GC2012: Pacific Islanders welcome new ministry plan

Tongan congregations of the California-Nevada Conference worship together at a New Year's celebration. The choir is from First Tongan UMC of Palo Alto (CA).
Tongan congregations of the California-Nevada Conference worship together at a New Year's celebration. The choir is from First Tongan UMC of Palo Alto (CA).

"Our kalia (canoe) has arrived and been welcomed," said the Rev. Sione Veikoso, hailing the passage by the United Methodist General Conference of a comprehensive plan for Pacific Islander ministry in the United States.

"Our canoe has been wandering around and now has a port," stated Veikoso, the chair of the denomination's Pacific Islander National Caucus of United Methodists and a California pastor. The plan, four years in development, sets up a structure comparable to United Methodist ministry plans for other racial/ethnic communities.

Many immigrant Pacific Islanders arrive in the United States as Methodists but do not always find quick entry into the U.S. church culture. The plan addresses this issue, and also how to incorporate the spiritual energy of Oceanic people into the church.

There are now some 70 United Methodist congregations composed primarily of Pacific Islanders in the United States. Members come primarily from Tongan, Samoan and Fijian backgrounds, but there are also U.S.-based populations from Guam, the Mariana Islands, Micronesia, Hawaii and Palau - a total of roughly 1.1 million people.

The Rev. Eddie Kelemeni, chair of the committee that prepared the plan, said it is essential for "the church to help Pacific Islanders to adjust to the new culture."

Monalisa Tuitahi, an attorney who helped to draft the plan, added that Pacific Islanders have significant "gifts and graces to share with the whole church. Faith runs deeply in our people; being a disciple of Jesus Christ is very important. We are now recognized in a tangible way and can help to enrich and strengthen the church and its mission."

Some of those gifts and graces are outlined in a report that accompanied the petition to establish the new ministry plan. "Pacific Islanders live out their faith consistent with a theology of abundance," the report says, "and this is an asset for the United Methodist connection as it struggles to meet overwhelming needs with scarce resources."

The report further says that a "system of mutuality that undergirds the Pacific Island culture and life plays an important role in ensuring that everyone participates in the work of building the ministry."

The plan was developed over a four-year period by a committee staffed by the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, which will also administer the work of the new entity.

The denomination's general budget for the next four years includes $544,000 to fund the Comprehensive Plan for Pacific Island Ministries.

*Wright is an information consultant for the Board of Global Ministries in New York, N.Y.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Tampa, Fla., (813) 574-4837, through May; after May 4, Nashville, Tenn. (615) 742-5470, newsdesk@umcom.org.

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