Group of Melanesian Boys
Willie Pwaisiho - 4th from the right

From Coconut to Computer

The first time I saw a white man I was in my village, Kalona, in Small Malaita, Solomon Islands in the early fifties, when the Missionary Sister based at Fauabu Hospital, came around giving injections and treating the sick. The others were the Parish Priest based at Fiu village near Auki, Fr. Philip Baker was the Rural Dean of Malaita District in those days. I was very interested and fascinated by the respect and calmness which these white people commanded in my village, sleeping and eating our local food of roasted taro, yams, pana with local vegetables cooked in bamboos. The next white man to come to my village was Alfred Thomas Hill the Bishop of the Diocese of Melanesia in the sixties, he too left a very big impression on me as child. The other white men were the touring Doctors who came and stayed in my village, also treating patients from neighbouring villages. Then came the Agriculture Technicians who came to talk about coconut and coca planting. There was stream after stream of those people who served us so well, but for me it was the Church men that held my interest and I wanted to follow in their footsteps.

I went to school in order to learn how read and write. My other dream was to learn the English language in order to be able to converse with any white man who came to my village. My local schools were basic with Melanesian teachers who taught us maths, divinity, English and handwriting. We were given a slate with a slate pencil, then the next day before lessons we had to clean the slate from the previous day. It was very difficult to remember all that went before with no means of looking it up or re-reading it, but because of our burning ambition to better ourselves we managed. We were thirsty for knowledge.

1963 was a landmark year for me as it was the first time I became aware of electricity, cars, trucks and tractors at the Lever Brothers Head Quarters in Yandina Russel Islands. It was there I tasted white man’s food of bread, butter, tea with milk, rice with corned beef. It was supposed to be a holiday with my uncle, and I was meant to return to school. But the white man’s lifestyle and food was very tantalising, so I refused to return to school. I wanted to be a copra cutter just like my kinsfolks cutting copra for Lever Brothers and being paid for what they did.

In 1964 word came from my Parish Priest Revd. Willie Au of Walande, who said that I must return to school immediately on the next boat available. It was the word of wisdom and authority from a holy man, God had spoken to me through him and I obeyed. That was my turning point. I returned to school and completed my Junior Primary Education and at the end of the year I passed my entrance exam for senior education at St Barnabas Boys School Alangaula on Ukinimasi (Ugi) in Makira / Ulawa Province.

Mission Schools were very special and my three years at Alangaula from 1965 – 67, gave me a lot of privileges, being able to learn and to discern being called by God to the holy orders. The Mission Motto was, True Religion, Sound Learning, and Useful Industry, or simply – Pray hard, Learn hard and Work hard. I think we were indoctrinated into that application and the Christian Ethos never left either the teachers or their pupils.

Willie PwaisihoIt was at Alangaula School I met my friend Alex Leger. He came to teach as a (V.S.O) Volunteer Service Organisation. After we left Alangaula School I did not see him for 30 years until I came to England to serve in Chester Diocese. Alex and I took a production team to film two programmes for Blue Peter about the Solomon Islands. At a later date we wrote a book together about our life and time during the period when he was teaching, and I was a pupil at school. The title of the book is “Marooned in the Pacific” It is only available as a Kindle edition.

The Anglican Church was a pioneer in education in the Islands before the Government took an active role with formalising the education syllabus, and raising the standard to the level of Cambridge School Certificate, at All Hallows Pawa about a mile and a half from Alangaula on Ugi (Ukinimasi) or KG VI in Auki and Honiara later. I graduated with my first Certificate signed by Tony Childs, Chief Education Officer for the British Solomon Islands Protectorate. That piece of paper, which was bearing the signature with the Official Seal, made me a very proud young man indeed. I was somebody who could be recognised as having an achievement. I could show that piece of paper and could be accepted for employment. And not only that, I could now speak and write in English.

