I’d like to think I’m the sort of Sneak, who revels in taking sneaky peeks at life outside my boxed-in frame, where tendency becomes a worldview comprised of much of the same.
So early Sunday morning this Sneaky did utter, “To a new place I’ll venture and maybe feel like a nutter…” But a ‘nutter’ I certainly rather would be, than a non-nutter scared of opening two eyes wide to properly see.
Twas Mt. Eden Pacific Island Church where this Sneaky did walk; ornate lace and high arched roofs, blue peepers firmly fixed, captivated and caught.
A modest congregation, forty, fifty at best, was where this Sneak’s confidence was put to the test. A Sneaky Snook so usually confident and sporting sly grin, was left to slink in back pew, quietly seated within.
I don’t do this often, this, “Church-hopping.” I like being comfortable, I like knowing who I’m going to see at a Church service, often even knowing who I’ll sit next to. I like knowing the language I’m hymn singing in. I find it helps sometimes. But one thing I don’t like is getting complacent and it wasn’t until I passed a concreted building earlier this week that said complacently shifted instead to intrigue.
Constructed somewhere during the dawn of the 1900’s, even the head Pastor of the Pacific Island Community in Mt. Eden is unsure of the Church building's date. Outside a moss-embossed plaque remembers Pastors’ past, inviting passers-by to cast thought back to 13th January 1900, when first stone was first laid.
It’s a Church which looks its age, and I suppose acts it too. Complete with cracking corner paint and two-tone colour scheme in part, its infused glass and concrete detailing unapologetically appears according to age. Aged, but surely an example of time touching paint and not splendour.
Stark concrete walls serve to compliment striking embellishments such as the stained glass windows and pretty daisied eaves. Overall modest and functional outdoor architecture sees four tall doors and four deliberate skinny steps play welcome party to guests and life-members to the Church alike. Somehow Mt. Eden P.I.C seems set in a concrete seal frozen in the past, yet welcoming to lazy breezed relief from late morning summer heat.
Nestled back from the notoriously bustling Mt. Eden Village, the Church sits somewhat like a forgotten picturesque Palace on a small road corner, where no one really knows who has to give-way.
Once inside my minority feature of being the only “NZ European/Pakeha” descendent in the building was highlighted by my awkward scuttle to a back pew. I kicked myself those entire seven steps for wearing flat shoes, which still made a hideous clunking sound upon impact with a very sensitive wooden floor. I thought I was arriving a customary five-minutes early to a 10:00am service. Yeah, Sneak thought wrong. Intercepting but not entirely interrupting the four-part harmony singing which had already begun, I sunk down and began to, “observe”.
Sometimes clichés ring true, and in this instance the people were really friendly to a newcomer in their Church. Especially one quite obviously alone and looking like a tourist. (Yes I got asked if I was a tourist. No I didn’t lie - despite wanting to adopt a French persona, accent, and slip away unnoticed at the end blaming it on the unfortunate “language barrier.”) But I guess outreach is pretty ingrained with Christians and it just so happened I was unknowingly sitting behind one of the friendliest Senior Pastors.
The Preacher broke into speech foreign to my understanding, and the suited man in front of me turned his head to ask, “How are you, with this…language?” Stifling an opportunity to smirk at the idea of a Preacher preaching obscenities in a Church service and not even being able to interpret them, he continued before I could form an answer. “It’s Cook Island.” I nodded, very aware that the four surrounding pews were also waiting for my response and smiling. I retuned the smile and he faced the front before turning back again. With a twinkle in his eye he told me, “Welcome.”
A while later the same man made his way to the front, gave some notices to a now expanded congregation, and paused before consulting a piece of paper in front of him. “We also welcome our daughter at the back,” he seemed to sing, somehow dragging each sound in my name out to extend it from two syllables to four. Again he said, “Welcome.” My face was sort-of on fire but he wasn’t yet finished. “We are speaking Cook Island and in English, if you were wondering, that is what we are doing. A visitor from elsewhere we have here, so thank-you for being here, may God Bless you.” More smiles later, he was done and moved on to thank people who had turned up for ‘Gardening day’ earlier in the week.
After kids had nervously and diligently delivered readings, and the Preacher (who I later discovered name was Toko) the service wrapped up and we all remained seated until Toko, friendly Senior Pastor and the older women dressed in white dresses and straw hats had all exited via the back arching doors. An hour and three quarters later I had done it: engaged in a service foreign to “normal”, learnt something, and indeed shaken complacency right out of the water.
And yeah, I’d definitely go back in different shoes.
Pacific Island Church: View Road, Mt. Eden, Auckland.
English Service 10:00am (maybe get there a little earlier though)
Cook Island (The "Language Service") 2:00pm