Wednesday, November 30, 2011

the place of apt liturgy in fresh expressions

In marking, I tend to engage in student work with at times quite extensive written comments. Here, with an introduction to give some context, are some thoughts I wrote in an assignment I marked today.

“Apt liturgy” is a wonderful phrase, from Ann Morisy in her book, Journeying Out: A New Approach to Christian Mission.

“Liturgy if it is to be described as “apt” needs to express people’s deepest fears and hopes. Apt liturgy should also enable people to put their fears and hopes into a wider context by sensing the resonances between their own situation and humankind as a whole. One of the costs of the low level of religious literacy in our society is that people are deprived of the conceptual tools which could help them to locate their circumstances, both positive and negative, in a more universal framework. Apt liturgy is a way of providing a framework of understanding which helps people to move beyond self centered and narrow horizons.”

This invites the role of poet, the gift of seeking to name/give voice to the work of Spirit. I find it helpful to frame this by considering the work of the Spirit. Such thinking will begin with Romans 8:23, the Spirit groans in the world. Thus, good apt liturgy will give voice to this groaning. To be faithful, it must start by listening to people, to popular culture, to the world outside the church and to naming their groanings.

This listening must be seen as part of a process. As it is in Romans 8, for after verse 23 comes verse 27, in which the groaning of Spirit is always a groaning toward God. Thus apt liturgy is a way to participate in the Spirit (the One who is at work in the foundational domain, to use another term from Ann Morisy) in the journey from Romans 8:23 toward 8:27.

Another way to understand “apt liturgy” is in reference to Luke 10:1-12, and in light of the proposal “any experience is an educative experience” (Robert K. Martin, “Education and the Liturgical Life of the Church”, Religious Education 98:1 (Winter 2003), 61). Luke 10:1-12 assumes that mission begins with the ability to listen. As this happens, one will recognise healings, interpreted in light of the speaking of peace/shalom. This draws on the Old Testament understanding of God who cares for people and place and thus healing can include physical, spiritual, relational and with the whole of creation. In Luke 10, it is only after healing is recognised that the Kingdom is named as near.

This is “apt liturgy”, recognising healing in a context and linking it with the Kingdom mission of Jesus. In this way, the experience, the participation in healing, becomes educative of the Kingdom.

This calls for a different kind of liturgy leader skill set. One still needs to know the tradition, to know of the Kingdom, and not just superficially, but at such depth, that we can connect it with experience ie what is happening, rather than bringing a liturgy package from the shelf/book/internet.

Posted by steve at 02:59 PM

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

a moment in the process of becoming a Principal

Solvitur Ambulando
“It is solved by walking.” – St. Augustine

On the morning of Monday 28 October I was interviewed for the role of Principal of Uniting College. After lunch, I went for a walk. Uniting College is located on the grounds of the Adelaide College of Divinity, which has a labyrinth. So rather than walk the block, I walked the labyrinth, praying the Lords prayer.

The phrase “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done” was particularly meaningful, as I prayed for myself, for the Joint Nominating Committee, for the other applicants.

The labyrinth at Adelaide College of Divinity campus was specifically designed by an Adelaide stained glass artist Cedar Prest. The opening is in the shape of a large communion cup, laid in beautiful mosaics, while the centre is in the shape of a central wafer. As I paused at the centre, I had a strong impression, the realisation that there is plenty of space in the centre to be truly me.

I began to walk out, reflecting on how the pattern of the labyrinth take you from edge to centre, and out to the edge again. It struck me that there were parallels with my own life at that moment, that my interest in mission and fresh expressions might be seen as on the edge, while being a Principal of a theological college is getting pretty close to the centre. It is a role that comes with plenty of expectations of what a Principal should do and be.

And the impression returned: that there is plenty of space in the centre to be truly me.

At that moment, my cell phone rang. It was an ironic moment, interrupted by a cell phone in the midst of the peaceful contemplation of a labyrinth. It was a delightful moment for the call was about the matter I was praying about, a request to attend a further interview in the Principal process.

Standing there holding the phone, it all felt profound, that in praying Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, might I actually be able to experience plenty of space in the Principal role to be truly me.

Posted by steve at 10:33 AM

Monday, November 28, 2011

growth in mission please

I’m fielding some lovely requests from folk inquiring about our Masters in Ministry (missional cohort). Pastors and leaders in context, just wanting to grow in their skills.

Like this one:

I would be very interested in pursuing a M.Min (distance) with you guys – your reputation is growing! – as I believe the practical, mission-focussed aspect of the College offers the type of environment I am seeking.

or this one

when S. approached me to discuss continuing education he was quite clear that he wanted to have the opportunity to grow as he has seen me grow [through the Masters programme) this year.

