12.03-Melanesia-1-of-1-29

Margaret Aihunu is one of the top women in the Anglican Church of Melanesia. She’s the only woman on the 20-member Cathedral Chapter, the provincial body that makes decisions between national meetings (like our Council of General Synod).

Margaret was stunned when the previous archbishop invited her to join back in 2000. “Why me?” she wondered. “O God, there are better women than me, women in higher positions.”

Women’s ministry is often separate in the ACOM. The Mother’s Union is the largest church organization—16,000 members strong. The women’s religious orders are also strong and growing. Wherever we go, women are active teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir, and preparing meals.

Yet women do not serve in ordained ministry. Some dioceses want to ordain women but others say this runs contrary to Melanesian culture. Certainly this is the message at the national level; all members of parliament are male.

For many years Margaret faithfully served in traditional women’s spheres. She is a secondary school teacher and founded the cathedral’s Sunday school in 1973.

When she was invited to join the chapter, Margaret prayed and consulted for three months. She talked to her husband, the dean, and finally a retired bishop who told her, “God has made the decision. You have been chosen by prayers.”

Margaret decided to go for it. At first she was quiet during meetings but then she joined the debates.

“I wanted to help people make balanced decisions,” she said. “It’s important to share the ministry of women and remind men that women have the same knowledge and that in partnership we can make the church a better place for all.”

Her ministry proved crucial during the ethnic tensions of 2000. Margaret led a group of women who negotiated with militants on both sides of the conflict. Their work was strengthened by a maternal appeal.

“We told the militants we want peace for children and women because they suffer the most,” said Margaret. “I told them, I have two boys. I don’t want them to fight like this. Let us live in harmony.”

Archbishop David Vunagi has made women’s empowerment a priority in his ministry as Primate. So what will this process look like in a Melanesian context? Often Melanesians describe the church as one of three social strands, alongside government and traditional culture. Change will be dependent on these other parts, and in the meantime, Margaret serves.