Thursday, April 23, 2015

Walking on Country 2015: educating the whole church

Walking on Country was one of the changes I worked through College as I began as Principal in 2012.

Now in it’s third year, it is envisioned to be a 3/4 day immersive, educational and spiritual experience of Indigenous culture, history, politics and contemporary lifestyle. It began focused on candidates. It has grown, and now includes a variety of ministry agents of the UCA, plus students of the ‘Towards Reconciliation’ Flinders University topic. As I said to someone today, we as a College are playing a role in educating the whole church, not only the candidate part of the church.

The aims are:
1. For participants to learn about the cultural, historical and contemporary life of an Indigenous community
2. For participants to explore ‘decolonisation’ of their colonised thinking and relationships,
3. For participants to develop conceptual, emotional and spiritual foundations for covenanting and friendships with Indigenous communities and the UAICC
4. For participants to commit to a journey of reconciliation with Indigenous Australians, and to the vision for Covenanting in the uniting Church.

This year we walk on Adnyamathanha country in the Flinders Ranges, and explore the dimensions of the Nguthunanga Mai Ambatana – The Lost Children story at Damper Hill. The program consists of preparatory reading, the immersion experience, and some form of post-trip action to continue to relationships begun with Indigenous people.

There are 19 people going. Even more exciting, I’m one of them, taking my turn as a faculty representative. And personally, saying my farewells to the Flinders Ranges, a part of Australia that I love.

Posted by steve at 05:25 AM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

New appointment Lecturer Pastoral Care at Uniting College

Uniting College and Adelaide College of Divinity are pleased to announce the appointment of Rev Kerry Pierce as the new Lecturer in Pastoral Care.

New Lecturer- Kerry Pierce As an ordained minister in the Uniting Church Australia, Kerry has served in placements at West End Uniting and has been a chaplain at Queensland University of Technology, working with ecumenical and interfaith teams.

Mrs Pierce also has experience with Lifeline as a counseling supervisor and trainer and as a tutor at Central Queensland University. She has held membership in the Australian Psychology Society since 1996.

Mrs Pierce is due to complete her Doctor of Ministry through Wesley Theological Seminary Washington DC in May, 2015. Her research has applied the apostle Paul’s cruciform spirituality to adaptive leadership and resource poor congregations.

Her research aligns with the vision of Uniting College to exist to develop life-long disciples for a healthy, missional church, who are passionate, Christ centered, highly skilled mission-orientated practitioners.

Mrs Pierce commented that for her, the process of call included a sense of assurance “that God had a purpose for my ministry in the college.” She will commence in July, teaching Caring Practices of the Church in Semester 2 and working to develop a new range of topics for 2016.

Posted by steve at 06:52 PM | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Situations vacant: Executive Officer (Adelaide College of Divinity)

Adelaide College of Divinity (ACD) is an ecumenical body uniquely placed to generate intellectual, public and ecumenical conversations. It is seeking a dynamic Executive Officer with skills in providing strategic direction, establishing strategic partnerships, and general administration including compliance with relevant legislation. Further details are outlined in the advertisement and Position Description & Person Specification on the ACD website or Uniting Church SA website here. This is a full time position. (0.8FTE would be considered)

Please forward applications addressing the selection criteria to kaye.robertsthomson@adelaide.edu.au by no later than May 11, 2015.

Posted by steve at 06:46 PM | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

thin places

A delightful weekend away in what for me is a bit of thin place. I love the quiet solitude and rich abundance of the Clare Valley. Back in 2008, as my 10 week time as Visiting Scholar at what was then Parkin-Wesley College ended, I took three days of spiritual retreat. I headed for the Clare Valley and walked parts of the Riesling Trail. I contemplated ten life questions, over ten hours between ten different wineries.

Movement and outdoors help me connect with God and the time was a rich time of renewal and reflection. The images of wine-making – of seasons of growing, of the celebration in harvesting, the press-ing complexity of wine-making, the hospitality of wine-tasting – provided a rich set of metaphors by which I considered my unfolding sense of call. (For more, see The Spirituality of Wine). I realised more clearly what gave me joy.

I wondered if I would have the courage to keep saying yes to the journey of leadership that God was calling me into. At the time, this has no precise shape. But within a year, I would be called to be the inaugural Director of Missiology, at Uniting College. Then, two years later, to be Principal.