The goal is to add 4-5 new folk each year, and we’ve already got 4 solid enquiries for 2012, which is just great. (The logic is that because the Master of Ministry can only be undertaken by those in ministry ie part-time over 4 years, if 4-5 join each year, we develop a cohort of 15-20, an ideal size for the personal interaction we want to foster).

(I’ll blog some of our 2012 offerings in the next few weeks. In the meantime for more on the general shape of the programme go here).


Missional Masters


Missional Masters Yr 1

Posted by steve at 09:38 PM

Sunday, November 27, 2011

social media and music participation: Black Seeds ‘Pippy Pip’

Fascinating use of social media by Kiwi band The Black Seeds. They have a new album to be released early next year and they want to create a big group vocal for one of their new songs, ‘Pippy Pip’. So they are calling on their fans to record themselves singing, to upload it online and to be mixed into the song! (Those taking part will also be able to purchase a special edition CD that includes their names in the album credits!)

Open to anyone. You don’t need to be a great singer – you just need a web cam/camera and some headphones.

And here’s some examples

So get singing!

Posted by steve at 03:55 PM

Friday, November 25, 2011

happy “international” thanksgiving

We’re not Americans. But last night was Thanksgiving and it somehow seemed important to gather some folk to be thankful with. A friend and their family for each of the kids. Some international folk known to Lynne and I.

An invitation, to bring food your whole family were thankful for. A school night, so an offer of a prompt start and the promise of a early night.

The meal began with bubbles, passed around the group, blow some bubbles. naming things were thankful for. Kiwi, Australian, Scottish accents. Folk unknown to each other, now connected by food, laughter, companionship.

It felt spiritual, in a very earthy, thankful, friendly sort of way.

(This is another entry in dictionary of everyday spirituality, under the heading T is for thanksgiving).

Posted by steve at 09:27 PM

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Why faith schools are hot

There is a really interesting article in North and South, a New Zealand magazine. Titled “Brand Catholic: A (Not so) Private education,” (Joanna Wane, 40-52, North and South, November, 2011) it explores the reasons for the popularity of faith-based schools.

It notes the irony, that “[Western society] may indeed be an increasingly godless society …. Yet despite that spiritual drift, parents are flocking to faith-based schools, with one Auckland principal describing Catholic education as a “very hot” brand.” (42)

While peculiar to New Zealand (where private schools can chose to integrate with the government, thus qualify for government funding, while retaining a “special character.”), the place of faith-based schools is also a crucial part of mission in other countries, like Australia.

So why are these schools hot?

One suggestion is that this is part of a cultural shift toward a values-based education. “There is a lot of hopelessness around in the world today. In a faith-based school, you can provide meaning and hope in the lives of kids in a way that you can’t in a school that has to be basically secular.” says Pat Lynch from Association of Integrated Schools (44).

A second is that they are a great greenhouse. Says one parent of a Catholic school, “It’s a very nurturing environment and by and large the girls come out with a nicer worldview that from the private schools.” (42).

A third suggestion it that it is because of an underlying pragmatism. They are good value of money. They show quality academic performance indicators, all at a cheaper rate than independent private schools.

Not everyone is convinced that being hot is positive. New Zealand PPTA President Robin Duff expresses concern over the potential for group think and asks whether government money should be spent on potentially sectarian communities.

Yet a contrasting experience is noted by a non-believing teacher at a Catholic school, who shared in the article how comforting it was for her to be in a close-knit community in the days following the Christchurch earthquake (46).

As a missiologist and as someone interested in fresh expressions, the article clarified for me a number of questions around the relationship between faith and community.

  • Are faith-based schools a “soft” expression of Christendom, in which the school becomes a “carrot”, used by churches to enforce church attendance upon families seeking admittance?
  • Are faith-based schools in fact a new form of church – offering formation, care and mission? Is this a logical place for fresh expressions? Or does this simply increase the dangers of group think? And how would inter-generational relationships work in the complexity of being a teenager today (going to church at school with my parent!)
  • How should faith-based schools connect with the ministry of the surrounding local churches? What is the impact for the local church when the school does Easter and Christmas, in term ie before the holidays, perhaps better than the local church?In a network society, should parents who send their children to faith-based schools be taking a break from their local church?

Lots of room for further (post-graduate) research me thinks!

Posted by steve at 02:22 PM

Facet5, You know me so well

A few years ago, wanting to enhance our team work at Opawa Baptist, we involved an external human resource person. She in turn introduced us to a tool called Facet5.

the most modern and advanced measure of personality available. Used by organisations and consultants worldwide, Facet5 is applied in people development, individual selection, team integration and organisational strategy, adding real value to an organisation

We invited our key staff, incoming and existing, to complete the tool. It helped not only in recruitment, but on into staff development, giving each of us insight into how best to lead, and to be led.

