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Sermon Preached at he Consecration of the Reverend A. T. Hill as Bishop of Melanesia

By Charles E. Fox

From the Southern Cross Log, Auckland, No. 46, September, 1954, pages 86-92.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Retired Bishop of Malaita, 2009


John XV.5 Phil. IV.13

We are met to consecrate the ninth Bishop of Melanesia. He will be reminded when the successors of the Apostles lay their hands on him that God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind. Yet it is no easy thing to follow those who have been Bishops of Melanesia before him.

He will be the successor of John Coleridge Patteson, our saint and martyr. His mastery of languages was wonderful. He spoke 24 Melanesian languages most as different, each from the other, as English is from modern Greek. In a letter of George Augustus Selwyn, a letter I think not published, Selwyn says that Patteson was not a natural linguist, but mastered these 24 languages by sheer hard work. And that is the only way to do it. But greater than his mastery of Melanesian languages was his wonderful power of friendship which won the hearts of the Melanesians. He had no colour feeling at all; he did not despise them as "niggers" or "natives," or (what is even more galling) call them a child race. They were just his friends. Our Lord makes clear the difference between a friend and a servant--"I call you friends, for a servant (an inferior) knoweth not what his Lord doeth, but I have told you all things." A friend takes you into his confidence. There is a real equality in friendship. It was friendship Patteson gave to the Melanesians. Edward Wogale, Patteson's most brilliant son, who died a faithful pioneer missionary in the Torres, used to say again and again: "To him black and white were all alike. He did not despise us. He did not live apart from us." It is friendship such as his which alone can win the hearts of men of another race; it is friendship, rather than good government, that they long for.

After Patteson came John Selwyn, the heroic evangelist, of whom it was said that he was always the schoolboy, always the sailor, and ever the saint. I knew him when I was a boy in New Zealand and he set my heart on fire for Melanesia.

[87] (Leonard Robin used to tell us of Selwyn's last visit to Mota, when he was crippled by malarial sciatica and they carried him up to the Church from those rocks we all know so well to preach his.last sermon, lying on a mattress. They carried him down again to the rocks where he lay on the mattress in great pain; but he heard Robin groaning nearby with an attack of fever; "take him the mattress," said the Bishop. "I can do with a blanket." They carried him on board and laid him on the mattress on the floor of the saloon, Robin lay there, too, groaning with his fever. Presently he heard the Bishop crawling to him. He laid his hand on Robin and said, "Poor old chap, you've got it badly this time. I'll get you some medicine," and then dragged himself slowly to the medicine chest, mixed a dose and crawled back to Robin and gave it to him. Then he crawled back to the mattress and lay down again with a sigh of relief. That was Bishop John.) For nearly 20 years he lived a life here of heroic Christian adventure in what were then, wild and savage islands.

Then came Cecil Wilson, the athlete of the Gospel, as many called him, one of England's best cricketers, a member of the famous Kent XI, the only English County in those days to beat the Australians and defy Spofforth's bowling. At Cambridge he was said to be notable for two things--cricket and conceit. I worked under him for 10 years, and the cricket was all there--glorious cricket--but the conceit was all gone, he was the humblest of men. It so often happens with a Christian that the weakest part of his character becomes, by the grace of God, the strongest. What a man he was! I can see him still standing up in the stern of the whaleboat with the 18ft. steer oar, taking us safely through the worst surf landings, what boat voyages he made! From the New Hebrides to the Banks, from the Banks to the Torres, all over the Santa Cruz Group from island to island. It was the custom then for the men who worked in the islands to spend the summers at Norfolk Island, where the wives and families of the married men lived. But Bishop Wilson, after going round the islands in the ship in the winter months, gave up most of his summers, too, with his wife and family, and spent each summer in his whaleboat in some island where no man was at work or where the Church was weak; and so for 17 years he lived a life of self-sacrifice building up this Church.

