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The Diocese of Melanesia.

By C.E. Fox

From Southern Cross Log, New Series, No. 9, Auckland, December 1919, pp. 3-4.
[Also published in Southern Cross Log, Vol. 25(9), London, September 1919, pp. 104-106.]

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Retired Bishop of Malaita, 2012


(By Rev. C. E. Fox, San Cristoval.)

The following, reprinted from the "Church Standard," Sydney, expresses the thoughts on the division of the Diocese of an experienced Missionary, who is very closely in touch with native life. Of course, the LOG takes no responsibility for the suggestions contained in it:—

Melanesia has had several very difficult problems to deal with of late years, and the following proposed solution of them is offered with great diffidence. It is, to put it shortly, that Melanesia should be divided into four Dioceses instead of one, with four Bishops instead of one, and that the time has come in conjunction with this for a large increase in the number of Melanesian priests. The four Dioceses would then be: (1) The Banks and New Hebrides, including the supervision of our people in the Southern New Hebrides; (2) Santa Cruz with its many outlying islands, Anuda, Tikopia, Vanikolo, etc.; (3) The Eastern Solomons, including San Cristoval, Ugi, Ulawa, and Malaita and out-lying islands such as Bellona; (4) The Middle Solomons, including Gela, Guadalcanar, Bugotu, and Laube.

First, to take some of the advantages. Each such small Diocese would have real episcopal supervision. The Bishop could do a great deal of the work now done by men in charge of very large districts, and he would do it better because he would be in Bishop's orders. Secondly, the language problem would be solved. The Banks Island Diocese could adopt Mota. The Santa Cruz Diocese a Polynesian language (most of the Melanesians in that part speak and understand a Polynesian language). The East Solomons could adopt anyone of the following: Ulawa, Lau or Wango, which would be understood everywhere with little difficulty. Gela would do admirably for the Middle Solomons. These four languages could then be used for printing and each of them developed. A great advantage would be that each Bishop could then speak to and be understood by his people as well as his teachers, which will be impossible whether we have Mota or English as a lingua franca, and which would be an enormous help to him. Thirdly, this leads us on to the road to a Melanesian episcopate, for it is quite within the bounds of possibility that before very long we shall have a Melanesian Priest who could do the work of such a Diocese as its Bishop, but we shall probably never have a Melanesian Priest who could do what is now required of the Bishop of Melanesia. Each such Diocese would have perhaps half-a-dozen white Priests, who would do chiefly the educational work. I believe the native Priests could look after small districts quite well if they only had a Bishop who could be often with them to help and advise and guide.

But in conjunction with this division of the Diocese we ought to look to a great increase in the number of native Priests, and I believe the time has come for that, if only we take a Priest's work to be not so much organisation, as the careful administration of the sacraments of the Church, and choose not so much young Melanesians of talent as steady and reliable older teachers, who could be taught quite well to administrate the sacraments carefully and look upon that as their chief work. I know others will not agree with this and will think I am rash perhaps, but I only give my own opinion after seventeen years' knowledge and observation of Melanesian teachers, and I would like to urge on those who think this impossible, that the alternative is a Church practically without sacraments, and that to develop the people's sacramental life it is worth while to take the risk of failures among our native Priests, though I cannot think the risk would be great. Sacrament-giving Priests rather than rulers are what we should seek; we Englishmen think too much of ruling.

An obvious objection is the increased expense of four Dioceses instead of one. Need there be any increase? Why should not each such Bishop be content with £150 a year. In his small Diocese (if he lived in it and did not have to pay continual visits to Australia and New Zealand) he would not need more. The home Church, the A.B.M., should see to it that our Bishops do not have to go to Australia to plead for support, men and money. That should be the work of the base, not the fighting line. If each Bishop were content with £150 a year, the four Bishops would need no more than our present one Bishop with his £600. Another advantage would be that it would be far easier to find men in Melanesia itself for such work than for the present very difficult work of Bishop of the whole of Melanesia, and we should always [3/4] be able to get for each Diocese a man of some years experience already in Melanesia before he became Bishop, a very important matter. The four Dioceses ought not to lose touch with one another, and need not. Each could have its annual conference, the Bishop with his half-dozen English Priests and his two-dozen or so Melanesian Priests; and every three years, or every five, there could be a Synod of the Province, at which all the Bishops and representatives from each Diocese would gather. At this the language would have to be English and the use of English would not be at all impossible.

But I hope the four Melanesian Dioceses would not be the only four of the Island Province. New Guinea might well come in, especially if there were a link in the islands between a new Missionary Diocese—in the islands lately under German rule—and at the other end why should not Polynesia be included? This must come some day, and the language of the common Synod must inevitably be English, a fad which those who wish to spread Mota throughout Melanesia do not consider enough. The Southern Cross would be the ship of the whole Province, binding all the Dioceses together. We need to come into closer relationship with New Guinea. We have much to learn from her, and she will be helped by us; and Polynesia needs to throw off her isolation.

This is I fear a crude proposal in many ways, and no doubt open to objections, but it is only thrown out tentatively, with the hope that it may lead to discussion. If we turn our thoughts back to the days of Bishop Patteson, and his small staff working closely under his eye; with the feeling amongst themselves of being a small united family of which all the members were known to one another; may we not hope that the reproduction to some extent of the Diocese as a small family of the Bishop (its Father in God), and his Priests and people, often seeing one another, and often meeting, might lead to better results than the continuance of one big Diocese, which has no longer the sense of family life that former members of the Mission remember so well as existing in their time.

NOTE.—I do not mean that no native Priests should be given the work of organising and looking after districts, but that some natives who have not such gifts should nevertheless receive Orders, continue to look after their own villages only, but also help their comrades to give the sacraments to the people of a number of neighbouring villages.

(From the English LOG.)

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