A Talk by Director-in-Chief of Administrative Affairs Zensuke Nakata (Delivered on August 27, 2020)

Toward Churches That Implement Salvation Work

Earlier, I mentioned the 150th Anniversary of Oyasama and the 200th Anniversary of Tenrikyo as a possible timeframe for fresh endeavors. I have proposed that we do everything we can to show Oyasama a new level of our spiritedness as we move toward the dual anniversaries. However, who should do what and what should we be like in order to bring joy to Oyasama? It is most important for us to think about and envision what we would like the Tenrikyo community to look like when the anniversaries come.

We can start by thinking about exactly who will be at our churches in 16 or 17 years. What sort of people may have become part of our church communities by that time? What sort of problems and challenges in society will our churches be addressing? We can begin by giving thought to these questions.

Often churches set the goal of having a sufficient number of people to perform the service as soon as possible. This goal has to do with appearance. It is, of course, an important goal of a church but, in the end, such a goal cannot be achieved unless the church works to make sure that its members actually engage in salvation work. The ultimate goal of a Tenrikyo church is single-hearted salvation. It involves helping people in society who are facing difficulties and challenges. In fact, all activities of the path are interconnected when considered from the point of view of salvation work.

The purpose of nurturing young people and children in Tenrikyo is to help them grow into those who will contribute to single-hearted salvation, not particularly into those who will help manage and maintain our churches. The latter is a side result, not the intended outcome. Tenrikyo’s nurturing of people should not be inward-looking but outward-looking. At present, however, almost all our activities, not just those related to nurturing young people, seem to be inward-looking. In fact, even the effort to spread the teachings—which may appear to be outward-looking—often seems to be inward-looking. Since everything is static now during the pandemic, we have a perfect opportunity to go back to the drawing board and make a fresh start.

Every church is different in terms of its locality’s characteristics and features, as well as its history and present activities, not to mention the specific people and age groups involved in its church community. There is no need for all churches—or, for that matter, for all local Tenrikyo communities, whether based in regions or districts—to conduct exactly the same activities, which would entail ignoring the differences such as those I have mentioned. It is true that it is important for different church affiliations and different local Tenrikyo communities to cooperate together, reach out to and give encouragement to one another, and be aware of one another’s activities and efforts. Given that there is only one Tenrikyo community from the point of view of society at large, it is necessary, at times, for all of us to carry out activities involving the entire Tenrikyo community so that society can see that we are moving forward in unity of mind. In the sense that we are all devoting our efforts to single-hearted salvation, all of us who are following the path are connected by one common activity. However, it goes without saying that we are carrying out different activities in terms of the specific efforts we make to help people with health conditions and other challenges.

Even now, there still are many Tenrikyo churches that are lively and thriving. This suggests that there are ways in which our churches can conduct their activities effectively. It is likely that successful churches are carrying out their salvation work in a way that is matched to the needs of the world. If we look around us, we see many in society today who are facing challenges and are desperately seeking help. We ought to pay attention and do what we can to give help where it is needed most. There must be many ways in which our churches can build on their strengths.

As our practice of administering the Sazuke indicates, salvation work always involves someone we try to help. We would do well to pay more attention to the world around us to become aware of the challenges facing people nearby, and we should learn about the nature of their challenges and difficulties. We ought to reach out to the people we have noticed, making it our priority to help save them. As for explaining the teachings to them, it can wait until after the initial stage. I believe that conducting our activities while focusing on the needs of people facing challenges—without prioritizing what we think they need—will, ultimately, increase our churches’ strength to do salvation work.

Another thing worth bringing up is that none of our churches has the capacity to accomplish everything on their own. However, if you look at churches that are carrying out their activities in a way that is lively, I think you notice that their activities have their own particular characteristics. For instance, some churches are focusing on the Boys and Girls Association activities, which are intended for children but which help these churches reach out to the children’s parents as well. On the other hand, some churches are paying particular attention to the elderly. Again, some churches are focusing on parents and children, as well as husbands and wives. Some churches are conducting activities aimed at helping their local communities in some way. Some churches are trying to help people who are socially maladjusted or those who have committed crime. There are also churches where some members have taken an interest in some specific medical conditions or social issues, perhaps as a result of their personal encounters with them, and have studied those areas. It seems that these people have gained a certain level of expertise in their particular areas and are able to help those facing such challenges. Through efforts and endeavors such as these, many churches seem to be playing active roles in the work of single-hearted salvation.

Please do not misunderstand what I am saying here. Paying attention to society and studying some specific areas does not mean studying something professionally or undergoing professional training in some field. Rather, what I am suggesting is that we can engage in salvation work in a way that focuses on certain areas and gain experience in those areas. We do not need to become experts in specific areas; rather, we should try to acquire knowledge that we need in order to do what we do as experts in salvation work. Our role is to perform salvation work. When we need specialized knowledge of a certain area, we can ask experts in that area. Conversely, experts often show respect to the perspective and spirituality offered in the path as they seek, for example, to help their patients recover.

Exactly what sort of church do we want our churches to be? What sort of activities do we need to conduct if our churches are to become that sort of church? I would like to see answers to these questions explored from various points of view. Although today’s talk is rather abstract, I believe that, if our individual churches set clear goals for themselves and come up with concrete and easy-to-understand plans for how to implement the teachings in daily life to achieve their goals, they will be able to enrich their church substance. Then these churches will not only be able to gain acceptance and understanding from the wider community but also receive requests for advice and help. This can lead to new people joining the church communities and being saved. As these people grow spiritually, they can then, in turn, start to play a role in salvation work by helping others with challenges familiar to them by building on their own experience of being saved. If, in this way, similar causalities bring people together to create a positive cycle, that will be a wonderful blessing. I would encourage you to work toward that sort of church where such joy of salvation flows forth.

The dual anniversaries are only 16 or 17 years away. It is important, first of all, to transform our outlook and achieve a new level of spiritedness with which to work toward the anniversaries. It does not matter if what you do is small; it is spiritedness that counts. What is important is how we are going to near the Joyous Life as we move toward the future. This will require both young people’s spirited strength and older people’s solid capability to provide care and guidance.

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