Anglicans from throughout the South Pacific descended on Suva for an event that hasn’t been staged for more than 35 years – the installation of a new Bishop of Polynesia.
On Sunday morning, in Suva’s Holy Trinity Cathedral, the Rt Rev Dr Winston Halapua made his vows of commitment, received the signs of his new office, and then was led to the cathedra , the bishop’s chair, that has been vacant since the death in February of his long-serving predecessor, Archbishop Jabez Bryce.
Bishop Halapua inherits another mantle. As the new leader of Tikanga Pasefika, he is formally recognised as one of the three Archbishops and Primates of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.
The diocese he will now lead has known more than its fair share of upheaval in recent times – coups in Fiji; riots and the ferry sinking in Tonga; and last year’s tsunami in Samoa – and he knows the obligations he will inherit are weighty.
Shortly before he returned to Suva for the installation, Bishop Halapua spoke briefly of the task that lies before him.
“The mission,” he said, “is simply to preach the Gospel, to teach the Gospel, to live the Gospel – and to pass it on.”
But the kind of mission leadership he longs to offer, he says, will only become a reality if he plunges into the lives of the people and the communities he’s been chosen to serve.
At the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Bishops – where he was chaplain – he saw a bigger vision of what the ministry of a bishop can be.
“I rejoice,” he said, “that there is now an opportunity to fulfil that vision, and am at peace with what lies before me.”
Sunday’s service touched on the source of his peace:
All to Jesus, I surrender;
All to him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him;
In his presence daily live.
But Bishop Winston says that before he swings into action his first task as diocesan bishop will simply be to listen.
After 14 years away from Suva, the centre of the diocese, he intends to take whatever time it takes to meet his flock, and to relearn his setting.
“The context,” he says, “is both one that I know well, and one that is quite new to me. The people around me know that new context better than me, and I’m going to learn from them and be a leader with them. I look forward, too, to working with other leaders, right across the communities of the diocese.”
The Diocese of Polynesia brings together Anglicans in a number of South Pacific Island states, and by virtue of his background, Bishop Halapua has impressive connections with many of them.
He was born in Tonga in 1945 – his father, Fine Halapua, was himself an Anglican bishop – and he lived in Fiji from 1966 to 1996, serving in just about all the key diocesan positions in that period.
In 1996 Dr Halapua brought his family to Auckland and he became the first Principal of the College of the Diocese of Polynesia at St John’s College.
In 2005 he was ordained Bishop in the Diocese of Polynesia – one of three Episcopal Unit bishops ordained then to serve diocesan outreach – and his formal title became: Bishop for the Diocese of Polynesia in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Bishop Halapua goes to his new task with the support and blessing of his fellow bishops.
Archbishop David Moxon says the installation liturgy was designed especially for the occasion because it's the first time that a Bishop of Polynesia has been installed and made a Primate and Archbishop at the same time.
Bishop Halapua is also just the second ever Polynesian to lead the Diocese of Polynesia. Before his predecessor, Bishop Bryce, all four Bishops of Polynesia had been expatriates.
Before Ross Bay was ordained Bishop of Auckland, he was Dean of Auckland’s Holy Trinity Cathedral – and in both capacities he often played host to Bishop Winston there.
“It’s been wonderful”, he says, “to have Bishop Winston occupying the Tikanga Pasefika seat in our cathedral, and so expressing our partnership in Episcopal ministry in the Auckland Diocese.
“Bishop Winston has been a significant leader in ministry among Tikanga Pasefika here in Auckland. We offer our thanksgiving to God for all of that – and our prayers of blessing for the Spirit’s fresh empowerment of all that lies ahead.”
Bishop Ross is also grateful for the contribution made by Sue Halapua, Bishop Winston’s wife.
Not simply as a partner with Bishop Winston, he says, “but also as an outstanding Vicar of Otahuhu. Along with the people of that parish, we in this diocese will miss Sue’s presence and ministry.”