Thursday, July 17, 2014

‘Urban Life Together’ Conference

A great initiative in Melbourne, with a call for papers for an ‘Urban Life Together’ Conference, 17-18 October, 2014. It hopes to bring together Christian activists, thinkers, leaders and practitioners to interact around urban mission.

Input is invited from practitioners, leaders, activists, researchers and students to explore themes or relate issues or case studies. Either a 30 minute paper, or a 10 minute presentation. I’m keen to encourage this, so in a somewhat playful mode, have offered two presentations.

Presentation one – Fresh or failed? Sustainable practices in new forms of church

Perhaps, the biggest challenge is not starting but sustaining for new forms of church. This presentation will tell the story of new forms of church ten years on, based on longitudinal research in Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom.

It will identify three sustainable practices – ember theology, shifting from key leaders to key values and building catholicity. Biblically, it will dialogue with Epaphroditus and the Philippian church, outlining five layers of sustainability. Finally, it will consider the impact of climate change, first sociological, in recent sociology of religion trends and second denominational, in the advent of Fresh Expressions as a movement.

Presentation two – Gardening with Soul

This presentation will explore two movies to suggest insights for urban mission.

Gardening with Soul (2013) tells the story of New Zealander Gardener of the Year, Loyola Galvin, honoured for her work in turning the lawn of Our Ladies of Compassion, Wellington, into Common Ground, a community garden for local apartment dwellers. Grow your Own (2007) explores the impact of Asian migrants on a well-established British allotment.

Together, these movies offer insights into urban mission, including the priority of place, soil as sacrament and the stranger’s gift. These insights will be tested against the reality of inner-city Australian community gardens in central Adelaide and Kings Cross, Sydney.

Posted by steve at 11:29 AM | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Mountain by Drusilla Modjeska: a brief book review

Holiday reading began with Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain. Set in Papua New Guinea, it follows a set of characters first in the lead up to independence and second, in the twentyfirst century.

Modjeska is known for weaving fact with fiction and this beautifully written reflection is not exception. The Mountain emerges from her own story, a period of time in Papua New Guinea in the early 1970s and a recent return to develop an art-collective. It circles stories within stories, applying the eye of an artist to the complexity of interactions across times and cultures.

The mountain, from which the book is named, is an isolated site of undiscovered beauty. It becomes known to us first through the gaze of the anthropologists, as English-born Leonard and his wife, Dutch-born Rika visit. Second to post-colonial scrutiny, as Jericho, caught between cultures returns to find himself.

In between these personal journeys swirl a rich ripple of contemporary issues, including environmental battles, the impact of development and the search for identity.

As I read, I became aware of theological undercurrents. Whether intentional or not, the book offers a number of intriguing insights into the Christian understanding of Incarnation. Christianity claims the Word made flesh and this gains particular resonance in The Mountain, as the gift of a child becomes redemptive both for individuals and for a tribe, as it seeks to navigate between ways old and new.

The ancestors give us Leonard. We give you to Leonard. And now you return. Ancestor gift. The child who left us, who we called Jericho, has returned, the man who can make a great noise, blow down the walls. Jericho, the name from the ancestor story of Leonard.

This makes The Mountain both fun and an illuminating insight into the complexity of crossing cultures.

Posted by steve at 09:34 PM | Comments (0)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Wood school: imagine if this was church

At Wood School church we see curiosity as the foundation of learning. We aim to inspire curiosity with stories and activities that explore the woodland world and extend out into the world beyond.

We aim to foster confidence, creativity and problem solving skills in our children. We do this through a learning environment that is primarily outdoors.

We have an emphasis on play, child-led learning and fostering relationships.

Through these we aim to develop in our children all of us a strong sense of self, combined with an empathy and compassion for other people and the natural world.

We aim to develop life skills for sustainable living – helping develop in our children all of us the attitudes and skills we need in order to live in harmony with the environment and other people.

We have a focus on: responsibility; making a difference; conserving resources; growing food; crafts; cooking; making and laughing!

From Woods school in Manchester, England.

