Project Canterbury

Flood Tide in the Pacific: Church and Community Cascade into a New Age

By Frank William Coaldrake

Stanmore, New South Wales: Australian Board of Missions of the Church of England in Australia, no date.


The Diocese was launched by the ministry of isolated priests among Europeans, Melanesians, Indians and Tongans. The first was the Rev. William Floyd, sent out to Levuka in Fiji by the Diocese of Melbourne in 1870. Bishop Patteson was on his way to visit him when he was martyred in 1870. Just before Floyd's death in 1909 supervision of the work was transferred from the Bishop of London to the Primate of New Zealand. The diocese was established later.


The Diocese is usually described in terms of the vast area of the surface of the globe it covers, but the total area of land is only 20,000 square miles. (Compare Tasmania,' 26,000 square miles.)

This land is "exploded" over the ocean. With Fiji in the Diocese of Adelaide, Tonga would be on Melbourne and Samoa on Dubbo, the Gilberts on Wyndham, and Tahiti on Auckland.

The life of the Diocese therefore requires much travel over water. In the past this meant slow movement by ship. Today it can be done rapidly by air to most places when the cost has been provided.


The total population is over three-quarters of a million. Fiji (7,000 sq. m.) accounts for over 400,000. New Caledonia is larger in area (8,500 sq. m.) but has only 70,000 people. Tahiti (1,544 sq. m.) is next in size with 70,000 people, and Samoa (1,133 sq. m.) has 103,000. The population is entirely Christian with the notable exception of the very large Indian population in Fiji, now [56/57] accounting for more than half Fiji's 400,000 people. Here is one of the points where Anglican work is concentrated. The Anglican Church in all claims about 10,000 members.

Marks of the Diocese

Our Church in Polynesia has definite and distinctive characteristics.

(a) Its congregations are all multi-racial.

(b) Its ministry is an intimate and personal approach to people of many races.

(c) Its staff work is in the hands of people of many races.

(d) The island people are coming forward for the ministry and other work in significant numbers.

(e) The Diocese strategically bridges the gap between Protestant and Roman churches in a special way.

(f) The island people are generously giving to the Church, but the demands being made on the Diocese cannot be met without help from abroad.

(g) The needs of the Diocese now arise out of the need of the Pacific people for a church to hold spiritual ground against secular encroachment.

(h) Most of the people of the area are already Christian, the chief exception being the Indians in Fiji.

(i) The Church is being called on now to exercise a ministry of social welfare which must eventually become a State responsibility, but in the meantime demand the care of the Church as prophet and servant.

(j) The A.B.M.'s pledge when work among the Indians began has not been fulfilled with the vigour circumstances demand.

[58] Multi-Racial Congregations

In the best traditions of concern for individual souls the Church works to the point of exhaustion. There is an evangelical concern for personal spirituality rooted in scripture and a catholic concern for order in worship.

In any centre the congregation is of many races--Fijians, Tongans or Samoans according to the island, with Melanesians, Chinese, Indians, European and all possible mixtures. A few of the "old hand" Europeans raise voices against the inclusion of other races in the congregations, but the Church is ignoring this, and it is fast disappearing. The ministry is carried on in many languages. Newcomers are gathered individually as they come seeking.

Such a ministry is made possible by the nature of island communities, and because congregations are small enough for individual contact.

Such a ministry need not happen. In fact, it does--in a most noticeable manner. Formal Church Order is enriched by the links forged in the fires of conversion or in a ministry maintained in the face of difficulty. The growth of membership which appears imminent might cause the personal basis to be lost, but the present staff appears to be so given to personal ministry that there is little ground for misgiving. It is to be hoped that God's precious gift of understanding and concern for each soul will be preserved. It will be an inspiration for the whole Church.

Indigenous Leadership

Already there are two indigenous priests--a Tongan and a Samoan, trained in their own Theological College. Teachers in the Church schools include Fijian, Tongan, Indian, Melanesian, European and part-European. An Indian doctor works alongside Dr. Hemming in the Suva [58/59] clinic. The 13th Synod meeting in Suva in September, 1962, had eight non-Europeans with 22 Europeans. The Europeans in lay offices in the Church are increasingly finding people of other races ready for responsibility. Rarely do they require pressure to accept this.

