Messages from the pulpit – solutions from parishioners
We have been up and down the country over the past two months supporting our church leaders and congregations to have open discussions about Pasifika peoples with disabilities, and their acceptance within Pasifika churches.
Recently I was fortunate to join about 100 parishioners at the Otahuhu Tongan Methodist church to not only find spiritual warmth, but more importantly to support the idea of church as providing a sense of belonging.
Led by Reverend Kalolo Fihaki (long-time senior advisor for the Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs), his sermon focused on Acceptance and Inclusion of Pasifika people with disabilities within our churches and congregations. His powerful challenge to the congregation was, “are we creating an accepting and inclusive environment in our churches?” Rev Kalolo noted that their Otahuhu church building had been purposely designed and built to be accessible for all parishoners. The Tongan Disability Network Group, led by Kolotita Tupou, hold an annual Disability Sunday Sermon in the Otahuhu Tongan Methodist church every May, which is open to everyone.
Rev Kalolo finished his sermon challenging churches and congregations to encourage and support Pasifika people with disabilities – helping them connect, providing and supporting leadership to build confidence in themselves, and empowering them to lead the life they choose. After the service, there was lots of discussion and ideas for continuing the work that has already been delivered within the church.
The type of approach that Rev Kalolo has taken with the Tongan Otahuhu Methodist Congregation church is a great benchmark for other churches and congregations to follow, and is certainly breaking down the stigma and discrimination around Pasifika people with disabilities in this church community. We look forward to supporting other churches and congregations in this important area.