Papua New Guinea

Following the Way in the Diocese of Port Moresby

Bishop Peter Ramsden on his experiences in a geographically vast diocese of the Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea, where only 5% of the population is Christian

I clearly remember an evening at the College of the Resurrection when a visiting African archdeacon spoke to the students. The gist of his talk was that there were opportunities for us to exercise our future priesthood overseas. Would any of us accept the challenge? The thought came and departed immediately. I proceeded to ordination in the Diocese of Durham.

Remote jungle

A couple of years into my second curacy at All Saints, South Shields, the archdeacon’s challenge returned to my mind. I replied to an advertisement by the Papua New Guinea Church Partnership and a year later my wife and I began our first stint in PNG at Koinambe, a mission station in the remote highlands jungle of the Jimi Valley.

The small six-seater planes of Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) were the only means to reach the nearest town, Mt Hagen, our link to the outside world.

Each day began and ended with the ringing of the angelus on an old gas cylinder hanging from a tree next to the bamboo and corrugated iron chapel.

I found myself patrolling the parish on foot for a week every month for the next three years. I had eighteen catechists at eighteen outstations and two assistant priests, who were all local men. Worship and teaching was mostly in Pidgin English. I walked with a chalice and paten, wine and wafers in my pack.

I heard confessions the night I arrived at a village, said Mass the next morning then carried on walking to the next village. As throughout the Anglican Church here, I was called Father and my wife was called Mother.

The mission station buildings, gathered around the grass airstrip, included the church, a primary school and a health centre.

Development of mission

When we were there the Anglican mission was twenty-five years old, the first man from the Jimi was ordained and the preaching, teaching and healing ministries at Koinambe were becoming well established, as they had been in many other similar traditional mission stations around the developing world.

After the Jimi we had other appointments in PNG in Lae and Goroka before returning to the CofE and the Diocese of Newcastle in 1996, where I was fortunate to be part of the team that established the diocesan link with Botswana. I was elected Bishop of Port Moresby in 2006 and so the Melanesian adventure has resumed.

One of five dioceses

Port Moresby is one of five dioceses in a country where Anglicans make up only 5% of the Christian population. Apart from the principal of the theological college, a Zimbabwean, I am the only other ordained expatriate. Port Moresby is the capital: the Economist once said that it was the worst city in the world to live in. It certainly has its moments with its high unemployment, large squatter settlements and a reputation for crime.

Port Moresby Diocese covers a huge geographical area – my furthest parish, a mining town near the Indonesian border, is a two-hour plane journey away – but the staff is small: there are a dozen priests, four permanent deacons, five SSF Brothers and sixteen Melanesian Brothers. A diocesan secretary, property manager, accounts clerk and I run the diocesan office. Because all the clergy are in the city we meet together every Monday for Mass, study of the following Sunday Gospel and a weekly briefing and discussion.

As I write, Archdeacon Denny Guka is with his wife on a week’s patrol by dinghy to our most isolated station, Pivo, some miles up the Vailala River, taking literacy materials to the MBH Brothers to use with the local people.

Addressing social problems

The preaching, teaching and healing continue in ACPNG’s churches, schools and health centres around the country, but Port Moresby is also the base for Anglicare, our own NGO, which is an important national player in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Anglicare’s VCT centre and STI clinic are next to the diocesan office.

This month another 150 people enrolled in our regular adult literacy class. PNG is a parliamentary democracy with 109 MPs, only one of whom is a woman. PNG has many social problems but one of huge importance for the health and development of the nation is the status of women. ACPNG does not ordain women, for cultural and theological reasons, but is developing policies to confront family violence and encourage women to be a much greater part of the councils and synods of the Church.

PNG Anglicans have valued their place as a Province of the Anglican Communion since 1977. Our bishops attend Lambeth Conferences and support the intention of the Anglican Covenant to strengthen our identity ‘in communion with autonomy and accountability’.

Role in Anglican Communion

Being ecumenical is also a natural part of Anglican life in PNG. Anglicans were founding members of the PNG Council of Churches and in a country where the churches provide about half the health and educational facilities, the main churches need to speak with one voice in their conversations with the government through bodies like the Churches’ Medical Council and Churches’ Education Council.

We also rely greatly on nondenominational groups like MAF for access to our isolated highlands airstrips and Christian Radio Missionary Fellowship for provision and servicing of the mission radio network.

Ecumenical outlook

The only formal theological conversations we have are those of the long-standing Anglican/RC Commission, which led to the signing of the national Anglican-RC Covenant in 2003. Currently members are the two archbishops, two bishops, two theological college principals and two ecumenical officers. We are looking at the report Growing Together in Unity and Mission, produced by IARCCUM, of which my predecessor, Bishop Peter Fox, was a member.

We also have two of our clergy taking courses at Catholic Theological Institute and the latest initiative is the providing of volunteers by St Mary’s Catholic cathedral and St John’s Anglican cathedral to operate the Port Moresby Seafarers Centre.

