The Bishop of Polynesia, Archbishop Winston Halapua – one of three Primates of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia – has preached his last sermon in Suva’s Holy Trinity Cathedral as part of a farewell tour leading to his retirement on 31 August. Archbishop Winston, who is 73-years-old, has served the Province in the Diocese of Polynesia for 52 years. Sunday’s service in Suva was the first of seven events taking place in each of the archdeaconries across the diocese ahead of his retirement.
The cathedral was full with people of all ages who came from across the archdeaconry – including a group from Maniava, the remote hill settlement almost wiped from the map by Cyclone Winston in 2016, and which has since been built back better, thanks to the advocacy of Archbishop Winston.
The congregation included members of both the Provincial General Synod Standing Committee, which had been meeting in Suva; and the Polynesian Diocesan Standing Committee.
Preaching from Mark 6: 14-29, Archbishop Winston spoke about prophetic mission and partnership in the Gospel. He began by drawing attention to the verses immediately before the Gospel passage, which speak of Jesus sending the 12 out to the villages, giving them authority over unclean spirits, while ordering them to take nothing for their journeys:
“The horror story of the beheading of John by Herod is not the whole story,” Archbishop Winston said. “The Gospel of Mark is written in a troubled world – a world where there is threat and corruption and weakness and human frailty and the love of power.
“In a troubled world, John the Baptist courageously pointed to Jesus. He was focused and fearless. Into a troubled context the disciples of Jesus went out two by two – partners in the Gospel.
“Today we too are called to courageous mission in our troubled world – a world where there is love of power and greed where the humble people are crushed and displaced, and where there is violence and injustice.
“Today we are called to walk together to share the good news of the love of God and to heal – to address those things which are hurting and destroying people.
“The Herods and the Herodiases of this world do not have the last say. Although, like his cousin John, Jesus was cruelly killed, the mission of Jesus continues through the ages. The worst evil cannot defeat the power of love.
“The Risen Jesus is with us now, encouraging us in mission and in our walking together. We are called to walk together courageously with the Risen One into our needy world, into the world which God loves.”
He used the opportunity to thank “all those have walked with [him] in the mission of Jesus” and said: “I have felt supported by your prayers. I thank you so very much. What an enormous privilege to have shared in your life and ministries!”
As the service drew to an and, Archbishop Philip Richardson, another of the Province’s Primates and the senior bishop for Pakeha Tikanga (European descent cultural stream) of the Church, presented Archbishop Winston with a sealed and signed document confirming his designation, by the provincial Standing Committee, as Archbishop Emeritus.
The third Primate of the Province, Archbishop Don Tamihere, the senior bishop for Tikanga Maori, presented Archbishop Winston with gifts of a small carved waka – a paddle carved from whale bone – and a carved fish hook, “symbolic of journeying together, and being fishers of people,” Anglican Taonga said.
After the service ended, the doors that separate the cathedral nave from the sanctuary were closed, and the congregation became observers and participants in a traditional ceremony of farewell.
Ahead of his retirement, Archbishop Winston will take part in further farewell events in Viti Levu West, Vanua Levu and Taveuni, Tonga, Samoa and American Samoa, and in the Diocese of Polynesia in New Zealand. He will then take a fortnight’s leave before his formal retirement takes effect on 31 August. He will move with his wife Sue to the UK where he will serve a year-long chaplaincy at Westcott House, a Church of England theological college in Cambridge.
An electoral college will meet in Suva on 26 and 27 October to nominate a successor diocesan Bishop of Polynesia and Archbishop of the province. If approved by the House of Bishops and members of the General Synod, the nominee will be announced shortly afterwards. The new Bishop and Primate will be installed – and, if necessary, consecrated, in Holy Trinity Cathedral, in Suva, on 9 December. Archbishop Don Tamihere will provide oversight for the diocese until the new Archbishop is installed.