New Wine in a New Wineskin:

Hopeful vision on The Future of The United Church of Canada

 

Written by John Lee, September 1, 2005

First revision, February 9, 2006

Second revision, March 7, 2006

 

For sharing reflection or comments, email to johnleeucc@sympatico.ca

 

1. INTRODUCTION

Dentonia Park United Church is a family size church located in the sub-urban area of the City of Toronto. Its Sunday attendance ranges between thirty to sixty and average age of membership is seventy as other churches in this area. It is well known that 67% of the churches in North America including Canada is the family size church. Except that this congregation sustains its energy high and recent joining of younger age group, stories of DPUC have common aspects of majority group of the churches.

 

In this pastoral charge 70% of the council members are retired persons, who have been member more than twenty years. Three years ago at DPUC, the chair of UCW resigned after celebrating her ninty's birthday. She tried to recruit the chairperson but the members she contacted were already taking two to three responsibilities. As a result UCW ceased to exist at DPUC and the works of it were taken over by chair of the council.

 

The United Church of Canada had a keen interest on viability of the church in the coming years. Twelve yeas ago Reginald Bibby had research on the United Church and predicted the gray future regarding Church's viability after ten years. Since then membership has been declining continually into half the size while the 90% of the number of congregation. In its reality, it appears as this: all the pastoral charges that applies for settlement, now became half time pastoral charges or closed.

 

Our Church is still viable although it is with some worries. It is by God's grace, I believe, that God loves the world so much. On the other hand, the United Church people are healthy and committed to their continued service for the church even in their eighty's. Church's membership development is a serious and important urgent matter that the church should do something about. Recent launched program, "Emerging Spirit" undertook reseach by Envionics that focused on the age group of 30 to 45 is worth pay attention to think about future. The key concept of this research can be summed up "postmodern ways", and its follow up should be how to deal with postmodern ways and to lean postmodern lifestyle.

 

Important part of my personal experience was to adopt postmodern ways in our church works, and on top of this, to build electronic nerve system with in the Church. It was hard to convince churchy people: the more experience they have the harder to convince. To renew the church into a hopeful body of Christ, we have to change everything except our faith in Christ. People are reluctant to the word "change" and if it becomes "everything" that needs to be changed, they don't listen. But I still am confident that the church should change all things to keep its identity as the body of Christ and relevancy to the changing world.

 

2. CHURCH"S DIRECTION FOR THE FUTURE

To talk about our future church ten year from now, one should have to project what is the shape of the society and the lifestyle of the people after ten years. Here is a brief sketch I made to peep into the family of new WebLifestyle.

 

LIFESTYLE IN 2010

Juno lives with his family of four and his 80 years old mother. In the family room, there is a wall mounted Web display screen that shows the schedule of the day, weather forecast, selected categorized e-news and updated global investement porfolio.

 

On his way to the new client's home office, Juno uses a card-sized WebPhone with a scroll-out screen to find the direction through the map program that is linked to a satellite hovering above the earth. Juno will download real-time traffic data so the self-driving car can take the easiest route. John fills the gas with cyber cash by using the WebPhone and also asks through it Chinese suppliers to find information that his client needed, then to send that info to the client's WebPhone before Juno arrives there.

 

Juno's spouse Marg is Computer Animator who keeps home office. Her other responsibility at home is to educate her two children, one in grade 1 and the other in 3. They have home study program in WebCurriculum and they have small group gathering for group project on Tuesday morning and whole class gathering on Friday morning. Most students use blog - chat or other chatting sights study collaboratively with same group students and other friends around the world. All the courses are monitored by the teacher through the WebChatting. All the subjects are assessed individually except the group works. 

 

Meanwhile, nine-year-old Chris is leadign a WebClass for 30 retired persons who want to learn web skills. He is sharing with them how he first learned to use the web and set up his own personal homepage last year. He has WebPals all around the world. Next class will be on how to assemble their own homepage; how to surf for any topic through the search engin; and how to e-shop.  

 

Chris's gransma reads emails from her 7 grand children around the world and sends out her greetings through her multimedia program. She enjoys WebShopping for her grand children and request the same day delivery service that gurantees 24 hour delivery. She is now learning how to down­load her vital signs, blood readings, and last night's EKG scan. If the visit to the office is required, the doctor will e-mail her to set up a schedule through his webpage.

 

The long term projection of the future lifestyle is almost impossible. Even ten years is not an easy work since the world nowadays experience the hocky stick curve development. If the Church wants to have any plan that fits on changing situation and environment, it is necessary to take two way approach, i.e., future to present and present to future. On top of this real time monitoring and flexibility is a must since it is like a missile tracing a moving object.

 

Therefore the most important thing needed in contemporary project or work is fast information processing through building a communication tool that can be termed as building an electronic nerve system. It is because information and its process became more crucial element in a postmodern society. The answer for the present problems and future direction is in two crucial aspects: adoption of postmodern ways and build electronic nerve system.

 

3. ADOPTION OF POSTMODERN WAYS

When I met young people, it is my habit that I ask if they go to church. Their typical answer is "I used to go to Sunday school. But not anymore." Then my next question is "Why did you stop going to church?" Another typical answer is "It's boring."

 

Many analyse this problem as generation gap or in immigrant families, cross cultural gap. More accurate analysis is the gap between pre/modern and postmodern lifestyle and all the problems reside underneath the lack of communication.

 

To improve and solve the communication problem, Church should find the whole new communication tool that fits with postmodern lifestyle.

 

New wine in a new wineskin

"Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.” (NRSV, Matthew 9:17) 

 

Why new wine in a new wineskin?

The process of fermentation explains why. During the process of fermentation, chemical reactions occur. Through this process, new wine becomes old wine, and at the same time new wineskins, which are soft and flexible, become hard and rigid. This means that if we use an old wineskin for new wine, then the wineskin breaks and the wine spills.

 

It is a simple method of wine making. It also speaks of scientific and practical reasons. Tent maker and leather expert Paul speaks of this analogy for the church’s ministry with wineskins. Through it he speaks of wisdom for doing ministry.

 

What does it mean to say “new wine in a new wineskin” in our ministerial context?

  

My Reflection:

To me, new wineskin refers to our church and new wine refers to the ingredients of the church’s ministry. It can be refered to people with their new ways of working, thinking and acting. Therefore the analagy tells us that we need new ways in our time.

 

To be healthier and safer, we need to go through open discussion of pros and cons when we launch and activate any new project or programs. Especially when it is a first trial, there are uncertainties and more chance to fail, and therefore frequent real time monitoring is a must.

 

If the characteristics of the community are rigid and inflexible, it is like an old wineskin and the newly launched program cannot succeed. To enable these extra steps of additional support, the community and its members need to build a trusting relationship with flexibility through proper communication.

For instance, if any new program goes without any critical discussion between pros and cons, we cannot expect a successful result because fermentation has not taken place

 

We may have our unique understanding of new wineskin and new wine based on our different experiences and ways of thinking.

 

 

 

 

 

 This site is prepared by the Rev. John Young-Jung Lee,

a minister of The United Church of Canada

with volunteers who are committed in the works

of Peace and Justice in our global village 

Volunteers are wecome. Please Contact web master

 

Acknowledgement:

Web planning team: Marion Current, Hannah Lee

Technical support & web designer: David Nam-Joong Kim

 Art design team: Raymond NamKi Jung, Johnny Jong Hyun Jeong

Updated March 5, 2006