Tongan church members protest leader’s suspension
West Valley City • Congregation says they have not been told why Rev. Havili Mone was removed.
Published: September 24, 2012 11:11AM
Updated: January 7, 2013 11:31PM
Ashley Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Eva Kamitoni protests with her children and several others from the Tongan United Methodist Church on Sunday September 23, 2012. Members of the West Valley City church protested the temporary removal of their pastor, Rev. Havili Mone. The members are upset that they were not given an explanation for the move and that the replacement pastor locked members out of the church last week.

West Valley City • About 150 members of the Tongan United Methodist Church on Sunday protested the suspension of their leader, the Rev. Havili Mone, by the church’s Denver-based bishop.

The congregation was told Aug. 13 that Mone had been suspended for 90 days, said Viliami Hosea, and were not given an explanation.

“I think it is an arbitrary decision,” member Daunibau Lotaki said.

Bishop Elaine Stanovsky on Sunday said she received a complaint against Mone stemming from allegations by members of the church. Based on an initial report, she decided to suspend the pastor — which is not uncommon — while seeking a resolution, she said. The content of the complaint is confidential, Stanovsky said.

Stanovsky installed the Rev. Eddie Kelemeni, who is retired and lives in Hawaii, to fill in at the West Valley City church.

Several in the congregation said they came to the church on Friday to make donations for church bills but were blocked by police from entering the premises, at 1553 W. Crystal Ave. (2590 South). Hosea blamed Kelemeni.

“The temporary pastor is preventing us from coming into our church that we built for years,” Hosea said.

However, Sgt. Mike Powell said West Valley City police were at the church Friday because numerous church administrators were concerned there could be a problem. He said officers parked at the entrance to the church to talk with members, but did not block it. Protesters said no one entered the church at that time.

“Ultimately, we made the determination that it was a civil issue,” Powell said.

The bishop, who is based in the Denver area and supervises 400 churches in four states, said she has been in constant contact with staff members to resolve the dispute.

Nearly 150 members of the 600-strong congregation on Sunday held signs and sang at times to show support for Mone, who cannot discuss the complaint because of confidentiality rules, according to his supporters.

Kelemeni told The Tribune that members are free to protest, but not on church property. Powell said there were no problems during Sunday’s protest.

Demonstrators praised Mone’s devotion and hard work. Taniela Lavulo — who is not a member of the Methodist church but is actively involved in its community projects — said Mone’s performance of his duties, both ecclesiastical and administrative, is “unequaled.”

He noted that the pastor oversaw the rebuilding of the church after its original building in Salt Lake City had burned down in 2000 in an accidental fire and that the congregation paid off the mortgage in 2011.

“We want our reverend back,” said Valu Haunga. “He’s the one who built the church.”

Twitter: @PamelaMansonSLC