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Archbishop David Vunagi receiving the Primatial Cross from the Senior Bishop Charles Koete. The Primatial Cross is the Archbishops sign of authority.
Photo: Rolland Gito/ACOM
Photo No. : P090531-1
Click for enlarged photo

The new Primate Archbishop David Vunagi flanked by the Senior Bishop Charles Koete
Photo: Rolland Gito/ACOM
Photo No. : P090531-2
Click for enlarged photo

Archbishop David Vunagi with his wife Mary and the Governor General Sir Natahniel Waena and Lady Waena during a breakfast after the enthronement service
Photo: Rolland Gito/ACOM
Photo No. : P090531-3
Click for enlarged photo

Fifth Primate of Melanesia Enthroned
May 31, 2009

[Melanesian Messenger - Melanesia] Archbishop David Vunagi was this morning enthroned as the fifth Primate of the Anglican Church of Melanesia.

He was also installed as the Bishop of the Diocese of Central Melanesia. His installation and enthronement took place at the St Barnabas Provincial Cathedral in Honiara witnessed by far the largest congregation to attend such programme since the Church’s independence.

Dignitaries attending the installation and enthronement include the Governor General of Solomon Islands, Sir Nathaniel Waena, Prime Minister of Solomon Islands Dr. Derek Sikua and members of his government, Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Vanuatu Ham Lini, overseas retired and active Primates and Bishops and Clergy, Church partners and associates overseas and ecumenical partners.

Here is the new Archbishops enthronement sermon;

While at meal with his disciples at the last supper, Jesus predicted his betrayal, his denial, gave his disciples a new commandment to love one another and promised them of the coming of the Holy Spirit that would stay with them forever to reveal the truth about God. Now, the event of Pentecost that the Church commemorates today is a fulfilment of that promise.

On Pentecost day the Holy Spirit came down on the disciples in a very special way as we heard in the epistle reading this morning. However, we know that the event of Pentecost was not the first time that humanity had experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit had always been part and parcel of human existence since the time of creation.

But from the event of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit became the source of power in the life of the early Church. At Pentecost the believers were transformed and experienced the mystery of God. In the Acts of the Apostles we are told that the early Church was a community that was fully guided by the Holy Spirit in their everyday life. Pentecost is about transformation. It is about radical change to become God centred. It is about being born again. It is about being anointed by the Holy Spirit. In view of that the society today needs the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The society today needs total transformation.

Now, on the evening of the first Easter Day , more than two thousand years ago, the disciples were still in the Upper Room, scared that they might be the next to be arrested and crucified, when Jesus appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you”. In that, Jesus was saying, ‘May you be freed from all your troubles’ or ‘May God give you all the good things’.

Then he said to them, “As the Father has sent me so I send you”. He then invoked the Holy Spirit on them, when he said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” So, on that occasion Jesus commissioned the disciples to preach the gospel of transformation. “As the Father has sent me so I send you,” and that has become the Charter of the Church today.

In the gospel reading this morning we heard Jesus telling his disciples where he was going but they did not understand him. The disciples were sad because they knew that they were going to lose Jesus. But Jesus told them that his going away was for the good of all, because when he went away the Holy Spirit who would not be confined by the limitations space and time, would come and be with them in whatever they do and wherever they may be.

The disciples did not understand Jesus because they continued to live in the past. Even after the events of the resurrection, the disciples continued to live in the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. In the Upper Room they continued to be preoccupied with fear, pain, suffering and death.

The message of Easter about new life, hope and new purpose in the service of God did not change the disciples’ understanding of Jesus ascending to the Father. They continued to live in the past. And I think, the problem, the disciples had more than two thousand years ago continues to be the problem today. In many ways, we continue to live in the past. And because of that, the Church of Melanesia today continues to live in the past.

I could not agree more that it is from the past that we can face the future. But we must be mindful of the past that is static. The Church of Melanesia claims to be a traditional Church. That is good but we must know that tradition does not mean being static. Tradition is about making sense of the situation in a given time and where possible to make appropriate changes to accommodate that situation. As Jesus said, “don’t put new wine in an old wine-skin or else you will lose both the wine and the skin. New wine must be put in a new wine-skin.”

In the gospel reading this morning, Jesus said to his disciples,” I will send the Holy Spirit to you from the Father and he will speak about me. And you, too, will speak about me.” (Jn.15:26f). Now, the important message here is about witnessing. The Holy Spirit will continue to bear witness for Jesus and so will his disciples and followers. Thus, the important task of the Church today is to bear witness for the gospel of Christ, the gospel of transformation.

Now, today I wish to humbly reflect with you the nature of the ministry that I am taking on as from today to lead the Province of the Anglican Church of Melanesia. But in order for me to be able to do that, I must have a clear picture of the situation today. In that regard, I see myself, as one who is expected to lead a Church in a society that:

(a) Is secularised – We know that the world today is taken over by secularism, materialism and individualism and all that have killed the faith. All anti-social behaviours that we grapple with today are reflections of a society that is spiritually weak. What we need, is to have faith in God and not to have faith on technology and materialism because salvation is found only in God through Jesus Christ.
(b) Is polarised and fragmented –There are clear divisions that exist in the nation, Church, society and even within families.
(c) That has lost the virtues of obedience, respect and humility.
(d) Is saturated with all forms of liberalisation.
(e) Human conscience is adversely privatised.

