In This Light is a collection of messages for Christmas written by the Archbishop and 47 of his friends and colleagues. Including contributions from John Kerry, Afua Hirsch, Jonathan Bryan, Sally Phillips, Bear Grylls, Grace, Anthony Ray Hinton, Jo Malone, Benjamin, Dr Agnes Abuom, Julie Etchingham and more. Journalists, politicians, priests, musicians, peace activists, actors, comedians, authors – people of different faiths and none, writing from across the world from South Korea to South Sudan, Australia to the UK, America to the Vatican.
All royalties from the book will go to support the following wonderful organisations: Caring for Ex-Offenders, part of the ministry of Holy Trinity Brompton, Equal Justice Initiative, The Melanesian Missionand Charis Tiwala.
In This Light is available to buy through all good book sellers online and on the high street.
‘The world shrinks, and perceptions of God expand’ was the main finding from research conducted into what happens when Christians experience positive cross-cultural encounter.
From 2014 to 2016 I was engaged on a fascinating piece of research asking questions about Diocesan Companion Links. These are the relationships, some as long as 40 years, which dioceses have with different parts of the Anglican Communion and wider ecumenical links. Questions about the nature of Companion Links relationships were paramount. What sort of relationships were they? What were the challenges and joys faced in these relationships? How were they developing into the future?
I took a case study approach to this research. Three Church of England dioceses agreed to be part of the project. They were the diocese of Bath and Wells in its relationship with the five dioceses of the Anglican Church of Zambia, the Diocese of Chelmsford and their relationship with the five dioceses of the Mount Kenya East region and the diocese of Liverpool and the diocese of Virginia in the Episcopal Church of the USA.
These three case studies provided a rich picture of following Christ in different contexts with access to vastly different resources but who were similar in worshipping and following Christ through the Anglican tradition.
I travelled to all the dioceses involved in England, Africa and the USA. I asked two simple questions – what is your experience of the link and where do you see it developing in the future? Meetings and interviews took place in churches, schools, under the mango tree and over many shared meals.
The conclusions fell into two categories – discipleship and friendship. It became clear that positive cross-cultural encounters were a source of growth and transformation for many involved in links.
Discipleship seems to be the theme of the moment. Everyone in the churches, it seems, is talking about discipleship. However, I haven’t heard a lot about the contribution of cross-cultural encounters to ongoing discipleship. What became clear early in the research was that positive cross-cultural encounter can encourage and inspire discipleship.
Here’s a story. A tragic and sudden death of a parish link co-ordinator in Bath and Wells Diocese shocked everyone. Catherine was loved in her parish and by the parish in Eastern Zambia where she had visited several times. The parishioners in Eastern Zambia were unable to attend the funeral but at the same time as the funeral was taking place in the UK the church in Zambia came together to give thanks for Catherine’s life and commit her to God. The effect of this in both places was a stronger personal link between very different places and an inspiration to follow and witness to Christ more faithfully.
A further example was found in the link between Liverpool and Virginia dioceses. A clergyman from Liverpool witnessed work with refugees in Virginia and was inspired to begin a similar work. Young people from Liverpool said that their Youth Pilgrimage helped them to talk about their faith at home. It was clear that whether experiences were between north to north contexts or north to south contexts the effects were similar.
Friendship was the major way in which links described their relationships across cultures. Friendship is an important way of expressing our common belonging in the Body of Christ through practical expressions such as visits and gift-giving. It became apparent that while the English partners were good at giving we were less happy about receiving from less materially affluent partners. There is learning to be done that recognises the wide variety of forms of gifts and that giving and receiving of gifts gives dignity to all.
The Melanesian Mission is an important expression of these principles. Encouraging discipleship and friendship is at the heart of being a mission agency.
By Reverend Richard Carter and Reverend Jacky Wise
RC: How many Brothers and Novices are there currently?
In Tabalia there are 138 Novices in training and there are 300 Novices and 200 Brothers across the seven dioceses, including Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.
Five novices accompanied four brothers in one area, Nikoyu, in Malaita, and they are developing a brand new area of mission. We are building seven new houses and a chapel and actually making a new village. They baptised five families last month.
RC: Would you say that the brothers still playing a major role of evangelism across the Solomon Islands?