It was fascinating to return this weekend, some seven years later. Amid the autumn leaves, I considered the seasonal changes I am now experiencing.

Clareleaves

I am in the last months of a summer of rich harvest as Principal, Uniting College for Leadership and Theology. I am six months away from another season, as Principal of Knox College for Ministry and Leadership, (yes with a much colder Winter clime!).

It was a joy to be back in the place that was so rich seven years ago. It was rich to re-engage the metaphors. As one season ends and another begins, will I say yes to areas of growth that I’ve been keen to skip over? Such are the joys, yet challenges, of growth. Such are the blessings of thin places, as we encounter and re-encounter the God who speaks.

Posted by steve at 08:11 PM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Chappie: a theological film review

Monthly I publish a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 90 plus films later, here is the review for April 2015, of Chappie.

Chappie

Bullying is soul destroying. It corrodes confidence, shredding the individual of self-worth. Yet a scene of bullying is instrumental in the success of Chappie.

Chappie, like other films directed by Neill Blomkamp, including Alive in Joburg (2005) and District 9 (2009), is set in South Africa. Similarly, Chappie like District 9, Elysium (2013) and the upcoming Alien project, sees Blomkamp continuing to explore the interplay between human and alien.

In Chappie we are plunged into a future in which crime is soaring. In a city out of control, the South African Police send in robots, equipped to detect and disarm.

As Chappie begins, there is little to love in each of the main characters. Deon (Dev Patel), scientific conceiver of robots, is a workaholic geek. Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman), a work colleague, is the disgruntled loner, determined to build a meaner, more military robotic option. Ninja and Yolandi (named after themselves) are gangsters, needing millions of dollars to pay off a drugs deal gone bad. Chappie is a Police robot, number 22, repeatedly damaged by his encounters the likes of Ninja and Yolinda.

This means that Blomkamp has some major directorial work to do. He has to help us, the audience, find emotional connections with at least one of his unlikeable main characters.

Blomkamp’s answer is bullying. Ninja and Yolandi capture Dion who, in exchange for his life, agrees to load the damaged robot number 22 with artificial intelligence. It generates a classic ethical dilemma, a confrontation between good and evil.

Dion as the robot’s maker expects number 22, now named Chappie, to refuse to commit crime. Ninja, as the gangster, works to enlist Chappie in order to repay his drugs debts. Thus Chappie finds himself exposed to the real world, where he will be stoned by a group of boys and tortured by Vincent Moore.

It is these scenes of bullying that allow the audience to connect with a robot. It is an astonishing piece of storytelling. Chappie, a robot becomes a loveable main character. Through pain, a piece of metal gains our affection.

In doing so Blomkamp ushers in a wide range of theological themes, including identity, faith and hope. Watching Chappie with a church group would open up significant discussions about the Christian understanding of being human. The downloading of consciousness to create a new body opens up ways to explore the Christian understanding of the resurrection of the dead. The conversation in which Chappie asks Deon why he built him to die offers a rich introduction to Christian notions of freewill in a created creation.

Despite Blomkamp’s feats of storytelling and the resultant feast of theological themes, Chappie comes with significant plot holes. The movie unsettles as it wobbles uneasily between comedy and pathos. The genre of comedy works because it amplifies (for more see the brilliant Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art). What Blomkamp chooses to amplify leaves the viewer caught. Watching Chappie a robot, being stoned is as funny as it as disturbing. But then perhaps that is actually how bullying starts, as what begins as fun for one ushers in pain for another.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal at the Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, Adelaide. He is the author of The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change, (Zondervan, 2005) and writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 11:16 PM | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

witnesses of a wounded church: sermon on Luke 24 (Easter 3)

A sermon I preached among our candidates and Faculty. The Biblical text was Luke 24:36b-48 (Easter 3) and I have been reflecting on being Christian in a country with such a tragic historical relationship with indigenous peoples.

On Saturday, I was offered front row seats at the episcopal ordination of Chris McLeod as Assistant Bishop with special responsibility for ministry alongside Aboriginal people in South Australia. It was amazing to drive down King William Road at 9 am on Saturday morning and to see Bishops from all over Australia and New Zealand all dressed up.

ordination outside st peters

And behind them to see clouds of smoke from an indigenous Kaurna smoking ceremony, billowing above their heads. I wondering if St Peters Cathedral was on fire for a minute.

