Guest Post: Celebrating Thanksgiving on Norfolk Island

From our friends at Eternity News…

Celebrating Thanksgiving on Norfolk Island

Why does this tiny Aussie island mark the most American of holidays?

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Thanksgiving is a big deal on Norfolk Island, the hilly island 1400km east of Brisbane defined by pine trees, jagged cliffs, and a colourful history as a penal colony and refuge for Bounty mutineers.

Up to a quarter of Norfolk Islanders attend church on Thanksgiving, either the Church of England, Methodist or Seventh Day Adventist church. This large influx is thanks to three factors – the island’s Christian history, its American connections, and its reliance on a bountiful harvest.

Corn stalks are tied to church pews, and local produce laid at the altar during the Thanksgiving service at All Saints Church.

“Our church attendance on Thanksgiving would be bigger than Christmas and Easter,” says David Fell, who has been full-time minister of Norfolk Island Church of England since 2015.

“We’ll be packed to the gunwales; we’ll have something like four or five hundred people in All Saints for Thanksgiving, so it’s chock-a-block … It’s the one day that our nominals come to church, even more than Christmas and Easter.”

“Our church attendance on Thanksgiving would be bigger than Christmas and Easter.” –David Fell

The community of Norfolk Island has been coming together to celebrate Thanksgiving ever since American trader Isaac Robinson first decorated All Saints Church for Thanksgiving in the mid-1890s. As an agent of shipping line Burns Philp, the Registrar of Lands and the island’s first and only US Consul, Robinson had friends among the many American whalers on the island and it must have seemed the obvious thing to do.

“We’re an island of stories and Thanksgiving is part of the story.” – David Fell.

The former Bounty mutineers, who had come to Norfolk in the 1850s after they outgrew Pitcairn Island, had always celebrated the English Harvest Festival in line with the traditions they remembered from church life in England.

Enjoying the harvest on Norfolk Island for Thanksgiving

But the year after Robinson used palm leaves and lemons to decorate the church for the first Thanksgiving, parishioners brought down all kinds of produce to adorn the church, and a tradition developed of tying corn stalks to the pew ends and piling flowers on the holy table and around the font.

“At first, the families took home the fruit and vegetables after the service, but these days they auction it off and raise money for the church for maintenance and for staff,” says Fell.

“There’s a variety of banana dishes and they’ll always feature on Thanksgiving day.”– David Fell

While All Saints has the biggest service, the Methodist church and the Seventh Day Adventist church on the island also have their own Thanksgiving services.

Another reason Norfolk Islanders celebrate Thanksgiving is their connection to the land and its harvest.

“The thing about living on Norfolk Island is none of our fresh food is imported –  it’s all grown here because of our strict quarantine laws – we are very much dependent on the produce of the island, so we’re one of the few places left where Thanksgiving kind of makes sense,” notes Fell.

David Fell auctions off some meat as part of the Thanksgiving festivities.

“There’s no reticulated water, we’re all on rainwater tanks, and so, in that sense, it really is a harvest festival where we thank God for the provision of rain – it’s a place that feels very dependent on God and provision.”

Unlike in America, however, there will be no turkeys on Norfolk Island’s Thanksgiving dinner tables.

“It’s a place that feels very dependent on God and provision.”– David Fell

“People collect whale bird eggs – they’re a bit of a delicacy. It’s much like a Christmas lunch so there’ll be a big ham on the table, and our church Thanksgiving lunch will be a bit of a pot luck. There are island dishes, they do a lot of banana dishes – things with overripe bananas, under-ripe bananas, ripe bananas – there’s a variety of banana dishes and they’ll always feature on Thanksgiving day.”

The huge four-storey All Saints Church is one of two historic locations where Fell conducts services. The main morning service and Sunday school are held at St Barnabas Chapel, the old headquarters of the Melanesian mission. But All Saints is bigger, so as well as offering a 1662 Prayer Book evening service mainly for tourists, it also hosts the big celebrations such as Christmas and Thanksgiving.

“We’re an island of stories and Thanksgiving is part of the story, I guess,” says Fell.

“Ellen White … was gripped by this story of this Edenic-like Christian community.” – David Fell

Another reason Thanksgiving continues as a cultural remnant on Norfolk Island is its Christian history through the Pitcairners.

