Gone to Suva, everyone...

Maybe 2000 souls jammed in and around Suva’s cathedral yesterday for the installation of Dr Winston Halapua as the new diocesan Bishop of Polynesia.

• Sermon: Keeping our focus on Christ

• Countdown to the start of a new era

• TV3 news coverage

Lloyd Ashton  |  02 Aug 2010  |  4 Comments  

Where have all the young folk gone?

That’s a question that has vexed vestries up and down the length of Aotearoa New Zealand.

You could, no doubt, put that same question to the Diocese of Polynesia, too.

But if yesterday’s installation of Dr Winston Halapua as the diocese’s new bishop and archbishop is anything to go buy, the answer would be a foregone conclusion.

Because, metaphorically speaking, they’ve all gone to church.

They’re committed, contributing, and worshipping in church. Stacks of them.

Maybe 2000 souls jammed in and around Suva’s Holy Trinity Cathedral yesterday, with the overflow crowd spilling out on to the broad verandahs that surround the nave, and the lawns beyond.

There were plenty of special moments during the two and a half hour service. Bishop Victoria Matthews, for instance, spoke of “an overwhelming sense of hope, and a sense of the power of the Holy Spirit at work, especially in the music – and in the ministry of the young people.”

Archbishop David Moxon agreed. The young people, he said, had given “massive energy” to the service. 

In bald terms, the young people contributed three things: There was the sermon, which was preached by Sepi Hala’api’api, who is the Youth Co-ordinator for the diocese. And two action songs.

In her sermon, Sepi said that while the focus for the day was on God’s calling of Winston Halapua, “it is also a breakthrough for youth… to feel that the church celebrates youth ministry as an integral part of the Great Commission of our Lord.”

At the same time, it was a plea for that recognition to be sustained. She drew on a gospel fishing metaphor to make her point:

“I believe that while the older generation of our church have the experience and skill to know where to throw the nets, we, the younger generation… have the energy and enthusiasm to help throw out the nets – and to help draw them in.”

We weren’t left wondering about the energy and enthusiasm that Sepi spoke of – because as she finished her sermon, perhaps 100 young people, all kitted out in identical specially-made Pacific motif dresses and shirts, quietly filed into the cathedral, formed ranks in front of the altar, and stretched down the central aisle to the back of the cathedral.

Another 100 young people, also kitted out in that special dress, rose to their feet in the mezzanine gallery above the sanctuary – and, as one, they launched into a specially choreographed dance to the Hillsong chorus: The Power of Your Love.

Later, during the Eucharist, they again sang and danced in unison – this time, to the Lord’s Prayer.

Splendour of diversity

Bishop Kito Pikaahu later spoke of seeing the “The Diocese of Polynesia in all the splendour of its diversity” in the service – and as those young people acted their worship, and sang by turns in Fijian, Tongan, Samoan and Hindi, you knew what he meant.

Sepi’s sermon, of course, and those two choreographed songs also tell you something else – that youth ministry will be a defining focus of the episcopacy of Archbishop Winston Halapua.

Where the young people and their new bishop are concerned, it’s been a case of each one setting the other challenges – and each rising to those challenges.

Four months ago, at the diocesan electoral synod, the young people produced an eight-point statement about what they yearned for in their new bishop.

They longed for: a God-fearing, visionary leader who is able to serve; someone who is approachable, humble, and loves all races; someone who will challenge unjust structures – and who will be a role model, not only for young people, but for the church as a whole.

The synod’s choice, they said, “would directly affect the future of youth in the mission of the church in the 21st century.”

Bishop Winston clearly took that message to heart. Because in Gisborne in May, just as soon as he confirmed by the General Synod as the new Bishop of Polynesia and the new Archbishop of this church, he asked Sepi to preach the sermon at his installation.

That wasn’t all. He got also got on the phone to Eseta Mateiviti in Fiji.

Eseta, who’s been working towards her PhD at St John’s College in Auckland, was back in Suva doing the field work phase of her doctorate – and clearly, in Archbishop Winston’s mind, her talents extend beyond tackling top-level academic work.

