Saturday, 10 March 2012

Bishop John Coleridge Patteson.

Bishop John Coleridge Patteson
I had the privilege of being Chaplain to Norfolk Island and every Sunday  sitting and leading worship in St. Barnabas Chapel.  Norfolk Island has a real architectural treasure in that building.  The William Morris “Rose Window”, the five Burn Jones windows at the front of the church, a Henry Willis organ and much more.
Thge William Morris, "Rose Window".
As beautiful as the building is, there are at least two even greater treasures connected to the chapel.
The first is man to whom the Chapel was built as a memorial.  The first Bishop of Melanesia, John Coleridge Patteson who left the safety and security of his comfortable upper middle-class English background to take up a post as a Missionary Priest serving the Melanesian people.
His talents were recognized and he was soon consecrated the first Bishop of Melanesia.  He undertook this task with enthusiasm, moving the mission from its base in New Zealand to Norfolk Island.  He spent much of his own time travelling about the Islands he was called to serve.  It was while doing this work that he saw first-hand what the practice of “Black Birding “was doing to the islanders.  “Black Birding” was in reality a legalized form of slavery, both inhuman and cruel.  Bishop Patteson took up the cause, writing many letters to the English Parliament advocating the outlawing of the practice but he met little success in his life time.
But what his letters were unable to do his death achieved.  When news of the Bishop’s death reached Norfolk Island the headmaster of the Mission School, Robert Codrington wrote …
“There is little doubt but that the slave trade which is desolating these Islands was the cause of the attack … Bishop Patteson was known throughout the islands as a friend, and now he is killed to revenge the outrages of his countrymen.  The guilt surely does not lie upon the savages who executed, but on the traders who provoked the deed”.
When news finally got back to England few people doubted that the killing of the Bishop was in some way the result of the “Black Birding”.  Public reaction demanded a response from the legislators.  As a result what the Bishop was unable to do in life his death achieved, the abolition of the practice of indentured servitude, Black birding.
The second and even greater treasure is the story of the one Bishop Patteson gave his life to serve, Jesus.  Jesus’ story has some remarkable similarities with that of the life of the Bishop.
Patteson left the comfort of England to serve in the distant South Pacific where ultimately his life was taken by the very people he came to serve and in that death they found freedom from slavery.
Jesus too left his comfortable place where he had ruled with God the Father in heaven.  Jesus entered our world to open the way to heaven but the people Jesus came to serve turned against him and executed him on a cross.  It was in his death that Jesus gave the world ultimate freedom, freedom from guilt and death.

St. Barnabas Chapel, Norfolk Island.

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