Yes, I think we are in the front line. This year ACOM has launched the Decade of Evangelism and the Brothers are in the front line of this work.
It’s the same mission strategy. The Brothers are the people who are prepared to stay, do practical and tough work, whereas some missionaries just visit and then go.
RC: Could you tell us a bit more about the new decade of evangelism?
Jeffrey, the former Chester student, is coordinating the strategy. We want people within the different Anglicans sectors or groups can relate to each other and to understand each other better. We want to empower them all, including the Mothers’ Union, the Companions and the parishes.
RC: Why are the Brothers such effective evangelists?
The Brothers go and live among the families and get involved. We then show them what to do. The former Archbishop, David Vunagi, said to us that the mission of the Brothers and their communities is successful partly due to the fact that the people will obey the Brothers but they won’t necessarily obey the parish priests.
RC: Does singing, music and drama still play a big part in your missions?
The dramas are so important. Always. The youth want drama. This year the Passion Play has been important in communicating to young people, and we appreciate being able to use the dramas that you prepared with us too.
RC: How does it feel to the leader of such a big community?
I have seven section elder Brothers and they take a lot of responsibility too. It’s not just me doing the work. If there is something really hard for them to handle then they call on me, especially in disciplinary cases.
RC: I remember when Chester Rest House was built. How important has this been? It’s generated quite an income over the last fifteen years hasn’t it?
It plays such an important role in what we have been able to do. The profit from the Rest House has allowed us to buy so many things. It funds 60% of all our missionary activity.
It’s not just the Rest House; the Brothers who have studied in Chester have been such a blessing to us all after their studies. One of them is a Bishop, Leonard, who is helping the whole church, and Jeffrey is now coordinating a major strategy and there is Jonathan too, who is now a chaplain again. They’re making a huge contribution. My own time in Chester exposed me to many different people and I have a better understanding of difference.
RC: What attracts young people to this tough way of life?
The Rule is tough but they want experience, and they know that tough things will be good. You do what others do and they like it. We always get many more applications than we can take.
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.
As a Companion and Associate, I’ve long wanted to spend time and experience Solomons life with the Brothers and Sisters of Melanesia. This summer I experienced both joyful pilgrimage and a great adventure of faith that continues to enrich my faith and Curacy.
My first night in the Solomons was spent at Chester Rest House which helped me to get my bearings in Honiara and appreciate how much the Brothers’ guest house is valued by all who stay there.
It was so good to be met by Sr Veronica the next day, who drove us to TNK for an overnight stay. The Sisters and Novices of the Church of Melanesia were very kind and sensitive to my jetlag! The beauty and peace of TNK is complemented so well by the worship, hospitality and ministry to the local community and wider church. It was delightful to meet Tina and David Arnold who kindly facilitated my trip back to Honiara, stopping at the Christian Care Centre en route to see their hugely important work.
The Sunday service at St Barnabas Cathedral became an unforgettable experience of worship – as swifts flew around the Chancel and a pair of Mynah birds showed off their nesting skills.
The following day I was met by Flory and her husband Charly who are such good advocates for the Sisters of Melanesia. We set off for Verana’aso where I experienced the most incredible welcome and hospitality from the Sisters and Novices during the following five days. Being invited to teach the Novices was a great privilege and joy as we shared experiences, worshipped together and got to know each other more. Visiting neighbouring Franciscans at beautiful La Verna was a precious time, hearing stories and seeing the lasting legacy of Br Giles.
After a moving farewell at Verana’aso, I set off for Tabalia, blessed with the joyful company of Franciscan Br Clifton – also a great truck driver, skillfully negotiating huge pot holes.
St John The Baptist Satellite Church Highway Community
Melanesian Brothers and Novices at Tabalia
At Tabalia I continued to experience the precious worship and partnership in the Gospel that I’ve always found through the Melanesian Brothers ministry. It was wonderful to see Head Brother Nelson leading Evensong in his home setting. The beautiful peace of Tabalia, being near the graves of the Seven Martyred Brothers, the worship and hospitality of the Brothers and Novices was humbling and profoundly moving.