It then provided a great way to team build, with each of us able to share more clearly who were were. Which gave us a way to appreciate each others uniqueness. Which in turn allowed a greater degree of vulnerability, as together, we affirmed our willingness to be team in helping each other not just in our strengths, but our weaknesses.

In the last few days, I’ve dug out and dusted off my Facet5 profile. Read it to Lynne and laughed in sheer relief. It knows me so well. Like this bit of advice:

“Be prepared for Steve to have changed or modified his plans in response to new information and events.”

Or this!

“Offer an informal working environment where intuition and spontaneity is valued and a sense of humour is welcomed.”

It’s very weird, yet totally refreshing, to hear oneself reflected back so well. To be reminded both of my uniqueness and yet the uniqueness of every human I encounter.

Posted by steve at 07:58 AM

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

the emotions of Jesus

Stephen Voorwinde’s, Jesus’ Emotions in the Gospels is an intelligent, thorough and challenging study of what is “a blind spot in Gospel studies.” Afterall, Christians tend to downplay the emotions of Jesus. It’s part of the Western cultural distrust of emotion and part of the privileging of male modes of being. A result is the tendency to avoid the radical implications of God as fully human.

Stephen Voorwinde takes note of 60 references to Jesus’ emotions in the Gospels. Each one is then explored, located within their context, literary and cultural. The result is an invitation to not only think, but to worship as well, to be reminded of the sheer radicality of being Christian, of experiencing transformation from a God who in Christ cries and love, is troubled and dismayed, experiences joy and anger.

The theme opens up a rich range of questions

  • Are emotions indicators of humanity? Or divinity?
  • Is it a sign of Christian maturity for us to reflect the emotions of Jesus?

His conclusion is that

“The emotions of Jesus are the emotions of the Messiah … The intensity of Jesus’ emotions .. is often due to a detailed knowledge of the future that is seldom given to mere mortals.” (216)

While I’m not yet convinced of Stephen Voorwinde’s conclusions (too much future knowledge risks underemphasising the full humanity of Jesus), his care, clarity of writing and depth of reading is a rich gift.

Posted by steve at 05:27 PM

Monday, November 21, 2011

women finding voice in historically male gatherings

Has anyone got any useful resources
- personal experience
- research they’ve come across
- books they’ve read
- people they’ve heard
- processes they’ve experienced
on what it means for historically male dominated institutions to learn and re-learn ways of being that free women to fully find their voice?

I’m not thinking simply about equal representation, but the deeper issues around the ways genders form relationships, and relate, the ways issues are processed, what it means for folk to learn from, yet not remain in, prior history?

Posted by steve at 04:11 PM

mission shaped ministry national gathering update

Friday and Saturday was mission shaped ministry train the trainers gathering, hosted by Uniting College, which I sort of facilitated. About 35 folk from 4 denominations around Australia gathering, some with experience of pilots in Adelaide and Canberra, others wanting to know more about running mission shaped ministry courses in their patch.

John and Olive Drane provided input drawing on their UK involvement.  They demonstrated a session, allowed us to debrief it and shared with us the vision, values and practicalities. Those from Adelaide and Canberra shared what it was like for them to run a course, what they had learnt and what they would do differently next time.

The time concluded with a discussion of the future and the following steps were agreed:

  1. The welcoming of two new partners – Uniting Synod of Western Australia and a Uniting grouping (perhaps Synod or Presbytery) from Queensland.
  2. The seven existing and two new partners ask msm UK to extend the current Memorandum of Undertanding, and the embedded pilot phase ethos, allowing local groupings to continue to run in a pilot, experimental phase. (This could result in pilots in Western Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, Sydney, Queensland, plus again in Adelaide and Canberra sometime in the next 12-18 months).
  3. We want to keep meeting as a national body. We favour a sort of working coalition which can resource, network, allow us to encounter diversity. To enable this, we will meet as a national body in November 2012, in Adelaide, hosted by Anglicans, at Adelaide College of Divinity, bringing with us more shared experiences of local pilots in action.
  4. Set up two working groups, one to explore how to get a video of stories of Australian fresh expressions, the other to explore how to develop ethnic participation in the mission shaped ministry course.

So there we are. 12 months ago, there was nothing. Now there is a coalition of 9 partners (more are welcome at any point), representing all of Australia apart from Northern Territories, all feeling empowered to run their own local msm courses, yet all keen to keep gathering around our shared experiences in on the ground mission training.

Personally, it’s been a lot of extra work, not just being part of running a local msm pilot, but also leading (sort of) what has effectively been three national gatherings over the past year. But I’m delighted with the outcomes and with the sense of shared collaboration and equality that has emerged.

Posted by steve at 08:52 AM

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I have a new job. A responsible job!

