Saturday, 03 November 2018

Singing the Lord's song in a Foreign Land

Church leaders from the Pacific region have explored themes of displacement and captivity at the 11th General Assembly of the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC).

Over seven days from 26 October to 1 November representatives of the PCC’s 34 member churches and 11 national councils of churches shared worship and built ecumenical community at the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga in the Auckland suburb of Mangere.

The theme of the General Assembly was “Singing the Lord’s song in a Foreign Land” from the famous Psalm 137 in which the people of Israel lament their captivity by the rivers of Babylon away from their homeland.

Discussions and storytelling throughout the General Assembly closely reflected the theme - from the effects and imminent displacement caused by climate change to ongoing struggles for self determination; the scourge of gender-based violence and the emerging phenomenon of modern slavery.

One particularly moving presentation was given by Uniting Church Minister Rev. Alimoni Taumoepeau and modern slavery survivor Moe Turaga. Mr Turaga was trafficked from Fiji to Australia in his late teens to work in the horticultural sector, and eventually found freedom with the help of Uniting Church members in Mildura. In April this year, Rev. Taumoepeau held an ecumenical Service of Lament at his Church for Pacific seasonal workers who’d died while working in Australia.

On the final day of the General Assembly PCC leaders pledged to work together against modern slavery in a Pacific Freedom Network, as part of the Global Freedom Network of faiths combined to end slavery.

Throughout the week, Auckland’s large Pacific community and the gracious hosts at Mangere made delegates welcome with evening feasts and spectacular cultural performances.

Rev. Dr Tevita Havea of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga was re-elected as PCC Moderator and Deaconess Tanalesi Makutu was appointed Deputy Moderator.

PCC General Secretary Rev. François Pihaatae of Maohi Nui (French Polynesia) ended his five-year term, and Rev. James Bhagwan of the Methodist Church in Fiji was elected as the new General Secretary.

On his election Rev. Bhagwan called on church leaders to work together to achieve the PCC objectives.

“I look forward to serving our Pacific communities of faith for the benefit of all creation,” he said.

Rev. Bhagwan is well-known to many Uniting Church members through his previous work for UnitingWorld, his involvement in Micah Challenge’s Voices for Justice, and most recently for leading the Bible Studies at the 15th Assembly with Rev. Dr Sef Carroll.

The Uniting Church was represented at the PCC by President Dr Deidre Palmer, UAICC President Rev. Garry Dronfield, Dr Sureka Goringe and Rev. Dr Sef Carroll of UnitingWorld and Vice-President of the Tongan UCA National Conference Rev. Valamotu Palu.

Dr Palmer gave the reflection at Closing Worship.

“There has been much singing over this time together,” she said.

“One of the warmest memories I will carry with me from this conference is the singing. Singing in the bus on the way home last night. Singing praises to God in our opening worship.

“Singing in harmony - as a symbol of the Ecumenical movement - Christian community woven together by God’s Spirit - different voices, different languages, raised in praise and hope

“As we are sent out, sisters and brothers in Christ: let us pray:

“May God our Creator renew in us the creative Spirit that brings healing and life to our world.

“May Jesus the Christ, uphold us in grace and love.

“May the Holy Spirit fill us with courage to be bearers of God’s song of hope in the world, Amen.”