St. John's House for theological students in Suva, started in 1958, has seven students in residence and two evening students, all non-Europeans. Six new men are to be enrolled soon. Many still too young or insufficiently qualified for acceptance are working to meet the requirements.

Teachers trained by Island Education Departments are applying for transfer to Church schools. Departmental policy is to hand over to the Church if required. It is expected that Church schools will have all Anglican staffs in another two years.

Nurses in training in Island Government hospitals are also willing to tranfer to Church work when it can be found.

Ecumenical Role of the Anglican Church

Ecumenical development is no longer academic. In the two already independent nations of Tonga and Samoa the people are divided in only one major segment of life--their religion divides them into several vigorous and often hostile churches. Instead of leading the people into deeper unity the churches are keeping alive the thought-forms and organisation of division and strife. Our church is called to a ministry of reconciliation and is well placed for it now.

The great majority of Christian Islanders belong to protestant churches.

The Roman Catholic Church has minority membership but greatly exceeds the Anglican Church.

[60] The protestant churches have in the past regarded the Romans with hostility partly due to aggressive infiltration by the Romans and partly to doctrinal or sectarian views.

The Anglican Church is respected by both protestant and Roman Churches and holds its place by its integrity rather than its numbers. The ecumenical movement has reached the Pacific Islands and might easily result in a coagulation of Protestant churches separated widely from the Romans and confirmed in an anti-Roman attitude. This is being prevented by the presence of the Anglican Church, which is respected and accepted into the ecumenical fellowship even though its stand for churchmanship and doctrine often causes shock and surprise.

Self Help

Each parish and each welfare project is supported very largely by local contributions. Remarkable developments have been made possible by local effort. Dr. Hemming's Bayley Clinic in Suva was paid for in Suva by an atheist who would not entrust the work to anyone else. St. Luke's Church and Parish Hall and Rectory in Suva were built with voluntary labour from materials paid for locally.

St. Thomas' Church, Labasa was largely provided and built by local people. All Saints' Church, Apia was almost entirely a local effort.

Lautoka parish has a church and rectory almost paid for by their own efforts. The new St. Mark's, Nasinu, Suva, was built and paid for by the small Melanesian settlement with very little outside help.

St. Andrew's, Tonga, received £500 from the A.B.M. for a secondary school building in 1950. Local money raising and work resulted in a concrete building of five [60/61] classrooms which cost £2,300. The staff of fourteen in this school is paid from fees paid by parents. There are also three students in the Teacher Training College, Tonga, whose fees the congregation pays.

This last example best illustrates the need for help from the Anglican Church outside the Diocese. The school gets excellent results and enrolments are constantly increasing. All Anglican children at secondary level are enrolled, and many members of other churches want to enrol their children. Three temporary classrooms are now falling down. The school needs to replace these with a permanent building. A few hundred pounds have been raised by local effort.

Parents pay fees which meet -the costs of staff. Parishioners pay the Vicar's stipend on an increasing scale. They contribute to the Diocese.

All the work has created a need for extension. The pressure comes mainly from outside the Church by way of requests from newcomers seeking the ministry or service of the Church. Capital funds are needed for extending existing schools, building a new secondary school, properly establishing St. John's Theological College, specialised education and Indian evangelism on an adequate scale.

The Indian "Mushroom" in Fiji

The missions (not including the Anglicans) had converted all the Island peoples in Fiji by the beginning of this century. Then the Sugar Company brought in Indian labourers from the canefields. Instead of returning them to India at the end of their contract they allowed them to stay in Fiji if they preferred. The Indian Community introduced in this way by Britain has grown rapidly and now outnumbers the Fijians. It is about 55% of the total population. This 55% is not Christian [61/62] except for a small number of converts. The result for Fiji is that it now has half its people outside the Christian faith even though at the beginning of the century it was almost 100% Christian. With the population explosion proving more powerful in the Indian sector than in the Fijian the country is losing its Christian character. The effect of this is magnified by the lack of zeal in many Fijians in the "majority" Methodist Church.

The Indians in Fiji now are second and third generation descendants. They have discarded caste and other elements of their culture and religion. In some respects the churches have better prospects in Fiji than in India. But the resurgent religions of India are sending teachers and pandits to revive the old religions. Firewalking is still common--not among the Christians. The susceptibility of Fiji Indians to conversion is being amply demonstrated these days. Third generation youth who wish to join the Church will often have their wish, though their parents will dismiss the idea that they should themselves become Christians.

