I sat down to a Pacific-style feast inside the Irymple Uniting Church hall five minutes outside of the country Victorian town of Mildura this weekend. The feast followed a joyful two-and-a-half hour Sunday service attended by more than 200 Tongan church members.
Local Tongan congregations prepared the farewell lunch at the end of the Tongan National Conference (TNC) Executive Meeting that ran from 23 – 25 October .
It was a constructive and fruitful meeting with more than 50 Tongan leaders from Sunraysia, Robinvale, Mildura, Adelaide, Wagga Wagga, Canberra, Sydney, Newcastle, Dapto, Wollongong and Melbourne.
The Executive came together to discuss the theme for next year’s Tongan National Conference as they prepare to host more than 1200 Tongan Uniting Church members at the Merroo Christian Centre in Kurrajong NSW in June 2016.
TNC Chair Rev. Jason Kioa led the meeting with grace and humour, making sure all members participated in the decision-making process.
There was delight in the room when representatives from the Second Generation shared their plans for the Conference program. One of the great successes of the TNC is how Tongan youth play a leading role in every aspect of the Conference. They also discussed the possibility of a new name for their group – from Tongan Next Gen to Pro-Gen.
At one point in the meeting, Rev Alimoni Taumoepeau, Secretary of the Conference, spoke passionately about the impact of climate change for Pacific countries. His words moved many in the room.
There was a time of celebration too when it was announced that the Tongan Parish in Sydney has decided to join the Tongan National Conference next year.
It is very clear to me that the Tongan congregations in Australia have found a home in the Uniting Church. The Uniting Church welcomes and nurtures their identity, faith, tradition and community.
In turn, we are blessed by the way our Tongan congregations and members contribute to the life of the Uniting Church.
We are many but together we are one. This is what I call ‘grace’.