Posted by steve at 06:38 PM | Comments (2)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Shed Church as fresh expressions of church

Phil Smith is planting a new form of community in Caloundra, Queensland. He’s also a journalist and learning with us at Uniting College through the possibilities around blended learning. For a unit this year on “Evangelism, Conversion and the Mission of God,” he created this excellent video about how Christians have engaged in the Men’s Shed movement across Australia.

I played this on Friday as I concluded my Mission intensive at United Theological College, Sydney. It was hot of the press, it was an Australian story, it brought together many of the themes of the course, it did great work linking Biblical narrative, in this case Luke 1:1-12.

What I found particularly intriguing was the work Phil did around what is church, at the very end.

Is shed Church? Or could it be church? Luke’s benchmark for church is followers gathered around Jesus and sent by him to express the Kingdom of God. If a shed is only men gathered around a bbq or a work bench, it doesnb’t measure up, as a fresh, stale or any other expression of church; if however some of these blokes are parts of Christ’s body, connecting with others, investing time and others to grow alongside them, if this is more about Incarnation than recreation … then we’ll see the transforming work of God. And that does look a lot like church.

Posted by steve at 06:43 PM | Comments (1)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

four week road trip

I’m about to head off on a four week road trip.

Week one I am speaking at the National Ministers Conference in Charleville. The theme is fresh deeds and my fellow missiologist at Uniting College, Rosemary Dewerse,  and I will be using an indigenous model of contextual theology, weaving together children’s stories, Biblical reflection and recent missiology trends.

Week two I am in Sydney, teaching an intensive on mission for Charles Sturt University at the United Theological College campus. There are 20 students. I am framing the week around seven disciplines of mission
1. The discipline of prayerful discernment and listening (contemplation)
2. The discipline of apologetics (defending and commending the faith)
3. The discipline of evangelism (initial proclamation)
4. The discipline of catechesis (learning and teaching the faith)
5. The discipline of ecclesial formation (growing the community of the church)
6. The discipline of planting and forming new ecclesial communities (fresh expressions of the church)
7. The discipline of incarnational mission (following the pattern of Jesus)

These are a frame suggested by Anglican Bishop Steve Croft after he spent three weeks listening to Roman Catholic Cardinals and Bishops with Pope Benedict explore the single theme of the new evangelization.

During week two, Team Taylor will join me. In fact, Team Taylor will expand. We are flying over from Christchurch the girls best friends. So while I teach, they will enjoy girl time.

Week three is holiday. Team Taylor will return to normal size and we will explore Canberra and the Blue Mountains. It will be great.

Week four is the second National Ministers Conference. This one is in Sydney, with a focus on multi-cultural. This is the second of three, the final one being in Jerusalem in September. Yet, I am expecting to be a keynote speaker there as well!

One member of Team Taylor will remain with me, miss school (!) and enjoy a week of cross-cultural experience. I’m really looking forward to having a family member with me as I speak and sharing experience with me.

Four weeks. For weeks teaching! So looking forward to it.

Posted by steve at 07:06 PM

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Uniting College welcomes Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Coordinator

Good news today with the appointment of Karen Vanlint to fill the newly created position of CALD Co-ordinator (VET) at Uniting College.

Karen has taught ESL 0.5 at Salisbury TAFE, for the past 3 years. She has significant experience as a school teacher, here and in the UK.
She has a particular passion for CALD persons, and displayed not only an excellent grasp on the appropriate approaches to establishing this stream at Uniting College, but insight and energy on how it might be significantly developed into the future.

She has a Bachelor of Science, a Bachelor of Education, a Diploma of Christian Studies, a Cert IV in TESOL, and a Cert IV in TA (Training and Assessment).

In the midst of a very rich field of applicants, Karen also spoke of a particular personal ‘call’ to this role, having moved house to specifically engage with communities with higher numbers of CALD people.

Her references noted her diligence, quality and innovation in teaching, and organisational ability. She is an active member of Parafield Gardens Uniting Church.

The position is 0.2, and Karen will commence on Tuesday 29th July. She will focus on

  • the delivery of CALD VET training
  • liaising with ethnic Christian Communities in South Australia
  • student support as required

This position (similar to BYO Co-ordinator and Chaplaincy) is being funded through the release of funds from a specific Trust, to enable innovations which can result in new cohorts of students. We expect it to grow, but are starting small.

