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Prayerful send off as sun sets for king of Tonga

By Paul Titus

Methodist Church members and leaders were among those who paid their respects to the Tongan royal family and took part in prayer services following the death of King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV in Auckland.

MCNZ President Rev Dr John Salmon and Tumuaki Rev Diana Tana visited the royal family to offer condolences soon after a party that included Prime Minister Helen Clark and other VIPs.

That evening John and other church leaders joined thousands of Tongan Methodists and a large contingent of students from Wesley College to offer prayers, sing hymns, and read from the Bible at Atalanga, the Tongan royal family’s residence in Auckland. John says the prayer service was a moving experience.

“It was important for the leaders of the Methodist Church to attend these events because of our responsibility for and relationship with the large numbers of Tongans who live in this country and associate with our church.

“We attended out of respect for them as part of our church. I recognise, too the death of this king could be followed by a period of uncertainty and change,” John says.

Vahefonua Tonga co-superintendent Tevita Finau says Tongan Methodists are very grateful for the condolences, prayers and support from president John Salmon, vice-president Mary West, tumuaki Diana Tana and other leaders and friends of Te Haahi Weteriana.

“The king was an ardent Methodist and committed Christian. He was sometimes unfairly subject to ridicule by the media and prejudices of those who would rather judge him without knowing him.

“While his majesty was not perfect, his achievements are immeasurable. Tongans will reap benefits from his actions for generations. However there is no dawn without the sun setting first. The sun has set and an era has ended. We are looking forward for the new era which has already dawned upon us. Long live King Siaosi Tupou V,” Tevita says.

Wesley College chaplain Rev Sylvia ‘Akau’ola Tongotongo also attended the prayer service at Atalanga. Sylvia says the Methodist delegation was the first to offer prayers. Throughout the night other denominations also visited the royal residence to perform prayers. A similar scenario would take place in Tonga while the king’s body lay in state.

“Before the state funeral delegations from different churches, villages, schools, and government departments will make visitations to offer prayers and pay their respects. It indicates the love people have for this leader.

“The king lived 88 years and now he has died. While he has answered the call of nature, it is still a sad time, and people have a sense of loss. Even the pro-democracy people will feel this loss. The people who protested earlier this year did so because of specific issues over pay and having more of a say in government. When the leader of Tonga passes away they will still go and pay their respects,” Sylvia says.

King Tupou served as monarch of Tonga’s 169 islands for 41 years. He was also a lay preacher in the Free Wesleyan Methodist Church. He ascended to the throne following the long reign of his mother, Queen Salote, also a well-known leader in the world Methodist movement.

At age 14, King Tupou IV was one of Tonga's top athletes. In the 1990s, he set an example for his people by going on a diet and exercise regime. From a weight listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the heaviest for any monarch – 210 kilograms -- the king shed about 70 kilos.

Shortly after the death of his father, Crown Prince Tupouto, 58, took the oath of office from Tongan Chief Justice Anthony Ford to become King Siaosi Tupou V. His coronation is likely to be in a year.