After the short episcopate of Cecil Wood came John Mainwaring Steward, a man whose sympathy with and understanding of Melanesians has never been equalled among us. Every Bishop at his consecration receives the gift of Wisdom, but John Steward received it sevenfold, and was ever a Bishop so loved by Melanesians and white staff! We who knew him think of him as the greatest of our Bishops. He, with Ini, founded the Melanesian Brotherhood, he founded the Cathedral at Siota, where it has been for 35 years, [87/88] he founded Pawa and Maravovo, he called our first Synod, he moved our school from N.I. to the Islands, he conceived the idea of an Island Province, rejected by the New Zealand Bishops, for the time was not yet. Feeling that he could not do his work as he would like to in the hurried visits of the Southern Cross, he made up his mind to visit all his people in his boat, and his 500 miles voyage in a whaleboat is part of our history.

Walter Baddeley is fresh in your memories. When these islands were overrun by the Japanese, he remained with us all through, and by his courage and encouragement did more than anyone else in these islands to keep bright the British name among this people. He was the central figure of the war here, the man all the Americans said should have been a great soldier. He was the hero of every Mission schoolboy. Is it easy to follow such men as these? They are the glory of our Church. I had thought these great Missionary Bishops were the glory of the Church of New Zealand which consecrated and sent them out. I was told they did not belong to it, and a New Zealand Bishop said to Bishop Caulton, "Now the Melanesian Church is no more to us than Africa or China." But I did not believe it. For who was our Founder? Was it not the first Bishop of New Zealand, setting out in a little boat of 20 tons, himself the captain and navigator, with a crew of four and no charts, to convert to Christianity 200,000 wild savages living 1000 miles away, and more, in unchartered and dangerous seas? And have we not with us today, the Primate of the Province of our Mother Church, at whose coming we so rejoice? Our love for that Church and, I am persuaded, its love for us, is too deep and strong for the ties between us to be broken.

One day when preaching here I said that if anyone asked me what was the greatest change in these 50 years of my life here, I should have said: "The change in the faces of the people." Fifty years ago it was still very much the old Melanesia. Wherever you landed you saw faces cruel, crafty and vile; there was fighting everywhere; wounded men in many villages, and some of the people still cannibals; everywhere professional murderers ready to kill at a word, war canoes going along the coast looking for victims, little sign of any ordered Government. I remember at my boys' school going down to the beach in the morning and finding a headless corpse on the sand. Those were the last years of the old Solomon Islands. They were a virile people but there were few Christians.

Then came the next stage. The Government was growing stronger, the people more and more without hope. Suppose for a moment that the Japanese had proved altogether too strong and conquered New Zealand. The white man, the "native" they despised. They did not trouble to learn the language of the natives. The laws they made were in Japanese and not understood, Japanese was the [89/90] language of the courts, interpreters were of the poorest, and there was no justice. The people must follow Japanese ways; their own customs were breaking down and their old way of life; the Japanese took land, and to the natives it seemed that they would take more and more; taxes had to be paid; every year Asiatic diseases were introduced which were fast destroying the native people, but they could do nothing about it; their religion was laughed at, just native superstition of an inferior people. What it is like always to be treated as an inferior because of the colour of one's skin no Englishman man will ever understand. It hurts in 100 little ways and those who hurt never know it. That would be something like the Solomons of 35 years ago, and I am not exaggerating. If they could they would have sent all white men packing, but they knew they never could. The people were dying out with the new diseases. I remember one year there were six villages near me and after the epidemic of that year passed (and one came every year) there was not one man, woman or child alive in those six villages. The people were dying out and knew it. The women were killing their unborn babies because, so they told me, they did not want them to grow up in the white man's Solomons. They had no hope. Bishop Wilson even once said that our job was to give what comfort we could at the bedside of a dying race. Those were unhappy years, but we came through them, and what a change has come now!

There is a great stirring in the minds of the people. Hope is alive again. They are thinking and talking of the future. This is partly the work of the schools, of Pawa and Maravovo and the fine Methodist Schools in the west--of all the schools. They put heart and hope into hundreds of young Melanesians. The people, too, are largely Christians and in Christianity is a deep well of life and hope. The Government, too, has been at work. The Solomons is an out-of-the-way place and it would be idle to pretend that the Government was always a good one; but it has been steadily growing stronger, better and far more understanding. The war was a great stimulus. If it made the people doubt British power it woke them into life. They wanted to stand on their own feet. One of the results was Marching Rule; there was good in it, it made for unity and no one wanted a servile people; but it was the wrong road. All our Melanesian priests refused to follow it; they had a hard time, only they know how hard. The people refused to speak to them or have anything to do with them; their goods were stolen and they were called traitors, but they all held firm. No one, white or Melanesian, knew how serious things might become; and we all know there were two District Officers, Mr. Foster [Forster] and Mr. Allan, who, by their wisdom, courage and patience, changed perhaps the history of our islands. But the seeds of Marching Rule are not dead and we need a wise leader and guide to show us all the right road, in the [90/91] new Solomon Islands that is coming to birth, in which the next ten years will be all-important.