In 1968 I went to Pawa School, and there I was taught by Cambridge School Scholars; the likes of Revd. Desmond Probets Headmaster, John Pinder, John Rolfe, Jim Nolan, Doug Henry from Australia, Bob Hunt from New Zealand and other young white teachers who spoke to us using their first language. Also, during worship in the Chapel, we used the 1662 Book of Common Prayer or the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, and our English Hymnal, which we used to sing from, were great instruments in our learning Oxford and Cambridge English.

The Bishop of Melanesia John Wallace Chisholm came to Melanesia in 1969, and he decided to transfer most of the education to the Government but kept a few schools under Church authority. It was his plan to amalgamate the two separate Secondary Schools for boys and girls into one, and so the birth of Selwyn College. Towards the end of 1969 Pawa Staff and the pupils of forms 1 to 3 went to Ngagilagu, Guadalcanal. I was chosen as Head Prefect for the School, having been a Prefect previously at St Barnabas Alangaula and All Hallows Pawa. The staff thought I would make a good Head Boy. This was to be the first time Pamua, Bungana, Tasia girls ever meet boys from Pawa, Alangaula, Maravovo. So special rules were required, the School Rule, “no special boy or girl friend at all to be maintained at all times.” The Head Boy and all my Prefects had to keep a watchful eye on the pupils, but at the same time human nature took over and our teachers both male and female became too close for the first time. It was a happy school and I was proud of my Headmaster Revd. Tom Tyler, John Pinder, John Rolfe, Jim Nolan, Doug Henry, Kathleen Holgate, Jennifer Pinder, Marjorie Hastings, Richard Roberts and all the staff from UK, Australia and New Zealand.Food Parcels On ground Oven

At Selwyn College towards the end of the year in 1970, those of us who wanted to leave school had to look for possible employment, either with the Government or the Church. I could not make up my mind, so I decided to sit for a place at the Theological School for Priests and to have an interview at a Police Training School. I was accepted to join the Police Training School as a recruit for the new intake in 1971. I think my reason for considering the Police Force, was mainly for the money as it was the highest paid work in the Country. However, God had His own plans for me. Waiting at the entrance of the Police Training School as we came out, who was there to meet us? It was our Pawa School Headmaster the Very Revd. Desmond Probets who had become the Dean of St Barnabas Cathedral in 1969. He enquired what we were doing, and I told him we had been to the Police Training School for an interview and we were all accepted for the next year. He immediately said, of course they will accept boys from Pawa, Selwyn College, Alangaula, Maravovo because we have the best characters in the Country.

God spoke to me again through Desmond, who said: “The others may go forward to the police next year, but you are going to the Theological College for the Priesthood training.” I replied, “But I do not want to go to Theological College as I passed the entrance exams for the Police, Father.” His reply was: “Go back to school and write a withdrawal letter to the Police Training School.” That was my turning point.

Christmas 1970 when playing football, I suffered a compound fracture in South Malaita. Luckily there was a Government vessel doing her “round the islands trip”, delivering mail and paying the teachers and nurses. It took three days to reach the hospital. I was in great pain with no pain killers for three days and nights. I prayed for a miracle and God sent me Fr Samuel Suunorua from Maramasike he came on board and prayed and laid his hands on me, that night I slept like a log. My first experience of the power of God in my life.

After spending the first week in Kilu’ufi Hospital I was transferred to the Referral Hospital in the Capital Honiara for an operation to set my compound fractured leg. I am most grateful to Dr Cross who skilfully did the operation and cared for me until I was able to use my right leg again. While I was in Hospital, I was visited by the Diocesan Bishop John Wallace Chisholm, who knew me from my time as the Head Boy at Selwyn College, Archdeacon Harry Reynolds, who was my spiritual director and also the Franciscan Brothers and the Sisters of the Church. It was very comforting to have people of such high positions and true servants of God, visiting and praying for me whilst I was in hospital.

