by Chris Tobin
Timaru’s Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga in New Zealand has received $500,000 in government funding for upgrades at its Otipua Rd church.
The funding was announced during Minister for Ethnic Communities Jenny Salesa’s visit to Timaru last week.
‘‘It’s the first time that it has gone to churches,’’ Ms Salesa said.
‘‘The churches are equivalent to a Maori marae. It’s where the community comes together.
‘‘The young people born here in New Zealand learn the Tongan language by coming to church, where all the hymns and prayers are in Tongan.
‘‘It’s important for the people to retain their Tongan culture.’’
The funding came from the Provincial Growth Fund and was part of $10 million to be distributed to27 regional Pasifika churches outside Auckland, as part of the Government’s Covid 19 response and recovery plan.
Churches from Balclutha to Oamaru applied and the amount Timaru received was the highest, matched only by a church in Palmerston North.
Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones and Pacific Peoples Minister Aupito William Sio announced the funding.
‘‘I’m pleased and I know that Pacific peoples in regional New Zealand will be delighted to see that their church facilities will be supported to make the necessary improvements as they continue to serve their local communities,’’ Mr Sio said.
‘‘Pacific people in the regions value their churches and the significant role they play in their local communities.’’
The Timaru congregation comprised 10 families and was growing, its minister, the Rev Pailoni Talia, said.
The original owner of the church, then known as St Peter’s, was the Anglican Church, which deconsecrated it and leased it to the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga.
Several years ago an unnamed Christian businessman bought the church through a trust and handed it to the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga in New Zealand.