Monday, July 18, 2011


winery door,
a promise,
taste to see,
(rotate your computer screen 90 degrees clockwise)

(This is part 2 in the Wine Door series. Others are here and here)

Posted by steve at 11:32 AM

Sunday, July 17, 2011


winery entry,
new door on old barn,
(rotate your computer screen 90 degrees clockwise)

(This is part 1 in the Wine Door series. Others are here and here)

Posted by steve at 10:54 PM

Friday, July 15, 2011

God touched me downunder

In my last blog post, I reflected on smell and spirituality. It turned out to be quite a profound learning experience for the class. So, encouraged, this morning I introduced touch and spirituality.

I began with a mediation. I invited the class to think about returning home at the end of the day. To get out of the car. To enter their home. To imagine their lounge, then bathroom, then bedroom. And in each place to look around and consider what kind of things you find pleasure in touch?

I then noted the importance of touch in Christianity – in baptism, during Ash Wednesday, as we say the peace, as we participate in Communion. I noted how Jesus was touched – wrapped in swaddling clothes, circumcised, taken in Simeon’s arms, in baptism, in the passion. And how Jesus touches others – little children, the leper, in bread broken and cup offered.

And then invited reflection on what kind of touch experiences have been important to us in our spiritual journey.

Together we said a prayer

Lord, You knew the touch of love
You knew the touch of friendship
You endured the kiss of betrayal
You endured the crown of thorns
Help us to touch others with your love
Help us to touch others with your friendship
Help us to heal the wounded hearts
Help us to heal the scars and hurts. Prayer from Sense Making Faith.

I then gave out fabric, raided from the home sewing stock. Each person got 4 pieces. (They were allowed to swap if they got stuck.) And the invitation, to express our text for the week (Luke 1:39-45), using their four pieces of fabric. People worked away, some with silk and string, others with weave and fabric.

And then the question for group discussion: What had we learnt, freshly, about the Biblical text? And about ourselves?

Oh my goodness.

We were still going some 90 minutes later, sharing, learning, reflecting. It was a rich, rich conversation on a learning exercise that in some ways was so simple. Yet had become profound.

One conclusion (among many): that as Christians we are “out of touch”, simply because we have ignored the senses in our faith.

A note: The shape of this exercise owes much to some material (pun intended) from Sense Making Faith which is a wonderful resource. For more on how it can be used, not just in a class, but in church and in mission, go here.

Posted by steve at 06:11 PM

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What does the Spirit smell like?

Yesterday in class we began by smelling the Bible. I realise this is not a standard approach to Christianity, the Bible or to tertiary study. So before we began, as a group we needed to take quite some time to make sure we were connecting with our noses.

So I began with a quick quiz. People were asked to rank favourite smells – sunday roast, coffee, bbq, gingerbread, popcorn, cut grass. The buzz of conversation confirmed that people were starting to think through their noses.

Second, we read an excerpt from Sense Making Faith, reminding us of how important smell is – our unique smell, smell in creation, the changing smells of life.

Third, we took some quiet time to reflect on the familiar scent of a person we love, followed by the smell of our church. How would we recognise people and place by smell alone?

Fourthly, we prayed

Lord God,
You walk in all our memories
You know where we have been
What we have said, known and felt
Come to us in the scent we remember
The time when we walked with you
And know that we walk with you still
Amen. Prayer from Sense Making Faith.

Fifthly, we considered not just good smells, but also bad spells. We asked ourselves where are the bad smells in our community? And we prayed, together again. We started and ended the prayer together, with space in the middle for us to name individually the smells we have been reflecting upon.

Lord God,
In the stink of rubbish tips where people make a living
In the stench of grave where people search for their dead
In the foul odour of disease where people are suffering
You are there. (space for individuals to name the smells). You are the fresh air.
Help us to make lives for the scavengers of rubbish
Help us to bring justice for the unknown dead
Help us to nurse and heal the diseased.
Help us to bring your fresh new life to the world. Amen (Prayer from Sense Making Faith).

