When was the last time you met an Anglican nun? Here in the Anglican Church of Melanesia the religious orders are everywhere: approximately 600 members and growing.
Today we completed our tour of the church’s four communities, two male and two female. It’s been fascinating to see their different, but united, ministries. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many habits in my life.
Tabalia was our stop today, to meet the Melanesian Brothers, ACOM’s biggest religious community. The brotherhood has around 350 active members plus houses in the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and Vanuatu.
The Melanesian Brothers are also known for their recent martyrs. In 2003, seven brothers were killed trying to negotiate peace during violent ethnic tensions. We saw their pristine graves today and the Primate prayed in remembrance, linking hands with the head brother, Matthias.
Other ACOM religious communities are the Melanesian Sisters, the Sisters of the Church, and the Society of Saint Francis.
All support ACOM and they often have joint missions. The sisterhoods share leadership at the Christian Care Centre for victims of domestic violence. Today when we visited a correctional centre we also saw representatives from each community.
The orders are also deeply integrated into parish life. Many churches are linked to a brother or sister for prayer and spiritual direction. Many Anglicans here support orders as companions. You see the medals everywhere, hung from beaded shell necklaces.
So why do so many young people sign up?
Sister Marie, Sisters of the Church, told me that she wanted to explore beyond her village and help others. Brother Matthias said that he felt called to help the church in its mission. Many others join because it is an opportunity for education.
ACOM is known for these orders. Archbishop Hiltz emphasized several times that the Melanesian religious orders were an essential presence at the Lambeth Conference. Their gifts were panpipes, prayer, and joy.
A couple of times various ACOM staff have wondered aloud what a Melanesian community would look like in Canada. I wonder too. There’s something amazing about these faithful, generous people that gives a unique glimpse of the face of God.