Chris is the first ever Aboriginal Bishop in South Australia; and the 3rd ever in Australia. Chris is one of my PhD students, hence my ability to secure a front row seating. Closer to the action even that all the Clergy, including Peter, Vicky’s husband.

ordination Chris McLeod

The ordination made major news, with footage on Channel 7 on Saturday night and in the Sunday Times yesterday. When interviewed by channel 7, the sound bite they grabbed was of Chris saying he hoped to a Bishop of healing. It struck me as a rich way to understand our Bible text, the Gospel reading for Easter 3; Sunday April 19. In particular the last words from the reading, from verse 48 – you are witnesses of these things.

I’m a missiologist, so when the word witness pops up in the Bible text, I pay particular attention. When I’m working with church groups I often suggest that “witness” is a better word for us to use than “evangelism.” Witnesses simply pass on what they experience. In court the task of an eyewitness is to report what you see. No hearsay, no interpretation, no guesses at motives or the big picture. Simply be a witness.

For most church groups, this is encouragement. And challenge. Encouragement, because there’s a simplicity when evangelism becomes report what you see. You don’t need to know everything. You don’t need to be skilled at apologetics. You don’t need to know all the story. You don’t even need to have done Heritage and Polity or Church, Ministry Sacraments. So that’s an encouragement. We’re to be witnesses. It’s as simple and as honest as report what you see.

But alongside the encouragement, there’s also challenge. Do you have a faith story that’s active enough to witness to? Can you share of healing. Or are you stuck nursing your resentment and pain, polishing it for revenge? For a mainline church like the Uniting, when at times being a church member has been linked to social status, the invitation to be a witness becomes a particular challenge.

I love the way that “witness” in this Bible text is so framed by experience. The disciples are startled and terrified in v. 37. Those are pretty honest words to keep in your story of witness. Jesus responses with “Touch me and see” (v. 39). That’s a pretty experiential approach to being a witness. And by eating fish in v. 43. That’s a very practical response to being risen.

I love that these honest and experiential and practical details are included, presumably as an example of what being a witness will actually look like. It will involve telling the honest and experiential and practical details. Which helps me make sense of the ordination of Chris. He hopes to be a Bishop of healing. For Chris to do that there’ll need to be remembering. And a grieving. You see, Chris’s mother and grandmother are stolen generation.

And so Chris can’t tell his story without telling their story. And in so doing, telling the story of a church, who contributed to their pain. That’s what will need to happen as Chris sets out to be a witness to healing.

I’ve been reading Australian Catholic theologian, Nieil Ormerod’s lastest book, Re-Visioning the Church: An Experiment in Systematic-Historical Ecclesiology. Neil looks at the church through history. He divides history up into eras and every Era he gives a name. And the name he gives to this era, the era we’re all in together, is the Era of the Wounded Church.

And it’s in this Era of the Wounded Church that you and I are called to be a witness. It’s in the era of woundednes that you are seeking to exercise ordained ministry in the Uniting Church.

Which means, taking into account the Ordination on Saturday, our witness must to include our woundedness, the woundedness of the church. That’s the only way for our story to have the human and experiential and practical details which are so clearly part of being a witness here in the Luke 24. Being startled and terrified. Touch my wound, and see.

Neil Ormerod (Re-Visioning the Church: An Experiment in Systematic-Historical Ecclesiology) talks about the defensiveness that has emerged within the Catholic church as it is wounded. But also about the creativity that’s also been part of the church’s story, how the church has transformed itself through history. And by how the strongest transformation’s have occurred when mission has been the integrating principle.

So the church in the Era of woundedness can chose to be a defensive witness. Or an honest, truthtelling, finding creative transformation in mission witness. You are witnesses of these things.

The Uniting Church recently agreed to a new Preamble to its Constitution. Which begins, As the Church believes God guided it into union so it believes that God is calling it to continually seek a renewal of its life as a community of First Peoples and of Second Peoples from many lands.

Continually seek a renewal.

After the ordination on Saturday, I got talking to a Uniting Church colleague. And he said that he and his mob really hoped this is ordination was not just symbolic. That it would actually lead to real change.