The Indian in Fiji is confused because the social and other problems he faces often seem to stem from a Christian Church. He is kept apart as a separate racial entity by administration policy. He is able to purchase land only with difficulty. Leasehold tenure is available but only for comparatively short terms. He is often proficient in modern business methods and much financial traffic passes through the hands of Indians. So they are accused of greed and dishonesty. He lacks the Fijian communal society security so a great many Indians live crowded in small shacks on one-year farming tenancies of a few square yards with the men unemployed. The result is an explosive-tempered, under-privileged majority of able, vigorous and volatile people.

Anything the church does for the spiritual welfare of Indians leads her into the "cold war" between Fijians [62/63] and Indians. The personal ministry of the church is seen perhaps at its best among the Indians but this involves the church in the crisis. While she is making converts among this majority people she is building up tension with the original people.

If the development which appears to be imminent does in fact occur the demands will undoubtedly exceed the present prospective resources. The needs are of such magnitude they should be put before the whole Anglican Communion through its Executive Officer.

Dual Role of the Church in Polynesian Progress

The Church finds herself faced with people in need of the ministry she has in her heart to give, a ministry of service, healing and enlightenment exercised in many other countries on a grand scale, but limited in Polynesia to the little that is possible with present staff and funds.

There are seven church schools with a total enrolment of 1,300. These all run on the fee system that applies to all education, charging the monthly fee but providing bursaries and exemptions in cases of needy children of the Church. Non-Anglicans are taken as pupils. This is partly in the hope of opportunities for evangelism and partly as a work of service to the nation. When there are not enough schools and teachers for all children to attend the Church seems bound to accept a share of the burden of providing education. (Fiji, 1962--15,000 children cannot find places in schools.)

The Bayly Clinic founded by the Reverend Dr. G. R. Hemming in Suva provides medical and dental treatment to "out-patients" at a charge of 2/- per treatment. The clinic also provides food for about fifty poor and destitute on a well organised plan.

The Cathedral Parish Welfare Sister and Evangelist, Miss Betty Slader, picks up the lines at the Clinic and [63/64] takes nursing and welfare service into the homes (shacks). She also brings others to the clinic as she follows out the lines she picks up in the three Suva parish churches and the two Melanesian Settlements. She also picks up her own cases directly as her distinctive van becomes widely known and as former patients tell their friends about her.

The Clinic and the Welfare Sister are closely interwoven with the staff of priests in the Suva parish churches. Communicants become patients and patients become enquirers. Instruction is often given to catechumens in the shacks, or homes, where the first visit of the Church was on a mercy call.

Some of the girls who have completed the primary course at St. Mary's, Labasa, have been selected by the Department for enrolment at the very good High School in the town. They need board with supervision or they must leave school and stay at home. The Church cannot turn a deaf ear to their requests so St. Mary's Hostel has been opened and continues to give this service.

Unemployment is a serious social problem, getting worse as each year's upper classes leave school. Fijians can return to their village security but Indian families are on their own. Able and active young men wanting work of any kind can find nothing. They sit in the shade of their shack with hungry parents and brothers and sisters. They grow all the food possible on the few square yards available to them but most of the day they gaze at acres of unused land. A few of. them with contacts discover the Bayley Clinic and food is given for a month or some other fixed period. Dr. Hemming now has the Church of England Men's Society at work opening up vacant land for food crops. This part of the job is done by Anglican men of all races and occupations on Saturdays. [64/65] Unemployed men are then given work planting crops for which a market has been contracted. They are paid wages from a pool contributed by local supporters.

Melanesian boys of school age in Navutu have no school and no teacher. They are all Anglicans. A nineteen-year-old Fijian lad of the Church has just finished secondary school and is at work. In spare time he gets the boys together in a village house and starts school. The Department cannot allow it to go on, but the rector of the parish presses home the lessons learned and forty boys and girls are found places in the local existing school for Fijians--the first Melanesian entry. This Fijian lad has found a vocation to Orders and is being examined for acceptance in St. John's House in 1963.

