For me, gratitude for the life of John Coleridge Patteson started soon after I was lucky enough to become Vicar to Ottery St Mary, and St James & St Anne, Alfington. I can remember the moment when standing in that majestic church of Ottery St Mary, a humble and much loved retired priest, Bill, handed me a little, very old and worn pamphlet for me to read. He said rather fiercely that he wanted it back and for me to look after it well as it was the only copy he knew of. It looked as though it had been produced in the 1950s – with sketchy line drawings of a bearded man in a top hat wading ashore a palm fringed island.
So I began to learn just how privileged I was as priest in charge of Alfington and Ottery, being a successor to this extraordinary man of God. Like so many others, my life has been so deeply enriched in a way Bishop Patteson would have been astonished and when I get to see him, as I hope I do, I will join the long queue to shake his hand or even give him a hug – presuming that his Victorian reserve has been softened by heaven’s graces.
Following up the story of that battered pamphlet ended up for me in 2004 with the experience of retracing his steps as also a priest from Alfington, visiting the Solomon Islands. My visit happened when ‘the Tensions’ were just finishing and the martyrdom of the seven brothers was still an open and shocking event. It was paradoxically such a privileged moment to be in the Solomons. I became so impressed with the sheer bravery and integrity to the gospel that the Melanesian Brotherhood maintained even when their own friends and brothers had just been brutally murdered. Being shown round by the assistant head brother who had to be held back from going straight to find and bring back the bodies of his friends and brothers with no thought of his own safety: being taken to where the front lines of the fighting and killing had been and then being shown where the brothers had set up camp directly in the line of fire between the two so that their bodies could stop the bullets before they injured others of their countryman: here was evidence of the transformative effects of the gospel seeded by that rather gauche man from East Devon some years before.
One of the most poignant moments for me was holding the Bible given to Patteson by the grateful people of Alfington as he left for the Pacific Islands and to touch the matting he was wrapped in when he had been freshly killed. I understood the power of relics in that moment…
My role in going out there was partly to take a gift from the people of Alfington to present to the Brothers. It was a wooden cross carved by Henry, a local craftsman and church musician from Alfington, who had placed at the centre of this carving a piece of fallen oak from Alfington which would have been growing when Patteson lived there. In return Richard Carter, the then Chaplain to the Brothers, gave me a carving which had hung in the chapel at Tabalia, the Brotherhood Mother house, depicting the handing back of the body of Patteson by the three islanders. What is so poignant is that it was carved from wood from the very island of Nukapu where Patteson took his last breath. There it is now hanging in the church of St James & St Anne in Alfington, facing the pulpit where Patteson preach his first sermon, close to the door where he wept after that first service, with his family, at the privilege of stepping into his vocation as parish priest in Alfington.
So out of tragedy comes connection. The blood of this martyr has not separated but bound two cultures, two peoples, two churches together. It has set up a conduit of blessing. And for me as I greet Bishop Patteson with such gratitude when God willing, I meet him, that gratitude will be for the way that Melanesians have taught me about graciousness, generosity and godliness which has become infused into their culture by this one man from East Devon.
Companions to the Melanesian Brotherhood will be gathering online on 5th June to commemorate the founder of the community, Ini Kopuria. Revd Richard Carter invites supporters to join a number of events on this day. –
“It has been our tradition to remember the life of the founder of the Melanesian Brotherhood, Ini Kopuria, by making the pilgrimage across the sands to Holy Island in Northumberland in the footsteps of our own saints, Aiden and Cuthbert. Over the years we have been blessed in this pilgrimage by the company of Melanesian Brothers and Companions. Though we are far away from Melanesia it is a powerful witness to the sea, the elemental forces of nature and the faith which connects us.
“Sadly because of the pandemic we were unable to gather last year as we had hoped, and this year restrictions will still not have opened-up for large gatherings. Nevertheless a small group of us will be following the pilgrim path across the causeway on 5 June, and sharing this experience online.”
