The Samoan Diaspora Church in New Zealand: Patterns of Movement and Dynamics Amongst Three Generations of Samoan Families
This qualitative study explored the dynamics of movement in the Samoan diaspora church in New Zealand using a case study of three generations of Samoan families who began their journeys within the Pacific Island (Congregational/Presbyterian) Church. It has mapped the journeys and patterns of 27 participants within seven families and recorded the emerging trends, patterns and themes along with their various narratives that emerged from their talanoaga (verbal interviews). The purpose of the thesis is to document the movement of Samoan families between churches and the emerging trends and patterns: how many moved, why they moved and where they chose to move to. It identifies the reasons why they left their original churches and why they eventually moved on from one church to another and looks at these dynamics and their own personal narratives behind these moves. It also asks the question of whether the fa’asamoa and Samoan language were important factors in where they chose to worship.
The methodology used for this research was talanoa. This was to capture the essence of language and the nuances of culture and observation.
The key findings of this study were that while there were changes in churches by six families over three generations, one family had no movement. For the second and third-generation participants, the Samoan language and fa’asamoa, although important, did not feature as a consideration when it came to choosing a new church to worship in. Anecdotal evidence suggests that from first-generation to third-generation families there was a weakening of the fa’asamoa and Samoan language and culture. Many first-generation parents learnt the English language from their second-generation children. Questions of Samoanness is highly debated and a challenge to youth especially as is related to language competence.
This study also showed that people left churches en masse when a conflict arose involving the minister. The churches would split and one side would walk out creating a schism. Most of these conflicts were unresolved, resulting in the departure of families from their church to join new churches or form new ones. This study has highlighted a significant number of organisational issues which should be considered by church leadership and congregations if the church is to maintain its role and relevance in the lives of Samoan diaspora families today. For example church organisation, hierarchical leadership, pastoral care, and financial issues. This thesis has raised issues that need challenging. In order to reduce these type of departures there needs to be accountability procedures in place in the churches particularly with clergy to address issues of conflict and a provision for pastoral care to those who have been aggrieved.
It is possible that the result of this research could differ enormously if this study was carried out with a Samoan Congregational (C.C.C.S.) or Samoan Methodist three- generational families. This study will be of value if the recommendations are implemented particularly around the issue of identity. It needs to be clear that Samoan identity is not dependent on one’s ability to speak the Samoan language and carry out the fa’asamoa. Although these are important it is not necessarily an easily-achievable goal for many second- and third-generation New Zealand-born Samoans. Samoan identity should be based on biological ties and connection and not on competencies in language and culture. This study adds value to knowledge and practice by highlighting the different journeys of three generations and their experiences within the church. It is ground-breaking in that there has been no study of this type before and therefore it will raise some important issues for the church to consider for future generations. It will add to the global literature of the churches concerned and the Samoan community.