And we could ask the same about the Preamble. How is it practically, continually renewing our witness. As a College. As individuals. Because every one of us who lives in Australia, we are witnesses of these things.

Posted by steve at 07:49 PM | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

picnic rugs, being church and mission planning

I’ve been sitting for the last few days with Faith Ringgold’s art. Titled Church Picnic Story Quilt, 1988, it is tie-dyed and printed fabrics; acrylic on cotton canvas. It tells the often bittersweet history of daily life in Black America from a personal and feminist perspective, combining traditions of storytelling and quilt-making in her painted “story quilts.” Because of copyright, I’ll simply provide a link.

It is a visual resource suggested by Imaging the Word: An Arts and Lectionary Resource, the fabulous visual lectionary resource. It is suggested to accompany the lectionary reading – Acts 4:32-37.

It strikes me as a helpful way to think about being church on mission. The quilt is about a church picnic, of Freedom Baptist Church. It’s outdoors and that’s always a more public space for a church. The picnic involves various families on rugs. They’ve got their food spread out on the rugs and I like to think that’s a gesture of sharing. Each rug, and each of the dishes on the rugs, is distinctive and I like to think that each family is bringing something unique, a food that they especially enjoy and especially enjoy preparing. There are children running around and I like to think they are acting as ice-breakers, providing a way to ease into relationships and create connections across rugs.

It got me thinking about appreciative enquiry, (Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change) and how it emerges so easily from this art image.

- What is your dish? In other words, what are the unique gifts of your community you would like to share? What efforts would you make to ensure you give time to offering that unique dishes?

- What are the public spaces in which you need to spread your rug? In other words, where, outside your building, and in what community, are you spreading your rug? What do you value about that space?

- Who, in your community, are the children, the people that create connections? What efforts could you put into nourishing those strengths?

I would suggest that with about 30 minutes in groups working on these questions, a church would have found some rich material for their mission planning. They would have established their strengths, the strengths of their context and how they might go about connecting their strengths with the strengths of their community.

Such is the gift of an art piece of a picnic rig and some well chosen questions.

Posted by steve at 10:43 PM | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The Trinity as two processions in mission: a post-colonial proposal for evaluating ecclesial life

A precis of some reading, thinking, writing and chatting (with anyone I think might even be vaguely interested in listening).

How to evaluate the mission life of a church? Popular measures include numerical, economic (can we afford a minister and building) and romantic (the good old days). This paper will explore the measures that emerge when the Trinity is understood as one God, three Persons and two processions in mission. It will seek to develop the work of Bernard Lonergan, in conversation with Neil Ormerod. It will analyse their understandings, including paying particular attention to the understandings of Spirit and mission embedded in the Uniting Church Preamble. This provides a post-colonial voice in the development of a proposal for a post-colonial missional ecclesiology. Four markers will be identified and tested on a case study: the author’s empirical research into fresh expressions of the church ten years on.

Which I get to present, Monday, 4 May, Uniting College for Leadership and Theology Research hour, 4-5 pm.

Posted by steve at 10:45 AM | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Doctorate in the Practices of Monastic Spirituality

Congratulations to Gary Stuckey, with news last week that his doctoral thesis has gained examiners approval and he will graduate Doctor Gary in May. I’ve been working with Gary for the last four years on his Doctor of Ministry. It was a fascinating project that mixed having a go, critical reflection and deep reading in the Christian tradition.

Essentially Gary tried to plant a fresh expression of monastic spirituality. He used a short course approach, offering a year long training in monastic spirituality. At the same time, in order to rigourously test his practice, he sought to measure participant’s spiritual experience, at the start, middle and end.

His thesis reflects on his learnings, all the while reading deeply from across the centuries in how monastic patterns were developed and how they sought to form faith. At the same time, Gary becomes increasingly dis-enchanted with what he considers the historical rootlessness of much of what currently trades as new monasticism.