We were now ready to smell the Bible. We were aware of the importance of smell and the fact that smell can work both positively and negatively. And so we smelt our Biblical text for the week (Luke 1:39-45). I read it slowly, pausing often.

And we were moved, by the fresh insights that emerged, by the growing awareness of the humanity of the text. And we were stumped by verse 41 “filled with the Holy Spirit.” What does the Spirit smell like? Are we “smelling” too much into the text? Or is that the Spirit does have an aroma, and we’ve simply never yet been aware of it, never paid attention?

A note: Much of this material comes from Sense Making Faith which is a wonderful resource. For more on how it can be used, not just in a class, but in church and in mission, go here.

Posted by steve at 04:06 PM

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

confessions: the place of ikea in worship and teaching

Dear Ikea,

I love your shop. I love the creativity of good design. I love the way that the confines of space become a springboard to creativity. I love it so much that today I taught my class in your shop. We arrived at 1 pm and and we left at 3 pm.

First, because we had talked in the morning about the importance of environments. So moving from a class to lunch at your place provided an experience of a different environment. This led to a profitable discussion as we compared your space with church spaces.

Second, I gave out to the students one of your shopping lists and cute little pencils. The students are all working on a project for Friday. And since the confines of space can become (as you know so well) a springboard to creativity, in order for students to experience this, they were invited to choose (not buy) one thing from your shop for use in their project.

Third, we were due to talk about spirituality2go, about providing ways to resource spirituality beyond the gathered congregation. I placed a whole lot of my previous ministry ideas in a box in the middle of the table at which we were sitting. The class took turns to pull out an idea, at which point I shared the creative processes that led to that idea. (A lot more ideas are on my website – either under the heading worship treats, or preaching today or Creationary (a space to be creative with the lectionary).)

However, all of this is not what I need to confess. What I need to confess is this …

that I am the one who (absent-mindedly) took the help yourself little black tongs from your bread roll container.

I apologise for my neglect, for interpreting help yourself to apply to the tongs and not the bread rolls.

I trust that your dishwashing staff recognised these little black tongs and have now returned them to their rightful place,

Steve Taylor

Posted by steve at 04:55 PM

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

a kick in our guts? Luke 1:39-45

Day 2 of the Living the text intensive began by Dwelling in the Word, in Luke 1:39-45.

Dwelling the word is a process which encourages a deep listening to Scripture and to each other. A passage is read, folk share in 2′s what strikes them or what question is raised. What people hear (not say), is then shared with the whole group.

As this group listened to each other, themes began to emerge. In the words of one “Is knowing only cognitive?” It began with the observation that it was in response to the the movement of a baby (“leapt for joy”) that the Spirit was shared. In other words, to know the Spirit required a woman (Elizabeth) being sensitive to her body and an unborn baby to be responsive to the work of the Spirit. God’s revelation, through the body of a woman and a child.

This was laid alongside the fact that Mary also is carrying a child and comes to Elizabeth perhaps in an act of affirmation and confirmation. She has a belief, that she carries a child, but probably senses that this belief runs counter to her Jewish faith. Thus her knowing is in process, is being reshaped by her experiences of God.

In other words, moments of experiential knowing, of paying attention to God in our bodies, need to be affirming and confirmed in community, with other humans.

Of course, what is even more intriguing is that this theme would be a subtext running throughout the lecture input during the rest of the day. As we explored the place of imagination and the role of community, time and again we returned to Luke 1:39-35 and our work written on the white board, to the lovely interplay around revelation as a process, of being embodied, of requiring community.

Posted by steve at 07:33 PM

Monday, July 11, 2011

living the (digital) text: use of social media in theological formation

Day one of the Living the text intensive kicked off today. A really engaged group and it looks like being a rich week.

One of the things I want to encourage during the intensive is a variety of learning experiences, a whole range of different and new ways by which folk can engage with each other. For instance, one of the assessment tasks is based on each person creating their own blogsite onto which they are expected to place a 1,000 word reflection on the intensive experience.

