A service of Thanksgiving for the life and ministry of the first bishop of Paraguay, the Rt Revd Douglas Milmine, has taken place in England after his death at the age of 95. British born, Douglas Milmine served as a missionary in South America for more than 30 years.
In 1954 he put himself at the service of the South American Missionary Society (SAMS) and set off from England on a ship bound for Chile with his wife and four small children. His son, Ian, recalls the experience: “I was a six year old when my parents took us to South America. Reflecting back on that in the years afterwards, it struck me how brave they must have been. My memories of their first placement in Chile was of a place with an extraordinary amount of rain and the necessity of moving beds around because of the leaking roof! Also of my parents going out in those conditions, on horseback, in the middle of the night to give medical assistance to the indigenous population suffering from TB which was endemic.”
He built up a vibrant church community in southern Chile, some seven hundred miles south of Santiago; he was later posted to the capital, where he ministered to the indigenous population flocking into the city for work; in 1963 was appointed Archdeacon of Northern Chile, Bolivia and Peru.
Douglas Milmine returned to Britain in 1969 to work for SAMS but found himself back in South America four years later after the then bishop in Paraguay and Northern Argentina resigned in order to assume the presidency of the Anglican Communion of Southern America. Paraguay became a new, single diocese and he was consecrated as its first bishop, serving from 1973-1985.
In keeping with the ideals of his missionary forebears, Bishop Douglas was keen to promote education among the indigenous population. His son recalls his father’s commitment in this area: “He pushed for indigenous people to be awarded citizenship and he was instrumental in securing the land that they needed to establish communities. He supported the translation of the New Testament into their language and his purpose always was for locals to take charge of their church communities. As recently as last Christmas he was thrilled to hear that twelve young Christians from the indigenous community were being ordained.”
Bishop Douglas made a huge physical effort to minister to far flung communities, going away for days on end to remote villages: “He always said his greatest friend was an Indian Pastor called Felix, who would take him off on horseback. It must have been a huge drain on his physical strength. Felix was his translator within the indigenous communities.”
Born in southern England in 1921, Douglas Milmine read Theology at St Peter’s College Hall, Oxford, where his studies were interrupted by the Second World War. At the age of 22 he was flying sorties over France and Germany, but on his eighth mission his aeroplane was shot down and he was eventually captured and spent the rest of the war as a PoW. He later reflected that, having survived several years as a boarder at an English public school, the prison camp did not seem too bad. His son recalls a childhood filled with many stories of this era: “For instance of how he established Bible study cells in the camp and of how they confused the guards by moving around during the morning headcount! A way of getting us to join in with family prayers in the evening was by telling us these stories.”
Following demobilisation, Douglas Milmine was ordained in 1947. His service to the Anglican Communion was recognised by the honorary award of a CBE in 1983. On retirement in the mid nineteen eighties, he returned to the south coast of England and served as an honorary assistant bishop in the diocese of Chichester.
Douglas Milmine published an autobiography, Stiff Upper Smile, as well as a history of Anglicanism in South America. He is survived by his wife, Rosalind, and by their three sons and a daughter.