Minister grateful for help

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.
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 Otago.

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 Zealand''.

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 yesterday.

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 everyone happy.''

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 another''.

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.