Communion Tokens of the New Hebrides

Rev. Angus SutherlandRev. Angus Sutherland has served in several Presbyterian congregations across Canada and has recently been inducted into Doon Church, Ontario. He has a long-standing interest in history and one of the most extensive collections of communion tokens in Canada.

Collectors of Communion Tokens are sometimes surprised to discover a connection between the tokens of the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) and Canada. Canadian Presbyterians should not be so surprised if they know of John Geddie, the missionary of our denomination who took the Word of God to the people of this Pacific archipelago. Like many missionaries of the time, John Geddie, when he went to the South Pacific, took with him the tradition of the token.

The token was a mark of the Christian who understood the gospel call, had made a decision to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, had appropriately examined himself and recognized the body of the Lord in receiving Communion (1 Corinthians 11:27-29). The Communion season was a time of awakening and evangelism, and the token was a useful tool in the work of ministers, elders, and missionaries.

When Geddie left for the New Hebrides in 1846, he took with him almost the entire supply of a token that read on one side, Parish of Pictou, and on the other, Rev'd T. McC. 1810. (Thomas McCulloch was minister in Pictou from 1804 to 1843.) As a result, the first Communion Token of the New Hebrides was a Canadian Token, brought by a Canadian Presbyterian missionary. As Communion Tokens fell out of use in the late 1800s, they became a collectible. Collectors wondered what might have become of the Parish of Pictou token until a Mr. H. L. Doane of Truro discovered what had happened. The missionary at that time was the Rev. J. W. MacKenzie, and it was agreed that a new token would be made and sent to him in exchange for the Pictou token. An aluminum token was designed in about 1903 and struck by J. K. Cranston of Galt (now Cambridge), Ontario. It reads on one side, Efate New Hebrides and on the other, Ko Mroa Ki Au, which means "think on me." The first Communion Token of the New Hebrides was a Canadian token, and the second was made in Canada. It remained in use into the 1960s.

A third token was used in the islands, specifically on the island of Aneityum. This token was introduced by missionaries from Australia. On one side are the words, Nakalaasia Aneiteum 1852 and on the other, Aco Nedo Iniecki Par Imeihva Nyak I. Kor. XI. 24. "Nakalasia" means "Christians," and the other words mean "in this way remember me, 1 Corinthians 11:24."

For Geddie, MacKenzie, and other Presbyterians, in the New Hebrides and around the world, these small pieces of metal inscribed with the words of the Scriptures were useful in opening hearts to the good news of Jesus Christ.