Wednesday, February 29, 2012

fantastic resources for rural mission

On Friday I’m speaking to Uniting Church folk from rural South Australia. Being a townie, it’s meant a morning of preparation, including working my way through a journal called Rural Theology.

It is a goldmine.

For example, David Walker, “The Social significance of Harvest Festivals in the countryside: an empirical enquiry among those who attend,” Rural Theology 7 (1), 3-16, 2009 researched Harvest Festivals at 27 churches. He found that 16% were visitors and concluded that “Harvest still reaches out beyond the locality of the congregation.”

Another example, Leslie J Francis and Sue Pegg, “Psychological type profile of volunteer workers in a rural Christian charity shop” Rural Theology 5 (1), 53-56, 2007. While church services are more likely to cater for introverts, when a rural church began an opportunity shop, 27 of the volunteers were extroverts, while 3 were introverts. Thus “rural Christian charity shops … extend the range of people in contact with the Christian gospel.” (Francis and Pegg, 55)

Another example, Sue Pegg and Lewis Burton, “Local Festivals in two Pennine villages: the reactions of the local Methodist church congregations.” Rural Theology 4 (1), 11-22, 2006, explore secular local festivals and conclude

“Five main themes emerge from this study of two Pennine villages which may have wider implications for rural ministry. First, local secular festivals provide evangelistic opportunities for local churches. Second, traditional attitudes and practices can prevent churches making the most of such evangelistic opportunities. Third, some discernment is required as not all secular festivals are equally compatible with Christian values and expectations. Fourth, with open and welcoming attitudes built between the church and the village community at festival time, benefits for both church and village can ensue. Fifth, festivals enable the church to be perceived as an integral part of village life, rather than something apart, if the opportunities created by festivals are securely grasped.” (21)

This is not theories about what could be done, but actual data on people who attend harvest festivals and volunteer and might participate into the wider community.

Posted by steve at 02:52 PM

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

please be seated for learning

As the lecture year began, my colleague and I decided to play with the seating.

It is a post-graduate class, of whom a maximum of 18 could turn up, although because these are all folk active in ministry, the usual turn up is around 14.

Historically we have gathered the desks in a circle. While this expresses collaboration, over time, a number of downsides have become apparent.

First, you have to put in enough seats to cater for the maximum. If you don’t, and everyone turns up, then the result is quite disruptive as everyone has to pull their seats back to widen the circle. Second, the circle gets quite wide, and thus the sense of intimacy is reduced. Third, a scorched zone tends to appear around wherever the lecturer sits in the circle, as folk have this instinctive aversion to being seated to close to lecturers.

So on Monday we played with groups of three, spread in 5 areas around the class. If all turn up, it’s easy to add a 6th cluster. The use of three meant that conversation in small groups was instantly easier. Further, it created an accessible inner area. So we were able to start by all moving into the centre to stand, share and pray. Physically we were closer and it seemed to make us feel closer.

It felt good. Discussion seemed to flow much more easily, to weave in and out around the group and to be less lecturer-centric.

Posted by steve at 02:45 PM

Monday, February 27, 2012

bring back the 1940’s: the church as social pioneer

Amid all the energy around Fresh expressions and pioneering, a colleague last week pointed me toward some writing by Niebuhr, way, way back in 1946, headed “The Church as social pioneer.”

Finally, the social responsibility of the Church needs to be described as that of the pioneer. The Church is that part of the human community which responds first to God-in-Christ and Christ-in-God. It is the sensitive and responsive part in every society and [humankind] as a whole. It is that group which hears the Word of God, which sees His judgments, which has the vision of the resurrection. In its relations with God it is the pioneer part of society that responds to God on behalf of the whole society, somewhat, we may say, as science is the pioneer in responding to pattern or rationality in experience and as artists are the pioneers in responding to beauty. This sort of social responsibility may be illustrated by reference to the Hebrew people and the prophetic remnant. The Israelites, as the major prophets ultimately came to see, had been chosen by God to lead all nations to Him. It was that part of the human [community] which pioneered in understanding the vanity of idol worship and in obeying the law of [love of neighbour]. Hence in it all nations were eventually to be blessed. The idea of representational responsibility is illustrated particularly by Jesus Christ. As has often been pointed out by theology, from New Testament times onward, he is the first-born of many brothers [and sister] not only in resurrection but in rendering obedience to God. His obedience was a sort of pioneering and representative obedience; he obeyed on behalf of humanity, and so showed what all could do and drew forth a divine response in turn toward all the [people] he represented. He discerned the divine mercy and relied upon it as representing [all people] and pioneering for them.