If you would like to join the walk to Holy Island at 8am and the Eucharist at 12 noon (BST) online, please contact MMUK for the details.
“COME, the Church needs you and me, all of us,” said Fr. Nigel Kelaepa, Mission Secretary to the Anglican Church of Melanesia (ACoM), in his sermon at the feast of Saint Mark at Tabalia, the Headquarters of the Melanesian Brotherhood (Tasiu) located close to Bishop Patteson Theological College (BPTC) Kohimarama, west of Honiara.
Saint Mark is the patron saint of the Chapel at the Melanesian Brotherhood (MBH) Headquarters and the commemoration of the day is usually celebrated with the Admission of new Novices or Bothers, renewal of promises, the release of Brothers, a Holy Eucharist, and feasting and entertainments at Tabalia.
In his Sermon, Fr Nigel reminded the congregation that the goal of Christian Mission is attaining spiritual maturity, for the building up of the Body of Christ, the Kingdom of God, here in Melanesia and beyond in the world.
“So, do not wait to see what your spiritual gift will be before joining any church ministry or groups near you. No, the church needs you today. Go and join the Religious Orders, Companions, Catechists, Mothers’ Union, Girls Friendly Society, the Sunday School, Youth and Men’s fellowship, and you will realise the gifts and talents that Jesus gave you,” Fr Nigel told the congregation.
As he concluded his sermon, Fr Nigel said:, “We need everybody in the church to work together. We need captains and navigators, who can direct and guide us to the right fishing grounds, even into deeper waters and uncharted territories. We need fishing masters who can teach us the proper methods for luring and catching more fish. The church needs more spiritually mature leaders, more well-trained fishers of men and women, to help bring in a greater catch into the kingdom of God here on earth
The days program ended with feasting and entertainments.
May I preach in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Happy are those who work for Peace, they will be called the Sons and daughters of God”, Matthew. 5: 9.
On accepting the Pacific Human Rights Award, Former Head Brother Jude Alfred said these words, “Today as I accept this award, I accept it on behalf of all those who have worked and longed for peace, but especially on behalf of our seven (7) Brothers who are no longer with us but died wanting peace and happiness to return to Solomon Islands.” Indeed, this is a profound way of paying respect and tribute to the 7 martyrs.
Besides there are far greater spiritual ways of tributes to them; they have been canonised as martyrs, appointed 24th April their feast day, and each annual commemoration, not just here but through ACOM and abroad. All these and others are honours and tributes the seven martyred Brothers receive.
So our gathering today is the Church’s ongoing tribute to their discipleship, witness and martyrdom. Each year as we gather around them in worship, we are reminded of their discipleship and witness for our own, members of Religious Communities and Christians. Each year we are joined by many Christians throughout the Anglican Church of Melanesia and abroad to honour and respect the seven martyrs: Brothers Robin Lindsay, Francis Tofi, Alfred Hill, Tony Sirihi, Ini Paratabatu, Patteson Gatu and Nathaniel Sado.
These were brave and faithful young men who were friends, colleagues and relatives of some of us here today. Some of us ate, played, worked, prayed and shared mission and the simple life of the Brotherhood together with them. It is a special relationship and each year as we commemorate their lives that relationship of belonging grows.
They gave up their whole for the sake of peace and harmony in Solomon Islands during her dark chaotic day. They shared the brutal and fatality of many loved and dear ones during the tension. They shared in the passion in Christ. They were inhumanly killed and disposed of as though they were animals.
But thanks to RAMSI and SI Field Force for recovering and returning their bodies to their beloved home, Tabalia for the reverend and dignified Christian burial they fully deserved.
Today’s celebration we acknowledge the intervention power of God in ways we cannot fully comprehend in Solomon Islands, once full of darkness, fear, violence, hatred and killing for pleasure.
The martyrdom brought ACOM and MBH a lot of confusion, suspension, questions about the holiness and purity of the Brotherhood. Their home coming and funeral contained the pain of the brutal killing, but also the shame MBH and Companions’ encountered from Christians trying to deface the Brotherhood. There were in indeed more questions than answers as day by day the Brotherhood was continually accused of being spies, of being government agent, being partiality, and being providers food supplies to militia groups.
