August 23rd 2021
One of the most stand-out consequences of the recent Assembly and Synod meetings has been the election of leaders. The new President-elect of the Assembly is Charissa Suli; the new Moderator-elect is Mata Havea Hiliau. In the past we have had a Korean moderator, Myung Hwa Park who is now the minister up in the Blue Mountains. This is the first time we have had Tongans elected to these positions.
It is no longer unusual for women to hold key positions in the life of the Uniting Church. As a matter of fact several General Secretaries of the Assembly and Synods are women. When Charissa becomes President she will become the third in a succession of three women Presidents. The equality of women and men in the Uniting Church has always been assumed, given that each of the three denominations coming into union in 1977 had already been ordaining women to the ministry. Then in 1991 the Assembly a released a special report on ‘Why We Ordain Women’ It was designed to meet the counter claims of some in the church, but really to invite our ecumenical partners to consider their practice in the light of what we had decided. (https://ctm.uca.edu.au/lay-ministries/wp-content/uploads/sites/6/2015/07/UCA-ASC-1990-Why-Does-the-Uniting-Church-in-Australia-Ordain-Women-to-the-Ministry-of-the-Word-booklet.pdf)
The election of Mata and Charissa should be seen in another light. They reflect the cultural diversity of the Uniting Church. This church now has twelve separate national conferences (which pre-Covid 19 used to meet annually or biannually). These conferences bring together people from the same ethnic culture from around the country: they share in worship, the nurture of their younger generations, consider matters of identity and belonging, wrestle with issues in the Uniting Church. The Tongan National Conference is one of the largest gatherings in the Uniting Church. From a handful of ministers (faifekau) and lay stewards (setuata) it now attracts 1500 people across all ages. It has no formal status in the life of the church like a presbytery or a synod. Every time it meets the President of the Uniting Church and the Free Wesleyan Church in Tonga attends as do Assembly staff.
Our church has released three important documents on cultural and linguistic diversity. The first was ‘We Are A Multicultural Church’ in 1985
The second was ‘A Church For All God’s People’ in 2006.
And the third is ‘One Body, Many Members’ in 2012.
We have made a commitment to be a church that seeks to live cross-culturally. We make the claim that such diversity is a ‘gift of God’; it is a ‘sign of hope’ and ‘promise’ to our nation as a whole. We say that our cultural diversity is a ‘foretaste of the [multicultural] kingdom of God’. The election of Mata and Charissa (and Myung Hwa Park before them) puts a human face on that call to live out this gift and promise. Take a look at the Assembly website: