Today is the feast day of the Anglican Bishop and Martyr John Coleridge Patteson, 1871
When I come across a feast day I like to see who is being remembered and found a summary about John Colleridge Patteson… (which I’ve paraphrased here)
“He was the first Bishop of Melanesia – a group of islands in 1800 square miles of ocean.
He was not always welcomed, particularly since the native peoples were subject to abuse by Slavers.
Usually Patteson’s gentle, quiet manner reassured the indigenous peoples, but not always… more later.
In the islands he went barefoot, wearing only shirt and trousers, the latter tucked up above his knees.
When Patteson came to an island where he did not know the people and where they might be hostile, he used to swim ashore wearing a top hat. He had filled it with presents for the people. He quickly made friends, learnt the villagers’ names, and enough of their language to use when he came again.
He, like all of us, made mistakes – on occasion he failed to pay regard to the cultural norms of the indigenous people. In particular: he intent was to take young men away to school for education (the islanders had difficulty in seeing the difference between them being taken for education or slavery – they simply saw them being ‘taken’), he failed to obey local precedence when giving gifts (thus causing insult to the local hierarchy) and in a patriarchal society he cultivated the support of women for his goals.
Eventually he was martyred when visiting an Island – either mistaken for a slaver, or having overstepped cultural bounds – it’s not too clear.
As Bishop Patteson’s death was associated with native resistance to the abuses of Slavers, the British government took measures to stamp out the slave trade in its Pacific territories. His death became a cause celebre in England; it increased interest both in missionary work and in improvement of the working conditions of labourers in Melanesia.
The Aborigines’ Protection Society took up the cause, resulting in a well-orchestrated campaign in the British Parliament from William McArthur for the annexation of Fiji to abolish slavery. Britain annexed Fiji in 1874.
And to this day the Bishop Patteson Theological College remains on the Solomon Islands.”
In reflecting what I have learned of him today I would like to share some thoughts…
As a workplace chaplain I see his gentleness, quietness, his ‘going native’, his learning their language, quickly making friends, and remembering peoples name are good practices for chaplaincy.
While some of his actions were flawed – His occasional misunderstanding of the culture, hierarchy and missing empathy (that ‘taken’ was ‘taken’ whether by slavers or missionaries) were the flaws that lead to his death. These are lessons to be learned by all who serve in the mission field – either in our local communities or in foreign fields.
But with all that being said his legacy saw people motivated by the abuses to the native people, a government intervention, and justice and mercy restored for the people of Melanesia (maybe not fully, or completely) – but he in life and death made a difference with eternal consequence. And I’m really honoured to get to know a little about him today, and I hope you are too!
Blessings, grace and peace.