© Geoffrey Heard 2014
For years, I have been telling people the American Catholic Bishop of Bougainville back in the late 1960s summarized a bunch of priestly and nunly defections with the remark that if the Church ever agreed to a married priesthood, it would have started in Bougainville.
Now Papua New Guinea is pretty well known for its tallish stories so when considering a bunch of incidents that allegedly occurred in little Bougainville (pop'n about 80,000 at the time) over a period of about a year, there was a tendency to savor them but not to put too much reliance on the facts as presented.
One of the incidents was reported at the time as follows:
A white priest was resident in a village-based parish south of Kieta (the main town then). The next village was Methodist and presided over by a Samoan missionary.
Late one night, the Samoan answered a knock on his door and to his surprise, found the priest there hand-in-hand with a Bougainville lady -- one of his parishioners.
"We want to get married," said the priest.
The Minister gathered up a couple of witnesses and married them on the spot.
Now when the Bish got wind of this at the other end of the Bougainville District, he was more than a touch put out. He put it to the Methodist Moderator that the actions of his Minister had been precipitate, to say the least, and asked him if he would kindly inquire of his man why he had done the deed with such reckless abandon. Why hadn't he suggested, for example, that a few days' wait and most certainly, some consultation by the priest with his peers and spiritual adviser might be in order?
Since the Bish was practically snorting and pawing the ground, the Moderator thought it politic to potter down to Kieta and have a quiet word with the Minister.
"Wouldn't it have been reasonable to wait a bit? After all, it was a pretty unusual situation, wouldn't you say?" suggested the moderator.
"Not at all," came the reply, "it happens all the time back home!"
So there I was yesterday at Andersons supermarket in Kokopo, sitting at one of the lunch tables ingesting one of their excellent pies -- it was a potato pie (K5.75=$2.60) and sucking down a Go-Go cola (made in Rabaul and superior to Coke in my view -- not so sickly sweet (K2.00=90cents).
Another diner was at the table giving the full treatment to his share of the baked goods, including a giant lamington obviously of the usual excellent quality.
And as we do here, we chatted.
We started by congratulating each other on our excellent taste in pies, cakes and biscuits, then moved on to the "where are you from" question.
It transpired that he was a United Church Missionary in the Rabaul region. He was of Pacific Islands descent but had been brought up in Rabaul (went to High School here in the 1960s) and Bougainville.
His father, of Samoan-Fijian mix, and his Tongan mother were missionaries at a village a bit south of Kieta through the 60s and into the 70s.
"I heard a story in Kieta in the late 60s, and I have always wondered how true it was," I said. "I wonder whether you ever heard it?"
And I related the yarn as set out above.
"The Methodist Missionary was my Dad and I was home from school at the time and saw the whole thing," he told me.
Well! Talk about the horse's mouth!
"The only embellishment of the facts is the speed of the marriage. In fact, the couple stayed with us for several days while Dad and Mum talked with them and then Dad married them."
Furthermore, he told me, the couple had a long and happy marriage, ending up on a modest plantation in New Ireland. The former priest died just a few years ago, but he thought the wife was still living. One of their sons is a pilot who will fly you around New Guinea skies.
The Minister went on to serve the Methodist Church and then the United Church long and honorably, becoming the second United Church Bishop of Bougainville.
So there you go -- story verified after nearly half-a-century, and with multiple happy endings.
I returned home feeling absurdly light-hearted!
Sometimes the world is just so nice! ###