But on that solemn day, the Brothers and Novices together with members of other religious Communities in their best, stood at the bottom of hill leading up to the Mother House, Tabalia. The MBH Chaplain then, the Rev. Richard Carter wrote,
“They were supported by a large crowd, ragging from the Governor General to village children, waiting for the final homecoming of their beloved Brothers. One by one the coffins were unloaded from the trucks which simultaneously increase the wailing of the crowd as they pushed towards the coffins. The Brothers, with dignity and inner strength, carried the coffins in long procession up the hill and into the chapel of St. Mark. In front of each coffin, there was banner with the words, ‘Blessed are the peace makers for they shall be called the children of God’ and the name of the Brother who had given his life for the cause of that PEACE”.
Such expresses the pain and suffering of the death of the seven Brothers; how inhumanly the cruel killing took place, but also the inner strength of the Brotherhood. Their martyrdom appeared a total defeat of the mission of the Church during the conflict. It seemed a sad and shameful end to a fairy-tale of miracles and wonders by the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood was scathingly accused of messing around with their vocation and alleging that MBH has lost her power to work miracles. It was, as claimed, why the bullets did not diverge from them as the arrows and spears as held by oral history and tradition of MBH.
The big question then was why they went knowingly too well that Brother Nathanael has been murdered. Was it safe to go in search for him? What inspired them to take on the risky mission that cost their lives?
There are a lot of reasons which people are entitled to in answering the questions; answers that would help us look deeply into the heart of their mission. Some are based on guess work and may not be true to the context of the Brotherhood for which they went, others maybe reasonable. I wish to share on two points today to assist in the ongoing vocation, discipleship and mission and ministry of the Brotherhood.
The first point is on Discipleship.
Speaking to his disciples, Jesus said, if any of you wants to be my disciple, he must first take up his cross and follow me, Mark 8: 34. In biblical tradition, the cross pictures suffering and death.
Two things are important in the call to discipleships; 1. Taking up the cross and 2. To follow Jesus. In taking up the cross, one must be aware of the weight of the cross; it might be heavier than expected, it might be rough causing wounds on the shoulders, or it might be too long to carry. These are things that one must calculate before actually stooping down to take up the cross. These summarise the difficulties, hardships, sufferings and death in discipleship.
The six Brothers knew very well the dangers awaiting them at the Weather Coast of Guadalcanal; they knew that Br. Nathanael had been murdered. As claimed they should not have gone; but theirs was a complete obedience to their call to discipleship. They took up the cross having worked out the cost; they followed Christ to the hot spot of militants. They never turned back.
In search of their murdered brother, the six brothers were prepared to do as Christ does; they were prepared to turn where Christ turns; there were prepared to go where Christ goes. He wants us to follow where he goes. Where did Christ go when he took up the cross? When Christ took up his cross, he went to Calvary where he was crucified. Not all disciples will receive the crown of glory as martyrs; not all will go all the way to Calvary; but the seven martyred Brothers were granted the rarest privilege of grace in their discipleship to walk the walk of Christ.
Through their suffering, pain and death the Brothers went all the way in their discipleship. They walked the walk of Christ, not just to the weather coast of Guadalcanal, but to Calvary. They died as their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; theirs was a discipleship in its fullness.
By the martyrdom of the Brothers, the reality of discipleship in the words of Jesus in Matthew 16: 24-26 dawns on the Brotherhood. In the past it was ‘no Brother would be harmed’; they were protected by the power and mana of God. In the martyrdom of the Brothers, Christians believe that the spiritual mana that protected them from physical attacks had left them. But Jesus was very clear about his call to discipleship. He called people to take up their cross, hence the claim that their mana/power of God has left them was an ill-reason. The truth is that they entirely walked the walk of Christ who called them.
