New Primate Elected for South East Asia

By Mark Michael

The Rt. Rev. Datuk Melter Jiki Tais, 54, Bishop of Sabah was elected archbishop and primate of the Province of the Anglican Church in South East Asia on September 24 in Kuching, Malaysia. Melter will serve a four-year term of office, beginning in February 2020.  He succeeds the Most Rev. Datuk Ng Moon Hing as archbishop and primate.  In accordance with provincial custom, Melter will continue as diocesan bishop of Sabah.

Three of the Province’s four dioceses, including Sabah, are in Malaysia, a majority-Muslim nation.  The province’s largest diocese, Singapore, has launched vigorous missionary efforts over the last several decades, and now has deaneries in Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam.  The province has at least 98,000 members.

Melter is a native of Sabah, a Malaysian state in the northern portion of the island of Borneo.  He is from the Kazadan ethnic group, the state’s largest, and is the first indigenous person from Sabah to serve as an Anglican bishop. He was born at Kg Nangoh, one of nine children in a family of subsistence farmers. After being educated in church boarding schools, he earned theology degrees from Malaysia Evangelical College and Malaysia Bible Seminary.

Following his ordination as a priest in 1933, he served for ten years as a missionary in Western Sabah, planting six churches. After studies in England, he was appointed archdeacon for Sabah’s central region, where he focused on training lay leaders, advocating for the poor and mentoring clergy and church workers.

He was elected as Bishop of Sabah in 2015, succeeding Bishop Albert Vun, who died in office. Especially since becoming president of the Sabah Council of Church in 2017, he has been an important advocate for religious liberty in Malaysia. The Christian population there is significantly larger than in other parts of the country, and interreligious relations have traditionally been strong.  Melter praised the 2017 decision of the state government to provide financial support to non-Muslim schools on an equal basis with those of the majority faith.

He has also been critical of a rising tide of religiously biased laws enacted in Malaysia in recent years, including a 2017 prohibition on non-Muslims using the word “Allah” and a recent prohibition of interfaith prayer. In 2015, Melter said, “When a time comes when there is a need to speak up objectively and constructively to the government, then as a bishop I need to do that, to protect the rights of not only the indigenous Christians in Sabah and Sarawak but also in the whole country.”

The Church in the Province of Southeast Asia was initially spread through the work of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, a British high-church mission movement. However, it experienced a widespread evangelical revival in the 1960’s and 70’s, which has led to major church growth and a significant focus on Bible study and evangelism.

Under the leadership of a British missionary, Canon Frank Lomax, St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Singapore became a center of the charismatic renewal in the mid-1970’s. The province maintains strong links with the conservative evangelical Diocese of Sydney, educating many of its clergy and church workers through residential and extension programs of its Moore Theological Seminary.

It has also been active in the Anglican realignment. In 2000, former Southeast Asian primate Moses Tay joined with Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini to consecrate Chuck Murphy and John Rogers at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Singapore as the first bishops in what became the Anglican Mission in the Americas.   A provincial synod in 2003 declared that the province was in impaired communion with the Episcopal Church following the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson.

The province’s bishops, including Melter, have also been active in the GAFCON Movement. However, Melter also serves on the Lambeth Design Group, which is preparing the program for the conference of Anglican bishops scheduled for summer, 2020.  Unlike several other GAFCON-affiliated provinces, South East Asia has not yet announced whether it plans to participate in the important Communion-wide gathering.


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