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Testimony of First Taulanga-U Tongan United Methodist Church

By Latulala Toetu'u

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Methodists are a testimonial and missional people. No wonder John Wesley referred to Methodism as a “social religion.”

“The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness. Faith working by love, is the length and breadth and depth and height of Christian perfection.”[1]

We Methodists care about ministry within our church and ensuring that members grow closer to our Lord Jesus Christ. We are also people who would like to make positive changes in our churches and transform the world.

I have been a pastor at First Taulanga-U Tongan United Methodist Church in Sacramento, California, for three years. I was called to serve here in July 2020 in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. I had previously served in the Bay Area, northeast Nevada, and Northern California for more than ten years. We all agree that COVID-19 brought changes to ministries and ways of worship for all churches, including First Taulanga-U. For almost two years, Sunday worship and ministries during the week were conducted through Zoom meetings.

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Rev. Latulala Toetu'u

“Taulanga U” in Tongan means “safe harbor.” Therefore, Taulanga-U Church is a safe harbor” for discipleship and sharing the gospel. We, the people of First Taulanga-U, share with those who are lost in a sea of chaos and sin that in Jesus there is peace and love.

First Taulanga-U Tongan United Methodist Church was officially chartered being a Tongan-language and fellowship ministry that had partnered with the former host historic Oak Park United Methodist Church since 1982. Oak Park United Methodist Church was an African American Church, first established in 1895.

My ministry was initially challenged by two factors: (1) the brutal effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and (2) my first time serving a Tongan church after almost ten years. Now, after the pandemic, worship and ways of doing ministry have started to take shape.

Most Tongan United Methodist churches have a tradition of Wesleyan class meetings. At First Taulanga-U, the church has eight classes (kalasi’aho). Each class has a spiritual leader and an assistant. The classes are designed for the spiritual growth of members and for the encouragement of stewardship for a donation (misinale) at the end of the year.

The United Women of Faith (UWF) at First Taulanga-U are called ‘Kalofiama’(torch of fire), and they meet on Sunday mornings before church and have Bible study every other Thursday night. The United Methodist Men, called “Talanga”(sharing), meet regularly on Friday or Saturday.

First Taulanga-U Tongan UMC is predominantly a Tongan congregation. It has three main worship services: the English service at 10:00 a.m. every Sunday, the main service in the Tongan language at noon, and Wednesday evening worship service at 7:00 p.m. The total membership is around 300, and about forty percent are youth and children. Twelve youth and their two adult chaperons recently attended the nationwide Youth 2023 event in Daytona, Florida.

As we are now on the way to full recovery of ministry and worship at First Taulanga-U, we are focusing on new directions for ministry. We such welcoming new people and caring for the homeless, especially those who live under the 99 Freeway, which is only a few yards from the church.

We pray that we will always trust the Holy Spirit to guide and lead us to a hopeful destination.

Additional Resources:

Rev. Latulala Toetu'u is a pastor of First Taulanga-U Tongan United Methodist Church, Sacramento, California. He is an ordained clergyperson in the California—Nevada Annual Conference. He attended Tupou High School (Methodist school in Tonga) and received a Bachelor of Applied Science from Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia. He attended the Pacific School of Religion for his master of divinity degree.

[1] John Wesley, Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739), Preface, page viii.

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