During the Second World War allied pilots that were downed in the Melanesian Islands of the Pacific were initially fearful of the native people. The natives were lightly clothed, carried primitive tools, and with uncut hair matched the stereotypes learned in grade school about savages. The Allies were surprised to find the Melanesians were a very gentle people, who took them in, bandaged their wounds, and hid them from the Japanese. These Melanesians were Christian and were the legacy of Anglican Missionaries in the previous century.
In 1841 at the age of 14, John Coleridge Patteson was inspired by the Bishop to New Zealand, George Augustus Selwyn. Patteson set a course toward ministry and missions to the other side of the world. He committed his life to ordained ministry and in 1853 made his way to the missionary regions of New Zealand under the episcopacy of Selwyn.
Building schools, he focused on the education of the young. That primitive setting was plagued with various diseases. So, at times a school cafeteria became a hospital from which he would later bury adults and children alike. He cared for them all. Expanding his ministry with a boat dubbed the Southern Cross his journey brought him to the Loyalty Islands where he quickly befriended native peoples communicating in 30 different languages, fluent in 5 or 6. He was known as a friend to all the people, and one who came from a Christian caring community.
Upon Selwyn’s call to the Bishopric of Lichfield, Patteson took his place as bishop of New Zealand. Along with his episcopal duties he continued his island hopping campaigns through1871 when he landed on the island of Nukapu. In an optimistic letter penned to Selwyn the night before landing he expressed his hope that the opportunity would finally open for this island to hear the gospel. Bishop Patteson was killed the next day, not for preaching the gospel but rather as retribution for an unrelated labor kidnapping from the island of Fiji. Almost a hundred years later the church he established was still thriving and ministering.
Patteson was one of many Anglican missionaries who brought the gospel to various new peoples: Patrick to the Irish, Boniface to the Germans, Willibrord to the Frisians to name a few. “The British are a traveling people.”
After the Reformation, Missions in the Anglican tradition took two main pathways, one to the British dispersion and two, through Missionary Societies. Missionaries to the British dispersion function still today in traditional ways as parish priests working to grow English speaking congregation in Europe, the Americas, and the other habitable continents. On the other hand, missionary societies were established to target various regions and populations of non-Anglo groups in Africa, South America, Asia, and Oceana. These Anglican groups distinguished themselves as high and low churchmanship, Protestant and Anglo-Catholic.
In 1837 The Episcopal Church in the United States dispelled with the complexities of multiple missionary societies naming itself The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States. It’s first missionaries were sent to Persia where a small Anglican community existed up to 1979 when the Islamic Revolution outlawed Christianity. Their witness has added to the count of martyrs in recent decades. The visible church along with its bishop is currently in exile.
Missionary work in the Anglican tradition is about bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people in need. Missionary work uses temporal needs as a medium for the message of salvation through Jesus.