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Reports of meetings on Māori Church matters, 1872-1888



I stayed nearly eight days in Samoa and was fortunate enough to obtain a passage in H.M.S. Miranda—Captain Rooke, which had conveyed His Excellency the Hon. J. B. Thurston, C.S.M.G., Acting Governor of Fiji, to Samoa as High Commissioner, and was returning. The Governor of Fiji received me most kindly. I communicated your letter to him and also one from His Excellency the Governor of New Zealand, Sir Wm. Jervois. He gave me a warm welcome to Fiji, entertained me most hospitably at Government House, and did everything to make my visit successful and agreeable. Captain Rooke, at some considerable inconvenience to himself, gave up the use of his cabin, and in a variety of ways, along with his officers and men, assisted my work. The passage from Samoa to Fiji, including stoppages, took nearly seven days, and on the voyage I was much impressed with the fact that there are many English speaking persons in the Pacific who are apparently not reached by any organization except when they happen to be in the neighbourhood of European Missionaries.

Any fear of our getting influence over Christian Natives, if such a thing ought to be a fear to our Wesleyan or Congregational Brethren, is really reduced to a minimum from the fact that the Natives know little or no English. The vast body of Christian Natives in Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga, knows no English at all.

One would desire to see some plan by which, without a break of the continuity in their ministry, the additional organization which our branch of the Church of Christ has conserved could be added to the grand work, of simple evangelization from gross heathenism to the elements of Christian belief and practice, which has been carried out effectively by the Divine Blessing on the labours of men working manifestly under the guidance and with the help of the Holy Spirit.

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Recent historical researches seem to show that the Orders our Church recognizes were evoked in primitive times as much by the requirements of the age demanding individual centres of union, as by direct provision, and the present condition and transitory state of the Native Churches in India, China, Africa, North West America—and I may now add—the Pacific, seem to show that History is repeating itself.

I stayed three Sundays in Fiji—two at Suva, and one at Levuka, and was kindly received by the two clergy, the Rev. J. F. Jones at the former and the Rev. W. Floyd at the latter place.

The latter clergyman has been in Fiji for fifteen years, and borne the burden and heat of the day. He remains at Levuka, which has ceased to be the capital of the Colony; this change has deprived him of more than half of his flock, but there are, and always will be, enough left in Levuka to form a separate charge. I held two confirmations, consecrated one church, and delivered twelve sermons and two lectures in Fiji.

I had the opportunity of laying before both congregations the position taken with regard to the Church in Fiji by the General synod of the Church of New Zealand, and the result seemed to be that they needed much further information before they could themselves form an opinion what it was best for them do. The position is peculiar. Fiji is now a British possession, a Crown colony, it is not in the same position as it was when the Bishopric of Melanesia was constituted, and this somewhat complicates the question. It would be necessary to ascertain what the Crown would do with regard to a Bishop in a Crown Colony.

Some Church members in Fiji seem to have an exaggerated view of the value of the distant connexion between Fiji and the Diocese of London, and associate with that link the continuance of a grant from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, now enjoyed by Fiji.

There is no consensus of opinion as to these matters amongst the members of the Church, nevertheless their views, or at least the views of the most active and influential among them, may be gathered from the addresses which I append; although they are replete with observations on my visit almost too kindly expressed, yet I add them as an indication of Church feeling.

I need hardly say that the questions involved were new to many. Episcopal supervision was supposed by some to mean only the performance of such acts as are attached by our formularies to the office of the Bishop, but I pointed out to them that page 8in the Church of the Province of New Zealand at least, it means something far wider reaching and more beneficial than that, but that whatever it was it could only be properly and fully carried out by a Bishop having a definite and responsible position.

It was accordingly resolved that I should communicate with the Bishop of London, whose license is held now by the two clergy in Fiji, and that his views should be laid before the members of the Church in Fiji. It is true that the Bishop expressed a desire to the Bishop of Melanesia that he would relieve him of a duty impossible for himself to discharge from so great a distance as London, but no recommendation to that effect has reached the members of the Church in Fiji. Any recommendation from the Bishop of London under the circumstances would naturally carry great weight with the Church members in Fiji.

The first question, however, which arises, is the necessity for a Bishopric in Fiji—not, indeed, to evangelise the Fijian Natives, or any portion of them, for that is already done up to a certain point—our own people require looking after—they require sympathy, confirmation, and help, such as one holding the office of Bishop may reasonably be expected to give them. I submit that one is needed, and needed now. The post is one of truly a missionary character, and it should be filled by one who is acquainted with Melanesian work, for he would have 4000 Solomon Islanders ready to his hands, who are now, without any ministrations, in different parts of Fiji. This large number seems to form a claim on the services of the Bishop of Melanesia, who is much desired and longed for by the Fijian Church members, both from their personal knowledge of him gained during his visit to Fiji, six years ago, and his labours in the Islands.

If he cannot supply the want, there are those to be found who have proved their efficiency in Melanesian work, and who would also bring to the European work of such a Bishopric, English experience fitting them to deal with clergy hereafter ministering to English speaking congregations in Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, etc. It is one thing to send a Missionary Bishop, another to endow a Missionary Bishopric; we may be able to do the former at once —we might only be able to accomplish the latter gradually, but it would seem wrong to delay the former till the latter was achieved, if men, fitted men, can be found ready to accept the post.

The steps to be taken seem to me to be the ascertaining the exact legal position of Fiji ecclesiastically, the designs of the Crown with regard to it as a Crown colony, the wishes of the Bishop of London, now de facto the source of clerical authority page 9in Fiji, the mind of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, which makes a grant to Fiji, and then the laying of such information before the members of our Church in Fiji, leaving them by a conference or convention among themselves, so far as it appears that they have the power, to take what steps they approve, to associate themselves with such ecclesiastical province as may be most conducive to their welfare. If your Lordship could urge upon the Bishop of Melanesia the desirability of paying a special visit to Fiji to meet such a convention of representive members of the Church of England, commonly so called, after the receipt of the information above alluded to, I venture to think the best results would follow, especially in connection with the large numbers of natives there from Melanesia. Judging from my own intercourse with the Chairman of the Wesleyan Mission, the Rev. J. Langham, in Fiji, I do not think that a Bishop sent out primarily to members of the Church of England would be received otherwise than cordially, and events would be left to solve themselves. Whatever solution may be in store, the success of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society in Tonga and Fiji through its European and Native agents, will ever be written on the pages of the History of the Church of Christ, and, which is of far more value, constitute a proof that the Gospel in the lips and lives of earnest, devoted and Christlike men, is as full of power as ever to turn men from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God.

Our concern, however, at present, is with our own people, properly so called, and any organization which will help them to lead in the midst of many disadvantages consistent Christian lives, will be conferring blessings on the thousands by whom they are surrounded, and whom they necessarily influence for good or evil.

I cannot close without expressing my indebtedness to several clerical and lay members of the Church in my own Diocese, upon whom my absence on this mission of the Church has imposed labours which would otherwise have been undertaken by me.

I wish to add also that the members of the Church of England are desorving of our sympathy, for the liberality, energy and patience they are now exhibiting in a time of much financial depression in Fiji.

I have the honour to be,
Your Lordiship's faithfully and obediently,

Andrew Burn Nelson, N.Z.

The Most Rev. The Lord Primate of New Zealand.