There are so many problems for our Church to face. The people are so eager for education. We want a Christian education, religious teaching in all the schools. You cannot be neutral. If religion is not in the schools a generation will grow up to whom God and religion are not important, instead of being, as they are, the most important things in life. We have, ourselves, made the problem hard by giving them a divided Christianity, which we must pray and work to heal. And what are we to educate them for? Not only to be the clergy or teachers or doctors of the people, or to be Government clerks, but to be craftsmen and artists for which their capability is so great. Bishop Stewart founded at Maravovo what he hoped would be a great school of arts and crafts, but he was before his time, and it became a small boys' school. All our Bishops have believed that Christianity means the development of the whole man, body, mind and spirit. When our Mission first began, Bishop George Augustus Selwyn preached a great sermon on the man, out of whom the devils were driven, who was found "clothed" (the good things of civilisation), "in his right mind" (education), and "sitting at the feet of Jesus"--as he put it in the prayer of the College he founded, that "true religion, sound learning, and useful industry might flourish and abound." That the people might have life and have it more abundantly, in body, mind and spirit.

(We want the worship of our people to be both Catholic and Melanesian, not merely British. Some years ago I made a collection of about 100 Melanesian dreams and sent them to my friend, Dr. Rivers, the English authority on dreams. It was surprising to find how much they differ from our dreams, how far richer they are in symbolism, and we all know how Melanesians far excel us in the use of parable and metaphor. These things are natural to their minds. It is true we kneel to show reverence and use light to show joy, and a deep love of pageantry and symbolism was shown in the Coronation of the Queen; but these things are still more natural to Melanesians, as witness all their old religion, the annual lighting of the new fire, the eating of the sacred tree; their pagan religion was full of such things, and the form of their minds must colour their Christian worship. In their old religion, too, was an intense desire for communion with their forefathers, expressed in their worship; and their understanding of the Catholic doctrine of the communion of saints may be deeper and richer than ours. To develop true Christian Melanesian worship is not easy; they may find the way themselves; but they need sympathy and guidance.)

We are all very glad to have the Bishops of New Guinea with us; may we hope that it is the harbinger of a drawing together of the three island Churches of New Guinea, Melanesia and Polynesia--[91/92] Bishop John Steward's hope. The people of these Churches have so much in common, so many problems in common, and we feel at home with one another; and yet none of us wants to weaken the ties with the Churches which begot us. Here, too, we need a guide and leader. In the island Churches changes are coming so fast, there are so many voices telling us this or that is the right road. A great gift of wisdom is needed. Must not he who is chosen to lead us be feeling: "Who is sufficient for these things?"--to follow the great men of the past or to guide us wisely and well in this difficult time of change. But Christian Faith alone can take us through the coming years. Without Christ we can do nothing, but we can do all things through Christ who strengthen us. We are in no doubt that our Lord has called him to this work. The priests who were at Pawa remember those two days when we tried to learn whom our Lord wanted as our Bishop, how carefully and thoroughly we discussed it, and how there was not one jarring note in all that long discussion, and how at the end we could all feel and say: "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and us to choose this man; and the Bishops of the Province confirmed our choice. He may be well persuaded that our Lord Jesus Christ has chosen him--not we.

And presently when the successors of the first Apostles lay their hands on him something will happen. This is no empty ceremony; something will happen, at that moment, as we all kneel silent, power will come down from on high and the man who rises from his knees will not be the man we all knew at Pawa, just as S. Peter was not the old S. Peter they had known, after our Lord had breathed on him and said: "Receive the Holy Ghost." He will be the Father of this Melanesian Family, and as the Father of that Family we shall give him honour, loyalty and obedience, and he will feed us, forgive us our many faults, and shield us from all evil.

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