The Minister General of the First Order Brothers of the Anglican Society of St Francis, Brother Christopher John SSF, writes about the training of novices by the religious communities in Melanesia.
I’m writing this, the first of a regular blog, in the Solomon Islands where I’m with our brothers for nearly two months visiting them and assisting their life and work in about 10 different friaries.
On the weekend of 1 – 3 March, we travelled west of Honiara out to Verana’aso, site of the Melanesian Sisters training house. There I joined with more than one hundred mainly young members of the four religious orders in the Anglican Church of Melanesia (Melanesian Brotherhood, Community of the Sisters of Melanesia, Community of the Sisters of the Church, and the Society of St Francis). It was the annual Religious Life Sunday, observed in each diocese by prayer for the religious communities and for vocations, and just by having fun together.
Novices in the communities here are measured by the truck-load, and indeed the trucks had brought in a huge gathering. The weekend included some spiritual input, worship, a singing competition (the judges diplomatically declared that every community was a winner), and to finish with, a huge feast which had taken the whole day before in preparation.
I asked those who were there what they liked about the weekend. The answer was the same from everyone: being together and getting to know people in the other communities.
The religious communities here are a vital part of the Church and are present throughout all the dioceses of the province. Hundreds join the communities every year. For most of them the communities are a time of spiritual growth and service, and then they leave, now ready to take on the responsibilities of marriage and family life.
But they never really leave. They are forever “former brother” or “former sister” and part of the extended reach of each order. There is also a huge network of Companions, Associates, Third Order, etc, who are also part of that wider reach. Some stay longer, and a few eventually make life profession, providing a stable core of leadership.
Increasingly so the communities here are looking to mission beyond Melanesia. What they have is the joy of simple Gospel living. And this is the gift they have to share beyond their own shores.
I give thanks to God for the communities of the Anglican Church of Melanesia, and pray that they can respond to the call to share their life and faith both within the many islands of their own land, and across the seas beyond.