It was a clear, bright afternoon on November 14, 2019 when twenty-one students graduated from the Pacific Theological College.
The 52nd graduation ceremony since the College’s inception in 1965, marked with much pomp and splendour was celebrated at the College Fale attended by families, church leaders, academics of neighbouring universities and diplomats from across the Pacific.
Tears of joy flowed freely as students celebrated the penultimate moment of years of hard work and research witnessed by families, friends, church leaders.
Fourteen students graduated with Masters of Theology in Biblical Studies, Church History or Theology and Ethics. One with a Bachelor of Divinity, another with a postgraduate diploma while five with Certificates in Practical Arts and Life Skills through the College’s Women’s Programme.
Three, Craig Masaniai from the Congregational Christian Church in American Samoa, Hawaii, Leinamau Seru from the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu and Clarke Stowers from the Congregational Christian Church in Samoa were awarded prizes for overall academic excellence.
The sweet scent of beautifully prepared garlands and success scented the air. Celebratory hugs and kisses, and feasting before the next chapters in their journey begins.
They go on to fulfil the calling, serving in various capacities, as instructors of theological colleges, as Ministers of churches, as servants of the faith.
Ordinary men and women, from Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, American Samoa, Papua New Guinea, with an extraordinary calling.
Sending them off Chief guest Archbishop of the Catholic Diocese of Suva Dr Peter Loy Chong urged them to remember that theology, without action, is not theology.
Instead, he told them to practice a ‘theology of the people.’
‘Speak prophetically an act with justice to respond to radical social and political changes like climate change,’ Archbishop Loy-Chong said.
Just as the God they serve showed in history, in freeing the Israelites from oppression.
‘This modern world needs pastors, theologians and churches that can scrutinise the signs of the times and interpret them in the light of the gospel and to respond effectively to people’s questions.’
‘Theology of praxis comes from the very nature of God.’
‘Stories of conversions, the exodus stories are those of God’s action not aimed at intellectual theology but one that leads to action so theology should be one of praxis.’
‘Narratives of victims, of the poor, the oppressed and suffering, forgotten ones in history theology that takes the narratives and memories and experiences of people so it becomes a theology of the people.
‘One where people can see themselves in it, speaks to the people and consequently leads to praxis, action and human liberation.’
Deputy chairperson of the PTC Council and Executive Rev. Dr. Epineri Vakadewavosa echoed the Archbishop’s sentiments saying churches toward really need to practice the law of love that calls for a pastoral praxis.
‘A theologian is first a son or daughter of his people. He knows his people, the language, its roots, history, traditions, a man who learns to appreciate what he has received as a sign of the presence of God,’ said Rev. Dr. Vakadewavosa.
College Principal Rev. Professor Dr. Upolu Vaai said theological education has an active role in shaping, driving academic, political, religious, economic, social development changes that are liberating for the sake of regional stability.
Chairperson of PTC Executive and Council Rev. Elder. Dr. Leatulagi Faalevao handed them their academic award.
President of the Student Body Rev. Isoa Vatanitawake who was among the graduates thanked the support of families and churches in the achievement of their academic qualifications.
Merry feasting of a sumptuous Pacific spread followed into the night, another year of study year over, another lot of theologians ready for the mission field.