The Anglican church has consecrated its first bishop to serve the country during a ceremony in Nuku’alofa on Sunday.
Fr ‘Afa Vaka’s election as Tonga’s first constitutionally-mandated bishop is the fulfilment of long-held desires among Anglicans in Tonga for a greater level of autonomy within the Diocese of Polynesia, a church statement said.
His election follows the decision taken by the Diocese of Polynesia synod in May to establish the Archdeaconry of Tonga as an episcopal unit.
Fr. Vaka was made Bishop of Tonga in front of more than 300 people at the St Paul’s Church.
During the service, Archbishop Winston Halapua outlined the episcopal history of Tonga, and said that for the past 50 years, this distinct entity in the Pacific, with its own language, its own culture, its own traditions, and its own fervent love for monarchy, had been without its own bishop.
“The significance of today is that the mission of God for the people of Tonga – the leadership of that work – is now being taken up by a Tongan, living in Tonga,” he said.
“The mission here was started by a bishop. And in the middle was a bishop. Then then a 50-year gap. Now there is this bishop. And there won’t be any more gaps.”
The appointment of Fr. Vaka as the new Bishop of Tonga puts the Anglican church in the country on the same footing as other major churches in the nation, which are all led by Tongans, he said.
“And Bishop ‘Afa is such a worthy embodiment of those efforts, hopes and dreams because he’s humble. He has a servant heart, and he loves the people. He’s the right kind of leader.”
Archbishop Winston’s fellow primate, Archbishop Philip Richardson, described the creation of the new episcopal unit as a significant event in the history of the province.
“You couldn’t really say about this ordination, as you might in some, that this was ‘Afa’s day,” he said.
Fr. Vaka is actually the third bishop to serve Tonga.
“The first Anglican missionary to Tonga was Bishop Alfred Willis, who arrived in 1902. And in the mid-1960s, Bishop Fine Halapua, the father of Archbishop Winston Halapua, lived in Tonga as he served as a suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Polynesia. But now, after a gap of 50 years, Tonga has its third bishop – this time the first bishop of the newly constituted episcopal unit of Tonga.”