The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga in the Kingdom of Tonga has confirmed in its Annual Conferences that the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga in New Zealand has become a District (or Vahefonua) of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga in Tonga and it is desirable that the decision of the Conference is reaffirmed here.
The Christian faith and religious principles which are applied and followed by the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga in the Kingdom of Tonga shall be adopted by the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga in New Zealand and its branches throughout the New Zealand.
The Christian faith, religious principles, rules and protocols as dictated by the latest edition of the Constitution of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga in the Kingdom of Tonga (referred to as the Konisitūtone mo e Ngaahi Lao 'a e Siasi Uesiliana Tau'atāina, ko e paaki hono Nima, 2005) shall be adopted and practise in full by the congregations of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga in New Zealand and its branches established throughout New Zealand.
The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga is the single largest religious group in the Kingdom of Tonga with active adherents. The roots of the church closely parallels Tonga's modern history, closer relations with foreign influence. It began since the arrival of British Methodist missionaries in 1826, Reverend John Thomas and Reverend John Hutchinson and their families. Reverend Thomas and Reverend Hutchinson successfully established the Church in Kolovai and gained the Chief's support and protection, almost 30 years after the landing of the London Missionary Society group.
Neil Gunson summarises the first period of sustained contact with papalangi and missionaries: in the period 1796 – 1826, Tonga met the outside challenge of European ideas and skills, made its adjustment and, on the basis of the experience of thirty years, opted for Christianity. Island Missionaries and thoughtful beachcombers, perhaps more than European Missionaries had helped towards this outcome.
Wesleyan Missionaries still encountered problems even after 1826. Priest caste of the traditional religion, chiefs and people all caused strong oppositions for the want of traditional standards and values to be safeguarded. The Missionaries themselves also caused some of the problems. They sometimes reflected their home-countries social and religious background and of course, not very sensitive in their approach in a totally strange environment. “Their attitude was mainly determined by a strong zeal ‘to save the lost….at all cost’ combined with a consciousness of the absolute righteous of their cause.” In 1834 – a revival movement by the name of the “Tongan Pentecost” swept over the islands. This revival is still regarded as important for the development of Christianity in Tonga.
“It confirmed and extended what had already begun with several crucial conversions such as that of Taufa’ahau, who was already on the way to gaining politician power over the group and was soon to secure the establishment of Christianity in the whole Kingdom as King George Tupou I, Taufa’ahau was able to keep Tonga out of power struggles between the colonial powers of that time.” Because Tupou I was very determined to maintain Tonga’s political independence, the idea of having an independent church probably developed. In 1880 – Tupou I proclaimed that “Tonga should have an independent church ….. the missionaries and the whole world should see that I am determined to have the separation.” This proves that it was not only the influence of Shirley Baker, a former Missionary and Tupou’s advisor, that led king Tupou I to this separation of the Church. This separation is that of the Free Church of Tonga from the Wesleyan Mission in 1885.
Census of that time stated, “more than 90% of Vava’u and Ha’apai and a majority of Tongatapu were willing to follow the King in the breakaway to form the Free Church.” “In violation of the 1875 constitution, in which religious freedom was guaranteed, the remaining Wesleyans were persecuted, and in 1887 a small group, suspected of being involved in a murder attempt on Baker, were exiled to Fiji.” 1924 – Queen Salote (leader of the Free Church) attempted to reunite the Free Church with the Wesleyan Mission. It is said, that this was because she was influenced by the fact that she was married to a Wesleyan high Chief, William Tupou Tungi.
The president of the Free Church of Tonga by then, Jabez Watkin, was against this idea of Queen Salote. The Queen, as a result, dismissed him, so he started the Free Church of Tonga. The minority group was about 1,234 members. The majority then was of 16,848 members. They were joined to the newly established Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga. This was the dominant church in Tonga from that time.