The Vicar of St Peter’s in Lautoka on the Fijian island of Viti Levu, Fereimi Cama, has been elected Bishop of Polynesia. When he is consecrated and installed, he will also become one of the three Archbishops and Primates of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. The election was announced yesterday (Sunday) by the Church’s two existing primates, Archbishop Don Tamihere and Philip Richardson, who have responsibility for the Church’s Maori and Pakeha Tikangas, or cultural streams.
The 63-year-old archbishop-elect is a former Dean of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Suva.
Archbishop Don served as Commissary at the electoral college, describing the role as “an immense privilege and honour”. He added: “When the final ballot was held, it was Fr Cama who was chosen – and chosen with a deep sense of this being God’s will.
“Fr Cama is a priest of the people. He has served among family and community for decades, and is a leader grown from the grassroots. He is a good man and he is ready to serve his people anew with humility and courage.
“The fact that he will be the first Bishop of Polynesia of indigenous Fijian descent is something else worth celebrating – though I know that Fr Cama is committed to serving all the nations and people of Polynesia with equal effort and respect.”
Indeed: The record shows that Fr Cama is a i-Taukei [Fijian] man who has proven his courage – and his readiness to serve Polynesians of every ethnic background.
“We’ve had a Samoan, in Bishop Bryce, we’ve had a Tongan in Bishop Winston – and people felt that it was now time for a Fijian to lead”, the archbishop-elect said when explaining why people wanted a Fijian to lead the diocese.
Archbishop-elect Fereimi Cama will become Primate of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia when he is consecrated and installed as Bishop of Polynesia..
Photo: Anglican Taonga
“My vision is not to introduce anything new”, he said, “But to pressure-cook what is already there; to make it tender, attractive, and easy to digest.”
He was raised a Methodist and continued worshipping in a Methodist Church after marrying his Anglican wife Mereadani in 1976. That changed during a coup in 1987 which resulted in the overthrow of the elected government of Fijian Prime Minister Timoci Bavadra and the Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II, replaced with the declaration of a republic. Some prominent Methodists supported the coup leaders and Cama decided to become an Anglican and he joined the congregation of Holy Trinity Cathedral.
Within a year he was elected to the cathedral vestry and soon became a lay reader. In 1990, at the prompting of the then-Dean Winston Halapua, who would go on to become the Archbishop that Cama would eventually succeed, he was ordained a deacon and then a non-stipendiary priest.
He served as priest assistant at the cathedral while continuing his teaching work. When the priest in charge of the cathedral transferred two months later, Bishop Jabez Bryce asked him to “hold the fort while we look for a better person.”
That “better person” turned out to be Cama, and in December 1999 he was installed as the Dean of Holy Trinity Cathedral. Five months later, when Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and a group of MPs were held hostage by rebel soldiers who had stormed the Fijian Parliament, he volunteered to administer Holy Communion to the hostages.
Outside the Parliament, his communion set was scrutinised by rebel soldiers. He was then taken to coup leader George Speight who scrutinised them again before he was allowed to take communion to the MPs, “first to the separated Indo-Fijians, who were mostly Hindus and Muslims, but who all wanted Communion, and then to the cluster of Fijian parliamentarians”, Anglican Taonga reports.
“Then, when the two services were over, Dean Cama returned to the cathedral, where the MP’s wives and families were gathered, desperately seeking news of their loved ones. Dean Cama continued to run the gauntlet. He returned to take communion to the hostage MPs, every Sunday and Wednesday, for the duration of the 56-day siege.”
Virmati Chaudhry (centre), the wife of Fiji’s deposed Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry, pictured on 2 July 2000 next to her daughter Rani (left) and others at a daily prayer vigil at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Suva as the country’s hostage crisis entered its 45th day.
Photo: Mark Baker / Reuters
He stepped down as Dean in December 2012 before serving as priest to a couple of parishes in Suva parishes. He then spent 18 months studying missiology at Carey Baptist College in Auckland before returning to Suva, where he was appointed Vicar at St Peter’s, Lautoka, on Christmas Day in 2016.
Days after his installation, he and his wife were in a car accident. Mereadani died a week later and was buried on their 40th wedding anniversary.
The Archbishop-elect Fereimi says that he is passionate about building up relationships in the diocese – and passionate, too, about “seeking a better deal for those at the bottom of the heap”, Anglican Taonga said. He is particularly concerned about the number of unemployed non-stipendiary priests who are taking full parish responsibilities but who live, he says, “below the poverty line.”
He's also deeply concerned for the plight of the Melanesians, and part-Melanesians, who make up a significant share of Fiji's Anglican congregations. There are 44 Melanesian settlements throughout Fiji – none of which has secure land tenure. Melanesians are not recorded on Fiji's tribal registry, the Vola Ni Kawa Bula – and are therefore frozen out from owning mataqali (clan) land, or having access to qoliqoli, or traditional fishing grounds.
“I said at the electoral college that these people have been neglected”, he said. “They have been used by the Government, and the church hasn’t uttered a word.
“I said to the college: ‘Even if I have to knock at the door of the Prime Minister, I will do it’”.
A date for the consecration and installation has yet to be announced.