Project Canterbury

Sermon Preached by the Primate of New Zealand, the Most Rev'd Allan Johnston, at the Inauguration of the Church of the Province of Melanesia, St. Barnabas Cathedral, Honiara, Solomon Islands, January 26, 1975.

No place: no publisher, 1975.

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

Colossians 1:1-6

The apostolic mandate was given to St. Paul that he might become the instrument of God to bring the knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to peoples and nations of that first century. This same mandate, given by Christ himself--Go therefore--has been given to apostolic men of every age. So the Church has reached into the lives of men and women of every race and culture.

In the year 1841 George Augustus Selwyn was sent from the shores of England with this apostolic commission--with the authority and the command to bring the knowledge of Jesus Christ to the land of New Zealand and the islands of the Pacific. He was called Bishop of New Zealand, but no-one had dreamed of extending New Zealand territory so far across the seas. Maybe an error in a document--maybe something else--maybe the purpose of God that this was the time, and this was the man, by which the peoples of Melanesia might come to know God through Jesus Christ his only Son.  

There was much for the new bishop to do in New Zealand where he soon made his presence felt. By long journeys mostly by ship or on foot he visited European and Maori members of his flock, bringing order and system to the missionary church. Yet he could not forget that map which showed other lands to be within his care, and indeed reproached himself for his lateness in coming.

"Even a mere Sydney speculator could induce nearly 100 men from some of the wildest islands in the Pacific to sail in his ships to Sydney to keep his flocks and herds, before I, to whom the Chief Shepherd has given commandment to seek out his sheep that are scattered over a thousand isles, have sought or found so much as one of those which have strayed or are lost."

Bishop Selwyn was not the first to bring Christianity to your islands. The Wesleyan and London Missionary Societies were already established in the south. A Romon Catholic bishop lived in New Caledonia. The Congregational Church had known martyrdom in the New Hebrides in the person of John Williams. But there was much apostolic work yet to begin. Selwyn ruled that, first, he would not interfere with work already started and so not to allow the stumbling block of Christian division among those who should be as brethren; and second, that in making the religion shared by Englishmen known, he would in no way force English methods and ways of life upon the island peoples.

The results of the bishop's labours and of those he soon gathered to work with him and of those who followed in such a worthy succession, are now seen in a Church ready for full responsibility as an autonomous member of the Anglican family of Churches. From its early missionary stage the Melanesian Church was soon to have its own bishop, John Coleridge Patteson, consecrated in 1861, to be martyred in 1871. In 1862 the second General Synod of the Church of New Zealand associated the Melanesian bishopric with that Synod and made provision for the necessary constitutional arrangements and requirements. But on this very occasion when Melanesia took its rightful place in the New Zealand Province, that Synod asked that provision be made for the future contingency of their severance from that General Synod, when numerous and large enough to constitute a separate ecclesiastical Province. Men of 1862 had long sight! They could foresee what happens in 1975, 113 years later.

These have been years of a wonderful friendship and growing partnership between New Zealand and Melanesia. Our New Zealand Church would have been immeasurably poorer without that part of its Province so far away and yet so near to the hearts of our people.

Over the years we have been privileged to see the bishops and representative clergy and laity in General Synod. For many years a constant stream of your younger people came to New Zealand for education and returned here to lay the foundation of your own educational system. There have not lacked men and women from New Zealand to serve in various ways in Melanesia, although to our shame we have not always answered your call with the same concern as that of Selwyn or Patteson.

Let us remember that although you have been part of the New Zealand Church, others of the Anglican Communion have been faithful in upholding and extending the work of the Church here. I am especially glad, and I know that all Melanesia is glad, that the Primate of Australia is here with us today. It was in 1850 that the Australasian Board of Missions was formed by which support was to be given to work in Melanesia. The Bishop of Newcastle accompanied Bishop Selwyn on some early voyages here. I think Selwyn's second ship, the Border Maid, was supplied by churchmen in New South Wales. When this was sold still another was supplied from Sydney. Without ships the apostolic work would have come to a standstill. So began an association that has never ceased, and the Primate's presence here today is a sign and pledge of Australia's continuing fellowship with the Province of Melanesia.

