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Church Minister: Vaccine pass neglects Pacific way of worship

A prominent Pacific Island church minister has voiced the challenges faced by Pacific churches with the use of vaccine passes and the New Zealand Government’s traffic light system ahead of parishioners congregating this week.

Reverend Atu Lagi, Assistant National Superintendent (Pastoral Care) Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand, is a Fijian Chaplain with Christian Broadcasting Association (CBA) who says that the Pacific way of showing hospitality and being welcoming to parishioners will change as the focus will be on who is vaccinated and unvaccinated.

“I’m supportive of vaccinations. I understand that the Covid-19 vaccinations are to protect individuals and communities during this pandemic.  My local church and our national movement are actively encouraging our members to be vaccinated,” he says.

“However, from a cultural context, it challenges the way that we live our lives. When we go to a community gathering as a Pacific person, being hospitable and welcoming to people is part of who we are and we do not discriminate.”

“There is a big difference in the way Pacific ministers approach people and how Palagi ministers view this mandate. They’re probably more independent and direct whereas we are relational and look at our parishioners with a communal lens.”

“As a Talatala (minister) when I talk about our approach with our leaders towards
vaccinated and non-vaccinated people. Instead of it being offensive and discriminating, we ask how we can do this in a loving way?” says Lagi who is currently serving as a minister at The Streams Community Church.   

People working in sectors that require a vaccine pass (hospitality, close contact businesses, gyms, events, and gatherings) must have their first dose by Friday 3 December. 

Churches fall under the class of ‘gatherings’, so vaccinated parishioners will be welcomed back into a premise if they can show they are vaccinated. 

In the 2018 Census, there were 381,642 Pacific people in New Zealand with approximately 68% identifying as Christian. The role of church for Pacific people continues to be a significant one for many people in New Zealand as it acts like a village. For many Pacific families it is the centre of social life for them as the church provides health and education services as well as offers sport, music, and social activities.

Several government agencies work with churches to deliver social, education and public health programmes, such as the current Covid-19 vaccination during this current pandemic. Central and Local Governments representatives have been quick to engage church ministers and leaders to help mobilise their church members and wider community.

Sam Lafolua, a trained church minister, leads a weekly gathering of Pacific church leaders (The Ministers Collective) as part of his role as Relationships Manager – Pacific Faith Based at The Cause Collective. He comments that church leaders want to be included in consultation about vaccine mandates and how they can hold gatherings in the traffic light system.

“I don’t think the Government has given much consideration to the dynamics of the church, in particular Pacific churches. It appears to be strongly focused on business and the economic side of society as opposed to a person’s spirit and wellbeing. It would be great to have Pacific church ministers’ part of the consultation process,” he says.

“This is a common sentiment that we hear from Pacific ministers in our collective. The Government is great at getting in contact with them (ministers) when they need something, but the relationship is to their advantage. We’d like to see a more balanced relationship.”

The Ministers Collective meet weekly on Zoom but was established in April 2021 as a community of practice to assist Pacific churches in the response to Covid-19 and the vaccination roll-out.

There are over 10 ministers who are part of the collective which consist of different denominations and cultural backgrounds including the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa, Samoan Methodist Church, Tongan Wesleyan Church, Cook Island Seventh Day Adventist Church, NZ Wesleyan Church. For more information about the Ministers Collective, contact Sam Lafolua, Relationships Manager – Pacific Faith Based Churches. E:sam.l@thecausecollective.org.nz M: 021 082 53498

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