Samoan synod woven from many strands
Most of the North Island’s urban centres have Methodist congregations that conduct their worship and business in the Samoan language. The Samoan synod of the Methodist Church of New Zealand – Sinoti Samoa – has 18 congregations in six regions, Auckland, Manukau, Taranaki, Hawkes Bay-Manawatu and Wellington.
Sinoti Samoa came into existence in 1996 when it was elevated from the status of an advisory committee. It is the body that conveys the aspirations and concerns of Samoan congregations to Methodist Conference. It also has the responsibility to develop and provide Samoan-language resources and training to those congregations. Sinoti Samoa superintendent Rev Iakopo Fa’afuata says all six regions (itumalo) have a committee so they can work independently and set up structures to meet local needs.
“Each regional committee has a youth committee and its own Women’s Fellowship. Women’s Fellowships deal with matters related to women and families both in the church and the wider community.
“Regional committees report to the Sinoti executive. The executive deals with issues referred by Conference and has oversight of the welfare and needs of its congregations,” Iakopo says.
An important milestone in the life of Sinoti Samoa was the decision of Conference 2000 that all Samoan congregations in MCNZ should come under the umbrella of the Sinoti. The issue is a complex one that is still being worked through because many Samoan congregations are members of mixed parishes and share their properties with English-speaking congregations.
Some mixed parishes haven’t wanted their Samoan language congregations to shift primary responsibility to Sinoti Samoa because they believe it creates distance between congregations. And some Samoan congregations have been reluctant to leave mixed parishes because it means greater financial and administrative responsibility.
Former MCNZ president and Sinoti Samoa executive member Rev Aso Saleupolu says some Samoan-language congregations were initially reluctant to join the Sinoti because they thought it would be hierarchical and financially demanding as churches in Samoa can be.
“This is an ungrounded fear. We try our best not to burden our people,” Aso says.
One way Sinoti Samoa has tried to alleviate such fears is through educational workshops. They cover such topics as the workings of the MCNZ, the bi-cultural journey, church property, and finance.
Iakopo says Sinoti Samoa has also developed different models Samoan congregations can use to relate to the other congregations in a mixed parish setting.
The model he prefers is for Samoan congregations to become separate parishes that affiliate with Sinoti Samoa even if they continue to share a property with other congregations. Under this model each language group organises its own affairs and worship through parallel parish councils and leaders meetings but also co-ordinate their efforts through joint committees.
“Some mixed parishes have used different models to relate to Sinoti Samoa. We encourage them to use whichever means is appropriate for their local setting as long as it is clear Samoan congregations relate to Sinoti Samoa,” Iakopo says.