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Wellington's Ethiopian community finally gets own priest

Radio New Zealand logo Radio New Zealand 3/12/2018

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It has been 15 years in the making, but Wellington's Ethiopian community finally has their own priest.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church plays a huge role in the country's culture and until now services could only be held when a priest from Christchurch and Auckland could visit.

To celebrate their new priest arriving from Ethiopia, the community held a 10-hour-long service on Sunday starting from 3am.

Men, women and children wore their bright white Sunday best and outside were dozen of shoes, as they are not permitted in the main church hall.

From 10am the celebrations began.

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The new priest circled the church three times as is tradition and was followed by the congregation, who were singing, dancing and clapping.

But getting the new priest here was not easy. Churchgoer Ameha Wondirad said they had to first interview the preist, do checks with the church and request a religious working visa.

"It means a lot to us because the process with Immigration New Zealand has taken us more than three years.

"There has been a lot of attempts before with our brothers and sisters but finally now, thanks to god, we have the priest."

Ms Wondirad said the priest would also run a Sunday school for the children.

"We have been holding the schools, but it wasn't as strong as we wanted to be because we want a regular person to follow up with the children, on their manners, culture and their history."

Priest Degu Geddebo said he was excited when he found out his visa was approved.

"I immediately stopped the car, called everyone who was involved in the process. It was amazing."

Mr Geddebo said it had been a long process and the community had wanted their own priest for 15 years.

A few dozen members of the church travelled from Christchurch for the occasion, including 18-year-old New Zealand born Mussetegegene Yegzaw.

He said before there was an Ethiopian church in Christchurch, he learned about the country through his parents.

"Once we got our priest it's when I started getting to know more about our own culture.

"I'm at the stage where I'm loving it and it's helped me through my life, uni, school, everything."

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