Last week, the only regional ecumenical institution in the Southern Hemisphere, the Pacific Theological College (PTC), celebrated the induction of its new principal, the Rev. Dr. Upolu Lumā Vaai. Rev. Dr. Vaai hails from the island country of Samoa.
He is a minister of the Methodist Church of Samoa. Rev. Dr. Vaai is now Number 10 – as he is the 10th person to occupy theprestigious seat in the Oceanian theological institution. He is married to Tuamasaga and they have four beautiful children.
The Rev. Dr. Vaai comes in as principal at a very important theological transitional time in the Pacific. Contextualizing theology has been around in the Pacific Theological College for a very long time. But Rev. Dr. Vaai, who was head of the Theology and Ethics Department at PTC before his new appointment, moved beyond contextualization to actually celebrate the profoundness of the Pacific imagination in developing theologies. This undertaking by Rev. Dr. Vaai is in collaboration with the regional university, the University of the South Pacific. In 2018, an inaugural Pacific philosophy Conference was held in Suva, Fiji, that sees the coming together of Pacific academics from various fields of disciplines. Academics came from Hawaii, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, the Caroline Islands, and church leaders from the Pacific joined as well. It was identified that, apart from the decolonizing of the Pacific mind-set, the need to rise and take ownership of Pacific cultures as portrayed in dances, chants, metaphors, songs, and imagination is vital.
This is where the theological transition from contextualizing to embodiment (my own term) takes place. Pacific theologians are encouraged to publish so as to make a unique, genuine, and authentic contribution to world theology from a Pacific viewpoint. For the last forty years or so of contextualizing, the Pacific contribution to global Christianity in terms of theology is more western than Pacific. Now it is beginning to take a turn and the world will get to see what the Pacific community has to offer from the diversity of cultures and languages that exist and form the Pacific region.
This turn is due to Rev. Dr. Vaai’s vision of a Pacific that is unique, while at the same time “relational” (a term Rev. Dr. Vaai coined in his writings to refer to the Pacific communal mind-set in contrast to the concept of individuality) in its connectedness to the global community. The Pacific Theological College, which is a partner of Global Ministries, welcomes its new principal, and rejoices in the changes he brings, which are the forerunners for a just society in this part of the world.
The Pacific Churches joined in ecumenical worship last week at the PTC to welcome and induct Rev. Dr. Upolu Lumā Vaai and his family. I can see the churches in the future with leaders trained at PTC under the guidance of Rev. Dr. Upolu moving toward a spirituality that is uniquely Oceanian. This spirituality will inform how the churches will read the scriptures, and this re-reading has already begun. Global Ministries in partnership with PTC, plays an important role in this new commission.
Niko Sopepa serves with the Pacific Conference of Churches in Fiji. His appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, WOC, OGHS, and your special gifts.