This thought of pioneering or representational responsibility has been somewhat obscured during the long centuries of individualist overemphasis. Its expression in the legal terms of traditional theology is strange and often meaningless to modern ears. Yet with our understanding of the way that life is involved with life, of the manner in which self and society are bound together, of the way in which small groups within a nation act for the whole, it seems that we must move toward a conception similar to the Hebraic and medieval one.

In this representational sense the Church is that part of human society, and that element in each particular society, which moves toward God, which as the priest acting for all [people] worships Him, which believes and trusts in Him on behalf of all, which is the first to obey Him when it becomes aware of a new aspect of His will. Human society in all of its divisions and aspects does not believe. Its institu¬tions are based on unbelief, on lack of confidence in the Lord of heaven and earth. But the Church has conceived faith in God and moves in the spirit of that trust as the hopeful and obedient part of society.

In ethics it is the first to repent for the sins of a society, and it repents on behalf of all. When it becomes apparent that slavery is transgression of the divine commandment, then the Church repents of it turns its back upon it, abolishes it within itself. It does this not as the holy community separate from the world but as the pioneer and representative. It repents for the sin of the whole society and leads in the social act of repentance. When the property institutions of society are subject to question because innocent suffering illuminates their antagonism to the will of God, then the Church undertakes to change its own use of these institutions and to lead society in their reformation. So also the Church be¬comes a pioneer and representative of society in the practice of equality before God, in the reformation of institutions of rulership, and in the acceptance of mutual responsibility of individuals for one another.

In our time, with its dramatic revelations of the evils of nationalism, of racialism and of economic imperialism it is the evident responsibility of the Church to repudiate these attitudes within itself and to act as the pioneer of society in doing so. The apostolic proclamation of good and bad news to [people of colour] without a pioneering repudiation of racial discrimination in the Church contains a note of insincerity and unbelief. The prophetic denunciation of nationalism without a resolute rejection of nationalism in the Church is mostly rhetorical. As the representative and pioneer of [humanity] the Church meets its social responsibility when in its own thinking, organization and action it functions as a world society, undivided by race, class and national interests.

This seems to be the highest form of social responsibility in the Church. It is the direct demonstration of love of God and neighbour rather than a repetition of the commandment to self and others. It is the radical demonstration of faith. Where this responsibility is being exercised there is no longer any question about the reality of the Church. In pioneering and representative action of response to God in Christ the invisible Church becomes visible and the deed of Christ is reduplicated.

Niebuhr, H.R., “The Responsibility of the Church for Society” in The Gospel, the Church and the World ed K.S. Latourette, N.Y. Harper & Bros, 1946, page 111

A number of things I find fascinating. First, pioneer is applied to the community, not the individual. It is the church that is to pioneer, rather than select individuals within the church. And this is framed as a critique of individualism within the church: “This thought of pioneering or representational responsibility has been somewhat obscured during the long centuries of individualist overemphasis.”

Second, the strong sense of mission, the “social responsibility of the Church”, a vision far broader than simply needing a church to grow because the existing one is dying.

Thirdly, the intrinsic inter-relationship between pioneering and the internal life of the church: “the Church meets its social responsibility when in its own thinking, organization and action it functions as a world society, undivided by race, class and national interests.”

Posted by steve at 02:32 PM

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Tim Finn at Bird in the Hand winery

Team Taylor are off today to hear Tim Finn at Bird in the Hand winery. It’s a happy constellation of a number of threads.

  • First, they make great wine at a great price.
  • Second, Team Taylor love Tim Finn, with the lyrics from “Couldn’t Be Done” from the Imaginary Kingdom (2006 album) being often hummed among us.

We had no idea that it couldn’t be done
And we needed to find a like-minded someone
We had no idea that it couldn’t be done

  • Third, its the first night concert for our two girls, and we’re hoping that this is a gentler introduction than some other night concerts could be.
  • Fourth, it’s a long story, but I found myself in Perth over last weekend on what was actually my birthday. My excuse is that I tend by nature to think in days, not dates. So I looked at the Perth Summer Spirit event, thought that if I was speaking Saturday and Sunday, having a day off on Monday to go wine tasting would be a great way to remind myself of my humanity and the good things about life. The Perth end were booking the tickets, so I said go over Friday, return Monday. When the tickets arrived, I looked at the dates and realised Monday was my birthday. Duh!! So while it was a great way personally to have a birthday, for the sake of family celebrations, Saturday 25th was decreed my “2012 birthday.”