Very true the Brotherhood has a strong oral history of miracles as cover guards for the Brothers; they were never physically harmed, but what happened? Today we are commemorating the martyrdom of the seven brothers. The miracle for the Brotherhood today is not the miracle of protection, but the fullness of discipleship in death. A miracle of that encompasses full understanding of discipleship in the Brotherhood. A miracle that ripples multiple miracles. You need to stand back from the pain, loss and grief of their loss to see the multiple miracles emerging from their sad brutal death.
We have the intervention of RAMSI We have the unconditional laying down of arms and surrender of militants We have the arrest of the leading instigators on both sides We have freedom to speak out openly for justice again We have enemies being able to see each other in the face as friends We have forgiveness and acceptance each other as one people
These are signs of miracles of new life and in our nation, communities and families. God makes miracles through death. Resurrection is the name of the miracle. In 2003, Easter day was on 20th April; pointing the Brothers were suffering as their Lord during Holy week; four days after the resurrection they died. It may be coincidence, but God works in mysterious ways, his ways not our ways. In the event of new life Christ won for the world; the Brothers’ death four days after Easter was an event of new life for our nation Solomon Islands.
Christ went to the very end of life before he was able to redeem the world. The Brothers went to the very end to liberate Solomon Islands. Christ’s resurrection brought new life to mankind; the martyrdom of the Brothers restored peace and new life in our nation. When the Roman soldiers thought that they have succeeded in removing Christ from public domain by crucifying him, it was then that new life dawns. When the militants thought they have succeeded in murdering the Brothers, it was then that restoration of peace, new life and freedom for Solomon Islands dawns.
Just as Christ died on the wood of the cross, the Brothers died under the barrels of high-powered guns. Christ who called them to take up their cross and follow him lead them in the true way of service. They followed him with profound dedication, a challenge for our discipleship. We may all not end in martyrdom, but at least we must take up our cross and follow him with genuine loyalty.
The second point is love for each other in the Community
This is from an anthropological point of view which concerns with human beings, their relationship and behaviours in their families, communities and the society at large. In any family, either nuclear or extended, there is always concern for one other.
During the tension, the Brotherhood remained intact despites diverse representation of Brothers from different islands of origin. Brothers from Guadalcanal and Malaita were posted in households together or even at the camps. But there was never any hatred, there was no nepotism or wantok business, and no favouritism. We all love each other as family. There was total unity. Love was a condition or requirement for selection to go on the frontline mission.
It was this love (agape) that spurred the six Brothers to go and look for their Brother Nathanael, whatever the cost. It was a bit difficult to explain from outside perspective; it is deep within the life of the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is a family of young men caring and loving each other. It was that LOVE that gave them confidence to go forward. It is clear because it was the Assistant Head Brother Robin who led them. Bishop Desmond Tutu describes love perfectly by saying that Love is stronger than hate.
The fearlessness of the Brothers reflected their inner Love for each other and for the nation they loved so much. Their death, like Christ’s brings resurrection to a nation full darkness and fear. But resurrection is meaningless without the darkness and death which preceded it. It was in darkness the resurrection took place. Their love led them into the darkness and evil spot of the conflict on Guadalcanal; it is what give sense and meaning to the Brothers being martyrs today. It was why the gospels intentionally direct Christians to the earthly Jesus and his experiences before his resurrection.
Their love for each other translated well into their martyrdom; thus, giving the Brotherhood renewed love, care and fulfilment of their biblical motto, “I am in the midst of you as he that serves.” It is the Religious Communities royal law of liberty, “perfect selfless love.” The Brothers were told to go ashore some distance away, but they went straight to the stronghold of the militants. Was this disobedience? Literally, yes, but deep down it was a way of unlocking the love of God for this nation; something that pushed them on. The Brothers had primary knowledge of the impending dangers awaiting them on the ground.
One can argue whichever way; or their death can be contradicted, but one must also see that they were disciples called by Christ to take up their cross and follow him. Brothers and Sisters, the cross is not ‘a past experience, but a present reality’. It is the experience of our own societies today. In the abandonment of Christ by God on the cross, He (God) gives himself fully to Solomon Islands.