So, to lead a Church in a society where all that are happening is not an easy task.
There are people who claim that the Church is condemning them, cheating them, unfair in its decisions, not pastoral in its approaches and is involved in conspiracy. However, if we think through these issues thoroughly, I think it is the vice-versa that is true. It is the people that continue to condemn the Church. There had been finger pointing and accusations against the Church, to say the least. But I believe all that had been triggered on by personal motives and egocentricity. From speculations and rumours, people make generalisations as if they were true. And that in my view, reflects, poorly on the integrity of Christians that we have today. They are so bitter and paranoid about things that are outside their sphere of reference. Nevertheless, I stand to defend the purity, the truthfulness and the infallibility of the Church. We the members of the Church may be corrupt and dishonest but the Church remains pure because it is the Church of God.
Having seen the picture of the kind of people we have in the Church today, I pray for the Anglican Church of Melanesia to be truly transformed. In the midst of a
society that has become very secular, distinctively polarised, clearly fragmented, where the virtues of obedience, respect and humility have been lost, where there has been ‘push’ and ‘pull’ among the different forms of liberalisation and where privatisation of conscience becomes a way of life, I would like to see the Church of Melanesia to be a Church:

(a) Where the bishops, priests, deacons and all her members are prayerful people. We can all aspire to be good people but I think it is far better for all of us if we can aspire to be prayerful people. We need to plug into God. Prayer is not only to praise God but to bring our hearts to God. That way, we can be sure that we have a prayerful Church. It is true that a lot of people are faithful in their church attendance but it is also true that a lot of people do not recognise the relevancy of the Church in their lives. There are many people who do not attend church services on Saturdays and Sundays. But the Church must continue to reach out to these people. William Temple the ninety – eight archbishop of Canterbury said, “the only organisation that exists for those who are not yet its members is the church.” I think that statement is true. For other organisations, one has to be a member in order to be a recipient of it benefits and dividends. That statement also summarises the mission of the Church. The Church must therefore have a mission that is committed to reaching out to those who sit in the fence, the backsliders and to those who abuse alcohol –related drinks, drugs and social activity centres like night clubs. The law and order problems we have in this nation are results of such abuses.

(b) That builds bridges to link all the different forms of liberalisation and the different religious institutions that exist in isolation of each other because of fragmentation.

(c) That pledges Ecumenical support as different denominations continue to work together to build up the Body of Christ in this Nation.

(d) That accommodates all the different strands of expressing the Christian Faith – the traditionalists, evangelicals and the charismatic.

(e) That recognises God-given gifts of women and youth to serve in the different ministries of the Church.

(f) That supports enculturation, especially cultural aspects that are compatible with the gospel.

(g) That encourages its members to exercise forgiveness and reconciliation as part of their spiritual journey. Christian forgiveness is amazing. On the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church, as he died, he prayed for his killers, “Lord do not hold this sin against them.” Closer at home, at Ambae, in the now Diocese of Vanuatu, during the missionary days, Charles Godden, a medical doctor and priest, who was hacked to death while conducting a baptism service, said, “Let there be no fighting because of me.” So Christian forgiveness is about total submission by the victim to the perpetrators and the rest is about the mystery of God. On April 29, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was launched at Lawson Tama. The main task of the commission is to provide an opportunity for both the victims and perpetrators of the ethnic tension to tell their stories and to listen to each other. And from those stories true healing and forgiveness could emerge. I know to tell the truth is very painful but that is what Christian forgiveness is all about. For Christ, it was out of the pains of the crucifixion that he was able to say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” For St. Stephen, it was out of the pains from the impacts of the stones that he was able to say, “Lord do not hold this sin against them.” For Charles Godden, it was out of the pains from the wounds he received from the axe that he was able to say, “Let there be no fighting because of me.” Christian forgiveness is unconditional because for us Christians the cross is the cost of forgiveness and at the same time it is a symbol of divine love that willingly forgives.

(h) That is firm but fair in its disciplines. We need to respect the interconnectedness of the body, mind and soul. We need to recover Christian morality and ethics that listens to the needs of even the very ordinary people. The gospel of Jesus Christ is about recognising even the very least.

So in view of all that, we must pray for wisdom and guidance so that even if we are not successful at least we may be faithful to carry out the ministry of the Church that is both prophetic and pastoral in nature. If we see things in the eyes of Jesus we can remove barriers that divide and marginalise people.
Prophet Amos prophesied that the time was coming “when people will be hungry but not for bread; they will be thirsty but not for water. They will hunger and thirst for a message from the Lord” (Am.8:11). So in this age of secularism and polarisation people need to be guided back to God because they are hungry and thirsty for the word of the Lord.

In the gospel reading this morning we heard that the Church has been called upon to bear witness to Jesus Christ and his dominion. That call is not only for the ordained and for the religious communities but rather it is a call for the whole people of God. Nobody should be a spectator or should wait just to say Amen. That call goes out to everybody – to the politicians, public servants and to each and all. There are certainly, personal services that all people of faith should unceasingly offer to the mission and ministry of the Church as testimonies of our bearing witness to the gospel of transformation.

So may the ministry of bearing witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ be your task and my task. To God be the glory. Amen.