- South Pacific
- When in 1795 British Congregationalists and other Protestants created the London Missionary Society, the voyages of Captain Cook were still very much in their minds, and the South Pacific seemed the obvious target for the group's initial missionary effort. The fledgling society purchased a ship, the Duff, and recruited 30 missionaries, of whom four were ordained ministers. The party sailed on September 23, 1796. After seven months at sea, they landed in Tahiti, where 18 of the group remained, the others moving on to Tonga and the Marquesas. The first chapel was erected in 1800.In 1812, King Pomare II converted to Christianity. He also paid to bring a printing press to Tahiti and built a large church. A stream of water from the mountains ran through the church, to be used for baptisms.In 1820 the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions sent missionaries to Hawaii, which became the launching point for extended missionary activity throughout the South Pacific. British Methodists sent workers to Tonga in 1822 to revive the London Society's work, which had collapsed shortly after it began. John Lawry pioneered the work, followed by John Hutchinson and John Thomas, the latter remaining for 28 years.Anglican work began with the arrival of chaplains to provide religious services to the Australian penal colony. In 1793, Rev. Samuel Marsden settled in Australia, with authority over Anglican work in Tasmania and other British outposts. Marsden held the first Christian worship service in New Zealand in 1814. An Anglican priest arrived in 1819, as did a Methodist missionary. In 1823, an Anglican mission to the Aboriginal people was initiated.In 1836, an Anglican diocese of Australia was finally established, followed several years later by another in New Zealand. The first bishop of New Zealand, George August Selwyn (1809-78) arrived in 1841 and began an expansive career. In 1850, Selwyn began work in the Solomon Islands. His own travels set the stage for John Patterson (1827-71), the first bishop of Melanesia, and his successor, John Selwyn (1844-98), Bishop Sel-wyn's son.Europeans quickly came to rely on native converts, first as translators and then as unordained missionary preachers. Much early work focused on translating the Bible into local languages.In some cases, European colonial rule proved disruptive. In Tahiti, for example, French control from 1842 led to the introduction of Roman Catholicism, which with government backing tried to suppress Protestantism. The London Society was forced to abandon its work, which survived under the auspices of the Paris Mission. British and American colonial governments proved more supportive.Through the 20th century, the South Pacific became a laboratory of missionary methodology. Secular scholars criticized the missionaries for destroying native religion and culture and their economic base, a criticism developed in James Michener's 1959 novel Hawaii, inspired in part by the diary of early missionary Mercy Partridge Whitney. In the 20th century, missionary agencies reevaluated their history and worked to build indigenous leadership and make the transition to autonomous national churches.As the new century began, more than 20 South Pacific Protestant churches are members of the World Council of Churches and cooperate regionally as members of the Pacific Council of Churches headquartered in Fiji. More conservative churches have affiliated with the World Evangelical Alliance and the Evangelical Fellowship of the South Pacific, based in New Zealand.Further reading:■ Jean-Jacques Bauswein and Lukas Vischer, eds., The Reformed Family Worldwide: A Survey of Reformed Churches, Theological Schools, and International Organizations (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1999)■ Nolan B. Harmon, Encyclopedia of World Methodism, 2 vols. (Ashville, Tenn.: United Methodist Publishing House, 1974)■ J. Herbert Kane, A Global View of Christian Missions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1971)■ Albert Wardin, ed., Baptists Around the World (Nashville, Tenn.: Holman, 1995).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.