Project Canterbury

Annual Report of the Melanesian Mission for 1924.

[From Melanesian Mission Report issued by the English Committee 1924, pages 10-15.]

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

[10] Annual Report of the Melanesian Mission for 1924.


AFTER an absence of more than two years, it was with a feeling of great joy and gratitude to God that I returned to Melanesia early in the year. Many people in England had said to me, "However do the people and missionaries manage without you?" But those who spoke or thought like that knew very little of either the wonderful steadfastness of our people or the resource of our missionaries, in a diocese which, for many reasons, has had to get used to absentee bishops. A bishop of Melanesia, on his consecration may do as I did, make a resolution to give all his time to work in Melanesia, but he is reckoning without knowledge of the innumerable calls to other parts of the globe which he must obey. Perhaps when we get our prayed-for Island Province, the bishops may find it possible to reside continually in their dioceses, but till that time we must do our best to satisfy all these calls on the time we long to give to Melanesia "on the spot." My first duty is to express my sincerest gratitude to the staff of the Mission for the splendid way in which they, one and all, carried on the work under very trying conditions. It is not very easy for a staff to carry on when they cannot tell at what moment they may receive the news that their Bishop is dead or invalided for life, especially when they can hope for no outside episcopal help whatever. Under these untoward circumstances each member of the Mission rose to the occasion splendidly, and I wish to place on record at the head of this report my gratitude for, and appreciation of, their efforts. To one who knows the Melanesian Christian, and especially the clergy and leading teachers, it would seem a work of supererogation to say that they went on with their work in their usual spirit of faithful service. It is only for the sake of friends at a distance, who have no personal knowledge of the Melanesian, that it is necessary to mention the fact.

The outstanding impression left on my mind from my voyage through the diocese is, "How right my Synod are in pressing for more Episcopal help in the South." Northerners and Southerners alike are at one on this matter. It is essential that a bishop who can reside mainly in the South should be forthcoming, and we thank God that one, who seems to be really the right type of man, has made the sacrifice necessary, and offered and been accepted as first Assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Melanesia. We hope and believe that his coming will mark a revival of life in what was the first field of work in Melanesia. To-day it is really heart-breaking to see, for example, the faithful struggle for life of the little isolated Church in the Torres Group. A group decimated by the Labour Traffic, unavoidably neglected by the leaders of the Church, yet persisting in the Faith and offering candidates for confirmation regularly as the periodical visits of the [10/11] far-off Bishop recur. Their hearts will rejoice when they realize that they are not forgotten nor unbeloved as they welcome a Father in God, who will be seen more often, and may be able to get to know and appreciate them personally. I think, as I write, of one of them, just taken to his reward in Paradise, a mere boy, little instructed, handicapped by a fearful island-sore, working among people morally harmed by life on plantations, meeting me each time I called, still sticking to his post, still plodding along as a faithful servant of his Master, who was Himself despised and rejected of men, now for the first time appreciated at his true value and enjoying the hard-earned reward of his faithful life. Please God, we shall no longer lie under the reproach of leaving such men to the occasional visits, and flying visits at that, of the "Southern Cross."


Or take the case of Mota, once the cradle of Melanesian Christianity, now one of Satan's strongholds, with its people slaves to the accursed Suqe, or secret society of the Southern Melanesians. On my way North I had found signs of renewed life; a church nearly ready to be dedicated, hopes that some candidates for Confirmation might await my return. But on my way South to attend General Synod in New Zealand, I found the church untouched, overgrown with weeds, no services held, for the only faithful teacher was sick, and for weeks his only congregation had been his own family, and all over an indescribable sense of the presence of a triumphant Spirit of Evil. Is it surprising that one's heart is well-nigh broken at times as one hopes and prays, seemingly in vain, for a Father to live among these people? Or again, when one hears report after report of the misdeeds of half-caste recruiters and realizes that if there were a man on the spot to oversee this sad part of God's kingdom, many at any rate of these sorrows might have been averted. May God grant to our new assistant eyes to see, a heart to feel, and strength to cope with this arduous but truly blessed work. In my dreams I sometimes wish I had the physical strength to have the high honour of attempting this work myself; but if it has pleased God to raise up the right man for this great work for Him, to Him be the praise, and in His hands the effort.

In the Solomon Islands the work still grows faster than our powers. At Tikopeia I confirmed the firstfruits of the purely native workers with joy, and yet with some misgiving, for where is the Priest who will minister the Means of Grace to these newly-enrolled soldiers of Christ? The Duff Group, and Santa Cruz and the Reefs still lack a resident Priest. Were we to devote more time to these islands in the "Southern Cross," we should incur the blame of our supporters for extravagance, and probably, quite justifiably. But it seems hard that these people should suffer for their geographical position. One wonders if the young men of our home Churches will ever recognize the glory and worth of Mission work. Probably not, as long as the leaders and teachers at home fail to recognize it themselves.

