The Rev. Tofaifaleula Tosi Amosa is the first Samoan woman in history to serve as a formally ordained Christian minister. She was ordained on July 16, 2006, at Kanana Fou Theological Seminary in American Samoa, as a pastor of the Congregational Christian Church of American Samoa (CCCAS).
Tofa is a graduate of Pacific Theological College in Fiji, where she received her Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1999. At the time of our interview (2010), she is furthering her education at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. She is married to the Rev. Tautua Amosa and has four children.
The Role of a Pastor in Modern Samoa
In 1899, the islands of the people of Samoa were split into two. Tutuila (“American Samoa”) became a colony of the United States. Upolu (“Western Samoa”) became a colony of Germany. Western Samoa became the Independent State of Somoa in 1962. American Samoa continues to be a unincorporated territory of the U.S. today.
After the arrival of Christian missionaries in 1832, the Christian church became the central institution in Samoan culture. Everything in modern Samoan life is centered around the church: family, social life, politics. Quite simply, life is church. And the leaders of the church are men. (With one exception: a woman may be a deacon, but only when her husband is deceased.)
It is said that before the arrival of the missionaries, that the people of Samoa were peasants, polytheistic— and matriarchal. In the 1830s the people of Samoa became believers in the philosophy of Jesus Christ, as taught by the London Missionary Society. Not only did most people convert to Christianity, but their cultural ways changed too. The teachings from the missionaries about Christianity said many things in the Samoan culture were “wrong.” Under the influence of the Western missionaries, the Samoan culture became patriarchal. In Christian Samoa, men were teaching and leading the way.
|Rev. Tofa and niece in her white dress|
The most significant aspect to a Samoan person is faith. Becoming a pastor is the most valuable and sacred dedication a Samoan man can fulfill. Pastors are clergymen, educated and knowledgeable in God's word, the Bible. They are people authorized to minister to the people, chosen by God to serve the people and teach them right from wrong and of God's salvation. Being a pastor is a symbol of faith, which can bring one closer to God's presence. The role of pastor is greatly praised.
Statistics show that 98.3% of American Samoa is of Christian affiliation. The substantial foundation of Christianity on the Samoa islands is evident.
Historically, many rules and restrictions against women started at the time when Christianity came to the Samoa Islands and were justified by the Bible. The most recognized role for a Samoan woman is to be a pastor's wife.
In all the Samoan churches within American Samoa and the nation of Samoa, there has not been a single woman pastor— before Tofa.
Growing up in Tutuila
Tofa was born in March 1966 in the U.S. territory of American Samoa to Faiaoga Tosi and Tereise Galoia. She has eleven siblings.
As a young person, Tofa was shy, quiet and obedient. She lived a typical Samoan life, which was organized inside, outside and around the church. Church was her whole life and environment. She lived next door from the church and her parents made going to church a top priority, where she would attend Sunday school, youth groups, bible study and other church functions. She attended a church-run school for her education.
In November of 1977, the people of American Samoa were allowed to elect their own governor, the first Samoan governor, Peter Tali Coleman. Prior to that, the commandants or governors were appointed by the U.S. Government, mostly from within the U.S. Navy.
At that time, Tofa was eleven years old and part of the Girls Brigades, an international Christian youth organization. She still recalls the excitement of “standing in the early morning sun, in my long Girls Brigade uniform, for the parade to celebrate the election of the first elected Samoan governor.”
When Tofa was eighteen years old, in 1984, she was able to vote for the first time. She was overwhelmed with excitement and curiosity as she waited in line. “It was like having a voice to vote for who I wanted as governor— the feeling was something very different, in a good way.”
Yet Tofa always knew she wasn't a “typical Samoan.” Tofa was a young woman who was a self-thinker and believed in the ownership of her own thoughts and opinions.
Tofa's courage and faith as a young person paved the way for her next steps in the difficult journey crossing gender and cultural barriers to be the first ordained woman pastor in her country.
Unintentionally Making History
|Rev. Tofa in her twenties|
In May of 1990, Tofa graduated from American Samoa Community College. That fall, she and her husband entered Kanana Fou Theological Seminary (KFTS), the training institution of the Congregational Christian Church in American Samoa (CCCAS). At that time, women were not allowed to attend KFTS as independent individual students. Women attended only classes that were explicitly tailored for seminarians' wives.
