Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Re Fiji Methodist Church - vinaka Netani

from w
An article by Netani Rika expresses the sentiments of many people concerning the reconciliation that has happened during the recent Methodist Conference. Twenty-six years is a long time and at last Rev Josateki Koroi, though an elderly man now - has participated in an excellent way in the worship services of the Conference.  Netani is the son of fine parents, now deceased - Naca and Dorothy, and the grandson of a much loved talatala, the Rev Setareki Rika. Peceli said he was his mentor in the days of the Bible School at Nasoso many years ago.  Vinaka Netani for the article which has been referred to by Rev James Bhagwan in the Fiji Times features pages.  The photos I've put here are from the Methodist Church in Fiji facebooks page. Yes...at last, they have caught up with social media - have facebook, a blog, twitter, so thanks to Rev James Bhagwan for his work in the media area.  Notice the lovely stoles on the leaders - these were designed and made by Rev Eseta Meneilly who is currently in a ministry settlement in Bendigo, Australia. Very beautiful.


THE Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma came full circle yesterday (Sunday) when Reverend Josateki Koroi laid hands on Tuikilakila Waqairatu and ordained him to head Fiji's largest Christian denomination.

Koroi - ousted as
 waves of ethno-nationalism surged through the country and the church in the wake of Sitiveni Rabuka's 1987 coup - returned after close to 25 years in exile.

With fellow moderate Reverend Dr Ilaitia Sevati Tuwere he oversaw the transfer of the mantle of church leadership to the men they hope will chart a new course for close to 250,000 Methodists.

It was a hugely symbolic gesture. At the Methodist Conference in 1989 in Suva's Centenary Church, Koroi was shouted down by ministers and laity alike and driven into exile. Threatened with violence, his wife Nola humiliated by threats of sexual abuse, Koroi has lived most of his life since then on a farm at Pacific Harbour.

Yesterday the white-haired pastor returned to the building from which he was exiled to hand over leadership at an event which marked the beginning of the 2013 conference.

Despite the prolonged stand-off between the Methodist Church and the interim government, Waqairatu and General Secretary Tevita Bainivanua are moderates in a largely conservative institution.

It is to these moderates that patriarchs Koroi and Tuwere placed the steering oar of the Methodist drua.

The gesture was a washing away of 25 years of bitterness, suffering and sorrow. It was symbolic of a fresh start, a rejection of past misdeeds and the close of a chapter best forgotten.

In the coming months, Waqairatu will wash the feet of his ministers as the church seeks forgiveness and healing. The ministers will wash the feet of the people and the action, it is hoped, will spread throughout the land.

This week the church will seek to involve its non-iTaukei membership more through translation services during the conference.

Later there will be attempts to integrate bhajans (hymns) into mainstream liturgy. These will not be easy changes to bring about but Waqairatu and Bainivanua are intelligent, deeply prayerful men who have the fortitude and courage to make this work.

They inherit a church rich with tradition, financially challenged because of State-imposed restrictions, broken by the mistakes of the past.

For these men - both from Moala - the task will be to heal, rebuild and direct.

Perhaps it is fitting that they have been placed in charge of the new journey. When the Methodist Church in Fiji became independent of the Australasian Conference in 1964, its first president was Reverend Setareki Tuilovoni from the neighbouring island of Matuku.

Both islands are part of the Yasayasa Moala Group, known for their strong sense of independence, a quality Waqairatu and Bainivanua will need on their journey.

It will be no easy task to convince the church - clergy and laity alike - to make the changes necessary in a rapidly developing world.

Waqairatu wants to see less church buildings constructed in a society in which places of worship symbolise wealth and devotion.

He has proposed tithing instead of annual gatherings to circumvent the difficulty of arranging national fundraising events and wants to evangelise to all people by feeding the poor through a network of soup kitchens. 

We can expect to see during his tenure an increased effort to involve the Indo-Fijian community and make them feel they are equal members of the church despite their dwindling numbers.

Traditionally the Methodists have been part of the three-legged stool concept central to the iTaukei psyche. Lotu (religion or the church), vanua (tradition and the land) and the matanitu (State) are the legs of the stool on which the iTaukei have sat quite comfortably.

Most Methodists saw the church as an extension of the State and the vanua. Indeed, the lines tended to become so blurred that they sometimes merged as one.

It was this which led dissidents in the church led by Rev Manasa Lasaro to side with Rabuka in 1987 and push for a Christian state and a ban on Sunday activities.

When Rabuka stepped back from a total Sunday ban, Lasaro put the Methodists on the streets in an attempt to force the government to reconsider. Lasaro spent 30 days in prison, was pardoned by Rabuka and then sought revenge on Koroi.

Today the church - not of its own accord - appears to have severed links with the State.

Gradually it will move further away from political influence to the position it held in Fiji from 1835 – a voice of prophecy pointing out to the people the error of their ways, urging leaders to act justly and compassionately.

Waqairatu will need a firm hand to steer the Methodist drua through uncharted waters of change as the seas of State-imposed restrictions, doubt over past actions, impending elections and the rapid growth of new churches toss this massive vessel about.

The support of Bainivanua will be valuable but Waqairatu will need the faith of his ministers – the crew – and the laity or passengers that he has the ability to lead through the tumult to safe harbor.

Note: Netani Rika is an award-winning journalist who covered the Methodist Troubles for The Fiji Times from 1988-1989. A convert to Catholicism, he is the son, grandson and great-grandson of Methodist missionaries.

1 comment:

Andrew Thornley said...

Congratulations Netani on an excellent review of the past decades in the history of Fiji Methodism