Friends and members of Religious Orders, we are not talking about something foreign or history. It the life that you have accepted to live by when you left your homes and families. It is the life the early missionaries to Melanesia, including Bishop Patteson accepted in spreading the gospel to our Islands. It is a life that means either life or death. Speaking of the death of St. Stephen said to his friends that it might happen to any of them. And as they went ashore at Nukapu, it happened to him.
Friends, the seven martyred Brothers left a legacy for us; not all are called to be martyrs, but faithfulness and dedication is key to graceful suffering and pain. Suffering gives birth to renewal of our vacation and ministry. We must live by the lessons of the martyrs, their faithfulness in discipleship and love beyond the bounds of nothingness.
Goodness is stronger than evil Love is stronger than hate Light is stronger that darkness Life is stronger that death Victory is ours through him who loves us The Lord be with you.
The Most Rev Leonard Dawea, Archbishop of Melanesia
On the 24th and 25th of April the Melanesian Brotherhood celebrated the feast of the seven martyred Brothers and St Mark’s Day. These two days were marked with the celebration of eucharist, feasting and fellowship with companions, supporters and friends throughout the three regions of the Melanesian Brotherhood in Solomon Islands, PNG and Vanuatu.
On 24th April the Brothers remember the death of the seven brothers who were killed on the Weathercoast of Guadalcanal in 2003. In history it is remembered as one of the darkest events, but also the day of victory for the nation of the Solomon Islands. Their death was not a defeat, but an event which brought resurrection and light, as peace was regained for the people of Solomon Islands (due to the intervention of a peacekeeping forces from across the Pacific – RAMSI). Happy are those who work for peace for theirs is the kingdom of God.
On 25th April, St Mark’s Day the chapel at Tabalia celebrates its Patron. It is also the day in which the aspirants are admitted into novitiate and the senior novices to become professed brothers. This year, the seven sections within the region admitted eight novices each, which gives a total of 56 first year novices within Solomon Islands region.
At Tabalia the central headquarters of the Melanesian there were thousands of companions, relatives, friends and supporters of the Brotherhood, who comes from every corner to have fellowship with the Brothers for the weekend. Some even there for a whole week. During the evensong on 24th of April, they witness the admission of eight aspirant and the ordination of Br. Martin Luza to the office of the diaconate. Br. Matrin comes from Russel Islands in the diocese of Isabel. On St Mark’s (25th April), the day began with the admission of three novices as professed Brothers by the Vicar General of the diocese of Central Melanesia The Rt Rev Alfred Hou.
At Fox Section Headquarter Poronahe, in the Diocese of Hanuato’o, the activity on Sunday went on till late in the evening. People travelled from near and far from the corners of Makira Island, and even from the outer islands of Santa Ana and Ulawa. It was a day of celebration and fellowship commented one of the teachers at Waimapuru NSS.
The Melanesian Brotherhood through these events pulls people from every corner, to come and have fellowship together. With no attractive material riches, but yet it attracted people to its event. The only gift the MBH can offer is the value of unity, peace and fellowship. So, in remembering the festivity of the seven martyred brothers, St Mark’s Day and the admission and ordination of these our MBH Brothers, let us all join our hands and be the witness of Christ in the World.
The Brotherhood renders our thanks to the companions, the Anglican Church of Melanesia, the Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea, IFI in Philippines, the churches in Australia and New Zealand, the MMUK and companions in UK, friends, supporters and all who support the MBH in kindness.
Revd Br. Nelson, MBH
Alphonse Garimae adds: “Thank you to the Anglican Church of Melanesia, friends, supporters and Companions for your trust and confidence for the financial support to MBH which has enabled Br. Nestor Nacionales to complete his studies and graduated on 16 April 2021. We hope he will serve Palawan Diocese in the years to come. We pray for more young men to join the Brotherhood in Palawan.”
