The Right Rev Richard Dawson of Dunedin is the new Moderator or elected leader of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. He begins his two year term from Tuesday 15 November 2016.
Richard is minister at St Stephens/Leith Valley Presbyterian Church in Dunedin. Born in Dunedin, he studied at the University of Otago. After graduating in 1980 he worked for Youth For Christ and then as a forestry contractor until 1985. He then studied at the Presbyterian Theological Hall completing his training in 1988.
Richard ministered at the South Otago Presbyterian church of Stirling/Kaitangata/ Lovell’s Flat from 1990 until 1999 when he returned to Dunedin to minister at Leith Valley Presbyterian Church.
In 2002 he helped to launch ‘studentsoul’, a ministry to students of the University of Otago and the Otago Polytech which is hosted by Stephens/Leith Valley Presbyterian.
Richard has served the Presbyterian Church as moderator of the Presbyterian Synod of Otago & Southland, as well as on its Council of Assembly and National Assessment Committee, and was convener of the committee which created the Church’s new confession of faith, Kupu Whakapono.
Richard is married to Fran and together they have three children. Over the past 25 years he and Fran have developed together a team ministry.
Moderator’s theme is hope
Richard’s Moderator theme is ‘hope’. The theme, he says, means to feel one has a future. Without hope, life loses meaning, momentum and importance.
“Hope has an eternal aspect. Paul said, ‘Faith, hope and love abide, and the greatest of these is love.’ We tend to dismiss hope as being less important and overlook how important it is to ordinary folk living daily life. People lose heart when they can’t see a future worth living – and in the Church that’s very much the case.”
The Church, he says, has suffered from poor self-image for a long time, comparing itself negatively to fast-growing churches.
“We’ve been swimming against the current in society, mired in parochial concerns and arguing over things that can’t be fixed in a hurry. Andrew Norton [current Church Moderator] has been tremendous for the Church through his focus on making mission possible and on reshaping the Church,” he affirms. “I just want to back up the horse a bit. In order to motivate people we need to recover a sense of hope. We’re a good news church. Without hope we can’t promote our own story.”