Fell says Norfolk Islanders still remember the Pitcairn hymns of that era and the Pitcairn Anthem, which are sung at funerals and public occasions.

“John Adams, who was the last surviving mutineer, should have been hung but he was pardoned because they found he was leading a small Christian community when all those decades later they found him [on Pitcairn Island], so that became part of the story, part of the reason that they were given a spot on Norfolk Island,” says Fell.

“And that’s why, coincidentally, the Seventh Day Adventists were so represented on Norfolk Island and Pitcairn because Ellen White in upstate New York at the time when her denomination was forming was gripped by this story of this Edenic-like Christian community on Pitcairn Island that was following the teachings of the Bible far away from the evils of society – they really were famous at that time.”

Thanksgiving on Norfolk Island

Since the mid 1890’s the community of Norfolk Island have been decorating All Saints Church and celebrating Thanksgiving together (this year the festivities begin at All Saints from 10am). But how did the most American of holidays end up on a remote island in the middle of the South Pacific?


According to Church of England Chaplain, Rev. David Fell the Pitcairners had always celebrated the English Harvest Home festival, but it was not until Isaac Robinson came to the island that All Saints Church was specially decorated for the service.

Robinson was a trader who settled on Norfolk as agent for Burns Philp & Co Ltd., later becoming Norfolk’s Registrar of Lands and the island’s first (and so far only) United States consul. “The idea of Norfolk having an American consul does sound slightly absurd today” Rev. Fell says, “but in those days American whalers made frequent calls, and Robinson proposed dressing the church up American-style for Thanksgiving.”

Three of Robinson’s friends helped him decorate All Saints Church in the capital, Kingston, using only palm leaves and lemons, and though he died and was buried at sea the next year, his notion caught on. For Norfolk’s second Thanksgiving service, the parishioners brought down all sorts of produce to decorate the church. “The tradition became to tie corn stalks to the pew ends and pile flowers on the altar and the font. At first, each family took home its own fruit and vegetables after the service, but today they are sold to raise money for church preservation.”


This year we are looking forward to having Bishop Michael Stead preach on Psalm 103. Also in attendance will be US Chargé d’Affaires, Mr. James Carouso and his wife Elizabeth.

Everyone is welcome to join in the festivities at All Saints from 10am Wednesday, 25th of November (families are encouraged to contact Albert Buffett to book pews).

See you at All Saints!

Reformation Heroes In 200 words: John Calvin (1509-1564)

John Calvin is the most influential pastor in church history. He wrote commentaries on nearly the entire Bible, which are still in print today. His systematic theology, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, is arguably the most significant Christian book ever published. Calvin was the architect of Protestant theology, and his teachings gave rise to modern government, public education, and even capitalism.

Calvin was first and foremost a preacher, generally giving six sermons a week. He moved the baptismal to the back of the church, and placed the pulpit in the middle, marking a change in the purpose of corporate worship – Christians would no longer gather for sacraments, but instead for the preaching of the Word.

Born north of Paris, he was converted to Christ in his 20’s and then forced to flee France – Protestants were not welcome there. He eventually settled in Geneva, where he spent the rest of his life pastoring. 

Under Calvin’s preaching, Geneva was reshaped. Refugees poured in from England, Scotland, and France, themselves fleeing persecution. So many came that Geneva’s population doubled under Calvin’s pastorate. He started a program to train men to return to their own countries as gospel preachers, and so many of his disciples became martyrs that this institute was known as “the Calvin school of death.”

Calvin died at age 54 – he simply burnt out. He outlived his wife, and three children, but his legacy still towers over church history.

Reformation Heroes In 200 words: Lady Jane Grey (1537-1554)

Lady Jane Grey (1537-1554) is known as the nine day queen of England. A distant relative of Henry VIII, she spent much of her childhood in the king’s court, being groomed to marry Edward, the next-in-line for the throne. By age 7 both she and Edward knew Latin and Greek, and through reading the New Testament both had been converted to Christ.

Edward became king as a boy, died a few years later – likely poisoned by one of his advisers – resulting in Lady Jane becoming Queen. Jane knew nothing of the order of succession, and came to the throne reluctantly. But she realized that if she took a stand for Christ and against the Mass, she could leave a mark on England.  

