Sunday 23 September 2012
It has been exciting for me this week to see the pictures of Prince William and Kate visiting the Solomon Islands, where I lived for so many years. Their first programme on arrival was an act of worship and thanksgiving to God at All Saints the Anglican Cathedral in Honiara, I heard the congregation stretched for miles.
This week the Church remembers in its calendar Bishop John Coleridge Patteson, first Bishop of Melanesia, martyred in 1872. They say he had three great characteristics as a missionary: a sailor’s gift for enduring hardship, a linguist’s gift for language and communication, and greatest of all his gifts, his love for people. He wrote: “the love of God once generated must needs pass on, that principle of life must needs grow and expand with its own inherent energy… it recognises no human ideas of nationality or place but embraces like the dome of heaven all the works of God. And love is the animating principle of all.” He believed in a Church where people could worship God “in the rich warm colour of their own native skin”, not as something having dominion over others but as “a partnership in joy.” The generosity, vibrancy and naturalness of faith at the centre of people’s lives was in powerful contrast to the Western media so completely obsessed with photos and the exploitation of Kate sunbathing topless. In Melanesia, in traditional dress, people come to church ‘topless.’ “Why don’t they talk about our country and our Church?” said one of my Solomon Island friends, disappointed at the news coverage.
The sense of hope and joy that the Christian faith can bring is very much at the heart of the Church of Melanesia, and if you asked a class of school children who would like to be a ‘missionary’ most of the children would put up their hands, many of them named Patteson. On the cross which marks the place where Patteson died are these words: “His life was taken by those for whom he gladly would have given it.” Such generous love is certainly the seed of the church.