Chairman, and members of the Melanesian Mission United Kingdom. Greetings to you all, from the Melanesian Brotherhood and may the Lord’s Grace be upon you in all deliberations in this very important meeting.
An overview of the Melanesian Brotherhood mission 2020;
As UK Companions to the Melanesian Brotherhood were unable to gather for this year’s St Simon and St Jude services due to COVID-19, UK South West Companions organised an online service and meeting on 28th October. Seventeen Companions from across the UK were joined by Revd Br Nelson, MBH, who is currently studying in Fiji. During the service, led by Ven John Rawlings, the Lord is My Shepherd was sung by the congregation at Tabalia.
At the meeting Companions shared news from their regions and from the Brotherhood, and watched the Address given by the Archbishop of Melanesia, the Most Revd Leonard Dawea.
Watch these films and revisit the slide content shared during the online service and meeting;
At Tabalia, the Headquarters of the Brotherhood, 41 Novices were admitted as Brothers, 12 Brothers renewed their vows, and 8 were released.
The Melanesian Brotherhood (MBH) was formed by Ini Kopuria, a policeman from Maravovo village, Guadalcanal in 1925. Brothers take the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience for three years, which can be renewed. They train for four years as Novices and normally make their vows to become Brothers at the Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude.
Today, the work of the Brotherhood has reached out to other countries beyond Solomon Islands, including Vanuatu, the Philippines, Australia and Canada. Companions around the world support the Brotherhood through prayer and financial support. For more information on becoming a Companion, contact MMUK.
This year SSF and CSC were due to hold services to celebrate 50 years working in Melanesia. Postponed due to COVID-19, it is hoped to have these events in 2021. In the meantime, MMUK’s Archivist Canon Brian Macdonald-Milne, looks at the history of the religious orders in the region.
The earliest Religious Order to arrive in the Solomon Islands was the Order of Friars Minor or Franciscan Brothers who came with the first Spanish exploratory expeditions in the 16th century. They however did not stay. Other Roman Catholic Orders came in the mid-19th century. The Pope had asked the newly founded Society or Mary or Marist Fathers, with its Headquarters in France, to undertake work in the central, southern and western Pacific islands, including New Zealand. They tried to establish themselves in the Solomon Islands, but their bishop was killed on Santa Isabel and others had a difficult time on the island of Makira (San Cristoval), so they withdraw for a while. However, they returned in the late 19th century and have been working there ever since. The Dominican Order later arrived to work in the Western Solomons. The Missionary Sisters of the Society of Mary (SMSM) arrived as well.
The first Anglican religious community was established by Mother Margaret and Sister Gwen in 1930, and they called it the Community of the Cross. They had previously worked with Indian Orthodox Sisters in India and had been invited by the Bishop of Melanesia to come and establish a Community, which Melanesian girls could join. They established their base at Siota on Gela, and then moved to Bungana island in the Gela group. After disagreements with two subsequent Bishops, Mother Margaret joined the Roman Catholic Church with most of the Sisters, and some of the Solomon Islander and New Hebridean Sisters joined the RC Daughters of Mary Immaculate, a Community of ‘native’ Sisters founded by the SMSM.
When Bishop John Chisholm became Bishop of Melanesia in 1967, he was determined to ask two Communities to come to the Anglican Church of Melanesia, the Friars and Sisters of First Order of the Society of St Francis. He had seen the work of the Friars in Papua New Guinea and wanted them to work in urban areas in his new diocese as well. The Franciscan Sisters said that they did not have enough Sisters to answer his call, so instead he turned to the Community of the Sisters of the Church, which had been established in London in the 19th century to do social work, but had later extended its work to Australia, where the Bishop came from. They were now looking for new work, having decided to give up their educational work among girls in Australia.