After only nine days, Jane was betrayed by her father and overthrown by her Spanish (and Catholic) cousin, Mary. Imprisoned, she was offered mercy if only she would take the Mass. Instead she publicly debated Mary’s chaplain about transubstantiation. By all accounts the seventeen-year-old girl won the debate, for which she would lose her life. She was beheaded shortly thereafter.

Jane’s legacy is seen in the fact that after Bloody Mary’s death, England would never again be a Catholic nation. English history was forever changed by the gospel-fueled martyrdom of a teenage queen.

The Butterfly Effect

It’s not for the faint hearted but if you’re interested in tracing the butterfly effect from the advent of pervasive free online porn in 2008 to the shape of present day sexuality, you can now listen to this Audible series by Jon Ronson as a free podcast.

It’s riveting… and disturbing.…/the-butterfly-effe…/id1258779354…

Here’s a fact from the show:

Teenagers are having less sex than all recent generations before them AND there is a 1000% increase in erectile dysfunction for 16-21 year olds from viewing online porn…

Reformation Heroes In 200 words: William Tyndale (1494-1536)

William Tyndale is known as the Apostle of England.

A linguistic genius—he was proficient in at least eight languages—he made it his life’s goal to translate the Bible from its original languages into English, a feat never before accomplished. Forbidden from this task by both king and Church, Tyndale fled England at age 30 to live the rest of his life as an outlaw.

He first hid in Germany where he sat under Luther’s preaching and studied the newly completed German Bible. When Tyndale started his translation, he needed a city with a printing press, a paper mill, only loose Catholic control, and along a river so he could export his work back to England. He settled on Worms, where Luther stood trial a decade earlier. When Tyndale was run out of Worms, he fled to Antwerp. There shippers smuggled his Bibles into England, where they were sold from the docks, all against the King’s direct orders. 

Eventually, Tyndale’s operation was infiltrated by an English spy. He was betrayed, kidnapped, and spent five-hundred days in a Brussels dungeon where he nearly froze to death. He was then paraded through town, formally excommunicated, and hung to death by a chain as he was hoisted onto a wooden cross. His body was then covered in gun powder and the cross was lit on fire, causing his corpse to explode.

His last words were “Lord, open the king of England’s eyes.”

Take The Date Night Challenge

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You know what it feels like to be healthy…or not. You feel run down, out of balance, out of steam. The same can happen to a relationship. Are you spending too much time watching TV instead of talking? Maybe you’re involved in a love triangle… with Facebook! Maybe you’re just stressed our because of your hectic schedule? Whatever the case, let’s do everything we can to keep our relationships vital and strong – in other words, healthy.

The relationship experts all agree that when a couple have a date night once a week their levels of happiness, relationship satisfaction, communication and sexual satisfaction is 3.5 times higher than those who don’t. That means you can boost those important areas of your relationship by 350% just by booking a restaurant!

This November, Crystal and David will be facilitating a “Date Night” with a difference. “Date Night” will be held over two Thursday nights, and is all about having fun and enjoying each other. We will be using a course called “Enrich” ( which helps couples celebrate their relational strengths, identify growth areas, and discover different ways to have meaningful conversations. Course materials (and a dinner at the Paradise) will be free thanks to Anglicare.

Knowing how intimidating an event like this can sometimes seem, you can be assured that you’ll be seated with your partner at a private table and that there’ll be no need to share anything with others. David says, “It’s easy to balk at doing stuff like this. Before I went along to my first relationship course with Crystal I was uncomfortable that we’d have to talk about our marriage, or have people knowing about our private business, and when I realised that we didn’t have to do that and that we could just talk at our own pace I was really relieved”. We want Date Night to be just as comfortable. The aim of Date Night is to be positive, uplifting and encouraging. David continues, “Think about all the help we get from others to improve our time management or our health or our golf game – it’s just like that. I maintain and service my car every six-months, why wouldn’t I invest in my most important relationship?”

Take the Date Night challenge:

When: Thursdays 9th and 16th November
Where: Paradise Hotel, Sirius Room
Time: 7:00pm
Cost: Free

God is patient with us, so of course, we should be patient with one another!

