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
On Monday 21st September, the Melanesian Mission held its first online AGM and Festival, with over 70 attendees from across the UK, Australia and Melanesia.
The event was due to have taken place in London in July with all the Bishops from Melanesia, just before they were to attend the Lambeth Conference. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and postponed Lambeth Conference, plans were changed and the event went online.
The evening began with worship led by Trustees Canon Daphne Jordan from the Diocese of Blackburn and the Ven Mike Gilbertson, Archdeacon of Chester. A recording of the congregation at Tabalia singing the Lord is My Shepherd (Psalm 23) hymn was played, and the collect for Patteson Day read.
The Ven Mike Gilbertson was re-elected as a Trustee for three years, and Canon Jane Brooke from Chester Cathedral was elected as a Trustee for three years. Mr Andrew Cartwright stepped down as Trustee and was thanked for his many years of service.
At the Festival there were presentations from MMUK Trustee Kate Pwaisiho on ‘village life and climate change’ and from Sam Rylands who stayed with the Melanesian Brothers in March. There was also an opportunity to hear from Revd Sr Veronica CSC, joining the meeting from Honiara, and Revd Br Nelson MBH who is training in Fiji. In a pre-recorded address, the Archbishop of Melanesia thanked members for their ‘unwavering support to Melanesia’.
The Archbishop went on to speak about the current COVID-19 situation in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, the importance of climate research in the region and his church’s priorities for mission, including the reintroduction of ‘health ministry’.
Archbishop Leonard ended his address by saying: “I wish you all God’s blessing on your work and our partnership for the Kingdom of God. It is good to talk to you. Though we missed out a lot on the face-to-face communication, may I assure you that ACoM holds you and your families and the work you do to heart. And most especially during this time of extraordinary uncertainty and fear. May God bless all the Trustees, supporters, your families, and our partnership in mission. Thank you.”
The Rt Revd Mark Rylands, Chair of MMUK, finished the evening by sharing the charity’s priorities for the year ahead, recognising that events and visits in both directions will probably be impossible. The charity will continue to facilitate climate change research in the region, and review how it communicates with supporters, and create more online resources and events, including online coffee mornings.
Finally, the date and venue of the 2021 AGM and Festival was announced. It will be on Saturday 18th September at Exeter Cathedral, where the charity will celebrate the life and ministry of Bishop John Coleridge Patteson, first Bishop of Melanesia, on the 150th anniversary of his martyrdom.
Hear more from Sam Rylands in our Summer 2020 Magazine on his time spent with the Melanesian Brothers;
A little over a year ago, two members of the Melanesian Brotherhood came to my school to give a sermon during our morning chapel service. They talked about some of the history of the Brotherhood, the work it does now, and closed off by encouraging us to spend part of our gap year working with them in the Solomon Islands. This caught my interest, as at the time I was deliberating whether or not I should take a gap year. I was able to meet the brothers, along with some other boys who had expressed an interest, where we were able to hear in more detail what a gap year would entail, as well as ask some questions.
Following this, I was put in to contact with the Melanesian Mission UK, as well as Brother Alphonse, the secretary for the Brotherhood, who helped me organise the 3 months I planned to spend there. All of this came as something of a surprise to my parents, but when I explained to them what I would be doing, they were very supportive. English is the official language of the Solomon Islands, but the most commonly spoken language is Pidgin. Therefore, I agreed to teach English to the novices at Tabalia Central Headquarters, on the main island of Guadalcanal.
At the start of my gap year I spent some time working to raise enough money for the flights, and in mid-January, flew from Gatwick to Honiara, via Honk Kong & Port Moresby. Upon arrival, I was greeted by three of the brothers, including the Assistant Head Brother, as well as the sweltering heat of the tropics. Although I had arrived towards the end of the wet season, it was still extremely hot and humid. We were driven to Tabalia, with a short stop at Chester Rest House, where I was introduced to the Head Brother and the novice in charge of guests, and treated to some local delicacies, including fresh fruit and coconut, and given a flower garland.
On one of the first Sundays after I arrived, a Saint’s Day feast was held. This involved a great deal of preparation, including grating cassava for a pudding with which I helped. The feast itself was very impressive, laid out on palm leaves, and preceded by some excellent singing. Several brothers from other parts of the mission had also travelled to Tabalia for the feast, and to bring greetings from their stations.
The general routine of my day included chapel in the morning and afternoon, meals in either the guest house or the dining hall, and teaching English to the novices on Monday & Thursday. Teaching and getting to know the novices was a very rewarding experience, and the main feature of my time there. Their classes were separated into Year 2 and Year 3 (new novices having not yet arrived), who each had a double English lesson once a week. My lessons included explaining grammatical concepts, and then having the novices answer questions about them, both verbally and on the blackboard. One area I particularly focused on was explaining tenses, as Pidgin has no real equivalent. Towards the end of the lesson, we would usually play a few games of Hangman, which the novices really enjoyed, as well as being a good way of improving vocabulary and spelling. I also set the novices several essays to write for homework, to allow them to practice writing longer pieces, as it helps them prepare sermons.
