Dear Hyde Park Disciples,
Advent is a time of longing, expectation and hope, and is therefore the perfect time to share with you the results of long-term strategic visioning process that our Vision Team has been conducting over the past fourteen months.
I invite you to attend one of the remaining Town Hall Meetings on Dec. 5 or Dec. 9, to hear details of the plan by members of the team. It charts for us an exciting framework of re-centering and refocusing, as we seek to make God’s love real in a changing world.
Before you attend a Town Hall Meeting, I invite you to prayerfully prepare by reading a three-page document I have written called “The State of Religion in a Changing Culture”. I referenced it heavily in my sermon last Sunday, which I invite you to watch. It provides the clearest explanation I can give for why we have come to a critical time in our church’s history, to remember who we are and clarify our work for the future.
I’ve provided a few key highlights here:
1. For most of the history of Christianity in our country, the church has functionally operated as “the religion of the culture,” in the words of former Florida bishop Tim Whitaker. It has been commonly assumed that to be a citizen of a community, one was also a participant in organized religion. That assumption is no longer true:
We are in a time of profound change in the relationship between culture and organized religion. We can no longer assume that participation in church life, or the practice of personal spiritual disciplines, is an assumed aspect of cultural life. Biblical literacy, and even basic fluency in the language of the Christian faith, is no longer a presumptive part of a person’s cultural formation. Many people no longer turn to the church to be an authoritative voice on matters of morality and ethical living.
2. The good news is that God has already given us everything we need to share the good news of Jesus in new ways to a changing world, if only we will claim the vision and do it:
This is the great challenge of Hyde Park United Methodist. We are blessed with a congregation of faithful, generous people who care deeply about the advancement of God’s mission… And we are blessed with an abundance of resources, including facilities, staff, financial resources, and laity to make things happen. But it is not only possible — it is probable — that we are currently equipped to minister to a world that is rapidly diminishing, replaced by a culture in which a growing number of people have little interest in organized religion.
3. At the core of God’s blessings on this church is our Wesleyan heritage, which not only defines who we are, but can be singularly attractive to the 60% (and growing) of the wider population who is disinterested in organized religion:
John Wesley practiced a centered, both/and approach to fusing together oppositional qualities, to create a way of living into the center of the Christian faith. Living out of our Wesleyan heritage is a key to reaching out to the “nones and dones” and the 60% of people disconnected and disinterested in the Gospel. When we offer religion at its best, we help others overcome the problems they have experienced with religion at its worst.
4. So, this is our task, and this is the foundation of our vision for the future:
Ultimately, the task of the church today is not to cater to culture, or to assume privileged status as the religion of the culture. It is to create an alternative community within the culture, that fully embodies the message of the Gospel. It is to create connections between people that deepen their love of God and widen their love to all people. It is to be united in all that we have in common, and to express charitable generosity in what makes us different. And it is to be adaptive in our means to make God’s love real to the world.
I hope you’ll participate in this process by hearing the details of the Vision Plan and joining us at our church conference on Dec. 17 as we adopt this plan with great joy and excitement. The future of this church is a bright one, thanks to the Spirit’s guidance and your full, enthusiastic, participation.
Grace and Peace,
The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist