Over 60 members of Niuean congregations and faith communities from across the country gathered at Trinity Uniting Church in Ipswich, south of Brisbane on Friday 9 September for the 10th Niuean National Conference.
The theme of this year’s Conference was Uniting in God’s Mission: Seeking and Rejoicing, and there was plenty of the latter in a weekend marked by joyous singing, inclusive hospitality, cross cultural friendship and messages of inspiration.
Queensland Synod Moderator Rev. David Baker led the opening service with a short reflection on the Gospel of Luke.
Chairperson of the conference Rev. Dr Matagi Vilitama called on us to join God’s mission in the world by seeking those who have lost their way and rejoicing with them when they return to the community of God.
Saturday was spent in deep discussion of the challenges Niueans face in diaspora communities.
In a session titled Niuean Culture, Language and Theology, Rev. Dr Vilitama asked the questions: Who are ‘we’ as Niuean people? What are the roles of culture, land, language and tradition in defining the people of Niue?
Teacher Sheila Cooper gave a presentation about working with second and third generation Niuean at church and in schools. Sheila told a story about a Niuean primary school student who did not want to talk in the Niuean language with his parents in front of his friends.
This heartbreaking story is very common among Niuean families. There is a sense of uncertainty, even insecurity in most first generation Niuean about their children’s identity. Parents are lamenting the loss of the Niuean language among second and third generations in Australia and New Zealand.
Of course these are the kind of issues that are being faced at many other National Conferences in the Uniting Church. The difference in this case is that there are not as many Niuean people in the diaspora as there are in the Tongan, Fijian and other communities. The interaction with people from Niue is less common than in other communities, meaning there is less opportunity for second generation Niueans to meet each other. This leads to second generation Niueans not feeling as comfortable about their language and culture.
For Sheila, communication between parents and children is the key to bridging these differences and expectations.
One constructive suggestion is that the first generation needs to give platforms or opportunities to their children to use their skills, talents and gifts, and encourage children to take up these opportunities.
One of the important aspects of the conference was the involvement of non-Uniting Church congregations and worshipping groups.
The Secretary of Niue National Conference Rev. Liva Tukutama reminded everyone of the ecumenical spirit that drew together the three denominations, Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational in 1977 to become the Uniting Church in Australia. In the same spirit non-UCA Niuean groups were invited to be part of this conference.
I shared at the conference about the growing part of the church and the challenge to live faithfully in a diverse community like the Uniting Church, where 26 languages other than English are used every Sunday in the life of the Second People communities.
Under the leadership of Revs Dr Matagi Vilitama and Liva Tukutama members of Niuean Conference were able to have heart-to-heart conversations. Everyone was able to share and listen to different perspectives and stories. This is a space for grace.
The conference was also attended by Rev. Don Ikitoelagi and Rev. Ere Talagi-Ikitoelagi the Moderator of the Niuean Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, Pastor David Busch, Project Officer Multicultural South Moreton Presbytery and Terani Lima, the Coordinator of the Queensland Synod’s Multicultural and Cross Cultural Reference Group.