Personally, this is probably the most exciting innovation I’ve been part of initiating in my time as Principal of the College.

Posted by steve at 07:08 PM

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Community of practice in flipped learning and indigenous voices

I heard today that I’ve been accepted into a Flinders University Faculty research project. I’m quite chuffed!

The project is addressing the research question: how can lecturers make their subjects accessible, flexible and suitably individualised to promote effective learning without compromising on the quality of the teaching or the integrity of the subject matter under study?

A few weeks ago a call for applications went out, seeking lecturers looking at re-designing and implementing a Semester 2 topic. I replied said that I am teaching Theology of Jesus in Semester 2, which I am wanting to implement flipped learning. I am also wanting to bringing in indigenous voices to explore a diversity of Christology. So if what I was planning to do already was of interest, I’d be glad to participate in a growth opportunity.

Today came the invite to participate. I’m one of 6 lecturers. We will meet together four times. We are asked to keep a journal of our learning. The project will monitor student learning. Together we will present our results, at a Faculty workshop and in writing.

In return each of us is allocated $1200, to spend on buying out teaching time, marking assistance, conference/travel assistance or purchasing of teaching and learning resources.

So why sign up?

  • It will force me to make the changes I want to in regard to flipped learning and.
  • It encourages the type of reflection I try to do anyway. Last year I blogged parts of the course and presented a paper.
  • It keeps me learning as a teacher.
  • It keeps us as a Department plugged into wider learning.
  • I thing this model has possibilities for peer learning as ministers, so I get to experience this as a participant before I suggest it for other
  • I am having a paper published in this area and so this keeps me focused and growing.

More work, but more resourced in a richer conversation, both in teaching and with others across the University.

Posted by steve at 01:36 PM

Sunday, June 22, 2014

change processes: finding voice

On Saturday, I was allocated 60 minutes to lead a discernment process at our Presbytery and Synod meeting, in regard to mission. After I finished, a participant approached me to ask who they could complain to about the process. They considered what I had done a waste of everyone’s time. The conversation helped clarify for me some ongoing questions about change processes across systems.

I want to blog about these, in order to help clarify my thinking. In this first post, I want to outline what I did and why. In a second post I want to reflect on the complaint, and what it helped clarify for me about where and how systems seek energy, change and leadership. In a third post, I want to summarise a presentation I made on Friday, on how New Testament churches inter-connect and to relate it to how churches today are connecting. Fourth, I want to reflect on what I might do differently and what denominational change processes are needed in the 21st century.

SO WHAT WAS THE GROUP PROCESS I INITIATED?

In March, an overseas speaker, Dave Male had addressed the Presbytery and Synod in regard to mission. Towards the end of the day, Dave presented 12 challenges to us. Following these challenges, those gathered spent about 20 minutes in table groups discussing the 12 challenges. People were invited to write their comments, which were collected. The meeting moved on with the existing agenda. In other words, nothing concrete was decided by this gathering of people.

Afterward, I was asked if, the next time we gathered, I could provide some leadership in helping us take some next steps. I was allocated 60 minutes and here is what I did.

Introduction (10 minutes) – The 12 things were re-introduced. Woven into this summarising was “appreciative inquiry.” Various “bright spot” stories, of local examples from the Synod, were presented. This served both as a reminder and as a contextualisation. Where there was no obvious “bright spot”, we paused for prayer.

Introduce process (5 minutes) – The Presbytery and Synod gathers around table groups. On each table was placed a task. 1/3 had a blank piece of paper and they were invited to identify a word or image from bright spots. 2/3 were provided with some part of the table group feedback from last time. The task was to come up with 1 proposal; with 1 action that might help us as a Presbybery and Synod take a step forward.

Group work (15 minutes) – In preparation I had analysed the table group feedback. I had looked for movement. Green lights – What did people most want to push forward? Orange lights – what were things that people were wanting to question, to nuance, to think about more carefully?