An old and valued friend of Melanesia in the person of Sir John Gutch comes to remind us of that part of the Church which gave to us Selwyn, Patteson and a host of others, to lead, and inspire, and serve throughout these years. England will rejoice with the rest of the Anglican Communion that today's inauguration has been made possible.

Not one diocese--but four dioceses. Not one bishop but four bishops. Today this Church stands with the Church in England, in New Zealand, in Australia, in Canada and all the other partners, an equal member of this family of Churches. So we might say with St. Paul:

"In all our prayers to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we thank him for you, because we have heard of the faith you hold in Christ Jesus, and the love you bear towards all God's people. Both spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven, that hope of which you learned when the message of the true gospel first came to you."

But St. Paul goes on,

"In the same way it is coming to men the whole world over; everywhere it is growing and bearing fruit, as it does among you."

"To men the whole world over." No Church can live its life unconcerned with the rest of the apostolic task. No Church can find its identity only in care for its own structures and its own well-being. St. Paul reminds the Colossians of their membership within the whole Body of Christ. And that growth and fruit-bearing in any part of the Body is in some fashion the concern of another part.

In many parts of the Church the world over, there are today movements concerned with renewal. Some would say that such Churches are showing signs of age, tiredness, lack of purpose or vision, that there is a sickness in organised Christianity. That may be true. Yet from the very beginning the Gospel speaks of the need for newness of life. This is an essential in the life of any Church, old or young.

Renewal means amongst other things a better understanding of a real concern for the mission of God in his world. I do not think any one Church will truly find newness of life in Christ unless it is open in fellowship and willing in co-operation with all other Churches with whom it shares this call to mission.

The newness of the Gospel will be found in the healing activity of the Spirit in the society in which we live--activity expressed in the freeing of men from the bondage that comes through evil, fear, agony and suffering, from ignorance, social, political and economic injustice, and in bringing people to a fulness of life in Christ as living Lord.

He who makes all things new calls us to be partners with Him in his work, and demands of his people a willing obedience, and renewal of our common life by critical self-examination. This means a committed engagement to go forward in evangelism, witness, and obedient service. So to further proclamation of the Gospel, and a loving sharing with others in their deepest needs and struggles for abundant life.

As you go forward in establishing this Province, let the structures be such as will serve these essential tasks. Don't feel that you must imitate older churches in style. Rather be determined to create a life-style by which Christ shall be known in Melanesia. It is people that matter, not things.

A nation is finding itself in these islands--a people with their own identity, their own contribution to make to the community of nations. May this Province, together with the other Christian Churches here, so guide and inspire your whole people that their whole life may be renewed in Christian love and service, as the way forward to independent nationhood.

The partnership in mission in which we now share requires of us all a strict establishment of priorities; a real openness to one another in the process of working out what are the demands and resources for mission in every place.

I hope that Melanesia may soon be a member of the World Council of Churches. Selwyn's hopes for avoidance of divisions are now to be realised in a new setting of a mobile society. Ecumenical relationships can today lead the Churches into a renewed fellowship. The Church will be credible when it shows in its own life that reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel.

Therefore, as with St. Paul we make our prayer that you may receive from God all wisdom and spiritual understanding for full insight into his will, so that your manner of life may be worthy of the Lord, so, with you, we all in this partnership of Churches hear the Apostle telling us "to put on the garments that suit God's chosen people. Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience.  . . . But to crown all there must be love, to bind all together and complete the whole."

The apostolic task is now to be accepted with new and deeper responsibility. The Gospel is yet to be preached, here, and in all the world, by the quality of life and by the sacrificial witness of men and women to Jesus Christ as Lord.

We of New Zealand, England, Polynesia, Australia, wherever. . . greet you of this Province on this auspicious day.

"Persevere in prayer, with mind awake, thankful in heart, and include a prayer for us, that God may give us an opening for preaching, to tell the secret of Christ."

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