Project Canterbury

The Community of the Cross

London: Melanesian Mission, 1950.

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


33 Southampton Street, Strand, London, W. C. 2.

The Community of the Cross

On July 16th last news from private sources reached this office that the Community had decided to join the Roman Church.

It became apparent later that members of the Community had written privately to friends during June saying that the matter was to be confirmed by the sending of a cable, after the Chapter, saying "Unanimous". Letters were written to people in Australia, New Zealand and England. Certainly in Australia and New Zealand the news of the perversion was common property before the date of the Chapter meeting.

The Bishop was in close contact with the Community up to June 11th, and, in a letter written on June 16th, said "my relations (with the Community) have been most cordial".

The Bishop left for a long visitation of islands on the extreme edge of the Diocese where he would be out of reach of mail and radio for some weeks. Mother Margaret knew this and said nothing, in spite of the fact that letters had been written as above. The result was that the Bishop was the last person to hear of the decision. It was known in England before the Bishop knew.

The Bishop's letter, August 8th, 1950, "what hurts me most is that they were able to tell so many people and leave me till last".

Reasons given originally for the change of allegiance were two.

1. The impossibility of further growth of the Community. The Bishop is said to have made a ruling that the Community must not increase beyond 25 per cent of the number of lay women on the Mission staff.

Bishop's letter, August 8th, "Sister ....'s statements are misleading even where they are not definitely false".

"I was willing to let her (Mother Margaret) have two recruits, 'but then said as for my policy in general I did not want the Community ever to outnumber the secular women on the Staff".

N.B. Mother Margaret had asked about two possible recruits from Australia.

"The statement about the aspirant from Australia is quite false. As I told you, I agreed that they should have two -- which Mother Margaret repeated to me at some later time herself, so it was known at least by Mother Margaret. The question of the present ratio was never mentioned. It was on the future ratio I expressed myself".

To observers this placing the onus of limited numbers upon the Bishop, or, as regards the past, upon previous Bishops, is entirely wrong and misleading. The Community has failed throughout its time in Melanesia to attract postulants. In 1946 Sister Gwen tried very hard to find some in England. One, a Baptist by upbringing, came forward, was baptized and confirmed, and went out with Sister Gwen.

[2] In 1949 Mother Margaret tried and had no response. The Community has been limited in numbers through the lack of recruits and not at all by external rulings.

2. Frustration "the amount of frustration which has been our lot in trying for the last 21 years to build up this Community for the service of the Church in Melanesia leaves us with little or no hope that our seven native members, after our day's work is done, will be supported in faith, protected in vocation, or appreciated and used y the Church of their Baptism". "The C. of E., especially in New Zealand, seems incapable of producing vocations to this way or life and service, or of fostering them when she has them." -- A Sister's letter.

It should be remembered that in a Diocese like Melanesia the whole staff might talk about "frustration". The general conditions there can be counted upon to provide surprises and consequent unavoidable changes of plan.

No action of Bishop Caulton can be cited as of the nature of "frustration". His speech at the Anniversary in 1948 showed very plainly that he was giving every possible encouragement to the Community. He mentioned having clothed Novices. He was apparently prepared to regard the Community as a valuable asset to the Mission.

The English Committee arranged that two anniversaries in London should largely be given up to the work of the Community; one in 1946 and the other in 1949. The Committee also approved of the publication "The School Island", which is about the Community work. It cost approximately £250.

Further "reasons" for the move, quoted from letters written by the Sisters, are "the M.M. is losing an element which has never been quite congenial to it."

A fair comment on that remark is that while the Community qua Community has never been anything but "congenial" to Melanesia, certain members of the Community strained the good feeling and patience of other members of the Staff to an extreme.

"In the present chaos of the world ..... the Papacy is the only possible centre of unity" -- Sister Gwen.

"I have known since my furlough in England in 1946 that were I to study the positions of the R.C. Church and the C. of E. there would be only one conclusion" -- Sister Gwen.

"I have little doubt now that I ought to have taken this step 43 years ago" -- Mother Margaret.

These statements have never been made before to any of the responsible members of the Mission.

The future of the Sisters

Earlier letters stated that all had gone to the Headquarters of the Roman Mission in the Solomons, where they were to be "instructed" (and it is to be supposed) received. They were then to take charge of a Roman girls' school which was being especially built for them. They were to be a "Pia Unio" and to be attached to the Marist Sisters at work in the Pacific. The habit was to be altered slightly.

A later letter states "It will probably be several months before any of us are received and a full year for the .native members.''

[3] As far as is known at present, it is the intention of Rome to use the Sisters in the centre of the Diocese of Melanesia to do the same kind of work in the same outward dress as they did for the C. of E.

Bishop Caulton's letter says "I can't help feeling that they have taken a line as damaging as possible to the Mission."

Archdeacon Teall, August 8th, 1950, "We here, in the South, have placed on record our sympathy, loyalty and affection for our Bishop, and have expressed our full confidence in him."

The English Committee, October 26th, 1950, directed that the following cable be sent to the Bishop: "The English Committee desires to express its sympathy with you in the recent trying difficulties concerned with the Community, and to assure you of its complete confidence and whole-hearted support."

15th November, 1950.

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