Green lights – Train all your people to share their story; Presbytery mission staff to be involved in fresh expressions; Invest in people not buildings

Orange lights -The Role of Holy Spirit in our life as church; the link between evangelism, agencies and fresh expressions; the role of Synod in change processes

Reporting back from the floor (27 minutes assuming 1 minute per table group) – Each table group were invited to present their proposal. After each sharing, the Moderator “tested” each proposal. If people were ‘warm’ they would raise an orange card, if people were “cold” they could raise a blue card. The 3 or 4 proposals that had the least blue cards, would be taken away, in preparation to bring them back as proposals the next time (November) the Presbytery and Synod gathered.

Summary (5 minute) – Thanks for participating, a reminder that the work would become proposals to “vote” on at November Presbytery and Synod and a final 13th bright spot story, to encourage.

WHY THIS PROCESS?

First, at Pentecost, the promise is that the Spirit would be poured out on all people; Your sons and daughters would prophesy; younger people will see visions; older people will dream dreams. I actually believe that. I wondered if, in 15 minutes, we as a Synod might experience that Pentecost Spirit.

Second, we as a Presbytery and Synod have some significant challenges. It just might be that some part of our future, a next step, is actually tucked up in someone’s imagination, among the gathered people of God.

Thirdly, my experience is that processes in which humans are involved are more likely to last longer. So why not keep engaging people in the processes.

PITFALLS THAT MADE ME NERVOUS:

First, time – 60 minutes is a significant block of time in which to expect a large group to engage. Would it be worth it? What if there were no ideas?

Second, and related the process – Would people engage? What if nothing happened? What type of ideas would emerge?

So that was the process. Next time, I’ll reflect on the person who had the courage afterward to complain, and what it signals about where systems look for leadership and change.

Posted by steve at 08:15 PM

Thursday, June 19, 2014

finding voice

Now here is my summary of the movie:

One of my biggest fears at school was the annual speech competition. I found multiple ways – pretending to be sick, skipping class – in order to avoid that moment of terror, the act of public speaking.

Nor am I alone. Studies have shown that fear of public speaking ranks with fear of dying. “The King’s Speech” speaks to these shared levels of primal human phobia.

The movie begins with a man, “Bertie” (Colin Firth). He is alone. He stands in front of a microphone. Slowly the camera pans to a waiting crowd and then zeroes in on the radio dials that signal a worldwide radio audience.

The tension of this primal moment is exacerbated with the realisation that this Bertie is no mere mortal. Instead he is born royal, inheriting the expectation of public performance and proficient patterns of speech. The movie commences to trace “Bertie’s” partnership with unorthodox Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).

This personal drama is set against the backdrop of other battles concerning public speech. Will “Bertie’s” brother (Edward VIII, played by Guy Pearce), the current King of England, proclaim publicly his love for American divorcee Mrs. Simpson (played by Eve Best)? Will England speak out against Hitler’s expansionist aggression?

Loss of voice can result from physical damage. It can also result from interior pain. Viewed at this level, “The King’s Speech” becomes a metaphor that enables corporate reflection. Can a nation lose voice? Can a church?

Sometimes it feels like the church finds voice. But it still lacks appeal. We speak in ways that sound loud, brash and ugly. What we say might be true, but the way we say it simply alienates people.

Other times it feels like the church is stammering. We appear uncertain about what we really want to stay.

At other times it feels like our voice is no different from any other voice of any other group. So sure, we have voice. But it is background noise and we have nothing distinctive to say.

So King’s speech invites us to think about finding voice. What does it mean for us to speak? What does it mean for us not only to speak, but to speak in ways that are warm, wise and winsome?

Posted by steve at 10:19 PM

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

DIY supervision, DIY spirituality, DIY leadership, DIY church

“There is even less discussion with supervisors about the changes that might be produced by what I see as rapidly expanding DIY doctoral education practices” – books, blogs, webinars, forums, chats – “Much of this socially mediated DIY activity is international, cross-disciplinary and all day/all night … something is happening here and we (collectively) don’t know what it is. … It’s a field which is fragmented, partially marketised, unregulated and a bit feral. But it’s big, it’s powerful, more and more doctoral researchers are into it, and it is profoundly pedagogical. I’m concerned that British universities are generally (and of course there are exceptions, but mostly this is the case) not helping supervisors to think about this DIY supervision trend and what it means for how doctoral education is changing – and crucially, what the implications for their supervision practices might be.” (Some excerpts from a recent blog post on the rise of DIY in post-graduate study.

