I have been catching up after five days without a computer, - answering emails, facebook memos, checking comments on this blog, and one writer pointed me in the direction of an interesting Radio Australia interview about ministers and envelopes of money. This apparently applies to Pacific churches in New Zealand, so I don't think it is customary in Fiji, or is it? The word 'minister' of course does not mean a particular 'status' at all, but means 'to serve', so there is a huge misunderstanding of the call to be a minister if it's about huge gifts of money. Anyway, here is the interview from pacbeat, radio australia. I don't know whether Fiji people can access some of the Australian news these days.
Radio Australia reports…
“A Samoan lawyer in New Zealand says a culture of giving money to church ministers in the Samoan community is getting out of hand. Olinda Woodruffe accuses clergy in some Pacific Island churches of emotionally blackmailing parishioners into handing over envelopes full of cash at funerals, buying property with church funds and then transferring ownership to family trusts, and using money loaned to the church for their own purposes. She says when these issues have been raised at church meetings, the mainly Pakeha or European leadership has not wanted to deal with it for fear of being labelled culturally insensitive. But Ms Woodruffe says, the practice is not part of pacific culture, and has to be stopped.
Presenter: Bruce Hill
Speaker: Samoan lawyer in New Zealand Olinda Woodruffe
* Windows Media
WOODRUFFE: The concern that I’ve raised is the lack of accountability of church ministers and the lack of transparency on what they do resulting in the poorness of many people that I see resulting in people losing their home, resulting the children going hungry and having health issues that are not being attended to.
HILL: For a long time though, a lot of people in the Pacific Island Churches have had a tradition of giving money to the church, quite a bit of money to the church. It has been raised as an issue, but it’s been seen as a cultural practice which church authorities are very reluctant to intervene in?
WOODRUFFE: Absolutely, and that’s a problem that I am trying to curb. There is no culture from Samoa. I can’t speak of other islands. I know that Samoa is actually worse than any other island group in here in New Zealand in fleecing the people of money, especially at the time that people are emotionally upset, in a funeral for instance, I was born and raised in Samoa and I have been in New Zealand since the 1960s, going to school here, but I do have connections and I still have a law office in Samoa. I can tell you now that there was no culture that I was aware of that church ministers when somebody dies, they ring up all their mates to come to the funeral service. They control the funeral service, they read, you can get up to ten minutes just reading bits of the bible, making half a prayer. Then they all line up at the wake, after the burial and each receive an envelope full of money.
Now there are two things here, one is an unethical behaviour that is not culture, because our culture of exchange in Samoa is a nice thing, where the minister will come, officiate, come and sit with the family before the burial and at the end of the burial, the family in their free will give some food for the minister or may give a little gift for his petrol and it’s nothing like the sums of money given in New Zealand.
HILL: When you’ve raised this with church leaders in New Zealand, what’s their response been?
WOODRUFFE: Yeah, unfortunately for me when I raised it in my position sitting on councils of churches in New Zealand, especially mixed churches with Pakeha and Pacific Islanders. The Pakeha people don’t want to know about it, because they said it’s culturally insensitive issue, so no one is curbing the problem and I keep saying, look, you can quote me. It is not a culture from the Pacific culture made up in New Zealand and migrant ministers pick to line their pockets and in effect, this is why everybody is running to be on the Theological College, not because they desire and I am sure there are many who go there with the innocent belief of doing good to community, but many are drawn because it is a very good business.
HILL: Is this just Pacific Island ministers doing this or is this cultural practice spread to Pakeha ministers as well?
WOODRUFFE: It’s now spread, this is why I have spoken out this time, because it’s now spread to Pakeha ministers doing it to Pacific Island congregations and I have discovered it and in the most wealthy part of Auckland. The church despite me raising it with church authorities, it appears that it is ignored and I get excuses. Now I am going to end up in the High Court, because I will not stand injustices like this. I will tell effectively what I am saying is Pakeha ministers are doing it to the Pacific Island people. I also try to curb New Zealand born Pacific Islanders who train as ministers and in a particular incident I had a Pacific Island minister, a woman, was given an envelope when her and I represented a Pacific organisation in a funeral and I told her put it back, because we came to represent the organisation and it’s unethical to do that. It’s not your pay. She said oh no, I have checked with Pacific Island ministers older than you and they told me it is my right to hold onto this money as part of my pay for saying half a prayer.”