Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What is a sacrament?

This week the intensive class is exploring sacraments. Rather than begin with the history of what is a sacrament, I decided to begin with two video clips. One of Archbishop Sentamu baptising publicly on Easter Saturday, another of an outdoor worship service, including communion, lasting six minutes. (I’ve blogged about this here).

and then ask what is a sacrament.

The responses were fascinating. Words included “public”, “witness”, “planned spontaneity”, “connecting to God.” Using the videos opened up a different space for discussion, about how the sacraments are part of the living mission of the church.

The depth of discussion grew this morning in our tutorial. The statement was “all of life is a sacrament” and readings included

The discussion was excellent. I suggested the following summary:

The Reformers argued for two sacraments, baptism and communion. Celebrating these has the effect of making all of life sacramental. Reformation theology had a particular emphasis on Christ and the events of Easter, especially Friday. Themes of creation and eschatology can enrich our theology and greatly enhance the mission of the church today.

Posted by steve at 01:57 PM

Monday, February 13, 2012

project progress: some first signs of life

A first sign of new life over the weekend at our house/project, with seeds germinating. They are a “cottage garden” mix, given to one of our kids in the “transition pack” we gave them as part of the move. Planted, last Sunday, protected by wire in case the 3 cats the previous owner has left behind try to take revenge, they are sprouting by our front deck.

They are a small sign of hope in what has been a week on the home front we would prefer to forget. The day we moved the builders decided to sand the gib, which meant all our stuff now sports a fine film of gib dust. The next day one of the subbies did a runner, with their replacement following suit a few days later. We are perched in the top part of the house, one of the kids sleeping on a sofa in the lounge, while we wait for the builders to finish. The other child has been sick, suffering asthma symptoms, trying to rest in a house filled with gib dust!

So finding even the tiniest sign of growth, the smallest sign of new life, is important.

I am using this post as a prayer, adding as a comment the initials of a person/place which today I want to experience life. You might like to pray with me, adding initials for a person or place in which you would like to see God breathe fresh life.

Posted by steve at 04:09 PM

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Film review of When a city falls: scripting contemporary lament

A 500 word (monthly) film review by Steve Taylor (for Touchstone magazine). This one is about contemporary lament, in particular the Christchurch earthquake. Film reviews of a wide range of contemporary films (over 65), each with a theological perspective, back to 2005 can be found here.

When a City Falls. A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

At the heart of the First Testament, and the experience of the people of Israel, is the disintegration and destruction of the city of Jerusalem. The resultant pain and trauma generated a type of literature known as lament, as vehicle to share experiences of suffering and hope for restoration. (more…)

Posted by steve at 06:50 PM

Friday, February 10, 2012

serving who? the point of higher education

I’ve just been sitting with one of our post-graduate students. They are on the final stretch of their Master of Ministry thesis, in which they have reflected on the recent mission journey of their church. They’ve taken some brave moves, to sell a building, to relocate into a urban deprived area. In the process they have discovered the power of hospitality as mission.

The thesis is a reflection on that journey and it is a rich, provocative and helpful resource.

But it is a thesis. And very few people, apart from examiners, read a thesis.

The student also has two Guided Reading topics to complete. Guided Readings are like “empty boxes” in which an individual learning contract is designed. It can be a set of books to read, or an intensive to undertaken.

So, I made a creative suggestion. Why not prepare 6 Bible studies on the theme of hospitality as mission. Write 6,000 words not of essay, but of study resource. Weave in some Biblical texts, some key quotes from books you have read and insights from your journey. Take your thesis and turn it into a “so what? and how could my community do this?” And then take it to your wider denomination and ask them if they’d like it as a resource? Because other churches might want to learn from your story?

The student grinned. And left very excited. A thesis. Should it serve the student, helping them grow? Or should it serve the wider church?

Posted by steve at 03:05 PM

Thursday, February 09, 2012

contemporary ministry images in Rev

I’m teaching church, ministry, sacraments and enjoying watching the BBC programme the Rev for clips worth showing to the class.

