Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga (Methodist Church in Tonga)
(Siasi Uesiliana Tau'ataina 'o Tonga)
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 Wesleyan 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. For the last decade of the 20th century the church adopted the theme of "Witness 2000", which involved an all-out drive to reach young people. The department of Christian education and evangelism works closely with the women's department in implementing the themes of the church. From the beginning, the Wesleyan Church of Tonga has been involved in carrying the gospel beyond Tonga. At present, missionaries are working in Northern Australia, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Hawaii and the west coast of the USA. The Tongan Church Mission Board oversees numerous Tongan congregations in other countries, notably Australia, New Zealand and the United States.