More than 200 people – including Samoan youth from Victorian, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australian congregations – came together at St John’s Uniting Church in Essendon from 12 to 15 October for the triennial conference.
The delegates listened to reports from young adults, discussed safe church leadership and participated in conversations about potential changes to the marriage law.
Uniting Church president Stuart McMillan talked about the Church’s discussions on Treaty and its engagement in climate change advocacy, an issue of concern for many Samoans.
Rev Fie Marino, multicultural consultant NSW/ACT Synod, and Rev Faye Talatonu, minister at Indooroopilly Uniting Church, led the younger members of the conference in a session on the Church’s ethos and structure.
Mr Marino encouraged the youth to find their own identity and move beyond the traditional mindset of their parents.
For many older Samoans, church and culture go hand-in-hand, but the majority of next generation Samoans have grown up in a different cultural landscape.
“A lot of us are proud to be Australian and proud to be Samoan, but we’re stuck between the conflict and tension of these two things,” Mr Marino told the youth delegates.
“We need to feel the sense that this is our church, this is where our future is. When are we going to stop being migrants and recognise that we are part of this place, part of this Church and step into the space of leadership?
“In the end, we are the ones who need to step to the plate.”
Mr McMillan advised the young people to distinguish the difference between cultural and traditional practices.
“My community has things they might think is about church, but they’re really tradition,” Mr McMillan said.
“Faith is not about what I do on a Sunday – faith is about how I live my life, how I react to others, my levels of compassion and generosity.”
Interim Samoan National Conference chairperson Rev Sani Vaeluaga, who is also minster at Altona Meadows/Laverton and Lara Uniting Churches, said it was encouraging to see a large youth delegation at this year’s conference.
“I’m so glad that the youth have taken the opportunity to join us. The structure of our agenda and meeting allows our young people to have their own time together to talk about faith,” Mr Vaeluaga said.
“We encourage our young people to be part of that sharing – it’s about building up that community in faith, in hope and in love.”
While the Uniting Church’s Samoan community is small compared to other Uniting Church CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) groups, it continues to grow as more Samoans migrate to Australia.
Many of these faith communities are located on the eastern coast of Australia, and Mr Vaeluaga said there are approximately six Samoan congregations in Victoria, two in New South Wales and five in Queensland.
Mr Vaeluaga said the national conference, held once every three years, is a significant gathering for the Samoan community.
“We come here to share our faith and share our journey and we also share our struggles,” Mr Vaeluaga said.
“Because all the members of the Samoan conference belong to different synods and presbyteries, we encourage them to participate in the life of the wider church.
“For me, it is about the fellowship, the worshipping together. We sing, we laugh and sometimes we cry, but it really is about being in fellowship together with Jesus Christ.”
The conference included the election of new office bearers. After a period of discussion, it was decided that the youth members should choose their own representatives to serve on the leadership team. Mr Marino and Ms Talatonu were elected and commissioned at a service on Friday evening.
Rev Kiliona Mafaufau from Lidcombe Uniting Church was elected as the chairperson for the next three years. He will take over from Mr Vaeluaga, who served as interim chairperson after illness forced Rev Tino Scanlan to step down.