The Archbishop of Polynesia
Little did I realise when I wrote back in February on ‘environment matters’ that climate change was going to feature so large in the consciousness of the diocese this year. Last month brought severe flooding in Wainfleet – the RAF deployed to transport tonnes of ballast in order to plug the breach in the river bank. The diocese is co-hosting (with the University of Lincoln) a conference on climate change this September with expert speakers flying in from around the world for the conference (oh the irony!). One of those speakers has been in the diocese for several weeks already; he led the ordination retreat and preached at the ordination services. The topic of climate change featured prominently in those sermons. The reason for this focus was that the preacher was the recently retired Archbishop of Polynesia, Winston Halapua. His diocesan office is in Fiji and he has episcopal responsibility for many Pacific islands and their communities. Five Pacific islands have already been lost to rising sea levels: others are at risk.
When the River Steeping broke it banks due to heavy and prolonged rainfall, people were (relatively) easily evacuated from their homes. The clean will take time and much that was valued by those whose homes were flooded will have been damaged or destroyed. Repairs will be made to the river banks and better flood defences put in place. This has happened in Boston and other places around the country. A consultation is even taking place in Sleaford about flood risk and management.
In the Islands of Polynesia the challenge is both more critical and more complex to deal with. As sea levels rise the low lying islands (never getting more than a few feet above sea level) are at serious risk. What defences can be built in such a situation? Some of these islands and their communities are already losing the battle with the sea.
Archbishop Winston is using his time in England to draw attention to the plight of his people and to educate us about the effects of climate change as felt by those most affected. The Pacific islands may seem far removed from us but Archbishop Winston reminds us that the Christian faith on these Islands is because of the work of a pioneering missionary, John Hunt, from Lincolnshire in the 19th century.
The Anglican Priest and poet John Donne (1572 – 1631) wrote the words
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were…Â
If we replace the word Europe with ‘Fiji’ or ‘the global community’ Donne is making the same point that Archbishop Winston wants to make. When Pacific Islands are lost to the sea we are all the less for it.