Because he asked her to take on those youth action songs we heard yesterday.

Eseta didn’t muck around. She designed the dance and twice a week, she’d pull the youth leaders from the 10 parishes of the Suva archdeaconry together to teach them. Those youth leaders, in turn, would go back and teach the moves they’d just learned to their own youth groups.

They even posted their practice sessions to You-Tube – so the young people in the Tongan Anglican community in Otahuhu (who were coming up to Fiji for the installation) could get up to speed with the choreography.

Getting the uniforms sorted was a big deal, too.

Eseta found a haberdashery shop with enough of the same fabric to make all the dresses and shirts, and each of those young people scrimped and saved – cash isn’t easy to come by in Fiji – to buy that fabric, which their mothers made up into garments.

So. They’d learned their moves, they now looked the part – but they knew they needed another kind of preparation, too.

Prayer preparation. They didn’t stint on that, either.

Because every Wednesday, from the General Synod until yesterday, those young people would fast from 6am to 6pm, beseeching God to pour out His Spirit at the installation of their new bishop – and to glorify Himself through their worship at that service.

In most people’s minds, God was indeed glorified yesterday – and the future of the diocese appears to be in good hands. God’s hands, in fact.

Good foundations

If yesterday’s service spoke of new beginnings, a number of folk noted that those beginnings had been built on good foundations.

Father Michael Bent, who is living in New Plymouth these days, has been linked to the Diocese of Polynesia for 50 years.

He’d come out to Fiji from the UK as a curate in 1960, and later shared digs with another curate who’d just completed his studies at St John’s in Auckland – the young Rev Jabez Bryce.

Fr Bent was one of those who marveled at yesterday’s “gripping and vital” performances by the young people – and for him, they were “a climax of 30 years of building the Body of Christ in the parishes by many faithful priests and lay people.”

Archbishop David also saw yesterday’s celebration as “a natural transition – a building on the best of what’s been going on here for decades.”

He pointed out, for example, that yesterday’s preacher – Sepi Hala’api’api – is herself the daughter of a former bishop in the diocese, the late Rt Rev Viliami Hala’api’api.

Outstanding music

As Bishop Victoria has already pointed out, the other outstanding aspect of the service was the music.

The Rev Tomu Asioli, who is a teacher by day, and for the last 20 years a choirmaster in his spare time, led a superb massed choir of 150, comprised of choirs from all the Suva parishes, plus a contingent from the Tongan church in Auckland.

And for older folk who’d traveled to Suva for the occasion, there was something especially evocative and poignant about the music they sang.

Before the service had even started, for example, the choir had sung three classic hymns that are seldom heard these days: Thine be the glory; Master speak; and, 10 minutes before the clergy processed into the cathedral, the gospel hymn sung at countless evangelical meetings down the decades, and at Martin Luther King’s funeral:

Softly and gently, Jesus is calling
Calling for you and for me
See, on the portals he’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.

Then, during the Eucharist, the entire congregation joined in another old gospel hymn: All to Jesus, I surrender.

Something old, something new: Father Tomu composed a hymn: Holy Spirit come/ Let your will be done especially for the occasion.

While at Bishop Winston’s request, Richard Ellena, the Bishop of Nelson – who’d been acting as commissary during the latter part of the period between Bishop Jabez’s death and his successor’s installation, also wrote a new hymn.

Glory to God is set in 6/8 time, chosen to evoke the rolling rhythms of the ocean – and the moana theology beloved of Archbishop Winston:

Glory to God of the oceans
To the one who created the sea…

The choir had put in the hard yards, too. In the leadup to yesterday's service, they’d rehearsed three times a week for the past five weeks.

That kind of commitment, says Fr Tomu, doesn’t seem to be a burden to them.

“These people...” he says. “They have singing in their hearts.”


Joape Anare

Wow so cool to finally be in da site

Paddy Noble

congratulations Winston. God bless and continue to strengthen you in your new role. Love paddy.

Sepiuta Hala'api'api

Thanks Lloyd for a great job! GOD BLESS!

Sepiuta Hala'api'api

To God be the Glory!

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