The links to spirituality, leadership and church are obvious. For many folk, the internet has become a huge resource in sustaining faith.

This is only a hunch, but I doubt emerging church and fresh expressions would have had nearly the impact (for good and bad) without the internet.

It is a place awash with resources for leaders – sermons to hear, places to discuss, people to follow.

I’ve spent the last two days at the Education for Ministry working group. It is a Uniting Church Assembly project. I’ve sat with 9 leaders from across the Uniting Church in Australia, talking about the future of formation for ministry. Our focus was formal training, and all the time, what about the “big,” “powerful,” and “pedagogical” training that is the DIY of living in a world socially mediated? What are those we train learning via the internet? Who are they “following” that is partial, fragmented and unregulated? What does this mean for how leaders are being formed today?

Posted by steve at 10:14 PM

Monday, June 16, 2014

Trinity art at Tarlee

On Sunday, I led worship and preached at Tarlee Uniting. It was Trinity Sunday and I offered a number of multi-sensory ways to engage the Trinity – a tasting experience, a body prayer, a visual engagement with two art images, the making of friendship bracelets as a benediction. I was a bit unsure how, being new to a church, such input would go. I was also unsure how it would play in a rural community.

Despite my anxiety, people engaged really, really well. There was lots of interaction. What was even more intriguing was that within a few minutes of the service finishing, the visual images were being displayed on the outdoor noticeboard.

trinity sunday at tarlee

The full service was as follows –

Trinity Sunday 2014

Enter – Taste the trio – hand out cracker, cheese and gherkins at door instead of hymnbooks

Welcome – 2 Cor 13: 14 The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.

Introduction to theme – Why food? Trinity Sunday. Three in one.

Praise – use songs. Use our bodies
God is beyond anything we can imagine (traditionally the symbol of God the Father)
God is with us (and many believe became one of us- the “Son”)
God is within us (The Spirit)
and amongst us (The Spirit)

Children’s talk – introduce Rublev’s Icon, as a way of understanding God for culture that cannnot read, as a picture to be explained.

Readings: 2 Corinthians 13:11-end; Matthew 28:16-20

Reflection – Malcolm Gordon, Sweetest mystery

Confession:
O God, even as we celebrate your unity, we know that sometimes
we break that unity, in our own lives, in our families, in our communities, with your earth

Sermon – introduce a second art piece, then return to name the children’s talk picture as Rublevs Icon, and set the context as a act of public and practical theology.

Offering and Intercession: Pick up on the two lectionary texts. 2 Corinthians 13:11-end and so to pray for church and people we know; Matthew 28:16-20 and so to pray for God’s mission in the world.

Final song: I bind unto myself – St Patrick, Eucharist CD – while making friendship bracelet. Including option of weaving in a bead (My partner had find beads with letters of the alphabet, and people were invited to choose a bead with a name of person that want woven into the Trinity of love.

Benediction: Return to opening greeting, 2 Corinthians 13:11-end

Posted by steve at 12:12 PM

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Tarlee bound for Trinity Sunday

I’m off early tomorrow morning to spend a day with Tarlee Uniting. They are about 90 minutes drive away. They are led by a Lay Ministry Team, so I’m there to led worship and preach and hopefully give these hardworking locals a bit of a breather. I love these opportunities and find them so very grounding, to be in the country, with folk who are working on creative, whole people of God, outworkings of faith and discipleship.

It’s Trinity Sunday, so that is a natural place to begin. I will use my children’s talk introducing Rublevs icon (doing theology with our eyes). We will also be doing theology with our hands, making friendship bracelets, weaving the colours of the three figures in Rublev’s icon

After the service, I’ve been asked to engage their leadership team in thinking about mission. I will explore with them how Israel gathered in the Old Testament; patterns of
- sacred spaces
- pilgrimage
- festivals
- family meals

What I want to suggest is that this frees imagination on how to be church and Christian, away from “weekly church” to more contextual patterns. This is a development of some thinking I developed in 2012 for the National Rural Ministers conference. I have added some specific examples and I will be interested to see how it goes with a rural church led by a lay ministry team.

Church begins at 9:15 am, so it will be an early start.

