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Interfaith conference pursues Melanesian theological identity

Waterlily Pond
Water lily pond at the Pacific Adventist University just outside Port Moresby


PORT MORESBY - The Melanesia Association of Theological Schools conference, held last week at the Pacific Adventist University, is an annual event where theologians, scholars and pastors from theological schools and churches gather to discuss theological issues affecting Christians in Melanesia.

The university hosted this year’s interdenominational conference and its school of theology, humanities and education worked together for the whole year to prepare for the event under the leadership of Dr Elisapesi Mason.

The three-day conference was officially opened by Dr Lalen Simeon, deputy vice chancellor of Pacific Adventist University in the presence of vice chancellor Dr Raul Lozano, registrar Mrs Pele Alu and staff members.

The theme of the conference was ‘Interfaith and ecumenical dialogue in Melanesia’ - the notion being to use the forum to engage in dialogue with each church to seek understanding with each other and to work together to advance the mission of Christ.

There were 30 papers presented during the conference and the keynote speaker was Senior Professor Daniel Shaw from the school of world missions at Fuller Theological Seminary in California, USA.

The papers addressed different ways of facilitating ecumenical dialogue in Melanesia. The quality and breadth of the scholarly discussion provided fresh perspectives on ways to deepen the dialogue amongst churches in Melanesia. It was a feast of reason and a time of sweet fellowship.

One of the most insightful papers was presented by newly-minted doctor of anthropology, Unia Kaise Api. His research for his doctorate was done among the Kamea people in the Gulf Province and focused on how engaged local people can create a theology they can understand and that is meaningful to their lives.

The rationale for this research was to remedy the imbalance created in the past when the early missionaries came and purged the traditional beliefs of Melanesians and made the people accept western Christianity which created syncretism, the blending of two or more religious belief systems, in Melanesia.

The conference was officially closed by the deputy secretary of the Department of Home Affairs, Youth and Religion after a lavish vegetarian meal provided by the university cafeteria and entertaining music by singers from Vanuatu.

The next conference will be held at Banz in Jiwaka Province next year.


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Philip Fitzpatrick

Dan Shaw was a missionary at Kwobi in the Pare/Samo area just north of Nomad River in 1971 when I was there. He wrote a book called 'From Longhouse to Village: Samo Social Change'. I've got a signed copy that he sent to me after I'd provided some earlier comment and copies of patrol reports. Great to see he's still active.

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