Finding Your Inner Monk: Development, Presentation and Assessment of the Effectiveness of a Program Introducing the Practices of Monastic Spirituality

With a growing interest in monastic spirituality, Gary Stuckey developed and presented a program introducing participants to historic monastic spirituality and its contemporary significance, and spiritual practices drawn from the Benedictine tradition. His thesis assessed the effectiveness of the program in enhancing participant’s spiritual experience as measured by the Daily Spiritual Experience Scale. The project also identified each participant’s spirituality type with a view to determining whether or not it was people with a more contemplative nature who were attracted to and benefited from the program. Gary found that the program did help enrich people’s spiritual experience. The resource material presented, the learning of and reflecting on spiritual practices, and discussion with other participants were major factors in the outcome. While most participants were of a contemplative type, not all were. Those who were not generally benefited from the program, opening the possibility of its wider application in the future.

It was a fascinating and multi-faceted project to supervise, by a creative, dedicated and hard-working person.

Posted by steve at 12:32 PM | Comments (5)

Thursday, April 02, 2015

The use of Godly play and colour in entering Easter week

At chapel this week, I wanted to offer participants a way to enter Easter week. Our staff and students come from a wide range of churches, and it’s important those places provide the story of Easter Friday and Sunday.

So how to point folk toward Easter, without preemptively telling the story?

So I dragged two resources out of my creativity box.

First, my Holy week in colour resource. I made this last year, for an Easter youth camp. It involves a colour for each day of the week. It provides a useful memory aid to get folk into the story.

colouringholyweek

  • Green on Palm Sunday, to remember those who waved palms and celebrated Jesus entering a city.
  • Red on Monday, because on Monday (in Mark’s gospel), Jesus got angry, red-faced, in the temple.
  • Brown on Tuesday, to recall Jesus words that unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it can not produce many seeds.
  • Lavender on Wednesday, to remember perfume, and the extravagant, expensive love of an unnamed woman, who poured what was possibly her family hierloom onto Jesus head.
  • Blue on Thursday, to express the feelings of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, a soul deeply distressed, troubled, overwhelmed.
  • Black on Friday, for on this day God died.
  • Grey on Saturday, for on this day all of creation mourned.
  • Gold leaf, etched with rainbow colours on the Sunday, for on this day life to the full in the here and now was re-defined.
  • As a result, on Monday, I have cut two pathways of response into my board, for on Monday, the events of this week leave us with some choices. How then will we live, in light of the events of this week.

Second, a sort of Godly play experience that I wrote for an all-age service a few years ago.  It involves a symbol for each day of the week. The symbols are placed around the building and people invited to find and bring them.

Third, I wove communion into the worship. By the time people had brought bread and wine, by the time I had told the story of Easter Thursday eve, it just seemed so natural to celebrate together.

For those interested, here is my full script. (more…)

Posted by steve at 06:24 PM

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

a forgotten fragrance: a strugglers reading of Mary and Martha story

Confession time. My supervisor is always inviting me to reflect on my work life balance. He notes that I’m a loyal person with a strong work ethic. I like doing things well. But while this makes me a great person to employ, it can perhaps at times, come at the expense of family and personal time.

Given my supervisors (wise) words, I find myself this week struggling as I read the story of Mary and Martha in John 12. Here’s why.

The story begins well enough. There is a party being thrown in Jesus honour.

At this party, we read that Martha serves (12:2).

In the next verse, we read that Mary anoints (12:3). She takes a pound of perfume and annoints Jesus feet. “The whole house is filled with perfume.” (12:3)

It is at this moment that I begin to struggle. Why does the Bible name one fragrance, but not another? The fragrance of the perfume is named. But what about the scent of the banquet? What about the service of Martha, her slaving over a hot stove?

Both Martha and Mary provide sacrificial acts. Why does one make Gospel news, gain attention, while another seems to slip by, unnoticed?

One response is that the act of anointing is symbolic. This suggestion has three layers. First, the breaking of the bottle of perfume is a first scent in the events of Easter Friday, in which the body of Jesus is broken for the world. Second, the anointing is a first scent in the events of Easter Sunday, in which women will seek to anoint the risen body of Jesus. Third, the annointing is a first scent in the unfolding mission of God, in which the Gospel is proclaimed.

But isn’t Martha’s act of service equally symbolic? Doesn’t it also have these same three layers. First, the events of Easter Thursday in which Jesus will serve the community. Second the events post-Resurrection when Jesus will serve a breakfast banquet for some hungry disciples. Third, the essential nature of service in the unfolding mission of God?