Returning to Honiara, I stayed at St Agnes Guest House, a lovely place, run by the Mothers Union. MU President Pam and team are doing such great work with the Anglican Church. We visited two satellite church communities and also spent time with the MU at All Saints Church in Honiara. The MU are incredibly inspiring, speaking out for justice through practically helping families to flourish through educational and life skills programmes.
I’ve learnt so much from the witness of all those I met, experiencing how much goodness and flourishing the religious orders and local churches bring to their surrounding communities. Melanesia is very beautiful and life incredibly fragile. The people value and do so much with so little, in comparison to what we have in Western Europe. It was a real lesson in life to value every drop of water and realise how many people throughout the world really do live without running water or electricity.
This Melanesian pilgrimage has shown me the true Agape love of God, which I’ve always experienced through times spent with Melanesian visitors to the UK. Agape love as joyfully knowing ourselves part of the global Christian community, drawn together through the depth of God’s love. I thank God for our Brothers and Sisters.
Revd Cathy Scoffield – Curate at St John the Baptist Churches, Bishops Tawton & Newport, Barnstaple, Diocese of Exeter.
It’s August, I’m home now and so nice to be back amongst my friends and my family! However, it is an incredibly strange feeling to be thrown back into a totally different environment and way of life and it’s a difficult one to try an explain what it was like. As it got closer, I’d built up the idea of coming home so much and I was so excited but when it finally arrived, it wasn’t the same picture I’d painted in my head, it wasn’t that it was not as good as I thought it would be, it was just not quite what I thought it would be like. The first week was all a bit of a blur and I think it was all a bit much to appreciate everything that I had missed so much and take it in fully. I remember sitting in front of my TV in my living room, with my 24 hour constant electricity, hot running water, and my big comfy bed and I just didn’t really know what to do with myself, I felt a wee bit lost. The things I’d been craving while I was away were suddenly not really what I wanted.
I went away to Spain for a week with my family and that was really nice just to spend some time thinking about it all and reconnecting with my Mum, Dad, Brother and Sister. That week was really helpful for just getting back used to normal life here without being overwhelmed by too many people and things at home.
Now I’m back at home and it’s so much better than it was during the first few days of my return. I’m able to take everything in a lot more and really enjoy all the things that I’d missed out on all year, like hot showers! Being back around all my friends has been one of the best things, catching up on a year’s worth of events isn’t a short conversation and trying to tell them how my year was isn’t exactly easy, as sometimes I just don’t know where to start, it’s hard to condense a year into one story. But I’m loving every minute of being with them.
Thinking about all the experiences I had throughout my year in Solomon Islands, all the things I saw, all the things I learnt and all the friends and family I made, is quite a hard concept to grasp, there’s just so much. Spending a year there was like nothing I’ve ever done before. You can’t compare it to a holiday or a long term expedition, it’s just not on the same level. I’m so glad that I chose to go over seas with Project Trust, it opened so many doors for me, started a lot of new amazing things, and helped me decide on things I didn’t really have a solution for beforehand. I sometimes wonder how different things would be now if I hadn’t volunteered with them. Now I’m home, fundamentally I don’t think I’ve changed that much as a person but I’ve just got a different view on some things and I’m a lot better at appreciating the small things in life.
However, as good as being back at home is, I miss the wee group of islands on the other side of the world that I call home, I miss being hot and sweaty 24 hours a day, I miss the beautiful ocean (that is so much warmer than the North Sea), I miss everything and everyone constantly being late and no one really caring or stressing about it, I miss riding around in the back of a truck, I miss people laughing all the time no matter the situation and most of all, I miss my Solomon Island Mums, Dads, Brothers and Sisters, my Friends and family I left over there. I guess the grass is always greener… But hey, I’ll be back one day for sure.
Rev. Preb. Cate Edmonds (Exeter Diocese) and Canon Daphne Jordon (Blackburn Diocese) accompanied by technician Graham Jordon, returned to Melanesia in July for three weeks to undertake Christian Distinctiveness Training for ACoM Schools.
Daphne first went to Vanuatu in 2013 and 2014 and had visited schools, introduced the concept of a Christian Distinctiveness and Character and made recommendations to the ACoM Board of Education about further developments. Cate had been on a fact-finding Mission in 2016 and was concerned about the lack of real understanding of the distinctiveness of Anglican Schools.
