Over 60 Samoan leaders of the Uniting Church gathered together at Advent Park in Maida Vale, 15km east of Perth for their annual conference.
‘Knowing God’ was the theme, based on the Jeremiah chapter 31: 27-34. Conference chair Rev. Sani Vaeluaga reminded us that it is God who let God’s self be known to us through the creation, our conscience and finally in the incarnation of the logos in Jesus Christ.
It all began with great joy and a service of welcome where the Presbytery of Western Australia recognised the growing Perth Samoan congregation as officially part of the Uniting Church. Four years of deep conversation and negotiation was a long but worthwhile journey for the new congregation.
I remember at last year’s conference, Ape and Pepe Palmer, a couple from Perth, shared their story:
‘Our group has been worshipping at the Uniting Church’s property since 2012, and we feel at home because the Uniting Church welcome us with open arms and hearts. We also can worship in Samoan. We want to be part of the Uniting Church. We want to know the process of becoming the Uniting Church congregation,’ they said.
God has answered their prayers this year.
No wonder, Viliamu Saunoa (William) one of the leaders from the Perth Samoan Uniting Church said.
“Today is a happy day for us… We are very very happy.”
I was asked by the Western Australian Synod Moderator Rev. Steve Francis to preach at this special event on the theme of ‘Celebrating the Multicultural Vision’.
God gives us a multicultural vision in Isaiah 19.
This is very profound image, particularly in verses 24-25:
‘In that day Israel will be the third party with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying “Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance”.
This is an image of healthy intercultural relationship in a multicultural community.
Historically in the 7th BCE, the three big and influential kingdoms/civilizations: Israel, Egyptian and Assyria were at war. Rather than giving an image of division, violence and colonisation, God through Isaiah’s words presented a very different narrative. It is a narrative about healing, reconciliation and renewal. God actively restored Egypt, Assyria and Israel.
In God’s eyes, each kingdom/civilization/culture is part of God’s creative wisdom.
This is also a vision of intercultural relationship.
The basic foundation of this relationship is equality in power and authority. Each group has the same responsibility and right expressing its own identity in a language that is familiar to them.
The purpose of living in a multicultural church is to bring peace for all. Peace will prevail if these cultural groups can forge an intercultural relationship.
This vision is also a vision for living in a multicultural Uniting Church.
Each culture needs to relate to other cultures.
For Samoan congregations, this multicultural vision is real in their life. They are forging good relationships with other cultural groups, particularly with the Anglo-Celtic congregations in Queensland.
One of the important decisions at the conference was the willingness from the first generation Samoans to give a space for grace, an opportunity for the second generation to take the leadership roles.
It is a significant decision for Samoan congregations and Revs. Faye Talatonu and Fie Marino are the two leaders who are making this decision into reality.