There is long-standing partnership with supporters from parishes in UK, Australia and NZ. The Anglican Board of Mission in Australia is the conduit for an Australian government aid initiative which supports the development work of seven churches, and gives the Anglicans perhaps a surprising ecumenical partner in the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

The Anglican priorities for this imaginative programme are HIV/ AIDS, literacy, water and sanitation, rural communications and building the administrative and managerial capacity of our staff.

But the catholicity of the Church is also expressed in sharing of human resources.

Shared resources

This year a volunteer teacher from Scotland will begin a two-year stint at the very isolated Simbai Vocational School in Aipo Rongo Diocese. A couple of years ago Michael Childs, now a deacon serving in the Diocese of Sheffield, spent a month with the clergy in my own diocese. Our present archbishop, Joe Kopapa, is an old student of St Stephen’s House. We would welcome further short-term placements for theological students.

Constants in Context is the title of a recent study of missiology by Bevans and Schroeder, two Catholic authors. My context is now once again quite different from that of Mirfield, South Shields and Newcastle, but the constants are as important as ever, especially the faithful formation and exercise of the ordained life within the Body of Christ.

The ringing of the angelus bell each morning and evening is also a constant reminder of the depth of divine love in the incarnation and the continuing presence of Christ in all the cultures of the world.

ACPNG celebrates that presence and seeks to know Christ and make him known in the difficult and challenging environment of Papua New Guinea.

Catholic Anglicans in Zimbabwe

Fr Nicolas Stebbing cr on the huge amount of work that needs to be done in a country beset by religious persecution and poverty

Imagine a country where three nuns get arrested and put in a police cell, for having a Eucharist in their chapel. That is Zimbabwe. Their diocese is divided between a renegade bishop who strongly supports Mugabe and therefore has the police to back him up and the majority who are firmly loyal to the Anglican church, but are driven out of their churches, arrested and persecuted.

They are a wonderful people, very courageous, resilient, full of joy and hope as they discover Christ is with them through this persecution. They still meet for Mass and other kinds of worship, in large crowds in classrooms, in halls or in the open. They also try to create projects that help the vast numbers of poor people in their area.

Providing support

The nuns who were arrested look after a children’s home on their mission and also help a group of young people whose parents have died to get back into school. These youngsters live with relatives who cannot afford to support them. So the nuns have organized them to grow vegetables to support themselves.

They are wonderful youngsters, so keen and full of life. We have founded a charity in this country (Tariro – Hope for Youth in Zimbabwe) to raise money to support them. It is the nuns who give the real support. We just provide the money.

The Church in Manicaland has lost almost everything to the opposition. Priests have no churches, no vestments and no chalices, and celebrate the Eucharist with tin mugs and the occasional glass. So the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament came up with a massive grant. On my last trip out there with two others we took thirty-four chasubles and twenty-four chalices. Mercifully Customs never looked in our suitcases or we would have had a job explaining!

Impoverished country

Zimbabwe is a lovely country which has been impoverished by years of corrupt and dictatorial rule. AIDS has added to the devastation and it is common now to find rural schools where 70% of the children are orphans. They cannot pay their school fees. The schools are starved of resources.

The children are often hungry. The diocese of Masvingo in one of the driest parts of the country has a particular commitment to these schools; they have taken many former church schools back from the local community, which could not manage them, and are improving their resources and establishing feeding schemes during the worst times of the year.

It is important to say that with all the chaos, corruption and sometimes incompetence, there are a lot of really able, dedicated Zimbabweans working to expand the work of the church, to push forward the teaching of the faith, to help the weak and the hungry, and to bring hope to a people who have seen their lives unravel as money dries up and their church is taken away from them.

Erosion of tradition

Anglicans in Zimbabwe used to be soberly Anglo Catholic: sacraments, vestments, good services, good order and intelligent preaching. Since Independence (1980) a lot of this has been eroded. Catholics in England lost all sense of mission outside the country and became obsessed with trivial issues and with internecine warfare. Clergy in Zimbabwe tended not to move with the times and purveyed a rigid dry and uninspiring catholic religion. The field was left open to evangelical and neo-pentecostal influences.

Some good has come of this, but a whole tradition has been lost. Many churches concentrate on preaching – long, repetitive, hysterical preaching. The daily Mass has gone; the office is often not said; teaching is poor. So those of us who visit try to fill this gap with seminars for the clergy and ordinands, and good teaching sermons. CBS, not just as above but frequently over the past few years, have helped with grants for vestments, vessels and teaching seminars. The Society of Mary provided us with several hundred rosaries and the excitement in churches when we handed these out (and taught people how to use them) was unforgettable.

The people want this and the clergy are thrilled to find out things about their faith they never knew. The bishops all want it too as they see the inadequacies of the present teaching and worship. So in the midst of the economic and political crises, with congregations driven out of church and police arresting faithful ladies who resist, Anglicans go on teaching the Catholic faith.

A challenge

To be honest, when I return to this country and find Catholic ordinands spending vast sums of money on vestments and furniture, and priests bickering over ordinariates, I get pretty exasperated. In Zimbabwe Anglican lives are at stake; many will be beaten up, some may be killed; a huge amount of work needs to be done to rescue the young generation from the scrap heap. This is real work for Catholic Anglicans today. Many have already risen to the challenge of doing it. Can you? ND