Vicar swaps parish for island life

Struggling to get a mobile phone signal, driving on less than perfect roads and dealing with a mix of dialects among the locals. They are all part of daily life for any priest covering a group of rural parishes.

Struggling to get a mobile phone signal, driving on less than perfect roads and dealing with a mix of dialects among the locals.

They are all part of daily life for any priest covering a group of rural parishes.

But the villages around Fakenham which Father Paul Inman oversees will seem futuristic compared with the tropical Pacific island of Papua New Guinea where the rector is today heading for a three-month secondment.

A once-a-week e-mail back home will be about the best Mr Inman will be able to manage and he will become used to seeing new churches covered with banana leaf roofs rather than the historic and beautiful buildings he preaches in in his Upper Wensum benefice.

Apart from obviously missing his family and parishioners, Mr Inman, 46, is “very excited” at the challenge of helping run the island's college which trains new young priests and assisting work in dealing with rapid change going on in the country.

And he expects be challenged by the “youthful vigour” the people have towards Christianity on the rain forest-dominated island, where more than 800 languages are spoken.

Most Read

The Norwich Diocese has had links with PNG since Norfolk clergyman David Hand moved there in 1946 and this year's Diocesan Lent Project is raising funds for development work.

Mr Hand spent 60 of his 87 years in PNG and eventually became Archbishop and he is buried at the Cathedral of the Resurrection in Popondetta.

Mr Inman visited PNG with the Bishop of Lynn the Rt Rev James Langstaff and the Diocesan president of the Mothers' Union Win Smith last year and he has been asked to help at the Newton Theological College following the sudden death of the principal Brother Justus Van Houten.

Mr Inman, of Colkirk, who has a wife Fiona and daughters Sarah, 14, and Sophie, 10, flew out yesterday from Gatwick and is on a 24-hour flight via Dubai and Singapore to PNG's capital Port Moresby.

Due to the virtually non-existent road network across the island - which is bigger than Britain - he will have to take an internal flight to reach the college.

“I am very excited and it is a great opportunity. Leaving my wife and children will be very difficult and I will also miss the parishioners but I do feel this is a calling from God.

“It will be a learning curve for me but I did serve as a mission priest in Nigeria so I have some grounding in it.”

Mr Inman said PNG was first settled about 40,000 years ago but until Europeans reached there in the mid 20th century it was in the Stone Age and there is now a mix of people still in that period while also having partly moved to modern times.

He admitted lack of communication with home would take some getting used to and he would miss “easy access to books” but the prospect of “a return to greater simplicity of existence” would be helpful to him.

A pint of English beer and an Indian meal will be among his first demands on his return home.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA

It occupies the eastern part of the world's second largest island and is prey to volcanic earthquake activity and tidal waves.

The country - just north of Australia - is bigger than Britain but the population is only about five million.

About 90pc of people live in rural areas with few or no facilities.

Many tribes in isolated mountain regions have little contact with each other let alone the outside world and have a non-monetarised economy.

PNG's capital is Port Moresby and its main religion is Christianity.

Life expectancy is 55 men, 56 women.

The Queen remains head of state and is represented by the governor general Paulias Matane.

PNG has a long history of internal struggles, tribal hostilities and poverty.