This website is best viewed with CSS and JavaScript enabled, alternatively you can use the low bandwidth version.

Canadian priest to be part of missionary venture, religious order

Posted on: December 13, 2002 4:00 PM
Related Categories: Canada

The Revd John Blyth is on his way to the Philippines to eat little more than rice and greens for days on end and he could not be happier about it.

Mr Blyth, 67, will fill the position of novice co-ordinator in the diocese of Palawan for a chapter of the Melanesian Brotherhood, a religious order based in the Solomon Islands that lives in a remarkably frugal way.

"We support ourselves. We grow our own food. Breakfast might be a cup of tea and two biscuits and some cassava. No lunch. Supper is rice and vegetables and greens. For protein, we get some fish and some coconuts. They climb the trees for coconuts, but I'm too old for that," he said in an interview from Vancouver, where he was staying with friends before heading across the Pacific in January.

For about five years, the brotherhood has had a house in Palawan, a long, narrow island in the southwestern part of the archipelago, staffed with Solomon Islanders. Now, there are eight or 10 Filipino young men who want to join and "my going there will initiate a Filipino brotherhood," he said.

The brothers' ministry is wide-ranging.

"They will visit villages and put on religious dramas," he said. "They visit the sick and do healing. They teach young people and help out in the villages."

Mr Blyth, who grew up in Toronto and has broad experience with indigenous communities in Canada and the South Pacific, will train and teach the new members such skills as counseling and preaching. "We are establishing a new household and building a chapel. I have curriculum organized for three years and when we find enough money for beds, the boys can come," he said.

Part of the reason for his stay in Vancouver was some low-key fundraising.

"I need to start off with US$5,000 for books, supplies and teaching materials," said Mr Blyth. "They are rice farmers in Palawan and very poor. We bought a tract of land to grow rice and the Church of Melanesia helped to pay for that. The bishop of Palawan pawned his episcopal ring to help pay for it."

The Primate's World Relief and Development Fund, the partnerships department of General Synod and others have also contributed to the new venture.

For the last four years, Mr Blyth has been a "flying tutor pastor" to the brotherhood, which maintains houses in the Solomons, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea, in addition to the Philippines. Two members of the brotherhood also live in the British diocese of Chester.

The Melanesian Brotherhood is different from any other, said Mr Blyth. Members of the order do not make a life profession; they take vows for three years, then they may renew or be released and get married and have families. They are generally young men; the head brother is 28 years old.

"It's the largest Anglican religious order in the world, with 350 to 400 brothers, about 250 novices and 10,000 companions," said Mr Blyth.

Recently, members of the 77-year-old order were instrumental in bringing peace to the Solomons, mediating between warring factions and convincing militia soldiers to turn in their guns.

Mr Blyth, who graduated from the University of Toronto, first arrived in the South Pacific in 1995 as a volunteer in mission, then started working with the brothers in 1999. Previously, he had served as chaplain at Vancouver School of Theology for nine years and dean of Calgary for six years before that. From the mid-1960s to 1980, he was a priest in the diocese of Caledonia, mostly working in native communities and was adopted by the Nisga'a. For many years, he was a member of the celibate Order of the Holy Cross, an order based in New York State.

He said he has been inspired and renewed by his involvement with the Melanesian Brotherhood, he said.

"I've been a priest for 40 years and I've learned so much," he said.

Article from: Anglican Journal by Solange de Santis, Staff Writer