Of course, it wasn’t all work. I greatly enjoyed taking part in the Sunday football matches (admittedly with more enthusiasm than skill), including one memorable match in the pouring rain, which resulted in some very entertaining tackles. It was also very refreshing to be able to walk down to the beach, through the jungle, to go for a swim. Along the path to the beach, one can also see the remains of a WW2-era Japanese tank.
While I had originally planned to stay for three months, unfortunately I was forced to return home after only two, due to the coronavirus pandemic resulting in borders shutting and flights being cancelled. While of course I was very happy to be seeing my family again, it was a great shame to not be able to stay the full three months, as there was still a lot to do and see. For instance, I would have spent Holy Week staying with some of the novices in one of the local villages, helping out with their teaching. I hope to be able to visit the islands and the Brothers again soon, but in the meantime, I aim to encourage others to do the same, particularly those from my school who are considering taking a gap year.
At the moment the Solomon Islands have officially recorded no cases of COVID-19. However, this certainly is no guarantee that the virus has not arrived here, as suspected cases have to be sent off to Australia for testing and take 4-5 days to be returned. We are currently awaiting the results of a several tests and have already begun lockdown procedures across the Islands. Additionally China is the Islands main trading partner, with a significant population of Chinese as well as Philippines, Malaysians and Vietnamese all regularly travelling back and forth for the last several months- it is more likely that the virus has not been properly tracked here due to the lack of an adequate and organised health care system.
Currently the government have already begun a lockdown, with people being sent back to their home islands, schools, shops and markets all closing. The threat of the pandemic is considerable here, with generally poor hygiene practice and understanding, people living closely in communities and many living under one roof means the option of self-isolation is not viable and with only one hospital on the main island and no ventilators, an outbreak of COVID-19 will likely hold extremely severe consequences.
Furthermore, and potentially more of a threat than the virus itself, is the economic impact. Being a collection of islands, the Solomons is especially reliant on outside trade for food and medicine supplies. However, with several neighbouring countries stopping or reducing their shipping and flights, there is a real threat of food shortages and other essential items becoming inaccessible. At the moment there is a plan for a weekly humanitarian cargo flight from Australia organised by WHO and Australian Aid. However, if restrictions are in place for too long this could pose a serious threat to the social and economic stability of the Solomons. Moreover, the closure of the markets here in Honiara means that in lots of cases people’s sole source of income has been removed overnight.
In light of this, the Brotherhood and the local church are preparing to step into the breach should the situation overwhelm a government who simply does not have the organisation or communication systems available to control the situation. Particularly given the Brother’s role during the ethnic tensions in the early 2000’s (for which they were awarded a UN peace prize), the Brotherhood are a central and trusted community for the people of the Solomons and they are already playing a crucial role in relief efforts- through their spiritual support, but also in practical guidance in modelling and sharing best practices of hygiene and health care as well as helping people financially who have no income following the closure of shops and markets. During the tensions the government and other authorities were unable to do anything and the people turned to the Brothers. So now with the virus, the Brothers are preparing spiritually and practically to support the people through this.
Alphonse Garimae Secretary of the Melanesian Brotherhood
Last month Selwyn College was flooded, and the school had to be evacuated and closed. The Right Revd Dr Keith Joseph, Bishop of North Queensland, looks back on his experience of flooding on Guadalcanal.
“I was a lecturer at Bishop Patteson Theological College in February 2009 when the first big floods to hit North-West Guadalcanal happened. Selwyn College was flooded, all the food garden around the college were flooded, but the floods were more widespread across all of the area from Selwyn College back towards Honiara. About 10,000 people lost their food gardens, sources of fresh water were polluted for months, homes and villages destroyed. At least twenty people drowned.
The heavy rains were not particularly new, though with Climate Change there might be more periods of sustained heavy rain than before. But in this case the new factor was deforestation. Before, when there were heavy rains, the forests on top of the hills and mountains held the water and released it gradually. But without the forests the rain just ran off the soil immediately and there was “flash flooding”. Since 2009 there has been more deforestation and more flooding.
The cause of deforestation and the cause of climate change are the same: human greed which sees the environment as something to be used and abused without consequences. The cash stays with the big men but does not get to the people who need it – but they are the ones who suffer the consequences of deforestation and climate change. The Churches must take a prophetic role: they must tell out that this abuse of the environment is ungodly and goes against the Bible. In Genesis 1.26 we humans are given “dominion” over creation – but this is never ownership. God owns creation. We are simply his stewards, entrusted with his creation for our use and that of our children and grandchildren, remembering that in the end we all will return to him. In the Old Testament the people of God are told to look after the land, to give it sabbath – and then condemned for not doing so (2 Chronicles 36.21). Like the prophets of old we are called to proclaim God’s justice against those who spoil his creation.”
The Right Revd Dr Keith Joseph
Bishop of North Queensland