Festival and AGM 2021

A Coming of Age

MMUK Trustee, Revd Martin Cox, reflects on the charity’s AGM and Patteson Festival Day at Exeter Cathedral on Saturday 18 September.

Archbishop of Canterbury - Festival and AGM - Exeter Cathedral

All the ‘clicks’ of the liturgical Rubik’s cube had been made and there was full alignment around the sides of the cube. This was through the hard work and negotiating skills of Katie Drew, Executive Officer of MMUK. So it was that MMUK trustees’ past and present gathered with the Archbishop of Canterbury and his wife and party, the Diocesan Bishop of Exeter, the Dean and Chapter of Exeter Cathedral, a researcher from the University of Southampton along with supporters of MMUK for this year’s Festival and AGM on a warm day in September in Exeter Cathedral.

Festival and AGM Eucharist - Exeter Cathedral

There was a significant poignancy to this year’s event as we gathered to mark the 150th commemoration of the death of Bishop John Coleridge Patteson on 20 September 1871 in the very same Cathedral where he had been ordained Deacon and Priest. The liturgical colour was red; the side of the Rubik’s cube was complete.

It was wonderful to gather together in person with several hundred others for the Festival Eucharist. The Book of the Gospels was processed in on a processional canoe. The Archbishop of Canterbury preached from the Martyrs Pulpit and spoke movingly of Patteson as a red and white martyr. Bishop Robert presided and beautifully intoned the Eucharistic prayer. Bishop Willie led the prayers of intercession in the way that only Bishop Willie can! We were reminded of the faithfulness of God and the call upon us all to be faithful. A presentation was made by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral of a copy of Bishop Patteson’s letter asking for more resources.

After our pre-booked packed lunch and conversations, another side of the Rubik’s cube where the clicks had led to perfect alignment, we held our Festival and AGM. Revd Richard Carter and Bishop Willie Pwa’isiho both spoke movingly of Bishop Patteson’s legacy of a spirit of service and mission, of equality of relationships in and through Christ, of the call to live simply and close to God and one another, of the importance of education and a holistic approach to mission, of the role of women who wrapped Bishop Patteson’s body following his death before he was buried at sea so his love for the people could be washed upon the shores of the islands. Bishop Willie ended by leading us in the Lord’s Prayer in Pidgin English.

We moved from looking back to the past to thinking about the present. Marie Schlenker from the University of Southampton and Kate Pwa’isiho spoke of Faith and Science in the Care of Creation. Their equally moving presentation drew attention to the impact of climate change on rising sea levels and the way of life for many. Marie spoke of the climate change observatories to collect much needed data. Kate spoke of the immediate impact on Fanalei Island. Images of coral bleaching and sand dunes in the church made a powerful impression on those gathered together. We were left with the challenge to reflect on our own lives as the decisions we take do affect the lives of others. We know this instinctively, but Marie and Kate highlighted the challenge powerfully.

Before he departed, Archbishop Justin responded to the presentations. His Grace spoke of the capacity of the Anglican Communion to tell the story of climate change, of how the Melanesian church is engaged in holistic mission and speaks the voice of the Spirit, of how peace and reconciliation are vital to create the space to engage with climate change issues: “If it’s not dealt with for everyone, it’s not dealt with for anyone.”  Archbishop Justin concluded his remarks by reflecting to us that Bishop Patteson set an example for us all, commenting that when we are at war with the world we are war with God.

Following the departure of the Archbishop of Canterbury and his party the Festival heard a recorded message from the Archbishop of Melanesia. Archbishop Leonard spoke of how Bishop Patteson was truly Melanesian oriented and how Melanesians claim him as their own for ever.  Bishop Mark Rylands, Chairman of MMUK interviewed Revd Brian Macdonald-Milne about his book, ‘Seeking Peace in the Pacific’. Brian reminded us of how God’s grace transforms human failure and failings. The Annual General Meeting of MMUK followed with a presentation to Marie in token of her work as an intern over the last year the presentation of the accounts by Steve Scoffield, Honorary Treasurer of MMUK who spoke of the need for wise decision making and a trust in God’s faithfulness going forward.  Following the re-election of three trustees’, Bishop Mark concluded the AGM by assuring us of God’s blessing.

Brian Macdonald-Milne with Mark Rylands

It was a real joy and privilege to attend the Eucharist and to be present for this year’s in-person Festival and AGM. Those I spoke to during the day echoed these sentiments and were grateful for the way in which the day had been organised. As I left the Cathedral as one of the re-elected trustees’ I was conscious that the pieces of the liturgical Rubik’s cube were now being scrambled again having been in alignment for our day together. It was ever thus. However, as a result of this year’s Festival and AGM, the occasion, the location, the participants, the presentations and the way in which the sides of our Rubik’s cube had been aligned for the moment, I was also conscious that MMUK and our support for the mission of the Anglican Church of Melanesia had somehow come of age.

Blessed are you, Lord God, King of the Universe.
By your word the evening comes,
by your power the day dawns.
You are the Lord of the tides and season.
You have set the stars in the sky.
You have placed a limit on the sea.
In your love you created all things.
By your love all has been redeemed.
Through your love all creation is sustained.
Blessed are you, Lord God, King of the Universe.

(Island of Light: An Illustrated Collection of Prayers by David Adam, SPCK 2002)

Revd Martin Cox, Diocese of Manchester, MMUK Trustee