One hundred derelict Melanesians in the mangroves two days by launch from Savu Savu are all Anglicans mostly left to the care of the Fijian Methodist Lay Preacher for that district. The priest finds his way through the mud, then comes back with the Bishop. They crave a regular ministry. They face a crisis in tenure. They live as a community on four acres of leasehold land. They get a little work in neighbouring plantations but most of their needs must come from the four acres. The lease is to expire shortly. It might be renewed. The Church cannot turn a deaf ear to their questions about the large settlement of Melanesians a day's journey away at Naviavia. That is an inherited plantation and has 300 of its 5,000 acres set apart for the Melanesian village with about 200 souls. Many can get plantation work. There is enough ground to grow food, plant cash crops and graze beef. The Church can see no good reason for not adding another 100 persons to the Naviavia settlement--except for the responsibilities of management already more than enough for the layman in charge.

[66] An old people's home and a deserted children's home are needed.

In these and other ways the Church is being called to exercise a ministry of welfare. Much of it is in work which we will expect the State to take over as it assumes welfare responsibilities. It seems unavoidable that the Church must do all she can now.

She seems to be called at the same time to the role of prophet--making her welfare service a lesson to people and Government, pressing home upon the authorities the needs and the ways of meeting them. As "pilot projects" this welfare work has a special place in the Islands in this decade.

This demand for welfare service is catching the Diocese unprepared. It is perhaps the one point of weakness in the Diocese at present. It will probably be easier to find the extra staff and funds overseas than to persuade the present workers to husband their resources.

Plight of Melanesians in Fiji

Any description of the Diocese must include mention of the "Solomon Islanders". The plight of these people might warrant an approach to the United Nations to have them recognised as "displaced persons". The possibility of developing a food producing community settlement with two hundred of them on a portion of the Church plantation at Naviavia might warrant an approach to the Freedom from Hunger Campaign for a large grant.

There are between two and three thousand "Solomon Islanders" in the colony of Fiji today. With few exceptions they declare themselves Anglicans and ask for the ministry of the Church.

It is perhaps better to call them "Melanesians". In the 1880's a few hundred men and women were brought forcibly from the islands of Melanesia, mainly the [66/67] Solomons, but some from the New Hebrides. They were "blackbirded" with little or no attempt being made to form a contract. They were brought. to the cotton fields then being established in Fiji. When cotton failed they were turned loose, but no attempt was made to take them back. Their conditions were miserable. Soon after Fiji was ceded to Britain in 1874 Floyd was asked by the Chief Justice to undertake the care of the Melanesians. Since that time they have been left to the Church to do what it can. They have married and intermarried with all accessible races during the eighty years. Predominantly Melanesian, they are now a mixed race living on the fringe of society.

A hard core of about 2,000 live in small village communities retaining some Melanesian customs. All speak Fijian.

If they could be given citizenship as Fijians and the normal opportunities for a livelihood their troubles would disappear in a generation or so--probably they would themselves become unidentifiable. There could be a lag in integration because Fijians regard them as "different". This is possibly because they cannot own land and are so poor. The result is they live in poverty-stricken hamlets. The Church has succeeded in forming four rather better communities. The main one is the wellknown Bishop Patteson Memorial Village of Wailoku in Suva. From this the men are able to get labouring work and are better off. In Levuka the Church is trying to help them rebuild. At Naviavia there is a rural settlement affording security. It could be developed to a total of several hundreds and work on plantations would be available for the men.

The future of these people rests with the Church. At present it can only afford succour. It hopes to do better things but the task is beyond the Church. They are [67/68] stateless people needing citizenship. They are landless and often workless needing leadership and funds in the development of self-support.

The Pacific World of this Decade Needs the Thing We Hold

The Diocese of Polynesia is not weak. It is not a drop in the ocean. It is not a temporary gathering of Anglicans on short term assignments. It is not spendthrift and bankrupt.

The Diocese of Polynesia is a Pacific Island Church, indigenous, identifiable, conspicuous, self-propagating and, incidentally, overdrawn to the limits of modern banking practice.

For the continuance of Anglican practice it seems well calculated to survive with no further help from overseas after it has received another half dozen missionaries.

But the treasure it holds in earthern vessels is being sought by increasing numbers of non-Anglican individuals; non-Anglican churches are looking to it for a lead; outside authorities are expecting and asking it to undertake more responsibilities and wider service. Like the Island coconut tree it is expected now to meet almost every need.

Project Canterbury