This is why I struggle with the Mary and Martha story. While two women are serving, one act of service seems privileged. Both acts are full of symbolism, both carry the scent of Jesus death, resurrection and the unfolding mission of the church.

Perhaps I struggle because of where I read the text from. Hence my initial confession. Perhaps at times I need to be a bit more “wasteful”, to simply stop serving in order to make a grand gesture of worship.

Perhaps I also struggle because I’m conflating too quickly this story in John with the story in Luke. In Luke 10:38-42, Martha serves, while Mary listens at the feet of Jesus. Martha needs help with her serving and so, pointing at Mary, asks Jesus for help. Jesus responds that it is better to sit than to serve. And at that moment, I wonder who Jesus really expects will do the work. Is this an equal opportunities kitchen, where after extended sitting, all three will do the housework?

Today I will continue to ponder the story of Mary and Martha in John 12. I will look for moments when I can pause and offer an extravagant act of love. But I will also look for the “Martha’s”, those who serve quietly in unnoticed ways. I want to pause and thank them for their participation in Christ’s death, resurrection and mission.

Posted by steve at 10:07 AM

Friday, March 27, 2015

developing a bottom up vision statement

On Tuesday, I was in a group in which the purpose question was asked:  “What is the purpose of your organisation?”  The whole question of why an organisation exists is crucial. It provides clarity. It allows you to say yes to things and no to things. It provides motivation.

At our team meeting on Thursday, I decided to take the story from Tuesday, tell it and ask the question of the team.  “What is the purpose of our organisation?”   In our case, we’re a theological college. We are in a re-building team phase, with at least four folk new in the last few months. So the question would not only provide clarity, guidance and motivation. It would also help with team building and re-building.

In order to resource the conversation, I used the Signposts resource.

vision2

It involves a whole range of pictures, printed on card, with a few phrases. It’s visual and tactile.  I spread them around the room and invited the team out of their seat and to each find a card that they felt answered the question – What is the purpose of a theological College?  Returning to our seats, we each shared our cards.

vision1

I then offered two options. (We normally set aside 30 minutes in our team meeting for devotion and community time,).  One option was to share with each other a moment recently when we had seen our card in action. This took the ideal of why we exist and located it in our life as a group. It allowed for encouragement.

The other option was that everyone was asked to leave their cards on the table. And if folk wanted, they could try and find a sentence that wove together all of the cards.  This was a far harder option and I wasn’t sure if there would be any takers, let alone any success.

But I was amazed, within 15 minutes, the group reported back they had a sentence. Within 30 minutes, with the help of one question (What is our purpose?) and a set of visuals, we had developed, from the bottom up, with the input of every voice in the team, a rough vision statement.

Posted by steve at 05:38 PM

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

engaging innovation in cultural change

As a Uniting College, we have a number of innovation projects that this year are moving from dream to reality.

We have a Certificate in Bible and Leadership for English as a Second Language. This began as a dream at the start of last year. Funding was obtained and by the middle of the year, a person appointed. After research and networking, at the start of this year they offered a trial topic. Seven students, from six different nationalities have begun.

We have a Big Year Out, designed to grow young adults in ministry and mission. Last year it was touch and go, with four students and a lot of learning. This year we have seven students and a much clearer idea of where we are going.

We have a Diploma of Ministry, with a specialisation in chaplaincy. This began back as a spark late in 2012 and since then we’ve offered an annual topic in the Theology and Practice of Chaplaincy. This year we’re about to graduate our first student, who has completed the entire course by distance, from New South Wales. It’s a great story of an innovation becoming a reality.

Together, these programmes are changing the shape of our student cohort. It is younger, more multi-cultural with a greater breadth in conversation, vocation and passion.

Each of these areas are led by a dedicated and gifted leader. They are part-time, so there is a risk of a sense of isolation from the wider Uniting College team. So as part of our team retreat this year, I designed a process that would help the team connect with these parts of our life.

Here’s what I suggested. That each of these dedicated and gifted leaders share, for around 25-30 minutes each. First, in 10 minutes, the individual share with the team

  • 3 challenges they face in implementing their role in 2015
  • 2 things they most need from the team
  • 1 question they don’t currently know the answer too

Second, in 15 minutes the team respond to the one question. Whether in groups or as a whole group, we as a team offer our good minds in working with the challenges these innovations face.  My hope was that as a result of this process, we as a team would be better informed, that individuals would feel heard and supported and that from the brainstorming some constructive ideas might emerge.