In 1971 Kohimarama Theological College, the first semester was just about to begin and I was still in hospital. Fr Eric Jones wanted me out of hospital to start my class, so he agreed with Dr Cross that he would bring me once a week to attend Dr Cross’s Clinic, so it was on those terms that Dr Cross agreed to let me go to College. In West Honiara at that time there were no good bridges to cross the big rivers at all. So, trucks had to wait and sit for hours, waiting for the water to recede in order to make a crossing possible. Some nights we had to sleep at Auriligo R.C. School. There were no mobile phones like we have today and no way of communicating with the people who were waiting for us, we could only wait in prayer and hope for the best.

I am most grateful to my Tutors Revd. Eric and Muriel Jones, George and Nonnie Connor, Paul Moore, Jim Draper, Jim and Elizabeth Blades, Robert Hagesi, Harry Tevi, Canon Brian McDonald-Milne, Philip Hoare, John and Yvonne Ayling, and Heather Edgar. These mighty men and women of God helped me find God and His plans for my life in His Kingdom. And I salute them all for their hard work in taming me to be what I am. If I have succeeded, I thank them, but if I have failed it is of my own doing.

College life was around prayer, study and work, everything had to be done in balance. We were taught to do things on our own as preparation for our life out there in the wider world with no one to supervise us. There were no written rules but all of us were expected to be present at Chapel three times every day as well as classes and Community duties around the college.

On the 10th November 1974 I was ordained Deacon in the Church of God and graduated with a Diploma in Biblical Studies. I returned to my home in the Parish of South Malaita from Sa’a to Walande as a Deacon assisting the Parish Priest Revd. Basil Kaloa, until I was ordained to the Priesthood in my village Church of St Martin’s of Tours Bishop and Martyr, on the Feast Day of St Andrew, on Sunday 2nd December 1975.

On the 4th January 1976 I married my wife Kate from Fanalei Port Adam, South Malaita. A week later we left for Honiara the capital where I was to be Chaplain to the new Archbishop, Norman Kitchen Palmer, who was the Dean of St Barnabas Cathedral after Desmond Probets and elected to take the place of Archbishop J.W.Chisholm. I did other things besides being Chaplain. I was Parish Priest to Rove White River Parish and Chaplain to the Central Prison in Rove as well as to the Police Headquarters in Rove along with their families. A very good training for a young Priest I thought.

Now it was during that time there was a movement of partnership between our founding mother Churches in the Northern Hemisphere and the Churches in the Southern Hemisphere including N.Z. and Australia. I thought the Mother Churches were very brave to start entering into this new dimension of relationship which had never happened before. Over a hundred years ago ‘the mission’ came from the West to the developing world countries, and we accepted that as the norm. Now people from developing countries were being asked to work in the mother churches.

In March 1977 my wife and I with our three-month-old daughter left home for the Auckland Diocese in an experiment to see how a Melanesian priest would fit in New Zealand parish ministry. Well I survived and it was a wonderful experience on my part. We returned after two lovely years of training, which I could not have had anywhere else. I was so lucky to work under a very caring loving priest John Brokenshire who showed me what to do and how work should be done in a New Zealand parish.

I returned to the Solomon Islands to be Chaplain and Tutor at my Old College Kohimarama and then appointed to become Dean of St Barnabas Cathedral, Honiara that was 1980 to 81. Then I was elected to be the second Bishop of Malaita Diocese.

I was Consecrated and Enthroned Bishop of Malaita Diocese on the 28th June 1981. I want to pay tribute to the First Bishop of Malaita, The Rt. Rev. Leonard Alufurai a pioneer of the Diocese for his tireless work for the people of Malaita, Sikaiana and Lord Howe. Things were hard and difficult with no money to run the Diocese. We did however, manage to build the administration of the Diocese, setting up Regional Headquarters headed by Senior priests for pastoral supervision throughout the whole Diocese.

