I am not long back from an experience I will always treasure, my first visit to Tonga. Our church is a church of 'three tikanga' including Tikanga Pasefika or the Diocese of Polynesia which consists for the most part of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. There are six parishes on Tonga and a secondary school, St Andrew's College.
You do not necessarily want to read a diary of my many experiences and insights, packed into 48 hours on the island. But I do want to tell you that it was very hot, which was a nice change from our cool autumn. One way to combat the heat in such a place is to drink coconut milk, preferably with the coconut having been chilled before opening.
Church is the people called by God to belong to Christ. People come in many shapes and sizes out of tribes, cultures and nations. Church in the widest sense is this great diversity of people. In a narrower sense, church = my local church can mean a largely non-diversified group, with, for instance 90%+ being drawn from one race or tribe or culture. Our Anglican church in these islands consists of many non-diversified local churches, but as a whole it is very diverse.
Our governing groups and management committees seek to represent this diversity. One such governing group is our bishops and in my role as Chair of Te Kotahitanga Scholarships Committee (i.e. a management committee of our church) I was invited to speak to them about the scholarships' process for ACANZP.
In order to recognise the loci of diversity some of our groups meet in different parts of our church (e.g. the bishops, General Synod Standing Committee, very occasionally General Synod itself) but most groups meet in Auckland or Wellington. Well my invite coincided with the bishops meeting in Tonga, to be precise on a rather pleasant island, Pangaimotu, about 10 minutes ride from Nuku'alofa, capital city of Tonga. (See also Bishop Kelvin Wright's account). My accommodation was in Nuku'alofa itself and that enabled me to walk about the city a bit in the early mornings and drink in some of the atmosphere of Tonga, including the amazing churchiness of this nation.
I have never seen so many churches per square feet of earth (for this purpose I include many Mormon churches). To be awoken by bells calling Catholics to daily 6 am mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of Virgin Mary reminded me of living in an Islamic city with its early call of the minaret. I was assured this morning by the wife of a local Nuku'alofa vicar that at their church they have daily Matins at 5.30 am!
Incidentally the cathedral is a wonderful building beginning with its welcoming entrance (and other ends of the cruciform) styled after a fale. I warmly commend a visit it to it before the design of our cathedral is settled on.
To be physically present in Tonga was to see a nation on NZ's doorsteps which is much, much poorer than we are, and a church with far, far fewer material resources than we enjoy. As Chair of the Scholarships Committee it was good to be reminded of the difference our distribution of funds can make to people we may only ever know via an application form.
Diversity, as we know on this site, takes many forms. It is not all about differences in culture and the like. It is also about differences in theology. While I was away in Tonga, our parliament made a final decision re marriage in this country which is going to challenge us theologically. To raise just one question, What (responsible, pastoral) language will we use to describe people married in the eyes of the state who are not married in the eyes of the church? As far as I can tell, that is a new question for Anglicans in Aotearoa NZ. (By contrast, it is not a new question for Roman Catholics).
Incidentally, it is not a question at all for members of our church living in the sovereign states of Samoa, Fiji and Tonga!