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MELANESIAN MESSENGER 080505-5
May 5, 2008

Reconciliation and Peace-building Consultation

[Melanesian Messenger - Melanesia] From April 28 to May 1, 2008, some 90 members of the Church of Melanesia met for a four-day provincial consultation in Honiara on "Healing Past Hurts: A way forward for the Church of Melanesia in the ministry of Reconciliation and Peace-building".

The consultation brought together participants from the areas of the Solomon Islands most seriously affected by the "ethnic tension" conflict of 1998-2003: rural Guadalcanal, Malaita Province and Honiara. Participants included bishops, clergy, the church's four religious communities, women, youth, chiefs, laymen, ex-militants and ex-police, as well as Provincial Office staff, the bishops of the other dioceses in the Solomon Islands and representatives of the Solomon Islands government.

The consultation began with a keynote address, "Biblical Reflection on Reconciliation and Peace", by Bishop Philemon Riti, General Secretary of the Solomon Islands Christian Association and former Moderator of the United Church of the Solomon Islands. It was followed by a theological reflection on the same subject by the Very Rev'd Sam Ata, Dean of St. Barnabas Cathedral, Honiara. Each day began with biblical reflection on the ministry of reconciliation.

A two-day listening process then began, with presentations by groups within the Consultation: the Dioceses of Central Solomons, Central Melanesia and Malaita; women; youth; men?s and women's religious communities; ex-militants and their representatives; traditional chiefs; and the Solomon Islands Government. The presentations were all discussed in small mixed groups.

Ms. Joy Kere, Permanent Secretary of the Solomon Islands Government Ministry of National Unity, Reconciliation and Peace, presented the government?s programme of peace-building and reconciliation, including the proposed Truth and Reconciliation Commission bill to be brought before Parliament in July. This Commission has been long a request of the Solomon Islands churches.

On the third day, the Consultation agreed on seven key areas of Reconciliation and Peace-building Ministry for the Church of Melanesia in the Solomon Islands; Healing Ministry, Mediating Ministry, Reconciling Ministry, Marriage and Family Ministry, Rebuilding and Strengthening Christian societies in post-conflict areas, seeking justice for the suffering people and developing structures for coordinating, prioritizing and implementation, including ecumenical relations.

The "implementing groups" - the three dioceses, the religious communities, the provincial staff and representatives of the Solomon Islands government then met in small groups to look at their work develop new programmes and prioritize.

On the fourth day, the Consultation accepted these priorities and discussed how the provincial programme might coordinate and facilitate them. Priorities include a family-based training centre for livelihood on the Weather Coast of Guadalcanal, surveys to acquire more information on those affected by the violence, progammes for Malaita residents of Guadalcanal displaced back to Malaita, ministry to ex-militants, memorial services for those lost, and further training for members of religious communities and others, particularly in the area of trauma-counselling and conflict resolution.

On its final day, the Consultation recommended the formation of a Church of Melanesia Commission on justice, Peace and Reconciliation under the Melanesian Board of Mission. The new Commission will be put to the November 2008 General Synod for approval.

The Consultation met in a spirit of friendship and good will, with church members who had been separated for many years seeing each other again and sharing each other's stories of suffering and resurrection.

The Consultaiton concluded with an Ascension Day Eucharist with the theme of "Christ's and our suffering and resurrected humanity lifted into the divine" at St.Alban's Parish, Honiara. The Eucharist included a time of public confession and reconciliation and the commissioning of the Church of Melanesia's new justice, Peace and Reconciliation Coodinator, the Rev'd Graham Mark. The Rt.Rev'd Terry Brown, Senior Bishop of the Church of Melanesia, presided and preached. A closing dinner with speeches followed.

The Consultation was given financial support by the Community Sector Program AusAID, for which the Church of Melanesia extends its thanks.

While many felt the Consultation was long overdue, because of ongoing difficulties and other concerns, it has been only possible now. But with this Consultation, the Church of Melanesia's formal programme of Reconciliation and Peace-building is now firmly launched.