Pacific church leader calls for balance after Mt Roskill breach revelations

A Tongan church leader says there needs to be a balance between spiritual wellbeing and sticking to Covid-19 restrictions after revelations involving the Mount Roskill Evangelical church.

The church is in the spotlight after it emerged prayer meetings were held during Auckland's alert level three.

Secretary of the Tongan Interfaith Leadership Network, Sione Tu'itahi, says the health of Pacific communities is important.

“I understand how important it is for the Pacific community and their spiritual well being. I think it’s about striking the balance of sustaining our wellbeing, whether it’s physical or spiritual, as well as obedience to the rules and regulations, which is about the safety and wellbeing of everyone.”

He says there needs to be a strong form of communication between authorities and the Mount Roskill church in order to understand their side of the story.

“I think it’s about respecting each other, gaining trust, which will open up a healthy, positive way of communication that will lead to greater mutual understanding, which will help to facilitate achieving mutual goals.”

Despite this, Tu’itahi says people don’t have to meet in person in order to worship.

“There are times when face-to-face communication meetings are important, but there are times when, for health reasons, for safety, security reasons, that we should not. I think it’s about respecting those principles. 

“Worship can be done anywhere, anytime in faith and spirit and it does not always have to be in a physical space that you are present there with your fellow worshippers.” 

Tu’itahi says a physical symbol such as the church is not needed in order to pray.

“Spiritual wellbeing is about invisible, spiritual space rather than a physical space. The church is a physical symbol of unity, love and fellowship.

“It does not always have to be a physical presence in order for you to communicate, to have your conversation with your creator, with God.”

The Tongan Interfaith Leadership Network is made up of 15 denominations and faith-based organisations in the Tongan community.

Tu’itahi says no matter what religion you are, people have to remember they are a part of a wider community.

“In our current situation, I think it’s important for all, regardless of your belief, your faith, to respect not only your own wellbeing and your own belief, but also the belief and wellbeing of others.”

Speaking on Early Edition, South Auckland-based GP Dr Api Talemaitoga says although prayer is important, it will not protect communities from Covid-19.

“Prayer is really important for communities of faith, but it’s not absolute protection from the virus. It doesn’t respect any of us, it will get anybody, rich or poor, white or brown, the virus will get you if you do not follow the advice that’s given.”

Talemaitoga expressed his concern over whether Covid-19 information is being explained appropriately to Pasifika communities.

“What is all this new terminology of contact tracing, of being symptomatic or asymptomatic and I just wonder if we had public health officials who used our Pasifika, our Maori providers who could speak the language, who could explain it in a culturally appropriate manner.”