The Melanesian Brotherhood had been established by Brother Ini Kopuria of Guadalcanal island in 1925, and there was some speculation about how the white Brothers and Sisters of the two other Orders would be received when they arrived in 1970. However, these Orders now have many professed members and novices in their Solomon Island Provinces, all indigenous. Later, Nester Tiboe of Guadalcanal, a woman catechist, became convinced that there should be a Community of Sisters along the same lines as the Melanesian Brotherhood, whose members do not usually take life vows, which the members of those other two Communities do. There are therefore now four communities working in the Solomon Islands, and the Melanesian Brotherhood and the Sisters of Melanesia also have houses in Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. The four Communities work together in many ways, and also co-operate when appropriate with the Roman Catholic Orders. Some members of the Brotherhood also work in the Philippines and Australia.
The Anglican Church of Melanesia has more members of Religious Orders compared with the overall membership of the Church than any other part of the Anglican Communion, and they do key work in evangelism, social and pastoral work, and community education. They need and desire our prayers and support.
Canon Brian Macdonald-Milne Melanesian Mission Archivist
If you want to find out more about the four orders and their work, watch our films on the religious orders here – www.mmuk.net/films. If you would like to support the Brothers and Sisters, do consider becoming an Associate or Companion. Groups across the UK meet to pray for the communities, consider how best to support them in prayer and giving, and gather for services and pilgrimages.
Many enjoyed Sam’s talk at our AGM in September about his time in the Solomon Islands in March of this year. Although this article appeared in our summer 2020 magazine, here it is again with more pictures from Sam’s trip.
On Holy Saturday I arrived back to a much changed and much quieter London than the one I had left a month before. Having confirmed my safe arrival in the Solomon Islands in an email exchange with Katie Drew (MMUK Executive Officer), who had been kindly helping me to organise the trip, she replied, “Now the adventure begins!” Neither of us knew at that stage how accurate her response would prove to be!
As an ordinand in the Church of England, I was eager to experience the life of the Anglican Church and the shape of formation in a very different context before being ordained deacon and beginning my curacy this summer. I am also currently researching for a PhD thesis exploring how the church engages faithfully in politics and so found myself particularly drawn to the Melanesian Brotherhood’s recent history in their pivotal role as peacemakers during the ethnic tensions at the turn of the millennium. Particularly striking is the Brothers’ distinctive and committed pattern of prayer and worship, which is not a retreat from the world, but the structure and life source that enables them to live fully for the world, serving their local communities and wider society so faithfully.
I was initially intending to visit for a couple of months, throughout Lent, Holy Week and over Easter, with the purpose of participating in and learning from the communal life and worship of the Brothers. Immersing myself in the community at Tabalia as much as possible gave me a chance to experience their beautifully simple but varied life together. And I loved all of it– from daily attending the very early First Office, (walking to the chapel in the dark, dodging frogs along the way!), to eating kasava and kakake (affectionately known as “swamp taro”), attempting to fix the waterpipe after heavy rain fall but spending most of the time swimming in the river, as well as several logging trips with the Brothers to collect firewood. It was a real privilege to be welcomed in by the Brothers, Novices and Aspirants and to be allowed to join them in their everyday lives. I was also given the privilege of preaching on Mothering Sunday, where Novice Patteson very kindly helped me to write and deliver sections of the sermon in Pijin, as well as narrating the Passion play on Palm Sunday, which thankfully was in English!
However, during this time with the Brothers, I was also becoming increasingly aware of the spreading pandemic of COVID-19. Thankfully because of internet access at Kohimarama Theological College I was able to stay relatively up to date as things changed across the world. Yet, because of the rapid speed at which things changed, I was not able to move my flights forward quickly enough to avoid being stuck in Solomons indefinitely, as Australia, and then the Solomon Islands too, closed their borders!
Being stranded in Solomons felt very surreal. On the one hand, I was in paradise with beautiful idyllic surroundings, as life continued pretty much as normal at Tabalia and across the Islands. Yet every time I would walk up to “Kohi” to speak with friends and family back home, I would be updated on the worsening spread of this deadly virus. This led to a time of uncertainty, for me, but perhaps primarily for my family back home, as I had three flights cancelled in my attempt to return to the UK. With things changing not just daily but hourly, and no clear indication of how long the lockdown would last, it was unclear just how long I would be stranded in Tabalia. But I was reassured by the Brothers that I was welcome to stay with them for as long as necessary, even if that meant being there at Christmas, and being ordained whilst I was out there! Though they also knew my need to get back to my wife Lily, and so continued to pray for me.
