$500,000 funding for Timaru’s Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga

A $500,000 Government grant to renovate a Timaru church is expected to create up to seven jobs.

Timaru’s Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga has received the money from the Government’s $10 million Covid-19 response and recovery plan for regional Pasifika churches, which is part of the Provincial Growth Fund.

The Otipua Rd church is one of 27 recipients across New Zealand and Thursday’s announcement was made byMinister for Ethnic Communities Jenny Salesa in Timaru.

Timaru Tongan Society president Sina Latu said the news was a surprise after having put together the application within a week about three months ago.

“We were given a week to put the application together with quotes from plumbers, electricians, builders and other people involved in the project.

“I did not even know how to apply for funding, and I did not even know what would go into doing the renovations.”

She said, after getting permission from their church minister, trustees and their main branch in Auckland, her husband, Penieli Latu arranged quotes from the builder, plumber, electrician and other trades people, involved in the project.

“I also sought help from the MBIE (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment) who worked closely with me, and received a letter of support from mayor Nigel Bowen.”

She said a building inspector has been called in to assess the fire safety, asbestos, and to measure its earthquake resistance, and once this was completed renovations would begin.

Changes to the church would include proper heating, painting, a new kitchen, she said.

“We desperately need heating in the church as it is freezing cold. We use the hall for our community stuff.”

The funding would also create up to seven jobs from the Tongan community, Latu said.

“This is a great opportunity for our community to learn alongside the tradespeople that do the work.

“They are happy to take them along for work experience.”

Latu said Timaru’s Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga was one of the few in New Zealand which was wholly owned by the church itself, and this could have been an influencing factor in the decision.

The funding would bring the church to a better standard and make it more comfortable for the parishioners, she said.

“The church is not just a place of prayer, it’s a village for our community because we do our cultural stuff, prayers, meetings and other community stuff at the church.”

The Free Wesleyan Church is the main denomination in Tonga, and boasts a worldwide membership of more than 38,000.

The church bought the former St Peter's Anglican Church building and its accompanying hall in 2017 through a trust on the parish's behalf by a Christian businessman.

The Tongan parish had been leasing the building for three years before making it their permanent home in 2019.