Fijian congregations grow with youthful vigour
July was a month of milestones for the Methodist Church of New Zealand’s growing Fijian Advisory Committee (Wasewase ko Viti kei Rotuma e Niu Siladi).
On July 1st Rev Peni Tikoinaka was inducted as the Wasewase’s new superintendent, and later in the month the Auckland circuit purchased its first church property.
As its name implies, the role of the Wasewase is to advise the Methodist Church of NZ on the
needs and interests of its Fijian members. Unlike the Sinoti Samoa and Vahefonua Tonga, the Wasewase is not a synod in its own right. This means congregations within the Wasewase are under the oversight of their regional English-speaking synods.
|Rev Peni Tikoinaka is inducted to head Wasewase ko Viti kei Rotuma|
Currently the Wasewase has two circuits (‘tabacakacaka’ in Fijian) and seven congregations but, as the number of Fijians residing in New Zealand increases, more congregations are forming.
The Auckland circuit has four congregations. In addition to the three Fijian-speaking congregations in Mt Roskill, Pukekohe, and Hamilton, it also includes a Rotuman-speaking congregation.
The Wasewase’s southern circuit is made up of congregations in the top of the South Island and bottom of the North Island. It includes Fijian-language congregations in Wanganui, Christchurch, and Wellington as well as a worshipping group in Ashburton.
Currently there are just two ordained presbyters in the Wasewase, though, like other Pacific churches, it has a good supply of lay preachers. One of the ordained ministers is Peni who is based in Christchurch and oversees the southern circuit. The other is Rev Dr Ilaitia Tuwere, who is based in Auckland.
As for other Pacific peoples, the church plays an important role in the life of Fijian communities in New Zealand. It is a place where people who are spread out in towns and cities come together to worship, socialise, and teach their children the Fijian language and cultural values.
“Many Fijian children growing up in New Zealand do not know the Fijian language. Our services are in Fijian so church is the place they can learn the language and practice through singing or reading the Bible,” Peni says.
For Fijian Methodists, church life is much more than Sunday morning worship. Most also take part in cell groups and Bible study sessions.
And, Peni explains Fijian congregations also make use of a unique part of their society – the affiliation all Fijians have to one of the three confederacies in the House of Chiefs. The three confederacies are the Kubuna, Burebasaga, and Tovata. The members of each join together to sing hymns, debate and generally and engage in (friendly) competition with one another.
Also similar to other Pacific ethnic groups, young people are a very important part of Fijian Methodist congregations. Youth groups and Sunday schools are well attended and they link to
other activities such as camps, choir groups and even rugby teams.
|Rev Dr Ilaitia Tuwere (right).|
When Fijians gather to worship, singing hymns often takes centre stage. Fijian choirs generally sing in four part harmony without an accompanying organ or piano. Choir competitions are popular, and several choirs from the Wasewase have taken part in the major competitions held when the Methodist Church of Fiji holds its annual conference.
Tuwere says church is also a place where Fijians discuss the troubling events that have taken place in their homeland in recent years. “We talk about what is happening in Fiji and try to give some encouragement and direction to people there if we can,” he says.
Both Peni and Tuwere were ordained in Fiji. They say a priority for the Wasewase is now to encourage Fijians to enter ministry training here so the growing number of Fijian congregations will be able to have their own ministers.