It’s a pretty simple process. I give out a one page “how to get started blogging.” Each student sets up their blog and sends me their URL. (I arrange an optional tutorial on the second day for any folk who get lost.) I create a central “class blog” (a living the text blog) and each student’s blogsite is listed on the sidebar. (If you click on it, you’ll see previous “cohorts”, the classes of 2008, 2007, 2006.

Having a central blog then allows a second piece of assessment. This involves students being expected to comment on each others blogs. So for example 10 comments of 100 words each becomes a 1,000 word addition to the original 1,000 word self-reflection.

Educationally, this has a number of advantages. Students get to revise not only through their own 1000 word reflection, but they also hear the reflections of others in the class. It reminds them of the diversity of experience. It also allows them to take the class interaction into another, online, context. The intensive experience, which can become quite rich relationally, can continue. And they get to explore the world of social media, which IMHO is an essential part of being in ministry today.

Posted by steve at 07:52 PM

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Because all books need pictures: Seeing the Word with the St John’s Bible

I’m preparing for the Living the text intensive, which starts Monday. Part of our time will look at imagination (along with community, space and spirituality2go). I love the St Johns Bible, the first handwritten, illuminated Bible of the modern era. For me, reading such a text, a coloured and creative text, changes the way I engage, live and communicate.

“linking the human imagination and the human hand with the Word of God”

“not looking to create a 12th century Bible in the 21st century but rather we are looking to create a 21st century Bible in the 21st century.”

The process, artistic and communal is interesting. For the artist “The illuminations are not illustrations. They are spiritual meditations on a text. It is a very Benedictine approach to Scriptures.” And in the communal:

At Saint John’s University, a committee of artists, medievalists, theologians, biblical scholars and art historians called the Committee on Illumination and Text reflect on each of the volumes before they are written. This team provides the background material and plan that guide the illuminations and text treatments in The Saint John’s Bible.

And the motivation? … “so that when people open it they are not impressed by the cleverness of it, or the detail or even the shining gold” but so they can enter the Scriptures more deeply, more humanly, more spiritually. As in here …

Posted by steve at 01:25 PM

Friday, July 08, 2011

pioneer training: well Dave Male said …

We had a great day as a Uniting College staff team yesterday sharing notes on Pioneer training with Dave Male. I suggested a number of questions to get the conversation rolling

  • What should be dropped from training to avoid priest+plus?
  • Should our candidate formation panels (meet 3 x a year with candidate to review training) be separate for pioneers, or mixed?
  • What to do with folk who see pioneer training as “exciting” and want what they see as the juicy bits – church starting, ministry – but show less interest in the core topics like Bible, theology etc?
  • Can we train both lay pioneers and ordinand pioneers in same processes, or are they unique?

Here are some note that I wrote as the conversation proceeded. Some are what Dave said, others emerged in the to and fro of conversation.

“Pioneers need Greek.”

“You can’t create pioneers. But you can domesticate them.”

“Folk should leave college even more excited by their charism than when they arrive.”

“There is no such thing as a generalist in ministry. People are on a spectrum. The task of the church is to help people discern this. The task of training places is to then provide a tailored learning.”

“The goal is not to create a pioneer college but a mixed economy training in which all training is through a mission lens, and within which pioneers find space to explore their questions.”

I left feeling that we at Uniting College are further ahead in some areas (particularly the commitment to do all training through a mission lens and our thinking on how to train both lay and ordained pioneers, not just ordained). But a bit further behind in others (particularly clear discernment/selection processes and the need to establish a cohort experience). (Although, 6 months into intentional, 3 year, training of pioneers, as our second semester starts, we now have 5 folk in the pioneer stream, so almost enough to have a viable cohort.)

We also talked briefly at the end about establishing a formal network between places that are actually training pioneers.

Posted by steve at 10:44 AM

Thursday, July 07, 2011

pioneer night for a pioneer course in a pioneer country: launch of mission shaped ministry Adelaide

Last night was a good night. The wind was wild and the rain heavy. But the room felt warm and alive.