[12] The same story reaches us not only from the rest of Melanesia, but from every Mission field, and a devoted band of shamefully underpaid, ill-housed men and women are left to do the Churches' work, unrecognized and neglected. As a Bishop one can speak openly of these things. I am paid, probably in excess of my value, and quite adequately housed, but when I know what my staff have to endure, and see man after man and woman after woman breaking down from overwork under the most trying conditions, simply because the home Churches are blind to their duties and opportunities, I am inclined to despair of hope from overseas, and yearn for the time when a Native Church can shoulder its own responsibilities and "cut the painter." But vain regrets are simply a waste of time. Our duty out here is to look forward. And here the aspect is brighter. Over 2,200 confirmations in the last year show that, at any rate, the Church in Melanesia is not dead, whatever may be the case elsewhere; and that any fears that the Mission may not be going forward are misplaced. It is one of the most encouraging features of the work, that in spite of increased prices, and consequently increased expenses, we have been able to undertake the removal from Norfolk Island, and the foundation of institutions to take the place of what we left behind there, and still have not let the purely missionary work suffer. This is owing largely to the wonderful generosity of our supporters, to whom I would tender my heartfelt thanks; but also to the fact that we in the islands have been content to put up with many inconveniences which the money spent on the move might have at least allayed. Whatever accusations may be brought against the Mission financially, that of having wasted money on luxuries for the missionaries is even less justifiable than any that actually have been brought, and that is saying a good deal! Facts speak loudly: and the fact that in the last twenty years over a hundred people have left the Mission from one cause or another cries out for explanation. I personally, after much consideration and discussion, believe the explanation to be simply overwork, insufficient pay and inadequate housing, resulting in break-down. When one realizes that our staff have been content through all these lean years with the ridiculous stipend of £130 a year (the women with much less), and have only this last year been forced to ask for an increase of £20, one can visualize something of what they are bearing that the pledged word of the home Churches may not be broken. We have, perhaps, been silent too long; I am sure that my staff would prefer to remain silent still; but as their chosen leader and spokesman, I believe it to be my duty to speak out plainly, and to do my best to ensure that whatever blame we may deserve for our shortcomings and failures, at any rate the Clergy and lay workers, men and women of the Mission, deserve only honour for their amazing self-sacrifice.

Finance has indeed been my main preoccupation during the last year. Tossed on the horns of the dilemma, how to avoid expense and at the same time enlarge our scope of work (for both these things are [12/13] loudly demanded from without), one feels that some financial body which will at once represent the Synod of Melanesia, the General Synod of New Zealand and other bodies concerned in the raising and expenditure of our income, is an immediate necessity. The difficulty of carrying out a satisfactory system of accounts, for example, when several independent bodies are concerned, necessitating often cable communications, is illustrated by the following extract from the English "Log" of November last: "We are glad to be able to announce that news has just been received from New Zealand that the debt on the Mission, which on the 31st of December, 1923, was £7,286 8s. 1d., has been reduced, and is now estimated at £4,594."

Now, according to published accounts, the indebtedness of the Mission on December 31, 1923, was £4,568 8s. 1d., and on enquiring at the office in Auckland I cannot find any trace of the source of the information "just received from New Zealand."*

[* On October 28, 1923, the Bishop of Melanesia, then in England, received a cable from the Treasurer of the Mission in New Zealand saying that the debt on the Ship was £7,286. On 16th January, 1924, the Chairman of the M.M. Executive Committee in New Zealand cabled to the Bishop as follows--"Liabilities nearly £7,000, creditors pressing, unless substantial assistance forthcoming Ship cannot sail." In October 1924 the Organizing Secretary received a letter from the present Secretary of the Mission in New Zealand saying it was estimated that the debt on the Mission was, at that date, £4,594. This is the source of the information "just received from New Zealand."--A. E. CORNER.]

This is only typical of the confusion that is bound to ensue from our present unmanageable position, with three independent bodies in New Zealand, and one in Australia and one in England.

