[Edited from an original report by Anglican Taonga] Anglicans were out in force in the Fijian capital Suva this Saturday (11 March) as more than 1,000 worshippers gathered at Holy Trinity Cathedral to join in Eucharistic celebration and support the ordination and installation of Sione Uluilakepa as Bishop of Polynesia.
The Bishop of Polynesia is automatically an Archbishop of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, and one of three Primates, each representing a different Tikanga, or cultural stream, making up a single Primacy. At the service, which was livestreamed in full, Archbishop Don Tamihere, leader of Tikanga Māori, and Archbishop Philip Richardson, leader of Tikanga Pākehā, welcomed Archbishop Sione, leader of Tikanga Pasefika, as an Archbishop of the Province.
Archbishop Philip said: “I think that amongst all the enthusiasm and variety of the celebration, the spirit of [Saturday’s] event was a sense of settled joy, a contentment to have oversight back within the diocese itself, to have a son of Polynesia as their shepherd once more.”
The Primates of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia: Archbishops Philip Richardson (Tikanga Pākehā), Sione Uluilakepa (Tikanga Pasefika) and Don Tamihere (Tikanga Māori), on the steps of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Suva, Fiji.
Photo: Anglican Taonga
Since first mourning Archbishop Fereimi Cama’s death in mid-2021, the Diocese of Polynesia has remained under the Aotearoa New Zealand Archbishops’ care, who were formally thanked for their oversight in a small ceremony on Saturday.
Archbishop Sione’s ordination drew major interest in Fiji, with the country’s President, His Excellency Ratu Wiliame Katonivere and his wife Madam Filomena Katonivere attending as guests of honour.
Also at Holy Trinity to support Archbishop Sione were the British High Commissioner to Fiji, Brian Jones, the General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches, the Revd James Bhagwan, the Catholic Archbishop of Fiji, the Most Revd Peter Loy Chong, the Anglican Archbishop of Melanesia, the Most Revd Leonard Dawea and Archbishop of Adelaide and Primate of Australia, the Most Revd Geoffrey Smith.
Archbishop Geoffrey Smith was there to honour and affirm his Church’s long-standing relationships with the Church in these islands. “I came because this relationship with Polynesia and Aotearoa New Zealand is very important to us”, he said. “It was a great event. The choir was fabulous, they filled the streets and the bay with their sound. Another highlight was the children of St Christopher’s singing during communion. The quality of their singing was just beautiful – the harmonies, the strength of their sound, they were a well-oiled machine.”
Another high point of the service was when members of Te Pīhopatanga o Aotearoa (the Māori Diocese of New Zealand) stood to back their gift of a Pacific-patterned guitar to Archbishop Sione with the song “He Aroha.” Archbishop Sione responded in double quick fashion, picking up his new guitar and striking the perfect chord to accompany his brothers and sisters from Aotearoa.
Archbishop Sione’s commitment to reflect the diversity of cultures and nations in this Church came through in Saturday’s rich array of songs, prayers and readings in English, Fijian, Hindi, Te Reo Māori, Rotuman, Samoan and Tongan.
Over his 30 years in ordained ministry, Archbishop Sione has served through many languages and cultures of communities across Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Aotearoa New Zealand.
Preacher on Saturday, Archbishop Don Tamihere set out the qualities of a shepherd, both those embodied by his sheep farmer uncle and the long lineage of biblical shepherds.
He challenged the new Archbishop to emulate Abel in giving his best, Abraham’s intercession, Isaac’s obedience, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel’s hard work, Jacob’s tenacity and endurance, Moses’ character shaped in toil and David’s care and protection for the flock.
“Whenever I hear a story of shepherds and sheep from the Bible it feels to me it is more than a metaphor. There is something literal in it, something practical, something real. . .
“There is something about the shepherd’s heart that allows us to see and hear God. Jesus said, If you love me, feed my sheep. A good shepherd lays down all for the care of the sheep.”
Archbishop Sione also spoke of his call to be a shepherd in the lead up to his ordination. “What drove me into this role was allowing for the Spirit of God to speak – listening to the cries and the joys of our world, listening to the land, to the moana [ocean] and to those who are vulnerable and voiceless”, he said. “There is a lot for the Church to do as we hear, and as we face the issues that arise. Our task is to help transform suffering into victory and hope.”
Archbishop Sione sees that despite the critical challenges people face in a world of increasing hardships, especially due to climate change, hope in Christ can make all things new.
“Our task is to enter into partnership with God and one another to allow something better to grow out of these crises we face: Covid, or cyclones or volcanic eruptions. Our hope is in our prayer and our liturgy which offer proof of new life emerging out of devastation – and in our practical work that builds resilience through the work of the Church.”