It is not every day you receive an invitation to crown the ruling monarch of another nation. But that was the honour recently bestowed upon former Uniting Church president Rev Dr D’Arcy Wood.
Dr Wood, who lives in Gisborne, was invited to crown the Tongan King Tupou VI at a ceremony in the national capital of Nuku’alofa, on 4 July.
He was first approached about officiating in 2013 when King Tupou VI assumed the throne following the death of his brother, King Tupou V, in 2012.
Dr Wood admitted it was an invitation which came out of the blue.
“It was a surprise and a great honour, not for me so much but for the Uniting Church and my family,” he said.
“I have not done it before and I do not expect to do it again.”
Dr Wood said he understood there was a desire for the service to be conducted by someone from the Methodist tradition, given that the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga is the dominant church in the country with its membership including the royal family. He said the service followed a very British tradition with music a dominant presence.
“The choirs were quite wonderful.”
The coronation is always conducted by a non-Tongan because of a local custom which dictates that no Tongan can touch the head of the monarch.
Dr Wood got to know King Tupou VI and the Queen, Nanasipau’u, when the King was the High Commissioner for Tonga with responsibility for South-East Asia and Dr Wood was the minister at the City Uniting Church in Canberra.
“I got to know the Queen fairly well but the King was often away travelling,” he said.
It was the latest chapter in Dr Wood’s long family association with the Pacific nation which stretches back 90 years.
Dr Wood was born in the country where his parents, Rev Dr Harold Wood and Dr Olive Wood, served as missionaries for 13 years. His sister, Janet Secomb, also served as a missionary in the country and another sister, Dr Elizabeth Wood-Ellem, wrote much of the history of the tiny nation.
While Dr Wood was only three months old when his parents returned to Australia, Tonga was an ever-present subject during his formative years.
“It was constantly a topic around the dining table and I remember the sound of the language growing up, even though I do not speak it,” he said.
Dr Wood is not the only Uniting Church connection with the coronation. Manningham Uniting Church minister Rev Jason Kioa, and his wife, Fotolina, were also invited and the former president Rev Prof Andrew Dutney preached at a Service of Thanksgiving the following day.
Mr Kioa grew up with the King’s late brother and also attended his coronation.
He said Queen Nanasipau’u had attended the Tongan National Conference – an annual gathering of all the Tongan congregations of the Uniting Church – and was an active participant.
Dr Wood said he hoped the Church’s involvement would further cement the relationship between the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga and the Uniting Church.
“There was a period a few years ago when the relationship was a little strained and hopefully this (coronation) service will help to strengthen the ties,” he said.
By NIGEL TAPP
Image: King Tupou VI and Queen Nanasi