Methodist minister Tevita Tuafalele has few regrets about his seven years in Ashburton.
Except, of course, that he was never able to use the church.
It is earthquake-damaged and has been off-limits all the time he has been here.
The Rev Tuafalele will not have that chance now, even though it is proposed to fix the church: he is off to Auckland.
He leaves on January 10 to work in the Auckland Central Methodist Parish, with special responsibility for Epsom and Mt Eden.
He will be replaced in Ashburton by Heather Kennedy, from Christchurch. She will serve the parish for two years.
The Rev Tuafalele will take his final service on December 30, and return the church symbols given to him on his arrival.
“When I look back it’s been wonderful, enriching and in some ways challenging. Some think coming to a small town doesn’t have those challenges, but in the ministry there is always a challenge, and that has helped me grow.
“When I started it was a mono-cultural parish but then we got Pacific Island faces and it was a new journey for the parish.”
That, he said, had helped the parish grow with its spiritual journey.
“My hope is that they will continue to benefit from the multi-cultural journey. This is the face of the church in the 21st Century and beyond. It’s the same in our town, the demographics have changed.”
He said Ashburton, too, had many new faces.
“It is the reality of who we are as a town, a church and a community. Look at the different festivals, the Multi-cultural Bite. Ashburton is doing well indeed in embracing diversity.
“I believe it’s been a privilege to have been called by the church to move to Auckland.”
He said Auckland would be a huge change, though he trained at St John Trinity Theological College and, as a student minister, worked at the Kingsland church.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge but I am looking forward to the challenge. I don’t know what to expect but look forward to it.
“I’m sure one of the challenges will be a challenge from my own (Tongan) people. Auckland is where most Tongan and Islanders live.”
One of those challenges would be a Tongan working in an English-speaking setting.
“How can we as a multi-cultural country share with each other – how to take advantage of the great diversity?”
He said the answer was there, and as soon as he got there he had to sit down and talk with the congregation.
Ashburton, he said, was a beautiful, friendly town, much like Tonga.
“We are fortunate to have been called here. If I have one regret, it is not having the opportunity to preach in there (the church). It is a beautiful church.”
So, day after day, apart from one quick trip to collect some hymm books and Bibles, the Rev Tevita Tuafalele has not been in the church.
He hopes one day he will be able to return.
He is grateful, too, for the community support in raising $5000 for a school affected by a hurricane in Tonga.
In the meantime, the minister who has served in Dunedin, Auckland and Petone, is packing for Auckland.
Photo: The Rev Tevita Tuafalele outside the Ashburton Methodist Church.