Rev Dr Frank Hanson, former Executive Director of the Methodist Education Division (1978-89) and Principal of Trinity Theological College (1989 – 99) reflects on his life in ministry and how his priorities may have changed if he had his time over.
In my dotage I have been thinking what it might be like for me if I were a young person again, now preparing for the Methodist ministry. Over 65 years ago I was doing just that. I was working full-time in the Department of Justice (to get some life experience), doing some part-time lectures at Victoria University, attending Leaders, Circuit and Synod Meetings in Lower Hutt and Wellington, undertaking Lay Preacher’s Training classes and some services in the Hutt Valley. I was active in Boys Brigade and Bible Class leadership and involved in sporting activities. All this was firmly set on preparing for candidature for the Methodist ministry. That was something I eventually embarked on in the Wellington Synod and then Conference in 1956, along with my contemporaries, David Mullan and Max Hornblow.
If I had my time over again I wonder what would be important to me now in my preparation? Let me set out a few thoughts of relevance for myself, not intended as a blueprint for others.
1) I would seek to become as technologically literate and competent as possible. I would have grown up with the computer, the smart phone, and other essential contemporary equipment. However I would want more than that. “Communication” has always been a basic part of the ministerial vocation whether through worship leadership and preaching, or written material, or in the variety of conversations and leadership functions that come the presbyter’s way. Today’s communication competence needs to be more sophisticated and creative and I would need to sharpen my skills.
2) I would try to be more knowledgeable of contemporary literature and music. During my career I read myriads of books on theology, biblical studies, Christian education, spirituality, Christian history and Christian magazines. They were a major part of my life and the church’s book allowances were incentives to spend in that direction. I don’t decry their importance. But in that time I rarely picked up an important book of modern fiction or contemporary poems or aspects of world affairs. It was only with the onset of feminist and liberation theology that I began to read books by women authors. I must say that since retirement, some 20+ years ago, the proportions have shifted in the opposite direction – for which I am grateful. I wish it had started much earlier.
3) I would work diligently at learning te reo. I have had two or three abortive attempts at learning the Maori language during my lifetime. In fact I am still trying. But I’m afraid my capacity to persist has been rather weak. If I were 20 again I would have grown up surrounded by Maori language and culture. But that would not be enough. The importance of the use of Maori language is going to increase throughout our society in the future and those who deny it are looking backward and not forward. Even more importantly, I would be candidating for “a bicultural church seeking to become multicultural”, as it was expressed in the 1980s.
I am sure there would be other areas where I would want to spend what time and energy I had. Perhaps I would be setting for myself some impossible “extras” given what else I would be trying to accomplish. I know too that some of these areas would be supplemented and built on in further education, including theological college. I also know that what I would feel right for me would not be right for others. I am not intending to lay these on anyone of a younger generation. It’s where my thinking has taken me to-day. Tomorrow might be different!
But there is one thing that is not different. Although it is hard, demanding and beset with numerous frustrations, I would still imagine Christian ministry as an exciting place to be. And if I were 20 again, I would still commit to the same track – if the church would have me!