Having been back to Honiara a couple of times to speak with the British High Commissioner, however, it became clear that there was little that could be done in terms of arranging travel home other than praying and waiting for things to open up again. Ultimately though, it was hard to become overly anxious about my situation partly because of where I was stranded. I remember one Sunday afternoon messing around in the canoe in the sea with some of the younger boys and one of the Brothers, and just thinking how fortunate I was to be doing this whilst everyone back in the UK was stuck inside! But also during this time, the rhythm of prayer and worship at Tabalia really gave me a sense of peace, as well as learning from and being held by the Brothers’ own deep trust and reliance in God that all would be well.
Of course, we were also aware of the potential threat and impact of COVID-19 arriving in the Solomon Islands, not just on the limited health resources but also the social and economic implications. We began to discuss some of the ways the Brothers needed to prepare practically, in modelling good hygiene both for their own sake, but also for all the communities across the islands. But most importantly, the Brothers continue to prepare spiritually, to be there for the people of Melanesia, shining the light of Christ in the darkness, knowing that whatever comes their way God is with them. Or as the Pijin version of John’s Gospel beautifully puts it; “nao matta stay dark… erytime get light.”
Eventually I was able to be squeezed onto a US repatriation flight as the 200th and final passenger on the plane. The circumstances of the last-minute flight meant I sadly missed Easter weekend at Tabalia and had to say very rushed goodbyes, but perhaps not having long drawn out goodbyes was more appropriate as I very much hope to return. The flight itself left Honiara, the first time there had ever been a plane of that size on the runway, to head to San Francisco via Hawaii, before I caught my onward flight to London. By the time I arrived back in the UK I had completed a round the world trip, just not in the circumstances I had quite imagined!
It is very hard to thank the Brotherhood, and all those I met, enough for their hospitality, generosity, and kindness throughout my time with them, particularly under such uncertain circumstances. During my stay I was struck by their warmth but also their sense of fun. Their commitment to God and to one another is dedicated and sincere, yet at the same time full of life and laughter! I have left with much to be thankful for, but also much to learn from them, and I am certain that this experience will continue to shape my own life of faith and ministry for the rest of my life.
We pray for Sam and his family as he begins his curacy in the Diocese of London.
The martyrdom of seven Melanesian Brothers in 2003 sent shockwaves through the world church. Attempting to make peace in a violent conflict on the island of Guadalcanal, Brothers Nathaniel Sado, Robin Lindsay, Francis Tofi, Alfred Hill, Ini Paratabatu, Patteson Gatu, and Tony Sirihi were brutally killed. Today, we still remember their sacrifice and reflect on what their example teaches us about Christian discipleship in the modern world.
Chester Cathedral has re-dedicated one of its chapels to commemorate the lives and examples of Christian martyrs from down the centuries. In recognition of the long-standing link between the Diocese of Chester and the Anglican Church of Melanesia, an icon of the seven brothers has been installed in the chapel, together with an altar cross made by the brothers themselves. The icon was painted by the Revd Christopher Perrins and funded by local Companions of the Melanesian Brotherhood.
The icon was received at Chester Cathedral in September, with a short service of prayer and blessing. Pictured are (left to right): John Freeman (Companion), Mark Tanner (the new Bishop of Chester), Jane Brooke (Vice Dean and MMUK Trustee), Tim Stratford (Dean), Barbara Molyneux (Companion), Christopher Perrins, Mike Gilbertson (Archdeacon of Chester and MMUK Trustee), Willie Pwaisiho (Honorary Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Chester and former Bishop of Malaita), and Kate Pwaisiho (MMUK Trustee).
Ven Mike Gilbertson, Archdeacon of Chester & MMUK Trustee Pictures; Chester Cathedral