“WE UNDERSTAND what goes on in another part of the Anglican Communion, but
our ways and world-views are different,” the Archbishop of Papua New Guinea,
the Most Revd James Ayong (right), told a meeting in London last month.
He said that his Church “faced many challenges — not problems” in a country
where half the health service is run by Churches and missionary organisations,
and where the literacy rate for women is as low as five per cent in some
Highland areas. HIV/AIDS is sweeping the country, and the Archbishop warned
that the disease is now moving into the remote Highland areas.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is an independent country, half of the island of New
Guinea, just off North Queensland, Australia. The Anglican Church there was
founded as a missionary diocese from Australia in 1898, and become a separate
province in 1977, two years after the country celebrated independence.
Archbishop Ayong said that the Windsor report had been accepted in PNG, and
he had personally “not come away disheartened” from the Primates’ Meeting. He
was satisfied that “a conclusion had been reached in the communiqué”. But he
stressed the need to carry on the work of the Church in his country.
There are five Anglican dioceses in the province of PNG, run by five
bishops, including Archbishop Ayong. Close links with the Church of England and
the Anglican Communion as a whole are maintained through the PNG Church
Partnership in Britain, which hosted last month’s meeting with Archbishop
He said that one of the greatest challenges in PNG is communicating the
gospel in the more than 700 languages spoken by tribal groups across the
country, where there is “a strong belief in spirits”. The belief that ancestors
who died a long time ago “are still watching us” is prevalent.
He described the current situation in PNG as “a very testing time” for the
Church, as many clergy were living and working in isolation because of the
mountainous and forested terrain. As Archbishop, he is trying to organise more
central gatherings of clergy.
The Anglican Church in PNG reflects an Anglo-Catholic tradition, and the
Archbishop said that there were “very healthy” ties with the Roman Catholic
Church in the country, as well as with the many missionary organisations. He
highlighted the Missionary Aviation Fellowship, which provides small planes and
runs airstrips in parts of the country that would otherwise be inaccessible.
“We all work together, and our whole aim is to make Christianity become a
reality in people’s lives.”
This was done in many ways, he said, including the provision of health
facilities: a new HIV/AIDS clinic has just been opened in the capital, Port
Moresby, a joint venture by the Anglican Church and the Salvation Army.
THE FIRST Papua New Guinean Anglican priest was ordained in 1914, and the
first indigenous bishop was consecrated in 1960. Now four of the five diocesan
bishops are indigenous, as are an increasing number of senior church figures.
The Revd Peter Ramsden, Vicar of St Bartholomew’s, Long Benton, in
Newcastle, spent ten years as a priest in PNG in the 1980s and ’90s. He said
that his first post, in the jungle area of Koiambe, was “a traditional
missionary outpost, complete with its own airstrip”. After his time, it was
taken over by a PNG priest. “This is happening more and more. . . Increasingly,
priests are coming from PNG itself.”
Peter and Jean Rookes were recruited by the Church on behalf of the PNG
government to work in the health service. They returned last month after eight
years. “We were originally taken on for four years; I was the National Health
Secretary, and Jean was the national co-ordinator for the village health
programmes. In fact, it took us longer to train PNG nationals to do the job,
but they are now in place.”
They both said that the serious health problems (pneumonia, malaria, and
conditions related to childbirth), along with the “alarming increase in
HIV/AIDS”, meant that the Anglican Church in PNG focused more on poverty and
deprivation than on homosexuality.
In his Easter message, the Bishop of Port Moresby, the Rt Revd Peter Fox,
said that HIV/AIDS was “the biggest threat to our nation there has ever been —
more devastating than any war or natural disaster”.
He stressed the need for churches to act on HIV/AIDS, and become centres of
information, education, support, and healing. He recommended that congregations
should “red-ribbon churches”, using the international symbol of concern for
HIV/AIDS. “The red ribbon transcends differences of race, creed, and colour.
All of us may be proud to wear it, but let us go one step further. I call on
every church in my diocese to display the red ribbon on their noticeboards,
outside and inside the church building.”
Bishop Fox expressed his wish that every congregation should have some of
its members trained in education and counselling on AIDS-related issues. He
also spoke of the need to promote commitment to faithfulness in marriage, and,
for single people, commitment to Christian standards of sexual morality.
“The Christian Church must lead the way. People listen to us. They watch how
we behave. We can help to overcome discrimination and stigma against