Women in Church leadership were the focus of this year’s gathering of the Niue National Conference (NNC) of the Uniting Church. Women led the worship and bible studies from start to finish and for the first time Holy Communion was presided over by a woman minister, Rev. Fieta Ikitoelagi-Faitala of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ), assisted by Niue women Church Elders and Pastors.
More than 100 participants from Australia, New Zealand and Niue attended the Conference from 4-6 October at Carlton-Ramsgate and Punchbowl Uniting Churches in southern Sydney. Established in 2006, the NNC offers a spiritual home for people from Niue to celebrate culture, deepen their faith and contribute to the wider Uniting Church. Niue is an island country of less than 1,500 people in the South Pacific Ocean, between Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands. There are actually more Niue people living in New Zealand and Australia than on their home island. The theme of the conference, “Let us weave and sing to the Lord in a foreign land”, based on Psalm 137, reflects both the deep spiritual connection for Niue people to their homeland and how they live out this faith in new ways in Australia and the Uniting Church. The word “weaving” is both a cultural tradition in Niue and a metaphor for the way faith and culture are interwoven in the lives of the Niue people. Uniting Church President Dr Deidre Palmer attended the Conference along with special guests, President of the Ekalesia Kerisiano Niue (EKN) Rev. Vili Kamupala and Chairperson of the Niue Fono Motu of the PCANZ, Rev. Fieta Ikitoelagi-Faitala. Both EKN and the Niue Fono Motu sent a delegation of women to join the Conference. Leader of the Niue Women’s Christian Fellowship Joanna Matagi, an elder of Carlton-Ramsgate Uniting Church, said having the women take the lead for the first time was a highlight. “It is a great story to tell,” said Joanna who led the Conference planning committee. “Women do great things, in our culture, in our families, in our Church. That is the ministry we have been called to as women.” “There’s a saying from great grandmother in Niue that women are the backbones of our community, our families and our Church. If you sit down and reflect, it is true because a lot of the decisions are made by women.” “It doesn’t matter if we aren’t mentioned by name but the work and faith that we keep is strong and firm and that is want we want for the next generation, to always remember that wherever we are, God is with us and God will lead you to great things.” One of the women participants Marisha Evan-Hope said having the women take the lead was a big step forward as the Church was traditionally a male-dominated domain both in Niue and in the communities here in Australia. “It has been a struggle for women to be more vocal but the women have slowly risen up. We still have a long way to go, but we are going to continue to weave and sing our stories.” Dr Palmer offered a keynote address, speaking about the women in the Bible who were compassionate and faithful disciples of Jesus. “Jesus called women to be his disciples. He challenged the barriers that excluded women,” said Dr Palmer. “The Uniting Church has, from its beginning in 1977, embraced the leadership and ministry of women.” “I give thanks to God for the many women who are shaping our life and mission as a Church, and contributing to society in ways that encourage us all to flourish.” Assembly Consultant Covenanting Stuart McMillan and Hayden Charles from the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) National Youth Committee gave a presentation to the conference on the Uniting Church’s covenantal relationship with First Peoples. Rev. Dr Apwee Ting offered a presentation on the work of the Assembly Resourcing Unit, especially in walking alongside the multicultural communities of the Uniting Church as they explore their identity and connection to both their homeland and the UCA. With both Church Presidents in attendance, the NNC provided an opportunity for the Uniting Church and Ekalesia Kerisiano Niue to reaffirm their commitment to a partnership between the two Churches. Day One of the program concluded with a cultural night of singing and dancing. On Sunday, a worship service was held and new leaders of the NNC Executive were commissioned. After the service concluded, a traditional Niue feast was celebrated cooked in the umu (earth oven).