Sisters celebrate order’s new province

It was just after Evensong, as formal goodbyes were being offered to visitors, that Sister Michael heard the squealing of a pig and learned that the animal was being slaughtered just off to the side of the worshippers for the pig roast that would follow.

Such are feasts in the Solomon Islands.

This particular pig roast was the last of many celebrations marking the inauguration of the new province of the Solomon Islands in the Community of the Sisters of the Church, one of 11 Anglican religious orders in Canada.

Before September, the Solomons were part of the Australia/Pacific province but the province was divided in two — Australia and the Solomon Islands — to accommodate growth in the latter.

Three members of the Canadian province – sisters Margaret, Heather and Michael, the Canadian provincial (head sister) – travelled to the Solomons to help celebrate the new province.

The Canadians were not the only visitors. Friends and relatives from Guadalcanal (the island on which Honiara is located) and the surrounding islands swelled the sisters’ gathering to more than 1,000, leading to some unusual sleeping arrangements.

For those who couldn’t bunk with family and friends, the sisters (who gave up their own beds to visitors) rented a large tent which slept many; a dormitory built on stilts had banana leaves attached to its open sides for walls so more guests could sleep underneath. Even the chapel did double duty as a bunkhouse after it was temporarily deconsecrated.

While it is island custom to bring one’s own food when visiting friends, the sisters prepared for their visitors with nine large outdoor ovens set up on their grounds. Guests were fed in shifts.

“The organization the sisters created was just terrific, even though it seemed berserk” laughed Sister Michael. She noted that Sister Doreen, the newly-elected provincial of the community, had just returned to the Solomons with a new attitude toward punctuality after spending a year in England. The new provincial, she said, insisted on each event of the four-day celebrations starting on time, challenging the laissez-faire island customs.

The opening celebration began on Friday, Sept. 28, the Feast of St. Michael, the patron saint of the order. The Melanesian Brothers, in their native dress, piped Sir Ellison Pogo, Archbishop of the Church of Melanesia, up a hill with their pan pipes to the outdoor celebration. One of the community’s stray dogs even made it into the procession. Also in attendance were sisters from Australia and England and Bishop Norman Palmer (Archbishop Pogo’s predecessor) and Terry Brown, Bishop of Malaita (part of the Church of Melanesia). Bishop Brown is a former staff member of the Anglican Church of Canada.

The initial celebration included the blessing of the order’s new chapel – which was lavishly decorated with fresh flower wreaths – and its furnishings, including the lectern, altar, candlesticks and processional cross, all made from mother-of-pearl. The archbishop also blessed a baptismal font, given by the visiting sisters.

The following morning, the Canadians presented the order with letters from the primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, and Niagara Bishop Ralph Spence (their Oakville home is in the diocese of Niagara), and with plaques commemorating the inauguration of the new province.

The inauguration also featured the blessing of Sister Doreen as provincial; Veronica, a novice, made her final vows.

Meanwhile, religious orders continue to play a peacekeeping role in the Solomon Islands, said Sister Michael. A man linked to the conflict between the Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM) and the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) was killed during the days of the Sisters’ celebrations. The dead man, described as an ex-leader of the IFM, was rumoured to have been killed by his own men. The killing led Sister Doreen to intervene with the IFM to plead with them not to ruin the gathering.

“She plucked up her courage and went to their camp,” said Sister Michael. “She told them to back off and keep cool during our celebrations.”

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