That the Standing Committee:

1. APPOINT Rev Dr Steve Taylor to the position of Principal, Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, for a period of three years commencing 1 July 2012.

The job is becoming vacant because the current Principal, Andrew Dutney, (much loved, big shoes to fill!) is becoming the President of the Uniting Church in Australia.

So a new Principal at the College I work at, Uniting College, was needed. The position was advertised in August and one Sunday I had a sort of God encounter in the midst of a children’s talk. The Moses and the burning bush story was being told and I realised that I was being Moses – that a number of folk had suggested I consider the role of Principal- but that I was simply compiling a list of reasons for wanting to hide. And that God was asking me, like Moses, to simply give what was in my hand, not a literal shepherds staff, but my leadership experiences and gifts.

So I put in an application, still with lots of questions esp re workload(!). And after 3 interviews, the job was offered. And after 4 Team Taylor family conferences, we decided to let my name go forward to the Synod of South Australia Standing Committee. They met during the week past, with the news becoming public Friday, once College staff and Leadership Development Council had been informed.

It’s a responsible job – a staff of 13, offering training from certificate level all the way through to PhD and at distance locally and nationally, training ministers and lay leaders. The College is in a major change process, wanting to train leaders to be more innovative and outward looking and I think the panel thought I could bring some skills and passion in that area.

Uniting College for Leadership and Theology isn’t a repackaged version of what we’ve always done in theological education. It’s a fresh start – a fresh departure. It’s not a comment on what we’ve done in the past. It’s a response to the demands and opportunities of mission today. It’s not the best thing that’s ever happened in theological education. It’s simply the next thing that has to happen for the College to serve this pilgrim people on the journey.

For more, go here.

I’m nervous and scared, but also really excited.

Posted by steve at 03:49 PM

a second pioneer icon

I painted my first icon back in April. Being a first, having no obvious teacher, simply having a go, it seemed to me to deserve to be called a “pioneer” icon, because that is what pioneer leadership is all about – having a go, learning by doing. As I completed it, I suddenly realised who I was doing it for and I gave it as a thankyou gift to a visiting pioneer.

I completed another icon back in July. It became quite an experience, looking great to the final varnish, when it all turned to crap, with the gold leaf tarnishing and the varnish beading. That mystery continues, with the varnish manufacturer still scratching their heads.

So after a number of months to sit with the sadness, I returned and began work on another “pioneer” icon. Which I have just completed. There was a great deal of nervousness last night as I applied the final coat of varnish. But this morning, it seems OK.

Although, oddly, as with the first pioneer icon, as it neared completion, I again realised who I was doing it for, another couple of pioneers!

Posted by steve at 07:51 AM

Thursday, November 17, 2011

a Drane-ing day

All go here at Uniting College, with a wonderful first day with John and Olive Fleming Drane.

First up, and throughout the whole day, Olive worked in our post-graduate programme, exploring spirituality2go and everyday life rituals. The invitation was for folk to engage with Olive in a way that enabled them to begin to design their own rituals for life, ministry and mission. Judging by the feedback and group engagement when I popped in, it looked to be a really energising day.

In the afternoon, John taught two sessions.

First was a session on the relationship between Scripture and human experience. I asked John to stretch us and he uncorked some of his most recent thinking, reflecting on the nature of Scripture and the implications for mission and ministry. It engaged head and body, with a real challenge about what it means to teach and lead.

Second was a session on emerging church in Scotland, with John presenting his research over the last few years. His commission from the Church of Scotland was to explore what is church from the ground up, from the perspective of new communities. And then to trace the implications for the inherited church. This session connected at many levels, in the telling of stories of new forms of church in Scotland, in the implications for structures and denominations and in what good research practice looks like.

Both of John’s sessions attracted a really diverse group of people – candidates, ministers, post-graduate students, denominational staff.

It made for a hectic day personally, but a really rich day, exactly where I want Uniting College to be – talking mission and leadership, spirituality and life – in ways that connect with many different folk from across the span of the church.

Well done John and Olive for being such human, interesting and connective people.

Posted by steve at 09:27 PM

the future of grace: B is for blossom

I love flowering trees.

One of my most spiritual moments was coming across a tree in blossom, in a howling Canterbury nor’wester. I was battling some major change processes at Opawa.

And I lay on the ground under this tree, with the wind cascading all these blossom around me. As they swirled on my hands, my skin, my uplifted face, I realised how much bigger, slower, differently paced, was the rhythm of God.

So today, in the midst of some ongoing personal change, I paused and snapped this pic. Of an Adelaide tree in blossom. Which became a prayer,

God in this change, help me pause, walk slower, be differently paced, in your rhythms of grace.

(This is another entry in dictionary of everyday spirituality, under the heading B is for blossom).

Posted by steve at 06:30 AM