Daphne’s recommendations were eventually acted upon and a volunteer from New Zealand, Joan Middlemiss, was commissioned to develop these recommendations into ACoM Education Authority Standards:
Quality Education and Assessment
Access and Student Services
Integrate Christian Values and Holistic Development
At a similar time funding was available from MMUK to continue the work Daphne and team had started in 2014.
Cate and Daphne were therefore commissioned to deliver two Conferences, in Honiara (S.I.) and Luganville (Santo, Vanuatu) for Principals, Teachers and Chaplains of Anglican Schools and members of the Diocesan Education Team, exploring and developing Christian Distinctiveness and Christian Character of Church Schools.
Each conference followed the same pattern, with a brief catch up in Luganville as a few of those present had been at the initial training in 2013/4. Some progress had been made, e.g. all Principals had mobile phones in order to keep in contact, but with changes in personnel progress had been limited.
The day began with themed Worship:
Who are we?
The Environment – God’s Creation
The Family of God
Attendees were asked to be children and young people and to participate in order to experience a range of ways of worshipping. They experienced different music, Bible reading and prayer and were encouraged to interact with the worship rather than observe, which was new to them, but they grew in confidence.
Following worship the hard work began and with four sessions per day over three days, there was much to cover. Each school was presented with a jigsaw puzzle which was completed over the days of the conference when each element had been introduced.
Wherever possible participants worked in their school groups and drew up new Vision and Mission Statements for their schools as well as developing Action Plans for the future.
Throughout the training there was an emphasis on a Church School being a place where God was working already but where we needed to work with Him to be the best that we could in all areas of school / college life. On reflection and debate we felt that the ACoM Standards needed to be reordered and that the first should be about Christian Values and that everything else flows from this.
Participants were encouraged to look at their schools and colleges with new eyes, there was some hesitancy in doing this but gradually participants saw the value of this approach as well as finding it amusing. All our sessions were well received and participants appeared to enjoy the approaches as well as developing their skills, particularly in looking at more creative ways of delivering the curriculum and of prayer.
There was much more we could have developed and although we managed to visit six schools in the Solomon’s and four in Vanuatu, it was felt that further training would be useful based in a school or college.
As well as preparing for and running the conferences we were able to make additional visits. Daphne and Graham visited TNK and the relocated, due to volcano ash in Ambae, St Patricks School. They we deeply saddened by the conditions that the school was enduring whilst awaiting a more permanent site. We also met with Melanesian Brothers who were suffering accommodation problems as well due to their Main House being destroyed in the same way on Ambae.
Cate visited Ysabel and met with Bishop Ellison and his team and also spent some time a Verana’aso working with the Novices of the Melanesian Sisters. More stories could be told by both; including Daphne and Graham experiencing two earthquakes in Vanuatu and Cate just one. A fulfilling and worthwhile trip which we would like to repeat to continue the work in the future.
A sense of connectedness was created by meeting at Selwyn College Cambridge, founded by the Selwyn Memorial Committee following the death of George Augustus Selwyn in 1878. A large number of Companions, Trustees and loyal friends met at the invitation of the Selwyn College Chapel, and we were very grateful for this opportunity.
After essential business, special thanks was offered to Barbara Molyneux for her commitment and love for the people of the Solomon Islands, which has helped us in maintaining strong communication, particularly with the Brothers. Also a special mention of thanks was offered to Honorary Treasurer Chris Liley, who will shortly be stepping down from being a trustee of MMUK. As well as line-managing Katie, he has been at the forefront of many plans and has provided helpful leadership in several sub-committees.
That sense of connectedness to our history and development was perhaps especially felt through the midday Eucharist which was in the Victorian chapel. The service was led by Bishop Mark and the preacher was the Venerable Chris Liley. Chris reminded us, through the story of Jesus telling the fishermen to cast their nets into deep water (Luke 5:1-11), that when Jesus chose each one of us to do his work he used our gifts.
In the afternoon, Bishop Mark interviewed Sisters Priscilla and Mary Gladys and Brother Samson, during which Priscilla remarked that we should share more, smile more and that young people need to get more involved. Brother Samson appreciated that he had learnt to sew whilst being in the UK!
