I am the assistant curate of Tavistock, where we are fortunate to have a faithful group of Melanesian Brotherhood Companions. In 2001 the late Fr George Elo and Bishop Leonard Dawea (then both Brothers) came to Tavistock to work and live in the parish under the guidance of the then Vicar, Fr John Rawlings. Since then we have maintained strong links and, earlier in 2017, Bishop Leonard came to visit Tavistock to see old friends. I was invited to become a Companion and was soon gently ‘encouraged’ by Katie Drew (let the reader understand, and be warned—her enthusiasm is infectious) to visit the Solomon Islands to see and experience the Church there for myself.
I spent my three-week trip on Guadacanal, first at Honiara, before travelling to the Brotherhood’s Headquarters at Tabalia, working my way westwards to the Franciscan community at Hautabu, visiting the Community of the Sisters of Melanesia at Verana’aso on the way. I also paid a call to see the Project Trust students working at St Nicholas’s School and Selwyn College. It was good to see the students so well received and integrated into the communities they serve.
I ended my trip back in Honiara, from there I visited Norman Palmer School and the Community of the Sisters of the Church at Tetere Ni Kolivati (TNK). I led a study day for priests in Honiara, gave lectures at Bishop Patteson Theological College and at the various communities I visited, and was honoured to be invited to preach and celebrate services for my various hosts.
The trip was full of rich and wonderful experiences. I was fortunate to be present at Tabalia for the Ss Simon and Jude festivities. The Chapel and surrounds were richly decorated with beautiful orchids and fragrant frangipani blossom. I arrived on Saturday afternoon, the before the big day, and attended Choral Evensong. The singing was superb: the Psalms and Canticles are sung in blazing four, six and sometimes eight-part harmony. The music is based on Anglican chant, so it is easy to join in – familiar, but different, and certainly very exhilarating to be a part of.
At the Eucharist the following morning Bishop Sam Sahu presided at the installation ceremony where thirty-six novices became brothers, and three brothers (Brothers Thomas Suia, Mark Tafodi and John Alley) renewed their vows. The community said goodbye to seven Brothers: Nathanial Tagoa, Albert Iroga, Culbert Moana, Mostyn Tugu, Winston Heke, Lazarus Vavaha and Francis Mauru, the second-oldest member of the Solomon Island Brothers. Brother Francis entered the novitiate in 1984, became a brother in 1986, and served in Australia and Fiji as well as in the Solomons. It was clear that many novices and brothers will miss his wise support and guidance. Like many leaving brothers, he became a Companion later in the week, before he prepared to return to Makira.
The Chaplain, Fr Richard Nokia, kindly invited me to celebrate and preach at several Eucharists during my stay, and to officiate at Choral Evensong on my final Sunday, which was a huge honour. Fr Nokia has a great rapport with the novices and brothers, which is not surprising as his motto is: ‘give them everything!’. Mrs Veronica Nokia is also a much-loved member of the community and gives an incredible amount of time and energy to running a successful literacy course for the novices. During my stay, I was privileged to attend the Literacy Awards Ceremony, which was organised by Veronica and the Mothers’ Union, represented by their president, Pamela Abana and her colleagues Emily Pengalo and Adriana Estrada who are based at St Agnes Rest House in Honiara (an excellent hostel where I stayed towards the end of my trip).
The celebrations around Ss Simon and Jude’s Day lasted a week – lots of feasts, dancing and general socialising. It was wonderful to see thousands of supporters and Companions, many of whom stayed for the week, helping to prepare meals and tidy the site as they waited for boats to take them back to their islands.
My flying visit to the Sisters of Melanesia was a treat. After speaking to the novices and sisters, I was invited to sit down to a lavish tea, complete with boiled eggs, custard creams and coconut juice straight from the husk – an unusual teatime combination, but it worked for me!
I then travelled to see Noah and Ultan at Selwyn College. Like their colleagues Juliette and Flora at St Nicholas’ in Honiara, Noah and Ultan had settled in extremely well and had been welcomed wholeheartedly into the communities. It was wonderful to see all four of the Project Trust students at the various services and celebrations, in Honiara, at TNK and Tabalia – they had clearly become part of the Anglican family. There is also a bit of cultural exchange going on, as they had begun teaching the Solomon Islanders Scottish Country Dancing…
During my second week, I stayed with the excellent Brother Jonas and the community of Friars at their beautiful hillside home at Hautabu. Any nerves I felt about giving my theology talks here were soon forgotten as our friendly discussions continued in our outdoor classroom under the shade of palm and mango trees, looking out over the Pacific Ocean.
Once I got back to Honiara, I travelled out to see the inspirational Sister Veronica and the Community of the Sisters of the Church at TNK. Their work building up the kindergarten and women’s refuge is truly inspiring, and it was a huge privilege to attend Sister Kristy’s life profession there just before I flew back to Britain.
My trip was a hugely encouraging experience. The hospitality I received from everyone I met was truly incredible; all the clergy and religious communities work as part of a big family and work hard to support each other. All were present for Sister Kristy’s profession, so I could say goodbye to almost all the people I had met over the past weeks. I owe so many people a debt of thanks for making my time in Melanesia so fruitful and enjoyable, but I must thank Fr Nigel Kelaepa especially for his organisation, kindness and hospitality.