Christians are not loners – we believe in the communion of the saints. This means that there will be times when one Christian has to talk to another Christian about his or her sin. If it is done in love, and if it is aimed at repentance, restoration, and spiritual growth, talking to a fellow Christian about sin is a blessing. It’s not easy, but it is a good thing! Here is some advice from blogger Ed Welch on talking to a fellow Christian about his or her sin. He says we need to do so with humility and patience:

Humility means that we already see our sins as worse than others’ sins, so we have no reason to defend ourselves when someone points out our sin (Mt. 7:2-5).  This does not mean that we must publicly identify our own sins before we talk about sins in others.  It means that we live as redeemed tax collectors (Luke 18:9-14) who have no confidence in our own righteousness but live because of God’s lavish forgiveness and grace.

Welch is spot on. If we have any sort of arrogance or pride when we talk with a brother or sister about their sin, the discussion will go downhill quickly. Have you ever had a hypocrite point out your flaws? It’s not easy to hear since it sounds like what it is: someone who thinks he’s better than you reminding you that you’re beneath him. Here’s Welch again:

“Patience is humility’s partner.  It is one of the identified fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), and it is a central feature of love (1 Cor. 13:4), so it is essential to our ability to be helpful.  It means that the one we are speaking with is like us – he does not respond perfectly, he changes slowly, and he needs a patient helper.  …Patience is interested in what direction people face.  Do they face toward Jesus?  Patience is more interested in direction and less interested in how fast people are changing.

Again, this is helpful. Sometimes iron sharpening iron (Prov. 27:17) takes more than a few days!  Sometimes God works slowly in a person’s heart and mind, so we need to be patient with God’s timing. There will be exceptions to this (if someone is physically in danger, for one example), but generally it is very wise to be patient as we talk to another Christian about his or her sin. God is patient with us, so of course, we should be patient with one another!

Reformation Heroes In 200 words: Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Martin Luther is widely known as the architect of the reformation. On October 31, 1517, Luther famously nailed 95 theses on the castle door of Wittenberg as a “protest” against the Pope and the selling of indulgences. As a monk in the Roman Catholic Church, Luther lived a miserable life. No matter how hard he worked, or how much he fasted and prayed, he never felt like he was righteous enough to earn God’s favor. Years of hard work and even a trip to Rome couldn’t assuage his guilt. The rescue Luther sought would be found in the pages of Scripture. As he studied, Luther became convinced that salvation could never come by his inadequate attempts at atonement, but can only be received as a gift from a gracious God who declares sinners righteous through the blood of Christ alone by faith alone. Luther declared later that this was the moment he was born again. Luther’s fame as a theologian and apologist grew, but his love for God’s word burned brightest. Following the example of John Wycliffe, he went on to translate the Bible into German so that the gospel which had rescued him would be available to all. Luther died in his hometown of Eisleben, Germany in 1546, nearly thirty years after he struck the nail which launched the Protestant Reformation, but his example continues to inspire believers around the world.

Reformation Heroes In 200 words: John Huss (1369-1415)

Did you know it’s been 500 years since the Protestant Reformation? For the last couple of weeks at church we’ve been sharing some short biographies of some key reformers.

Today’s hero: John Huss (1369-1415):

“Huss” means goose in Czech, and John Huss is known as the “goose that become a swan”. The story goes that before being burned at the stake for teaching that salvation is by faith not works, he declared that while his particular goose may be cooked, a swan would rise from his ashes 100 years later to confront the Catholic Church. Huss was born in poverty, but became a priest so that he could have an income. Later he found Wycliffe’s writings and through them was converted to Christ. He began preaching the gospel and soon became the most popular priest in Bohemia. The Catholic Church hated his popularity as much as they hated the gospel which he preached. A Church Council had been called to settle the papal schism – three (!) different Popes had been duly elected, each anathematized the others – and the Council of Constance was supposed to undo this. Instead they condemned Huss for preaching the gospel. Before burning him, they dressed him in his priestly robes, then stripped him naked, and placed a paper crown with mock flames and demons on his head. They burned him to death as he recited Psalm 51. One hundred years later, Luther would nail the 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg, and the Reformation would officially begin.