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Terry Brown, Bishop in Four Worlds, 1944-2024

The Rt. Rev. Terry Michael Brown, who served as Bishop of Malaita on the Solomon Islands from 1996 to 2008, has died at 79.

“He was a theologian, teacher, and passionate advocate for the Pacific Islands amidst environmental and justice concerns,” Archbishop Linda Nicholls of Canada wrote via email in announcing his death on the evening of Easter Day. “Terry never slowed down in retirement — and will be remembered for his hard work, passion in mission, and keen intellect.”

The cause of death is not known. Bishop Brown had been hospitalized in early February for emergency abdominal hernia surgery. He would have turned 80 on August 14, and he recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of his diaconal ordination.

Brown was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1944 and attended Presbyterian and Unitarian churches until becoming a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan, as a college student in 1965. He received his B.A. at Kalamazoo College before beginning doctoral studies at Brandeis that were interrupted by U.S. Army service in Japan in the late 1960s.

He began a lasting affiliation with the Anglican Church of Canada after his return from the military, and trained for ordination at Trinity College, Toronto. Brown was initially turned down for ordination by Bishop Richard S.M. Emrich of the Diocese of Michigan over concerns about his sexuality, political leanings, and Conscientious Objector status.

After his ordination to the priesthood by the Archbishop of Fredericton in 1975 and a curacy at St. George’s, Moncton, New Brunswick, Brown’s main ministries were as lecturer at Bishop Patteson Theological Centre in the Solomon Islands from 1975 to 1981, tutor in church history at Trinity College Toronto from 1981 to 1984, and Asia/Pacific mission coordinator for the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod from 1985 to 1996.

Brown was consecrated Bishop of Malaita on May 26, 1996. His consecration attracted bishops from Korea, Canada, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, Vanuatu, Fiji, and his three living predecessors. He retired on August 18, 2008, and was succeeded by the Right Rev. Samuel Sahu as fifth Bishop of Malaita.

The 12 years of Brown’s Melanesian episcopate saw rigorous attention to building indigenous episcopal candidates, his work during transitions as acting primate, generative connection with neighbors in Papua New Guinea, support for regional centers of theological education, and fundraising for a tenth iteration of the provincial mission vessel Southern Cross.

He supported serious biblical, catechetical, and liturgical translation work into local languages, often in connection with Wycliffe Bible Translators, resulting in new work in Sikaiana, Ontong Java, Natgu, Anuta, and Kwara’ae languages. Bishop Brown maintained the unity of his diocese against small schismatic movements and articulated a careful position against persistent polygamy and misuse of cannabis and kava drinks by clergy and parishioners.

The first seven years of Bishop Brown’s episcopacy occurred amid ethnic violence involving groups in his diocese and neighboring Guadalcanal. He was involved in the church response to the April 2003 martyrdom of seven members of the Melanesian Brotherhood, the encouragement of peace agreements, and Anglicans voluntarily relinquishing firearms. He was a key figure in the Solomon Islands Truth and Reconciliation Commission, whose work continued through a 2013 digital report, which highlighted systemic failures.

This work focused on peace was in continuity with earlier high-level efforts, sponsored by the Anglican Communion and UN, in North Korea, Cuba, Myanmar, the former Soviet Union, and work toward reconciliation between Christians in Korea and Japan. Many of Bishop Brown’s lifelong commitments were shaped by his study of the Anglo-Catholic Socialist and Marxist tradition through the life of Frederic Hastings Smyth (1888-1960), the subject of his Th.D. dissertation at the University of Toronto in 1987.

Bishop Brown followed one of his heroes and friends, Charles Elliot Fox (1878-1977), in a commitment to phasing out non-native church leaders in the Pacific. He refused to ordain outside aspirants to holy orders out of his conviction that Melanesian Christianity had an internal, self-replicating power, and he died firm in his belief that he would be the final non-indigenous officeholder in the Anglican Church of Melanesia.

In the 16 years after his retirement, Bishop Brown served as assisting bishop in the Diocese of Niagara, as priest in charge of the Church of the Ascension in Hamilton, Ontario (ending in 2020), as an adjunct professor of missiology and church history on the Faculty of Divinity at Trinity College of the University of Toronto. He kept a close association in Canada with the Community of the Sisters of the Church, whose members he counted as valued friends.

Brown was dismayed by divisions in the Anglican Communion based in differing understandings of sexuality. He referred to his own sexuality as “dodgy.”

“I live in and am a part of all four worlds — the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Church of Melanesia and the pained world of gay and lesbian laity, deacons, priests and bishops,” he said. “My life as a bishop in all four worlds is possible only because of my faith in Jesus Christ. I had a conversion experience in which I felt deeply loved by God. That, the Eucharist, the life of Christian friendship and community, and Scripture have sustained me through thick and thin.”

Bishop Brown is survived by a sister, Judy Martz of Michigan, and is mourned by many.

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