Samoans in NZ face unique challenges
When Rev Aso Saleupolu finished the three-year cycle of responsibilities associated with being the president of the Methodist Church of NZ in 2003, he also moved from parish ministry in Otara to Panmure.
Formed in 1987 Panmure Samoan Congregation is one of the oldest Samoan congregations in the country and one of the first to become a parish. Aso says the Panmure congregation has some good leaders and a lot of energetic young people.
“At one time Panmure was the biggest Samoan congregation in New Zealand. However, in 1998 and 1999 it split over the human sexuality issue, and slightly more than half went away. It takes a long time to heal, and even now people talk about the hurt caused when families divided over the issue.
“Since then, one family has come back and a lot of healing has taken place. People now talk and visit, and young people from the group that left come and mingle here, which are good signs.”
Aso observes Samoan churches face number of dilemmas in New Zealand. One is differences between the generations about how to worship.
“The older part of the congregation is traditional in everything it does in church whereas the young people are curious and want to try new things. Along with the traditional service we may add an alternative service where young people would be freer to worship with their own music, singing, and readings.”
Another dilemma is how Samoan congregations reach out to the wider community. Aso says many members of the Panmure congregation don’t live in Panmure so their allegiance is to the church rather than the community.
“Most Samoans already belong to a church of one denomination or another. Our mission is not to recruit more of them because that is picking off sheep from other flocks.
“But Samoan speaking parishes actually exclude other language groups. We have to find ways to bring our mission to the community. One way is to have English-language services in the evening so young people can bring their friends who are not Samoan.”
These days Aso faces another dilemma. He has found it hard to readjust to parish ministry after his time as MCNZ president. As president it is necessary to view things on a broader basis and consider how issues relate to the life of the wider church, the community, and the world. Local parishes often focus on themselves and prefer to keep doing things the way they have always done them.