And what better way to spend it that listening to Kiwi music at a winery with my family.

Posted by steve at 08:02 AM

Friday, February 24, 2012

ethnography as pastoral practice

I’m finding Mary Clark Moschella, Ethnography As A Pastoral Practice: An Introduction a really helpful read.

It offers a way of bringing about change, in which the leader becomes an ethnographer, a listener to the patterns and habits that form a group. It provides case study after case study, of ministers who listened, who were surprised by what they heard, who fed back their surprise and as a result, change occurred.

Ethnography is a set of habits and processes and thus the book gives a really clear way of embarking on change. Some leaders do this intuitively. But for those who don’t, this book is gold. It explores the ethical boundaries, developing questions, offering feedback – all written in accessible manner, with story after story.

The book is thus an excellent resource for post-graduate students and for any minister or leader thinking about how to be part of change. It will be especially helpful for those folk put off by CEO and hierarchical models of leadership, but still wanting to be part of transformation of their community, and communities.

Posted by steve at 10:27 AM

Thursday, February 23, 2012

boxing resources

Great idea from Resource Centre for Uniting Church Synod of Western Australia. They take a range of resources and place a number of copies of each in a plastic box and loan them to churches for a month or so. Simply effective really!

This was the fresh expressions box, and the messy church box was on loan.

It got me thinking about the “boxes” I need in my office. The “small churches in mission”; the “exploring across diverse cultures”; the “everyday spirituality”; the “mind, body, spirit faith.” …..

Posted by steve at 03:20 PM

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

a tonic at the end of a tough day

It had been a long, hot day. Team Taylor were tired. We’d been up late the night before collecting a Dad from the airport, up early for music practices, staying afterschool for extra-curricula activities.

We all wanted to just be home.

But the traffic was crawling down Marion Road. After stop starting for 30 mins, we decided to bail and pulled into a local pub.

We walked into this …

Monteiths. So iconic in New Zealand that one of our fridges, the fridge at our holiday house, is called Monty! Named after original West Coast of New Zealand beer.

On tap, here, local, in Australia ….

Posted by steve at 09:49 AM

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

msm Adelaide final “report” in video format

Mission shaped ministry Adelaide. 40 folk from three denominations gathering over five months to reflect on mission and spirituality today. How did it go?

Well, we asked participants that very question on the last night and here’s the result: a final “report” not in words, but in video.

Also wondering if this might serve to promote mission shaped ministry throughout Australia – it’s a first being with Australian rather than British accents :).

Big thanks to Stephen Daughtry who gave his time to shoot and edit.

Posted by steve at 03:48 PM

Monday, February 20, 2012

a Perth artists describing of mission?

This wooden plate was a gift from the folk in Perth, a thanks for my input. It is made by artist Tony Docherty, who works with native Western Australian timber. Here is part of the artists statement:

“To transform this salvaged or discarded material into practical objects or pieces to please the eye and lift the spirit is my passion and joy.”

Isn’t that mission?

That we as individuals and as communities are called to attend to what is discarded. We can’t transform. Nor can we grow. But we can be part of processes that help draw forth the natural beauty, the God-placed grain that is in all human life (Genesis 1).

In so doing, we find joy. Thus mission is so much more than an act of obedience. It is an invitation to joy, to being part of God’s transforming processes in the world.

Posted by steve at 07:27 PM

Sunday, February 19, 2012

an eastern state thing

Enjoying Perth which seems to have such a relaxed vibe. I Was quickly made aware yesterday here in Perth of the eastern states factor, the distrust, the independence. An interesting dynamic.

People are very engaged and hospitable. The speaking team have offered a really rich and diverse input.

Posted by steve at 02:01 PM

Friday, February 17, 2012

Summer spirit Perth bound

I’m flying to Perth for the weekend, to speak at a conference called Summer Spirit. I’ve been asked to do three keynote sessions, 2 Q and A workshops and be part of one panel, and to speak about mission as fresh expressions.