Katie led us through a short review of the year, which included celebrations of the Melanesian and Chester Diocesan Link and Bishop Willie campaigning against Climate Change, including a trip to Brussels. We were updated on other major events and projects, the main one being the earlier visit by Archbishop George and his party to the UK.
Katie told us of her first visit to Vanuatu and how she had several encouraging meetings across the dioceses. This fulfilled one of Katie’s major aims since becoming CEO, to deepen relationships in Vanuatu and to meet project partners face to face. We were shown pictures of the relocated St Patrick’s school, which is currently relying on marquees for class rooms, since the volcanic eruption in Ambae, which has created chaos across the northern part of the island. Photos from Katie’s recent trip also revealed how much of the land in Guadalcanal has been cleared for palm oil fields. Better news was given in that the Retreat House at TNK is nearly ready and all the accommodation will be ready for Caroline Welby’s visit.
Daphne Jordan reported on the successful training on Christian Distinctiveness in church schools. After her much appreciated first visit in 2013, further senior secondary school staff had asked for this specific training, which took them through Vision and Values; Healthy Relationships; Mission Statements; Assessment, Prayer and several other aspects of development and change.
We were all deeply impressed by the first volunteer teachers from Project Trust. Armed with “school resources, willingness and culturally appropriate flowery skirts” Flora and Juliet taught 300 secondary school pupils with the aim of making English classes more interesting and dynamic, with the intention of reducing school drop-out. Flora also reported that Project Trust intends to keep the momentum going and for any improvements to be built upon with the next four volunteers who arrived in the Solomon Islands in August.
Looking ahead, we are preparing to welcome Bishop James and Bishop Rickson to the UK in early 2019, and before we closed Bishop Mark shared his aim of broadening the base of support and his desire for us all to reach out to the younger generations.
The Rt Revd William Alaha Pwaisiho, Honorary Assistant Bishop of Chester, and Rector of Gawsworth and North Rode, has called for greater action to tackle climate change at the 29th annual session of the Crans Montana Forum.
Heads of State and Government, ministers, members of parliaments, international organisations and major businesses from more than 100 countries gathered in Brussels, to discuss topics as far ranging as fake news, global warming, globalisation, and maritime and port industry in Africa.
Bishop William, who is a Melanesian national, spoke about climate change and its impact on the environment. The Melanesian islands in the South Pacific have been badly affected by rising sea levels.
Addressing delegates Bishop William said: “Our planet earth is scarred and abused, our air and atmosphere is polluted with poisons and every human being is responsible, sooner or later we will be sorry. Well, it is now more evident where I come from in the South Pacific that small island nations are now suffering as the result of climate change and global warming. It is true today that entire communities have lost their livelihood since the rise of the sea level. Lands to plant food and wells to drink from are no longer useful, the ecology is now suffering.”
Last month the Diocese of Chester marked thirty years of its link with the Anglican Church of Melanesia. The link is thriving in both directions, with several new school partnerships in prospect.
It is twelve years now since I returned from being a priest and brother in Melanesia. In many ways no two lives could seem on the surface more different. For the many years I lived at Tabalia I never had more than a few hours electricity from the generator each day. Even fresh water was at times sporadic with long walks to the spring by the river when the taps were dry and the rainwater tanks empty. My refrigerator with no electricity was used only for storage. The diet too was very different “Does this dish have a name? I remember an American who had just arrived asking me, “because it tastes very similar to the dish I had yesterday,” he commented. “Yes” I said also eating a plate of slippery cabbage, a trace of tinned tuna and a piece of cassava-“and it’s going to be very similar to the dish you are going to have tomorrow and the next day and the next!”
But living as a Melanesian Brother at Tabalia I felt so close to the natural world- you knew where everything came from and that if the gardens failed you would go hungry. I remember waiting for the rains to come and when I heard the first drops running over to the church gutter where the downpour cascaded off the roof: after the wait it was the most refreshing shower you could ever have. Night could be as dark as velvet and the stars- with the Southern Cross so astonishingly bright. When I first moved into my flat in Trafalgar Square I thought I would never sleep. London is nonstop- it is twenty four seven- and it’s hard to keep the neon out of your bedroom, and the sound of sirens, and cars, and emptying bottle banks and the shouts, laughter and cries of those returning from a night out. How could the lessons of Melanesia be of any value here? I felt like a tuna out of water. Most of all I missed Melanesian community- where you were always with people but not in a demanding way- just with people-sharing in a generous reciprocity and a lot of fun laughter. In Solomons whatever you do there are always people to share that doing with you be it washing clothes in a bucket, peeling sweet potatoes, riding on the back of a truck, or going in search of ripe pawpaw.
