The Rev. Sylvia 'Akau'ola Tongotongo is an ordained minister of the Methodist Church of New Zealand. She is currently the Chaplain at Wesley College, the only Methodist Church affiliated Secondary School in New Zealand.
Sylvia intends to use her time at Vaughan Park completing her research and writing on the topic: 'The Church Culture of Hospitality and its impact on the wellbeing of New Zealand born Tongans.' Hearing an increasing societal concern about the negative impact of church practices on young people's educational achievement, health, basic life skills, behaviour and attitude, Sylvia believes it is worth exploring the validity of such claims as well as reclaiming the church culture of hospitality as a treasure for present and future generations.
Sylvia's research will be presented in the form of a Thesis as partial fulfilment of her Doctor of Ministry Studies Programme with Melbourne College of Divinity, Australia.
It has been a great honour and privilege for me to be in residence for three months at the Vaughan Park Anglican Retreat and Conference Centre, Long Bay, North Shore City. I am humbled by the whole experience and am grateful to the Director, The Rev. John Fairbrother, all the staff and the Vaughan Park Board of Governance for this opportunity through your scholarship ministry. This is when I find 'thank you' is not enough, for your generosity for me is beyond words.
My being at Vaughan Park gave me not only the opportunity of focused study time, personal renewal and an experience of some form of monasticism, but also a chance to witness Vaughan Park's expression of Christian ministry offered through hospitality, worship, awesome food and inspirational conversations. The welcoming hospitality extended to me, the smiling and warm greetings from the staff and my being embraced as one of the community, made me feel at-home right from day one. I thought I was an 'outsider within' this community – the first from the Methodist Church of New Zealand, and the first Pacific Islander Residential Scholar living in this Anglican community. The reality was, I was accepted, respected and treated equally as one of them.
I often shared that this place was both my inspiration and distraction at the same time. On one hand, I asked myself, how can I not work in a place that is so peaceful and spiritually uplifting? On the other hand, I asked, how can I work when the backyard is the whole beach? The truth is, every moment in this place is a blessing.
Sylvia 'Akau'ola Tongotongo, April 2011.