Friday at the Fijian Conference in Adelaide
The venue was a large complex next to our village, and I was right – it was a woolshed in design. The main hall became a Fijianised building with a massive kingpost decorated with barkcloth, and also church with a banner and barkcloth on the speaker’s stand. This Convention Complex was usually hired out for business conventions, even boxing, so perhaps Jovilisi Ragata was right in praying that the place be cleansed a bit!
The conference discussions and sessions were in various styles – academic, story telling, humorous or serious, and passionate preaching. As the sessions were 90% in the Fijian language I had to concentrate to get the gist of the meaning. I liked Jone Lotu’s presentation about where we have come from. It was very clear with his use of the data projector to show old historical photos of Fiji over the past two centuries. An Australian minister who headed the Mission arm of the Uniting Church, Dr Tony Floyd addressed the people, as did Rowan who gave a spiel about the upcoming National Christian Youth Convention. He told a good story about adults separate from the youth until they were instructed to be silent, listen to the youth noise, then go to the youth tent, put up the tent flaps and join them!
The chair of the conference, Dr Jovili Meo, gave a presentation comparing the structure of the Fijian Methodist Church and the Uniting Church in Australia, comparing democratic processes and where the power lay. Was it in the Presbyteries in Australia?
I was very happy that Esther King the gospel singer was part of our conference. She led a session in singing and got us standing and waving our arms and trying out some new and old gospel songs. Rev Inoke Nabulivou gave a session on Fijian church music and we sang, among other styles, a polotu, the Lauan style of singing – the best! My voice was starting to come back after bronchitis so I joined in lustily.
The Concert that evening was wonderful entertainment: choirs, gospel choruses, action songs, many kinds of seasea, even a meke wesi with young boys from Melbourne. I have written about the choirs in an earlier posting, but I was cheering along the Dandenong singers.
Afterwards in our little villa there was plenty of yarning past midnight and the guys went off to find a house where there was kava flowing. Yaqona was not part of the ceremonials at this conference, only informally late at night!
Early morning, Peceli and I drove into the suburb of Glenelg for a look and to pick up a couple of things at the supermarket. It’s behind the church, a man in a newsagency told us. St Peters Anglican, a srong old church totally ringed/separated by a road. A bit symbolic I think.
Opening worship was led by the youth with an excellent keyboard player, words of wisdom and action songs. More parish reports included one from Peceli about Altona Meadows, and Rev Graeme Sutton from Dandenong.
The main session was led by Rev Jovilisi Ragata (who had been with Peceli on the Cuvu mission in January and again a few weeks ago) who confronted us with a need to be shaken from apathy, indifference, lack of commitment. Several people stood up after his call for commitment. This was another challenge to my anxiety about being tolerant of different styles and religious views.
After another lavish lunch I just had to sleep for an hour, then went to the last part of Lisa Meo’s presentation about the relationship between men and women. Some of the men’s views were seriously challenged. I thought we had got past this view of who was the boss and couldn’t believe the old views of some people! Good on you Lisa for raising the subject and getting to the nitty-gritty of power in relationships.
Though meals were available and abundant, the delegates were invited to fast during the day and some did so. A small formal meeting elected the incoming chair (again Dr Meo) secretary, treasurer and assistants. The next conference will be held in Darwin. We really thank Sitiveni and the small group of Adelaide and Darwin Fijians who worked tirelessly to make the Adelaide conference so successful.
Tidy up, pack up, hand in keys of villas. I watched the sun rise about 7.30 and we had brekkie in the villa.
The farewell Service held in a very crowded hall under the dining room led by Rev Vitinia Waqabaca from Parramatta church in Sydney. The youth presented a gospel song. The preacher was Rev Dr Jovili Meo, our Chairman who as usual spoke with clarity, intelligence, and humility. It was a long service, nearly three hours, and there was no time for the offering! Holy Communion was served to both adults and children. It was a very gracious and lovely worship service.
In summarising my view of the conference, I was impressed with the youth programs and their input, their enthusiasm, and there is hope for the future. Secondly we were challenged to be respectful of different styles of worship because usually Fijian Methodists are conservative in body language but this time we had some moments in the conference where there was charismatic speaking in tongues, hand-waving, American styles of songs. This was confronting to some people. However, what I valued most was the one to one conversations or in small groups, sometimes reminiscing, sometimes hearing painful stories, and making new friends. I think one of the functions of such a conference is for migrant Fijians in Australia to hear one anothers’ stories and to build one another up in the Christian faith and in how to live in this land.
We had lunch together and then said farewells, gave back cases and bags in our car to our villa housemates who were catching planes. The Melbourne bus was leaving at 2 p.m. and we left the Shores Village about the same time, driving to central Adelaide for a quick look, then searching for the turnoff for Murray Bridge and the freeway. After two hours Peceli decided it would be best to find a motel in a country town as an eight-hour drive would be just too long after all the late nights.
After staying in the little town of Keith for a night, we set off about 4.30 a.m. Geelong was a long way but once the sun was up it was a pleasant journey (apart from all the huge trucks) and nice landscapes around Stawell, the Grampians area. We stopped to look at the graffitied Sisters Rocks. We arrived back home by midday to have a good rest and to thank God for the lovely five days we had experienced meeting friends and engaging in stimulating discussions.