First Church senior minister the Rev Tokerau Joseph and his wife, Tangi, prepare for his graduation from the University of Otago today. Photo by Craig Baxter.
A wave of support from parishioners, family and friends has
helped First Church senior minister the Rev Tokerau Joseph
complete a PhD in theology and religion at the University of
And he will be among about 250 graduands who will graduate
from Otago University with qualifications in humanities, in
the first of two graduation ceremonies, at the Dunedin Town
Hall, at 1pm today. His PhD focuses on ''Ethnic flames of the
burning bush: An exploration of ethnic relations in
congregations of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New
His doctoral studies, which he began in 2006, were completed
last year. And that work, often undertaken early in the
morning and late at night, was combined with helping to run a
busy church and raising five children. When he learnt late
last year that his PhD thesis had been approved, his initial
response had been ''a sense of relief''.
Now, he felt ''not only a personal joy'' but a happiness he
could share with parishioners, family and friends.
And he is grateful to everyone who helped him complete his
doctorate, and particularly to his wife, Tangi, and his
thesis supervisors, Dr Tim Cooper and the Rev Dr Kevin Ward.
And these days Mr Joseph was also experiencing a lot less of
the early morning alarm clock and of his wife Tangi's gentle
elbow, reminding him to get out of bed to work on his thesis
before the start of the church working day, she joked
He used to get up about 5am and work on his thesis for about
three hours before the start of the working day.
''I'm so over the moon,'' she added.
New Zealand's future was one of growing ethnic and cultural
diversity, including growing numbers of people of Maori,
Pacific and Asian ancestry, he said.
Mr Joseph, who was born in the Cook Islands, said First
Church had a congregation of about 300 people, and many
parishioners were of Cook Island and Samoan ancestry, as well
of European background.
''That's one of the things I like about working here, it's
just that diversity we have here.''
''It does require a lot of work, a lot of effort to keep
But he always found this work worthwhile.
Such richness and diversity were ultimately ''a gift''.
Everyone at First Church was enriched ''when we can work well
with one another, regardless of how different we are from one
And it was his hope that the congregation's sense of unity
within ethnic diversity also provided part of a vision of the
future for the Presbyterian Church in an increasingly diverse
world, he said.
Mr Joseph also has two other Otago University degrees,
including a master of theology degree completed in 2005.