A pilot of the mission shaped ministry (msm) course kicks off in Adelaide July 27. A partnership between Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting churches, it will run over 14 weeks and one weekend.

Last night Dave Male, Director of the Centre for Pioneer Ministry, at Ridley College, Cambridge was in town. It seemed an opportunity to good to miss, a chance both to hear from him and to offer some information about mission shaped ministry.

About 40 folk showed up, which was pretty exciting for a wet and wild winter’s night. A representative from each of the 3 partner churches offered prayer and input. This included a ringing endorsement from Archbishop Jeffrey Driver, who hoped that when Anglican history is written, the most important thing about the year 2011 will be the successful launch of the mission shaped ministry course. Dave Male shared about the impact of msm in the UK and it’s importance in cultivating a missional climate. I shared some of the story of how the course came to be in Australia and spoke about the shape of the programme. (For those interested, my notes are below the fold).

Some time for questions. And then we prayed together. Across denominations. A  living ecumenism, gathered around the task of mission.

Please join us. Please do pause at this point

… and pray with us … and for God’s ongoing purposes in Adelaide and Australia.


Posted by steve at 06:06 PM

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

fresh expressions: three dangers

I was helping a group of leaders from Mission Resourcing (part of the South Australia Synod) this morning think through fresh expressions. They have a simple mandate, to not have one person being a Fresh expression champion, but to let fresh expressions shape each and everyone of their ministries – justice, youth, children, IT, rural, urban, multi-cultures.

In an ideal world, fresh expressions are encouraged to emerge from a process that begins with listening. This then allows acts of serving. These form community, for the service occurs in partnership and relationships are built. In the midst of the relationship, the Jesus story that shapes us is told, and explored together (evangelism and disciplemaking). As a result – of listening and relationships and storytelling, a worship life emerges, one shaped by the context and the relationships.

Which led to me sharing some stories, three dangers of fresh expressions.

Simple photocopying. We go visit a fresh expression. It’s established as a worshipping life. We see something we like at the end of their process. And without thinking about the why (it developed), or where (the shaping of the context), or who (the folk that have shaped the story), we simply point and go, ‘Oh, that’s a Fresh expression.” And we make a photocopy for our place.

Rejecting simple photocopying. We go visit a fresh expression. It’s established as a worshipping life. We see something we don’t like. And we simply point and go, ‘Oh, that’s a Fresh expression. I don’t like that” And we decide Fresh expressions is not for us. We opt out of the hard work of thinking about the why (how it might develop uniquely with us), or where (how our context might uniquely shape), or who (the unique gifts of the folk who might be gathering around our table).

Skipping straight to the end. This is sort of like wanting dessert without the entree or mains. We ignore the listening and relationships and storytelling. This is perhaps because of Christendom – that our mindsets are so shaped by thinking that church is about worship – that when we hear the word “fresh expression” we just redesign what happens on Sunday morning. Whatever, the result is that we skip straight to dessert. We redesign our worship. We put out some publicity. And then after a few months of effort, we begin to wonder why new folk don’t come. We invest in some more publicity.

Posted by steve at 12:55 PM

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Lily Allen on the shape of missional pastor care

Hooray for local ministers who care not just for their own, but for any, who extend pastoral care to any in the community, who don’t wait for folk to come to them, but make the effort to connect beyond the walls of their church.

Such simple acts, might one day be shouted by rockstars in fame mags that ripple though the internet.

“People wouldn’t have thought I’d have a church wedding, but since I had the really traumatic experience last year, our local community all pitched in … Our vicar said a similar thing had happened to his family, so he would come over and sit with me. It feels really nice. We feel protected.” Lily Allen, here.

Posted by steve at 09:18 AM

Monday, July 04, 2011

resourcing mission: challenge or opportunity?

Two different moments today that got me thinking about resourcing mission.

