A new suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Polynesia has been consecrated under a make-shift shelter on the island of Vanua Levu, rather than the cathedral in Suva, on Fiji’s other main island Viti Levu. Bishop Henry Bull, the new suffragan Bishop of Vanua Levu and Taveuni, was consecrated on Sunday (10 December) under a large corrugated tin roof, held up by scaffolding, in the playground of St Mary’s Primary School in Labasa, because the journey to Holy Trinity Cathedral in Suva would have been too difficult for his supporters.
Anglican Taonga, the official news service of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, put it this way: “Around those parts, many folk are subsistence farmers – and for them, a long and complicated trip to Suva, on the far side of Fiji’s other main island, Viti Levu, for an ordination in Holy Trinity Cathedral was possible in theory, maybe – but so too, is flying to the moon.”
Bishop Henry was born and raised on the remote coast of Vanua Levu. And his ministry radiates from the Church of The Holy Cross in Dreketi – which he helped build.
“I wanted the people to know that the real church is not the buildings – but they themselves, the living stones,” he told Anglican Taonga. The setting was welcomed by the province’s two archbishop.
Archbishop Winston Halapua, the Bishop of Polynesia, said that the idea that Episcopal ordinations have to be done in cathedrals “is what has trapped us in the past.” He said: “What we have seen today is that where the people are – that’s like a cathedral. This is eye-opening for the diocese.”
Archbishop Philip Richardson, the senior bishop of the New Zealand dioceses, commented: “One of the great characteristics of Anglican leadership is a sense of being incarnated in community – being really embedded and immersed in community.
“Today was a celebration of the people of this island, and the people of Taveuni. Bishop Henry is one of their own, and his connections to this whenua [land] go back a long way. You could see that in the way we ordained him under a simple shelter – but in the compound of a church that he’s known since he was a boy.
“This was a place with no walls, no doors, and no windows. So anyone could come, no-one’s excluded – and everyone’s invited. That seems to me the heart of the ministry of the church, embodied in this man – and reflected in every aspect of today.”
800 people attended the consecration service on Sunday. The Bishop of Waikato, Helen-Ann Hartley, who will shortly move to Leeds Diocese in the Church of England, preached the sermon, telling the congregation that “You have waited patiently for Bishop Henry’s consecration – but it has come at the right time; for this is God’s time, and God is doing a new thing in our midst.”
At the end of the service, the bishops invited the children in the congregation to come forward for a prayer of Blessing. “That wasn’t on the script,” Anglican Taonga reported, “but when the bishops invited the children to come forward, they came in a multitude, drawn from under the trees, from the veranda of the nearby school and from within the shelter itself.”
Giving his testimony, Bishop Henry explained how a Methodist forestry worker began to tell him about God in 1985. “Then I saw what had been done for me,” he said. “I knew my self-worth: that I was special, I was priceless, that Christ Jesus paid the highest price for Henry Bull – so Henry Bull can be free today. Through his love and his forgiveness.”
He continued: “It is my dream and my desire as a bishop, to talk to people about the greatest thing – and that is the love of God. Because God’s love is stronger than whatever we face in life.”