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Vicar's Musings for the New Guinea Martyrs

2 September, 2012

This week we commemorate the New Guinea Martyrs. It is a heartbreaking chapter of church history in the region, and a story that has long held a particular resonance for our parish community. These are the opening words of a sermon preached on 11th October 1942 by the then Vicar, Canon Farnham E. Maynard:

'Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life.' (Rev. 2:10) Of the New Guinea Mission Staff: James Benson, priest, Sister May Hayman, and Mavis Parkinson have been killed; probably Sep. 1st. Vivian Redlich, priest, John Duffield, Margaret Brenchley, and Lila Lashmar have been taken captive. To these we must add the name of Henry Matthews, priest, likewise a victim of the war and of his faithfulness to the cause of Christ in Papua. It was probably on September 1st last that three Missionaries of the Bishop's staff in New Guinea paid with their lives for their faithfulness to Christ and to the people to whom they had been sent. Of the exact manner and place of their death no statement is yet available. The official report is that they were annihilated.

Tragically the number of martyrs rose to eight and in 1947 the magnificent memorial window 'New Guinea Martyrs' by Napier Waller was installed in the north transept of St Peter's Eastern Hill.

We are privileged to have as our guest speaker at mass today, Patrick Redlich, who has recently published My Brother Vivian ... and the Christian Martyrs of Papua New Guinea. Patrick has no memories of his half-brother, who was 27 years older than him, but a few years ago he received a life-changing letter from the then Archbishop of New Guinea, Sir David Hand. It had long been presumed that Vivian Redlich was killed as a prisoner of war, but in 2003 one of the killers finally confessed his guilt to the Archbishop. Sir David wrote to Patrick and the family members of others who were killed inviting them to attend a reconciliation service.

In Patrick's book he records interviews from Bishop Philip Strong's subsequent investigation. Gradually the truth had emerged: "Shortly after, as they moved on, they met men with spears and fighting geans (sic) coming towards them down the track. This, I am certain, would not have been abnormal, and in any case, missionaries would surely have been used to facing up to such men. This group, however, was different and soon after they met, they sprang at Vivian, speared and knocked him down, and killed him. They did not bury him on the spot but carried his body some distance and placed his remains in a cave." In 2009 the service of reconciliation finally took place and literally hundreds from the local tribes came forward to seek forgiveness on behalf of their ancestors.

Reflecting on this powerful experience Patrick writes: "Not knowing much, if anything, about the very few white people they had seen but rarely, and feeling overwhelmed by the seemingly enormous numbers of the then apparently powerful Japanese, it was easy to imagine how they had bowed to the deeds required by what must have seemed to them to be the greater authority. Then suddenly in doubt, they buried the evidence, but an increasing sense of guilt must have overcome the tribe." We are blessed to have Patrick here to speak to us today at St Peter's, as well as two students from Martyrs School in PNG: Lucy Maioni (reading the lesson at 11am) and Florence Polongou.

Other News:

The social media, and even your Vicar's phone, has been running hot this week around the issue of proposed changes to Anglican wedding vows in the Sydney Diocese. Our regional Bishop, Philip Huggins, circulated a reflection on Thursday that I think is particularly helpful:

Put starkly, what is the greater good? Preventing violence against women or revising marriage vows with some complicated explanation? As you know, our Anglican Diocese of Melbourne is implementing a strategy to prevent violence against women. A key feature identified is ensuring there are not unequal power relations and negative gender stereotypes. Equality, both in perception and reality, is necessary to help prevent violence against women. Given the appalling instances of violence against women, the effect on them and vulnerable children, we must be careful not to create any ambiguities or provide apparent legitimacies for unequal relations. The word 'submit' can't readily be interpreted as inferring equality. Hence, in terms of concern for the greater good, it would be wise and compassionate for the Diocese of Sydney to drop their current liturgical proposals for the wedding service. It is very beautiful and healthy when both the man and the woman say, as they do now, in the Anglican Prayer Book for Australia:

I, N, in the presence of God, take you, N, to be my wife/husband; to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, so long as we both shall live. All this I vow and promise.

Revd Dr Dorothy Lee's article in TMA September 2012, page 12 : "Proposed form of marriage vows problematical," provides further helpful reflections. What do you think? Your reflections are welcome.

It is not a new debate, of course. The Vice-Chancellor of MCD University of Divinity, Professor Peter Sherlock, came across this wonderful news item that ran in the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday 8 April 1913:

The Women's Spiritual Militancy League has issued a manifesto demanding that the Government should introduce a bill revising the marriage service, and "remove the humiliations placed on women." They urge the omission of the word "obey" in the giving-away ceremonial, and ask that the exhortation, "wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, etc.," should be accompanied by the words, "husbands, submit yourselves to your wives, etc."

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster

Illustration for New Guinea Martyrs' Musings

Illustration for New Guinea Martyrs' Musings

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