The process worked well.  The energy in the room went right up. The discussion was deep, rich and engaging.

But the next day, something unexpected happened.  We were discussing our team values and someone piped up. “We need to add take risk and celebrate failure. You see, we’ve got all these innovations happening and one way to support them is to be willing to risk and learn in our journey together.”  And around the room, the team nodded.

It was a lovely moment to watch. I don’t know many theological colleges that have risk and fail in their team values. One of my goals in becoming Principal was to increase the innovative capacity of the organisation and here it was emerging so spontaneously and naturally, from the team, not me.  Engaging innovation was resulting in cultural change. Simply by creating processes to listen and reflect.

Posted by steve at 09:01 PM

Friday, March 20, 2015

activist researchers and community up research as fresh words and deeds

One of the benefits of being at Uniting College is our connection with Flinders University. This includes their extensive professional development workshops. So yesterday, on a beautiful autumn morning, I found myself learning about models for successful post-graduate supervision.  I currently am involved in supervising 9 postgraduate students- 5 PHD students, 3 DMin, 1 MMin – so it was a morning bound to benefit not only myself, but a number of gifted, competent and hard-working colleagues in ministry.

During the morning, the presenter noted that only 15% of those who gain PhD’s in the United States find academic work. This is partly because of a shrinking job market and growth in PhD candidates. But it is also, according to research, because people study for many reasons. These include those who have no desire for an academic job. Instead, they research because they want to impact a group they are working with, or bring change to wider society.

A word began to rattle around in my head “activist researchers” – those who study in the hope of wider change.

It made sense of my own PhD journey. I was planting a new form of church and it was attracting considerable critique.  So the PhD was a change to think deeply about what I was doing. I deliberately wanted to expose my musings to rigorous processes of thought, both for my sake, for the sake of those who were joining this experiment in mission and for the sake of the church in society today.  Academic work (at that time) was the last thing on my mind. (Ironic now I realise :))

Now I’m not saying that those who find academic work are not activists! (I’d like to argue I’m an activist academic, but that’s for another post). I’m simply noting that this is a very different motivation from say those who study to get a good job, or to become a lecturer.

It also makes sense of the students I supervise.  Everyone of them has a question that has bugged them. They turn to post-graduate study in order to have a sustained period of in-depth reflection. The reward is personal and societal. They want to be better practitioners in their field, they want to be part of making a difference.  They also are “activist researchers.”

The church I serve, the Uniting Church, makes specific mention in it’s founding documents of scholarship.  Paragraph 11 of the Basis of Union acknowledges that God gives to the church “faithful and scholarly interpreters of Scripture.” What is interesting is how these scholars (and presumably their research?) is placed in this paragraph within an activist framework.  “The Uniting Church thanks God for the continuing witness and service of evangelist, of scholar, of prophet and of martyr.”  In other words, the Uniting Church does not conceive of the stand alone scholar (or the stand alone theological college). Instead, it envisages partnerships among evangelists, scholars, prophets and martyrs.  (Funny how we have theological colleges for scholars, but not colleges for evangelists, prophets and martyrs).

And the horizons, in the Basis of Union, for all these charisms is activist – “It prays that it may be ready when occasion demands to confess the Lord in fresh words and deeds.” The task of scholars and research is, in partnership with other parts of the body, to be a pilgrim people on mission.

This then suggests some interesting implications for research methodologies.  How do scholars work on partnership with these wider gifts? How does the thinking and writing serve these missional horizons?

At this point I’d turn to the Community Up framework provided by Linda Smith. In Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies, she notes that the “term research is inextricably linked to European imperialism and colonialism.” (4)   She advocates that we stop thinking about research from the perspective of the researcher, and instead consider those researched.  This involves “community up” research, in which the research practices are forms of critical pedagogy. They transform the world. (5)  Researchers “map concrete performances that lead to positive social transformations. They embody ways of resisting the process of colonization.” (12)

So this is activist research. It does not need itself to activate. But it does need to uncover the performances that will benefit the community. Which sounds to me like “fresh words and deeds.” And made me glad of the activist researchers that I know and work with.

Posted by steve at 10:46 AM