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Wesley a strong influence in Pacifica

Pacific Church leaders say, as the founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley has had a major impact on the lives of Pacific peoples.

Wesley PreachingSuperintendent of Vahefonua Tonga 'Epeli Taungapeau says Methodist missionaries who came to Tonga's shores in the 19th century brought a new system of thought that has shaped the life of modern Tonga.

"Methodist traditions set a light in life of all Tongans. It was an important part of their initial interactions foreigners and the revolution the new, Western civilisation in the Pacific.

"The early missionaries also trained Tongans to go to other parts of Pacific so evangelism has always been a part of our how we relate to Te Hahi Weteriana."

Today, 'Epeli says, Christianity is right at heart of life for Tongan people. To belong to a church is to belong to a community.

"The Church enhanced community life in Tonga because it allowed us to move beyond our historical ties to tribal clans. We have transplanted that from Tonga to New Zealand. We have brought that kind of lifestyle here.

"We identify with our churches. They are the place we learn of news from home, and share our successes and failures. It is the focus of social life and where we celebrate all the important events of life - birth, marriage, death, Communion."

'Epeli notes there are a number of differences between worshipping as Tongans in New Zealand. They include Te Taha Maori and the bi cultural nature of the Church as a result of the Treaty of Waitngi whereas in Tonga the Church is monocultural.

Another difference is the president here has a one year term but in Tonga the president can continue for as many years as people want him. This allows for a continuity of input into church.

Superintendent of Sinoti Samoa Iakopo Fa'afuata says in Samoan tradition the Methodist Church was the first Church to arrive in Samoa. It was initially called the Tongan Church because it was brought by a Samoan man, who had lived in Tonga, accompanied by Tongan missionaries.

Later the London Missionary Society delegated the authority to do missionary work in Samoa to another denomination. Nevertheless, many people valued the style of worship the Tongan Methodists had brought so the Church endured and now has the second largest number of followers of all denominations in Samoa.

"We value the rules and guidance John Wesley established in the Methodist Church. As a mark of respect a number of colleges, halls, and church buildings in Samoa are named after him," Iakopo says.

"In Samoa the Church is seen as spiritual guide of the people. Whatever is said by presbyters is taken very seriously and the same is true among Samoans in New Zealand.

"However the kind of authority exercised by the Methodist Church is different here and in Samoa. In New Zealand people have more chance to contribute to decisions but in Samoa ministers tend to act like on man bands," Iakopo says.

The role of women also different in New Zealand and Samoa. Women have a special role in the Church in both countries. For example, the minister and his wife are seen co-partners in ministry. They work together though their separate roles are clear.

"In Samoa there are ladies who are lay preachers but no ordained ministers. Here in New Zealand we have an ordained woman.

"Another difference between the two Churches is that in New Zealand the Church seems to change its structure every year but the structure of the Samoan Church has remained the same for a century," Iakopo observes.