21 September 2021
From Assembly - Dean Drayton address
Note Minister's Assembly report is under Sermons
Dear People of St Johns and St Philips Parish
At the General Assembly in Christchurch in September the Rev Dr Dean Drayton was the keynote speaker. I give you some of his thoughts to think about as we seek to discern our place in Papatoetoe today.
"My message for the Presbyterians is the same one I have given in many parts of the Western World. There has been a massive change in church participation since the late 1960s - a whole generation has not had the experience of life in the church. We have lost our ability to communicate with our offspring. So the big question is how do we start again?
This has happened before in church history. We are living in one of those periods of great transition When that happens, we have to look back at what we've done, then look at our options and see what is emerging. In the midst of that, we pray that God will give us those clear directions so that we can chart them."
When asked about the Presbyterian Church's future in New Zealand, Dr Drayton said, "The Church here has been concentrating on building healthy congregations. Linked to that is the question of how a congregation relates to the community of which it is a part. The way in which we worship can indicate that God is only found in the building in which people are worshipping. Or we can worship in such a way that it?s clear that the living God is at work in the whole creation. That can have radical consequences for the life of the church."
Over the last 200 years, the denominational structure has focused on getting people to come and join us. What we are discovering, across all the major denominations, is that God actually says, ?It is not for you to decide that they should come to you for worship. I am sending you as communities into the midst of society.? That's the sort of revolution that's under way"
In the third Keynote address Dean Drayton said " Mission depends on context, and the context is changing. Something dramatic is happening in the way people respond to church. Census figures and the National Church Life Survey reveals a new generation which has said to the denominations, "we owe you no allegiance, we give you no authority".
We are moving from a denominational church to a new form of mission church.. Denominations will not disappear but they must morph into new forms. We are now living on the shadow side of denominationalism.
Every major social change requires the church to change the way it does its mission"
Starting from the Reformation in Europe , he analysed how, over time, previously national churches had allowed other religious groups, and churches from other nations, to emerge. In Virginia , North America , the church was first separated from the State in 1786 and the denomination was born. From then on, these changes meant that people had to opt into church membership rather than be automatically involved."
Having to opt in has radical consequences for the way churches relate to society. A denomination is in the situation of having to gain new members (and income) as much as it is about making Jesus known. It becomes impossible to just be a "Christian" you have to be a brand of Christian, just like a brand of car. Each congregation requires a leader, a minister. A congregation tends to be minister-centred, and falls apart if the leader is inadequate.
Each denomination has its own originating figures, saints, polity, language. There is religious competition, as congregations appeal to different styles from the super-enthusiastic to the super-rational. There is no guarantee that there will be a next generation of believers.
Over the years, these consequences have led to movements, such as the Sunday Schools, bringing in the next generation, and the invention of methods of evangelism to reach adults in society. A new word, 'outreach' emerged, and with it, the sense that 'inreach' should follow.
It also led implicitly to the assumption that God is found in church - even in church buildings, and the church became the 'house of God'.
Socially, the Gospel as proclaimed has turned inward. It focused on the inner self, the inward faith journey. The public realm increasingly became alien territory."
An emerging mission for the 21st century
From 1950 to 1980, internationally throughout the churches - Vatican II, Lausanne , other international gatherings, a new understanding of mission emerged. "God was seen to be the missionary, sending the church, as a community, into the society which God loves, rather than the approach "come join us so we can survive". The direction is reversed.
We're now facing the task of finding the new forms, a post-denominational way in which, as a community, we are sent to be a sign, a sacrament, a witness, of the way of Christ in our society. In this context, the congregation comes to the fore. The congregation comes together to worship, care for its own members, relate to other congregations, share in Christ's mission to the community and relate to the wider church This requires discernment by the congregation of its mission. No longer is the denomination or the congregation the base for mission. Now it is the congregation itself which is sent."
Something from General Assembly for you to think about - and remember that at the end it is God's mission that we do and God's love that calls us into being church. Thanks be to God
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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