First, a student assignment. It described a standard local Uniting Church. Aging, struggling. It is resourced by a supply minister, who focuses on Sunday preaching and pastoral care. Toward the end of the assignment, almost as an afterthought, there was mention of events this church puts on for the local community – Anzac Day and Carols – and how 400 people turn up.

So my resourcing question. Why, on why, resource Sunday, when you have a booming community event? If church is about worship, then of course, focus on Sunday. But if church is about mission, why not focus on better resourcing the community events?

Second, a post by Scott Guyatt, Mission Planner in Tasmania. Titled birth and death, he noted the struggles around buildings, money, age, numbers. Then the following:

All over Tasmania, wherever I go, I am encountering stories in the Uniting Church of people trying new things, re-thinking what it means to live together in faith community, worship together, engage in community, participate in God’s mission. I hear the hope in a Friday night praise and worship gathering in the rural village … a lounge-room gathering … a wild and powerful vision of residential community … the quiet contemplation of a new garden … the burgeoning community meals … the dreams of a first-ever website … the endless stories of community service … the stories of a cape york visit by students.

Again the resourcing question. If your resources are limited, as most churches are, as all businesses are, where do you put them? Into what is, the existing? Which has tradition and heritage? And voice?

Or into what might be? Which is a huge risk. They might not work. (Not that what is, is).

The two examples got me thinking over what church is about. And this growing concern, that we have tied our resources and our imaginations into self-care. We pay people to sustain Sunday. We have buildings based to seat folk for worship. We have budgets that mostly serve those who contribute financially.

So often the resourcing questions seem to get defined by Christendom paradigms. Apparently we need enough people to sustain a sole-charge minister. Well, who says ministers should be sole-charge, or should serve the gathered church? We have a budget with a bit left for mission. Well why shouldn’t the whole budget be for mission, with a bit left to sustain some regular smaller groups?

If church is about participation in the missio Dei, then doesn’t that mean we need to ask our pastors to be missionaries, train our candidates for mission and convert our buildings into serving our mission. That our resources exist for others, not us?

Or am I missing something?

Posted by steve at 09:43 PM

Saturday, July 02, 2011

house churches are about a new vision not a new form of church

I’ve spent a wet, winter’s day reading. It is one of the ways I am renewed – reading – and especially reading theology. (Wierd I know, but there’s something about reading slowly and deeply and thoughtfully that I found renewing.)

Here’s some gems from the conclusion to Luke: The Elite Evangelist by Karl Allen Kuhn (A book I wanted to read, given how much time I spent talking to groups about both Luke 1:39-45 and Luke 10:1-12). In a section titled “Turning the world upside down” Karl Kuhn notes 15 ways in which the theme of social and economic reversal is manifested in Luke-Acts. This includes house churches and ministry.

To us, the household churches and their economy may seem rather quaint, even naive, but they constitute a striking rejection of the Roman and Judean economies, in which redistribution of resources was based on social location and power, not need. The practices of the early believers also set aside the engrained cultural notion of limited good. (89)

Given that there is a lot of talk in emerging church/fresh expressions about the potential place of house churches, its fascinating to see them framed not as a new form of church but as a different way of being in relationship in the world. In other words, this is not about moving the deck chairs, but about living in ways that challenge the economic and social values of our culture.

Here’s a second quote, in which the new vision is limited not to where and how ministry happens, but also to who does the ministry.

Luke repeatedly makes it clear that the authority to proclaim the mysteries of God resides not in a select few, but in an ever-expanding group of ministers and eyewitnesses … Luke alone among the evangelists pairs and follows the sending out of the Twelve (Luke 9) with the sending out of seventy (Luke 10), the latter receiving the same commission and authority as the Twelve … Similarly, in Acts the ministry of the Twelve is soon overshadowed by those outside the original apostolic circle. (90, 1)

Which is a point I repeatedly make when talking about new forms of church/fresh expressions. And was certainly our experience at Opawa, the potential of gathering lay teams of 3-5 folk to pursue mission and ministry through the creation of fresh expressions.

Posted by steve at 07:53 PM