Following on from Bishop Peter Ramsden’s article,

Michael Childs describes his month-long placement in the Anglican church of Papua New Guinea

Many of the provinces of the Anglican Communion get a fair bit of stick in the pages of ND, and given the unrelenting liberal agenda of our brothers and sisters across the Atlantic, this is hardly surprising. We hear very little about the few provinces where the catholic faith continues to be taught. Following on from Bishop Peter Ramsden’s article last month, I have been asked by the editor to share with ND readers something of my experience of life within the Anglican church of Papua New Guinea. I spent a month on placement in the Diocese of Port Moresby in the summer of 2009, as part of an initiative of the UK PNG church partnership.

Early days

After a long and draining flight from Manchester to Brisbane via Dubai, I was glad to have a few days staying with a friend in Brisbane before flying to Port Moresby. On arrival at the airport I was met by Bishop Peter who drove us to the diocesan compound, a few miles from the city centre. The diocesan offices, the bishop’s house and chapel are all surrounded by barbed wire fences and guarded by 24-hour security. Whilst staying in Port Moresby I was well catered for and looked after by Sue, Bishop Peter’s wife.

The first Sunday of my visit coincided not only with Archbishop James Ayong’s farewell to the diocese before his retirement, but also with the feast of the Martyrs of Papua New Guinea. During the Japanese occupation of PNG in the Second World War, the then Bishop, Philip Strong, commanded Anglican missionaries to remain at their posts despite the invasion. Eight Anglicans, among them clergy, teachers and medical missionaries, were killed by the Japanese and are commemorated as martyrs. It was a privilege to attend a mass in commemoration of these brave men and women, which was held at St Martin’s Boroko, where I was stationed during my stay.

St Martin’s has a large congregation (approximately 300–350 at the main Sundaymass), with a mix ofmiddle-class and poorer lower-class parishioners. The parish also contains the small outstation church of St Lucian’s at Six Mile, one of the poorest and more dangerous parts of the city. The parish priest of St Martin’s, Fr Denny Guka, is assisted by a permanent deacon, Festus, who has responsibility for St Lucian’s. Fr Denny is the only Anglican priest in the city who has his own car, and most priests, as well as their parishioners, rely on public transport, which is notoriously dangerous.

The parish priests in Port Moresby have very few books from which to learn and teach the faithful. It is therefore the responsibility of the bishop to instruct his priests how this might best be achieved.

A different kind of seminary

As part of my placement I took the short flight across a mountain range to Popondetta, where I would spend a week at Newton Theological College, the Anglican seminary. The seminary is only a few kilometres from the city of Popondetta, but as there are very few vehicles, it remains very isolated, a clearing in a large woodland area. Here there are none of the luxuries I enjoyed at St Stephen’s House – the ordinands live in their own wooden houses and have their own vegetable patch on which to grow their own food. Each evening I was welcomed warmly by a different ordinand for a meal cooked over an open fire. Although there are limited resources, the staff do their best to prepare ordinands for the challenging ministry of the priesthood in PNG. Many will return to their home parishes were they will receive a very small stipend.

Ecumenical perspective

It would be impossible to report on my placement without commenting on the ecumenical situation in PNG. There are, as one might expect, particularly strong links between the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches, and during my placement I had the pleasure of spending a day at the Roman Catholic National Seminary at Bomana. In PNG there has, as yet, has been no take up of the Pope’s offer in Anglicanorum Coetibus, and a statement from the PNG House of Bishops in December 2009 stated that ‘We have not petitioned the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but have with the CBC worked closely with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity to seek how Anglicans and Roman Catholics can creatively share our common concern for unity and mission in Papua New Guinea.’

Whatever the future holds for Christians in PNG, I will have lasting memories of the simple joy of the people’s faith. Bishop David Hand, who worked tirelessly to spread the Gospel in PNG, summed up what was needed when he wrote, ‘I believe we need to make more of the joy and happiness of being a Christian. I believe we need to tell people how much we love Jesus because of how much he loves us. I believe we need far more praise and thanks in our prayers and worship – the spirit of Our Lady when her young heart burst out with the unbearable joy of being called to share God with the sin-sick world’ (David Hand, Modawa). ND