In the midst of heavy rain and cold weather, up to 1200 Tongan Uniting Church members gathered in the Blue Mountains of NSW during the Queen’s Birthday long weekend.
They came from around Australia for a very special celebration: the 30th Tongan National Conference (TNC).
TNC has grown from strength to strength since it was established in 1987.
TNC Chair Rev. Jason Kioa wrote of its beginnings:
‘The TNC was formed in 1987 at a three day conference from 1-3 June at Ave Maria Retreat Centre, Point Piper in Sydney. It was called by the Secretary of the Assembly National Mission and Evangelism Unit of the Uniting Church, Rev. Dr John Brown. The purpose of the first Conference was to help the leaders of the Tongan congregations in Australia to understand and participate in the life of the Uniting Church’.
TNC started with 26 committed leaders and members, and now 30 years later, the church celebrates the full participation of Tongan Congregations within the Uniting Church.
The whole of the Uniting Church is blessed with the gifts of the TNC expressed clearly in the theme of the 2017 conference: Grace, Love and Fellowship.
Guests at the Conference include, HRH Princess Angelika Latufuipeka Tuku’aho, the only daughter of His Majesty King Tupou VI and Queen Nanasipau’u Tuku’aho of Tonga, the President of the Uniting Church Stuart McMillan, the President of Free Wesleyan Church in Tonga Rev Dr Finau ‘Ahio and his wife Laukinikini and Rev. Dr John Brown.
The Tongan Parish Youth began the conference with uplifting praise and worship, followed by the Acknowledgement to Country led by the President Stuart McMillan.
The President preached on the theme of ‘Abundant Living’ in Matthew 6: 25-33: a life with its own fullness, immeasurable, overflown with grace, love and fellowship.
HRH Princess Angelika Latufuipeka Tuku’aho congratulated the TNC for its 30th anniversary. She reminded the conference about the important roles of language and education. Language gives life to culture and tradition, she said. It is important to preserve the Tongan language so people can flourish in their communal identity.
Youth from 16 different congregations participated joyfully in the opening service which concluded with the President and Rev Dr John Brown cutting the birthday cake.
On Saturday, four different programs were run at the same time catering for each generation, Sunday School , 2nd Generation, Step Up (Young Adults and Families) and the program for Adults and Toulekeka (Golden Oldies).
The day ended with the Tongan Cultural Night where different congregations shared their love of music, dance and song.
At the Sunday Service, Rev. Jason Kioa preached on how God mysteriously continues to lead us until the end of age (Matthew 28: 16-20). Likewise, it is hoped God will continue to bless and lead TNC for many years to come.
On Sunday afternoon young people were again at the forefront. They were asked to interpret the theme of the conference, Grace, Love and Fellowship in their daily life. They did this through skit, song and dance. It was a very moving, creative and imaginative time.
At the closing worship Rev. Dr ‘Ahio led the Holy Communion and preached on God’s wonderful and amazing works in creation (from Psalm 8).
This 30 years of celebrating grace, love and fellowship has reminded us that God works gracefully and mysteriously in the life of Uniting Church. The Church will continue to grow, mature and flourish in a multicultural and multi-faith Australia.
And from time to time, God calls upon us to work faithfully to make a space of grace for others who are different from us.