Christian Free Wesleyan Church
The Free Wesleyan Church is the largest Methodist denomination in Tonga. The royal family of the country are prominent members, and the late king was a lay preacher.
It was founded as the Free Church of Tonga in 1885, when King George Tupou I decided that a sovereign nation, in the process of promoting its sovereignty abroad by means of bilateral treaties with Western nations, should have an independent (Wesleyan) Church.
The church presently has 216 pastors, 157 congregations and approximately 40,000 members.
The first Methodist missionaries arrived in Tonga in 1822. After a difficult start the work progressed, and by the middle of the 19th century the whole population was Christianized.
There was a split in the church in 1885 which was partially resolved in 1924.
Tonga was a conference within the Methodist Church of Australasia until 1977 when the Uniting Church in Australia was formed, and the Free Wesleyan Church gained its autonomy.
The word "Free" in the name of the church indicates that the Tonga Conference is completely independent, and the word "Wesleyan" expresses the gratitude of the Tongan people to the missionaries and ministers of the Wesleyan church who evangelized the island.
The relation between the king and the Free church has been strong since the foundation of modern Tonga under Taufa'ahau Tupou I in 1845. The reigning monarch confirms constitutionally the elected president of the church in office.
The church is often seen as the state religion, though this is not so. Yet the influence of the monarch and the hereditary nobility remains strong in the church, and prevents it from exercising a full critical ministry in matters related to politics, society and culture.
Education and evangelism are strong features of the work of the church. While the government is responsible for most primary education, the church has six primary schools and at the secondary level caters to the needs of 60 percent of the students in three middle schools, five senior secondary and three district schools. In addition the church has three agricultural schools and a theological college.
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