After Kanana Fou Theological Seminary, they moved to Fiji to continue her husband’s education at the Pacific Theological College. Because this school did allow women to enroll, Tofa and her husband agreed that she would pursue her own education as well. Tofa remembered the words of her father: “Take every opportunity to learn.” She sought this opportunity and graduated from Pacific Theological College, receiving her Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1999. They moved back to American Samoa, and she started work as a secretary in the national church office of the CCCAS, in the Department of Christian Education, where she was employed for two years.
Tofa didn’t intend to be an ordained pastor. That was far from her mind. She only wanted to serve and do God’s work.
Then, in 2005, at the 25th General Assembly of the CCCAS, the elders in office settled with a unanimous vote that CCCAS would begin ordaining women. The requirements were that the candidate hold a Bachelor in Divinity and has at least a year of experience working in Kanana Fou Theological Seminary. Tofa was the only woman who met the requirements. So the department that she worked in nominated her to be ordained. The process after that required personal testimonies, which were reviewed by the elders. At last Tofa was called in and congratulated and given the word that she was to be declared officially ready for ordination. At the 2006 General Assembly, Tofa became the first woman to be ordained in history of CCCAS, and in the history of Christian Samoa.
During School and Ordination
|Rev. Tofa prepping the flowers to make ula's (lei's)|
With the many principles of the Samoan culture, Tofa knew she didn’t fit the mold. When Tofa and her husband decided that they both would attend the college in Fiji, they also discussed and agreed to accept whatever consequences that would come with breaking norms. People— sadly, the majority of the Samoan community— talked with anguish, looked with resentment and shunned their presence. The diverse community on the Pacific Theological College campus, their mutual commitment, and Tofa’s fortitude got them through. As Tofa says with a smile, “...I didn't really care what they were saying. I just wanted to learn and serve Him faithfully. But them? I wasn't worried.” She prayed and cried but always continued move forward. She thanks her father for teaching her the importance of determination and education.
|Rev. Tofa and husband with their two daughters.|
Though she had not thought of becoming a pastor, she chose to accept the opportunity and to honor it as God’s will. When she and her husband were attending Pacific Theological College in Fiji, people were opposed. Now that she was about to be ordained, people were furious. Many things were said about her and everyone else involved in such a drastic change, but nothing stopped her from following her heart.
Life After Ordination
|Tofa and some of the women at the Fonotaga ale Matagaluega Kalefonia Matu (California Conference Congregational Meeting)|
After her ordination in 2006, Tofa and her husband moved to California and were both enrolled at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. During this time, they were attending the First Samoan Congregational Church UCC in Alameda, CA. In 2009, Tofa and her husband were called to serve at the First Congregational Christian Church of Samoa in San Jose, CA— Ierusalema Fou.
|Rev. Tofa and husband with some of the other pastors and their wives.|
It was a blessing; still Tofa’s heart was burdened with all these sudden changes. Tofa wanted to complete her education at Pacific School of Religion and then go back to Kanana Fou Theological Seminary to teach. Her husband accepted the call to serve the church in San Jose, CA. At the time of our interview, she still faces hardship in gaining recognition for her ordination. There’s no acknowledgment from Samoan men nor women. Instead, she finds acceptance in non-Samoan churches and organizations. Today, she still find ways to use her blessing as a ordained pastor and support her husband and their congregation. Tofa is encouraging women to take the opportunity, take a leap of faith. She’s serving God in all that she does and waiting patiently for the next step, whatever it may be.
2009 - her husband was called to serve at The First Congregational Christian Church of Samoa in San Jose, CA - Ierusalema Fou.
July 16, 2006 - Tofa was ordained at Kanana Fou by the C.C.C.A.S., which makes her first Samoan woman pastor
2006 - Tofa moved to California for theological studies at Pacific School of Religion, both her and her husband.
1999 - Tofa graduated from Pacific Theological College in Fiji, receiving her Bachelor of Divinity
1990-1994 - Tofa and her husband at Kanana Fou Theological Seminary in American Samoa.
May 1990 - Tofa graduated from American Samoa Community College
1984 - Tofa voted for the first time
November 1977 - Tofa witnessed the first election (by the people) that elected to the First Samoan Governor, Peter Tali Coleman
“So many things were said about that [a woman becoming a pastor] like, how will it be if a woman pastor is pregnant and has to do communion? Which is - I don’t know really. What does the woman’s pregnancy have to do with communion?”
“Well, it doesn’t really bother me. It’s not the title that matters to me. It s how I perform and how I do my work that’s important to me. Because if it bothers me- then it’s going to be a burden.”
“The pastor leading said [referring to a scripture from Joel], ‘No, that was there a long time. It’s just that the culture and/or church from back then held us all back. But God’s will was not just for men, boys, but women too. Boys and girls together.’”