Posted by steve at 09:01 PM

Friday, June 13, 2014

being a missionary church in the early church

In the gospels, Jesus is recorded as doing many miracles. What did those who were healed do after they had encountered Jesus? While some followed, many returned to their homes and lives. What did they do as a result of their Jesus encounter? Would that encounter translate into an ongoing set of practices and beliefs? How would that set of practices and beliefs mix and merge with the set of practices and belief that would become Christianity?

Sometimes, I try to imagine what might happen if two people who had experienced a miracle of Jesus ever met. What might trigger the storytelling which would suggest they had both experienced an encounter with Jesus? What resources would they use to assess each others practices and beliefs?

Let me provide a specific example. What might happen when the healed leper in Mark 1 met the woman with the issue of blood in Luke 8?

John Wilson, in his book on the history of Caesarea Philippi, notes that in history, for some 300 hundred years after Jesus death, Caesarea Philippi was a city with a celebrated statue. Residents of the city understood it was a statue of Christ, erected by a woman whom the Lord had cured of a flow of blood. (Wilson, John F (2004) Banias: The Story of Caesarea Philippi, Lost City of Pan I.B.Tauris).

So imagine that the healed leper of Mark 1 – brought up God-fearer, monotheistic, no graven images, Jewish – sets out to share the story of his encounter with Jesus.

Goes on a missionary journey, enters Caesarea Philippi ready to preach the message. Spots a statue. Potential outrage (being a God-fearing, monotheistic, no graven images, Jew), turns to confusion as he recognises the hands of the statue are like the hands of the person that touched him.

Locates the statue owner, a woman. She has shared her experience of God’s touch with people, who now gather weekly around this statue to share stories of being touched by God.

How do these two people, very different, begin to realise they are part of one, holy, catholic and apostolic church? If the group in Caesarea Philippi have developed a different set of practices and beliefs than the group of mobile missionaries, how will convergence begin to happen? Who gets to decide what is out of bounds church and what is not?

Posted by steve at 10:30 AM

Thursday, June 12, 2014

people matter: collecting and collating stories in practical theology research

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata! What is the most important thing in the world? It is people! It is people!

A Maori proverb that reminds us that people are essential. So what does that mean for research, in particular theology and ministry research? How do we ensure that people matter, from start to finish?

John Swinton and Harriet Mowat, in their excellent Practical Theology and Qualitative research, provide a rich range of examples of doing practical theology research. In Chapter 4, Researching Personal experience, they explore the impact of depression on spirituality. Because people matter, they begin with lived experience.

They interview six people, who have explored spirituality in the midst of depression. Following the interviews, they perform a fairly standard analysis of the data, drawing out themes from across the six interviews.

Because people matter, then then borrow from (the also excellent) Van Manen, Researching Lived Experience: Human Science for an Action Sensitive Pedagogy, a method in which they seek to express these recurring themes, not in the words of the researchers, but in the words of the participants. They weave actual words from the interviews around the themes.

In doing so, we see two moments in which people matter, first in listening to human story, second in letting people tell their stories in their own words.

But people still matter. Lots. So Swinton and Mowat take a further step. They take the compiled stories back to the participants. Do these compiled narratives fully capture your story? Is there anything missing? Are there any misunderstandings or misinterpretation? In so doing, the participants become co-researchers. They get to actively shaping and re-shape the data. The result is a far richer data set, one more likely to truly name human experience.

Or to use another image, a way of letting those being researched look in the mirror that is their own data.

It is only then that Swinton and Mowat take a clearly theological turn. (Although I would argue that a research method in which people matter is a very fine way to do theology). They take themes – in this case including abandonment and the search for God in the abyss – and explore them in relation to Scripture, particularly the Psalms.

People matter. As a result, research begins with human story, tells human story in their own words, clarifies human story.

All because people matter.

And so, I said to the DMin student I was supervising today, why not let this shape your research into pioneers of fresh expressions? Why not not only interview, but take your interview data back to pioneers? Because I bet that as they see their stories, their approach to ministry reflected back, they will want to extend, clarify and nuance the data.

It will become richer, more likely to truly name the practices that shape pioneer ministry.

Posted by steve at 10:02 PM