Sunday, July 3, 2011

Feasting in Tonga

I'm just back from attending the annual Conference of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga. Coming so soon after being with Presbyterians (Church of Scotland) the contrast could not have been greater. In their own distinctive ways, both were great experiences of this diverse community called the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. The singing of Tongans is well known and its beauty is not exaggerated. The 9 day program included spaces for many choirs to share the fruits of their labours. The Conference concluded with a 5 1/2 hour session including 6 seeches and 12 choir presentations. The climax of that session involved all of the choirs and the rest of the gathering (2000 people) giving an unaccompanied rendition of the Hallelujah chorus! The other remarkable feature of the Conference was that the program is punctuated by great feasts, twice a day, provided by various  communities within the Church. Sit down banquets for 2000 people. At one level it seemed excessive but I was assured that the communities regard it is a real gift to be able to provide such hospitality.Various attempts over the years to reduce these have met firm resistance from those who provide them!

This is the largest church in Tonga by a stretch but if the recent appearance of many new Mormon churches is any indication the balance may be shifting. Parts of the Conference were live telecast on TV and radio including the election of the President (front page headlines the next day in the newspaper), the coming year's placement of Ministers, the Queen's address and the ordination service.

There was a big emphasis on fundraising. One day was given over to mark the 145th anniversary of Tupou College for which over $1million had been raised in a special effort campaign. The choir night on the Saturday raised over $100K using the confronting method of sticking money onto the dancers skin. I danced myself, with the Australian contingent, but don't think my moves raised much money!

The Uniting Church in Australia has many Tongan members who come from this church and contine to stay closely connected. We are receiving increasing leadership from ourTongan members and Ministers and currently 5 of our mission volunteers work with the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga. It's a very important relationship - hope I can get there again next year.

In the meantime I need to work on a few more dance moves and practice the tenor line in the Hallelujah chorus - I reckon it will be as close as I ever get to singing in the heavenly choir.

No comments:

Post a Comment