There was need for the renewal, so Priests and Lay people were brought from New Zealand and Australia to help the Diocese by leading and teaching about the renewal of the whole Church, which was very successful. We also set up mission bases where heathens were, and those posts were manned by the Melanesian Brotherhood to take the Gospel to the people wherever they were. We supported them by providing outboard motors and canoes. We also brought into the Diocese the Society of the Franciscans for ministry in the Towns, and later the Community of the Sisters of the Church and Sisters of Melanesia.

We completed all we wanted to do, and the Diocese was running well with Senior Priests, clergy paid every month and we even trained Village Priests to take care of the parishes which were very remote in the hills. Those priests came from the Communities who chose them, and we trained them ourselves.

Queen Elizabeth II & +Willie Pwaisiho
+Willie Pwaisiho receiving his OBE in 2004

In 1989 I tendered my resignation, left the Diocese and went to be Tutor at the Melanesian Brotherhood Head Quarters, Tabalia. That was my best move, as I needed a Community with whom I could be spiritually renewed for my next journey with God. At Tabalia and with the Brothers, we were able to do things in our worship which are more Melanesian in style, like dancing the Liturgy, and also the last night of the Novices retreat being on the mountain above Tabaila. I want to thank my Brothers for their love and care. It was at Tabalia I met and worked more closely with Rev. Richard Carter while he was a Brother and Tutor. He is a brave missionary who remained with the Brotherhood during the ethnic tension on Guadalcanal. He led two successful Mission to U.K. leading the Brothers and Sisters to perform dramas in churches and cathedrals. Richard is now at St Martin in the Fields, London reaching out to the homeless in the city.

+Willie and Kate Pwaisiho
+Willie and Kate Pwaisiho

In 1990 the General Synod had passed a new Canon law for the Mission of the Church and they needed a Mission Secretary for the Melanesia Board of Mission. I was handpicked for the post by the Bishops, and went to head this very important arm of the Church linking and building bridges between our historical Mission Agencies, in UK, Australia, N.Z. Canada, U.S.A.

In 1995 to 1997 I was in charge of six Churches in the outskirts of Honiara organising services every Sunday and assigning Priests to conduct services. At that time, I was also an Industrial Manager of a Japanese Construction Company Kumagai Gumi. The money was good, but as a missionary I didn’t enjoy the money. It was too dirty, too political and full of false hope. God was calling me to go out even further abroad, and now he wanted me to go to the UK. I approached Chester Diocese to see if they would have me as an assistant priest in the Diocese. The Bishops Council gave me their approval with letters of commendation from the Melanesia Bishops and the Board of Mission.

Towards the end of 1997 my wife and I, with three of our children left for the UK, arriving in Sale, Manchester in the Parish of St Anne and St Francis Sale Moor. I was Licensed as Honorary Assistant Bishop of Chester and Curate of Sale, with Permission to officiate in the Diocese of Chester and the Province of York by the Bishop of the Diocese, and the Archbishop of York. I served my title in Sale and Sale Moor for two years until 1999.

On the 15th June 1999 I was Inducted and Licensed as Rector of Gawsworth and Assistant Bishop of Chester, the position I held until 2014 when Gawsworth became a united Benefice with North Rode, hence my rectorship covered both Parishes until my retirement at the end of January 2019.

During my time as Rector of Gawsworth, I was Chaplain to the High Sheriff of Cheshire, Chaplain to Crime Beat, the High Sheriff’s Charity, Chaplain to the Bailiff of the Weavers and Chaplain to the Worshipful Lord Mayor of Cheshire East.

In recent times I have attended conferences in Brussels, Geneva and a roundtable convention at Lambeth Palace on climate change.

The world has become so small. You could now be holding a coconut in one hand and a computer in the other.

God Bless.

Epiphany 2019.

REVD. WILLIE ALAHA PWAISIHO. O.B.E.
HON. ASS. BISHOP OF CHESTER AND FORMER RECTOR OF GAWSWORTH & NORTH RODE, CHESHIRE.