were so generous, I'm not even going to mention the coffee. It was only one of the things we were offered.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10. To paraphrase Paul, this is "The Church in Titikaveka". Christianity is alive and well here. I would be honoured to be a member of this church.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The sheer joy of the singing.
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