Earlier this week I emailed over some things I will need
-blank pieces of A4 paper
– Boat making instructions
– felt pens
– pipe cleaners
– bags of licorice allsorts

After the conference, I’m staying on for a day, to enjoy tasting some Perth wines. I’m looking forward to that, plus being with folk I’ve not met before and being with another part of the Uniting Church, that diverse thing that is spread across the vast expanese of Australia

Posted by steve at 10:23 AM

Thursday, February 16, 2012

love feast an intensive ending

I’ve been team teaching with Michelle Cook an intensive for the last two weeks. The photo is from a student desk, the key texts (!), Basis of Union on top, Bible on the bottom. A seeking of integration, not a statement of priority!

It’s been a great few weeks. The new approach to tutorials has worked really, really, well. Students have not only been very engaged. They have also experienced processes around how to think. More importantly, they have also experienced the richness of thinking processes in community – that together we are so much more informed than in isolation. For students training for ministry, this seems to me to be such an essential skill, learning to work in and with groups cf solo minister.

During this week of the intensive we have been offering daily communion, each different, wanting to give students an experience as well as a lecture, wanting students to appreciate the rich diversity in communion practices. Monday was from Uniting in Worship. Tuesday was alternative worship with stations. Wednesday was an adaptation of Orthodox communion. Today was a love feast.

It was the final day of class, so folk were invited to bring food to share. As people arrived, a prayer inviting the Spirit was prayed. Bread was served. We were then ate the shared lunch around tables, enjoying communion of and with each other. During this time, a Bible story was told (thanks Sarah), about Jesus eating practices. As we moved into dessert, the communion cup was offered, followed by prayers of intercession. The benediction was chocolates, the invitation to take the love feast that is God’s communion sweetness into the world.

It was a lovely end to a great few weeks.

Posted by steve at 04:57 PM

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

book review: Liturgies from Lindisfarne

Liturgies from Lindisfarne. A book review (for Touchstone) by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

In a strange twist of fate, I encountered the author (Ray Simpson) and the sacred place (of Lindisfarne), before I opened this book. In September 2011, during study leave in England, I found myself in the North of England and close to Lindisfarne. Intrigued by its history of Christian pilgrimage, I decided to visit.

Over a long weekend I appreciated the isolated scenery and the abundance of bird life. I visited the church ruins, soaking in the stories of Celtic mission through Cuthbert and enjoyed the chance for regular prayer with the Christian residents on the Island. It was a deeply renewing few days.

Over breakfast on my last day, I enjoyed tea and toast with Ray Simpson. Past retirement age, Founding Guardian of the Community of Aidan and Hilda, still a popular speaker on spirituality and mission, we shared of faith and formation.

Upon my return, “Liturgies from Lindisfarne,” awaited on my desk. This makes the book the actual record of the work of a praying community: the Community of Aidan and Hilda, a dispersed, ecumenical body who seek to apply lessons from the Celtic Church in Britain (280 to 634 AD) to the church of the 21st century.

It offers a wide range of prayers – for daily prayer through a week, for the journey through Christian festivals, for special celebrations and for the events of life.

The words are fresh and clear, evidently honed over time by their actual use in a praying community. The theology is creation-centred, paying close attention to the experience of being human, including the seasons and the rhythms of life. This shows respect for the patterns and experiences of Celtic spirituality which shaped the first missionaries to Lindisfarne.

A pleasing feature is how attention is paid to the different experiences of the seasons. Thus prayers for Easter are not linked with Northern Hemisphere experiences like spring or lengthening day light, which makes them less useful in a down-under context.

One drawback is that it is A4 and thus, as a book, large in size. While this allows the type to be easily legible and for the layout to be spacious, it can make it difficult to hold, perhaps more so for those older in life.

A bonus is that all the prayers and services are contained in an accompanying CD-ROM, making it easy to reproduce on orders of services.

Over the last few weeks, I have enjoyed offering the Daily prayers among my community. It makes a welcome resource for prayer, both individual and communal.

Posted by steve at 02:40 PM

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

writing on windows

Great chapel today, creatively led by Sarah Agnew and Michelle Cook. The adoration station invited us to write words of thanks. On the window!

Yep. Liquid chalk.

An idea that deserves a mention in the creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, visual images on themes of pilgrimage). For more resources go here.

Full service here.

Posted by steve at 06:06 PM