But if my first reaction was how different this life in London – I soon began to realise there were, deep down, such similar human needs. And the deepest perhaps of all those needs the need for companionship- relationship with others to make meaning of our lives. The church is a unique place to do that of course. While the corner shop may have disappeared, and the post office and even the person in the supermarket has been replaced by the self-service till whose only conversation is to tell us repeatedly that there is an unidentified object in the bagging area- there is still a church in most communities and if you are blessed like we are at St Martin’s- its not only here, it’s also open every day of the year- then you do have a place to belong- to God, to your own deepest self, and to your neighbour, whoever that neighbour may be. And I began to realise that the skills that the Melanesian Brotherhood had taught me were the greatest possible gifts for ministry not only in Solomon Islands but in the centre of London. First the need for the rhythm of prayer to provide the pattern and centre of my life- and those who come through our doors of St Martin-in-the-Fields to join me. Second the vital importance of face to face encounter- actually listening and talking to people- giving them the gift of time and relationship rather than believing our primary relationships are with Facebook or a mobile phone or ones business agenda or strategic plan. Third I learnt the importance of generous sharing- being with others and benefitting from each other’s gifts and skills. I learnt that community is so much richer and less stressful when we let go of our western obsession with competition and self-sufficiency. I might be good at cooking but others were good at planting, at growing, or climbing coconut trees or diving for fish and that together we were so much more than we would be as isolated individuals and how much the same is true in London when we begin to share the gifts. Fourthly I learnt that community is Eucharist- it’s about sharing food and just like Solomons if you begin sharing food in London you will soon create that community. You become companions- those who share bread. You see you share Christ and find Christ in one another. Here in London we have created an informal Eucharist called Bread for the World and it is a wonderful celebration of diversity and all that we have to gain from creating communities of compassion and hope and joy in this country just as we have seen in Melanesia. Fifthly I learnt from Melanesia that those who one at first thinks of as being poor are in fact God’s gift. They open our eyes to a new way of seeing and being. They open your eyes to our own poverty. Some of the most rewarding work I have the privilege of doing here in London is with those who are homeless, or with refugees who have no recourse to public funds, or with those who have mental health difficulties, or those who for whatever reason are on the edge of so called society. They are actually at the heart of our Christian faith and it is being with them that I know will renew not only me but also the church. For this is where we must look for Christ- on the edge where he was in his own life.
What did I learn from Melanesian? I learnt the joy of living together and sharing a common home- that God has entrusted to our mutual care. And the gift they gave me was that longing for community here in London and the realisation that it is when we remove our defences, our desire to control or dominate- and recapture the humility and hope of the Gospel, then the place where we are living can become a Tabalia or a Brotherhood and Sisterhood- can become the place of God’s flourishing.
With God’s help I have formed a community at St Martin’s: it’s called the Nazareth Community. It’s an experiment in being with- with God, with silence, with sacrament, with compassionate service, with sacred study, with generous sharing. Much to my delight and surprise 48 people decided to join me as we made promises to live the Gospel- promises of course inspired by the Melanesian Brotherhood. I have so much to be grateful to them for.
The Vicar of our Church Sam Wells wrote this about the Nazareth Community:
“Being with God and one another and ourselves is how we shall spend eternity. The Nazareth Community is a group of people who are saying, ‘Why not start eternity now? Why wait?’ In their living eternal life now we see hope and inspiration for ourselves, our church, our community and our city.”
I think that’s also a good description not only of the Nazareth Community but also of the Melanesian Brothers and Sisters and the Church in Melanesia. You will be pleased to know that my fellow priest in the Nazareth Community is Catherine Duce. She also learnt a lot from Melanesia!
Revd Richard Carter is Associate Vicar at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square.