The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, a partner church since the first Australian missionaries went there in the 1820s, is the largest church in Tonga. Uniting Church President, Rev Gregor Henderson, attended their annual conference in June.
Mr Henderson described the opening days of the conference as celebratory with a focus on feasting and long worship services including 14 choirs (some with as many as 300 members), Bible readings, prayers, and sermons.
“As the Uniting Church is seen as their chief partner church we are treated as honoured guests so I was seated at the top table along side the royal family and the President of the Free Wesleyan Church,” he said.
The relationship between church and state in Tonga is a close one with the King approving the election of the President of the Wesleyan Church so when the coronation of the new King of the Kingdom of Tonga takes place in August Mr Henderson will return to represent the Uniting Church.
An example of the contribution the Uniting Church makes toward this long and successful partnership is the Uniting International Mission project there that assists deportees who are returned to Tonga by the U.S., New Zealand or Australia governments. As the deportees often arrive with nothing the project provides programs to help them find jobs and get back on their feet.
Mr Henderson spoke highly of the Free Wesleyan Church and its position in Tongan society.
“I don’t know of any other place where we have a partner church so strong within the national life of that country,” he said.