A scheme will be presented to the New Zealand General Synod in February which will, I hope, result in the establishment of a body in New Zealand, which will be so constituted as to claim the confidence of all concerned, and become one authoritative financial centre. While on the subject of finance, it is worth mentioning that, although it has not yet been possible to produce a balance sheet showing the native contributions in full, I estimate that as far as the purely Native Church expenses go, the Church in Melanesia is practically self-supporting; that is, that the money donated by Melanesians is very nearly equal to that expended on native clergy and teachers, village schools, and the building and upkeep of native Churches, school houses and missionaries' rest houses. It must be remembered, in estimating the amount of the native contributions, that all their churches, and some of them are really beautiful buildings, are erected and largely furnished by the natives themselves, by voluntary labour or contributions in money or kind. We in Melanesia take this so much as a matter of course that we sometimes forget that our friends overseas may not know as much as we do of our internal affairs and, consequently, may be inclined to underestimate the very considerable contribution that the Melanesian makes to his Church.

[14] To deal more in detail with the present condition of the Island stations:--

Bugotu still shows that the foundations laid in the past were sound, and the superstructure of a native Church with two priests and two deacons is showing great promise for the future. Over six hundred candidates for Confirmation awaited me on my arrival, and another church was added to the number of really beautiful buildings erected by that artistic race. But a white priest is needed at once to take the place of Mr. Sprott.

Gela, with almost a full staff of clergy, ranks now with Bugotu for the numbers of Confirmation candidates and beautiful churches.

The College at Siota has suffered badly through lack of a staff physically fit to cope with the duties of a business centre and a training college as well, but we hope for better times soon.

Mr. Hopkins must be tired of seeing his praises recorded in our pages, but we can't help it, if he will insist on doing two men's work with half a man's physical strength. I cannot leave the subject of Siota without mentioning Mr. and Miss Wilson, whose energy and generosity have already made their mark at Siota.

Dr. Fox was with me for a while at Siota, to my personal joy and to the great benefit of the place.

On my return I hope to set Siota really going as the business headquarters of the Mission, but this will be a gradual growth, and too much must not be looked for at once.

The Plantation (so called) at Maravovo and the Boys' School, with industrial training as a leading feature, is becoming a large establishment. The energy and devotedness of Mr. and Mrs. Warren make the future of this most important station most hopeful. But here again a white priest is urgently needed in the district work.

The printing press with Mr. Isom in charge is, as one who knows the untiring vitality of the latter would expect, a centre of hard and excellent work.

The Girls' School on Bunana, in spite of the sad break-down of one of the staff, is flourishing. We tender our deepest sympathy to Miss Flux's family, and trust that she may soon be restored to health again. The schools at Ugi and Pamua are nearly as full as they can be, and doing most excellent work.

Dr. Fox has succeeded Mr. Hodgson at the former. Mr. Hodgson leaves us to take up work in the Waiapu diocese, in the role of a married man. We wish him a very happy and prosperous life. He will be greatly missed in Melanesia, where his willingness to undertake any job, anywhere, has proved his unselfish zeal for the people of Melanesia. We believe that his work will be largely among the Maoris, and are sure that they will soon learn to love and respect him as much as his Melanesians have done. Of course we need men to [14/15] take the place of those who are leaving us or have done so. Will the home churches ever act up to their professed opinion, that the very best men are needed for the Mission Field? We know that the founders of the Church were "ignorant and unlearned men," so perhaps we few ignorant and unlearned in Melanesia may be the right men in the right place. Anyhow the home churches seem to think so!

In the South we are still more understaffed. Mr. Hart is doing three men's work at Vureas as warden of the Theological College and headmaster of two Boys' Schools.

Mr. Tempest has managed to overwork himself in his large and difficult district. We hope soon to have him back among us in a sphere no less important, but physically less killing.

Space forbids me to mention more of the individual work of our Staff, but where every man and woman is doing double work without a word of complaint, taking weariness and sickness as matters of course, it is impossible to single out individuals for praise.

Melanesia may bring out the worst in us as far as health goes, but it seems to bring out the best as far as work goes.

Before I end this report I must refer to the great loss we have just had in the death of Rudolph Sprott. Very few of us knew his real worth; he seemed to delight in giving people an impression that his heart was not in the work, and he had a talent for saying the most outrageous things. But a few knew him really well; and they mourn a good and loyal friend, and the most self-forgetting missionary of us all. He was honoured and loved by many whom the missionaries seldom know well, and is remembered by them as one of the straightest and "whitest" of men.

One word in conclusion. The Mission has carried on through times when most such work suffered by financial depression. We have not yet had to curtail any of our usual work. We have more scholars at our various centres than ever before. Our school villages are on the increase. Our Confirmation candidates are treble the number they were ten years ago. In six years we have only spent about six thousand pounds more than in pre-war times. These facts speak for themselves. We are not moribund, we are not extravagant; we are doing God's Work. Will you let that work fail for lack of adequate support?

Bishop of Melanesia.

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