The first half of episode 3 is fascinating, as within 12 minutes it explores the wide range of ministry and mission models possible

  • ministry as carer – in this clip, with the great line “Soft touch for cash”
  • also ministry as inter-faith dialogue – in the welcoming of Muslims to use the church
  • ministry as Religious educator in schools
  • ministry as prophet – in the challenging of the start of a local strip club next door to the local school
  • ministry as funeral director – in the opening scene in which, being an inner-city parish, the hearse is towed away during the funeral
Posted by steve at 06:08 PM

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

the theological prejudice against the word leadership

A lovely, provocative quote from the current College Principal, Andrew Dutney, summing up some of the resistance to Uniting College deciding to call itself in 2008 the Uniting College of Leadership and Theology.

Everyone knew that “leadership” was a worldly fad that a real theological college would have nothing to do with. Most of the literature (though not all) came from America – and especially the tainted world of business. Most of the Christian literature on leadership (though not all) came from evangelical and Pentecostal churches – and although we describe the Uniting Church as catholic, reformed and evangelical we don’t mean that kind of evangelical. Most of it (but not all of it) was a popular, exhortative style – heavy on anecdote and light on intellectual rigour. From the perspective of a real theological college “leadership” was almost a dirty word.

In Andrew Dutney, A Genuinely educated ministry. Effective leaders for a healthy, missional church. New Updated Preface, page 5.

Posted by steve at 05:52 PM

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

thinking in straight lines

I am currently teaching an intensive on Church, Ministry, Sacraments, which is a compulsory course for Uniting Church candidates. Co-teaching actually, working with Michelle Cook, from Congress.

As part of the course, we are experimenting with a different approach to tutorials. (I have written more about this here, where I first sketched the idea). Here are the instructions given to the class on the first day.

The tutorials will have the following format:
• each tutorial the lecturer will offer a case study statement/question, along with some readings and resources.
• each tutorial the lecturer will stand at the board and prepare to take notes on the student discussion
• each tutorial discussion will evolve using the following framework. Each student will be given a set of cards and be expected to play one of their cards (an experience, or a Scriptural reflection, or an insight from tradition, or some reason, or an artifact from creation/culture)/tutorial.  All must be in relation to the case study question and should expect discussion and interaction by all the class.
• in the last 20 minutes the class will switch from discussion to reflection on the overall process. Overall, how do the “cards” integrate? Are there missing or overabundant parts? What are the implications for our processes as minsters and leaders in theological reflection?
• Student will write up one of the tutorials. This will involve providing a one page response to the case study statement/question. This should be in form of “Pastors’ paragraph.” While references are not expected in this, a separate Bibliography is expected. The one page is to be handed in one week after the tutorial. Students will gain extra marks if they show evidence of extra research over and above the set readings and class discussion. In other words, if a class finds a weakness in one tutorial in say tradition or Scripture, and the student goes away and does extra work in this area, more marks are gained.

The approach is based on the Wesleyan quadrilateral – experience, tradition, Scripture, reason.

(Hat tip: Diagram from Scott McKnight). However we’ve added a fifth element, culture, because it’s so significant in how we do theology and so often unrecognised.

Here are the five Church, Ministry, Sacraments tutorial questions Michelle and I drafted, based on what we think are current issues facing the church:
1 – “It’s not that the church of God has a mission, but that the God of mission has a church.”
2 – Is Uniting Care church?
3 – I’m not into the word leadership because I’ve seen too many leaders misuse power.
4 – All of life is a sacrament.
5 – We restrict the Spirit if we only baptise those who have been through a discipleship process.

With two tutorials over, it is proving a great way to teach. Students are highly engaged and seem to be reading more than normal. The discussion is wide-ranging and robustly critical of each other. There is an evident and growing appreciation of what it means to think in straight lines, using the breadth of the Christian resources. Which is essential, because as folk head into ministry, the tutorial questions will change as society changes. So the skills needed are not in knowing content, but in knowing how to work with content in the face of life’s changing questions.

Posted by steve at 01:41 PM

Monday, February 06, 2012

transition pack: an everyday spiritual resource

Moving house isn’t easy. There’s the hard work of moving, the disruption of routines and patterns, the things that are misplaced. But it’s also fun, a chance to change a room, to explore new places, to find new things.

We’re in the process of moving, which involves not just a move, but a lot of work to get the new location liveable.

To help our kids in the move, on Saturday we gave them both a “transition pack.” It was a brown paper bag, with the name on the outside. And inside was some things that might make the move more fun.

  • their very own paint brush, to be part of painting their own room,
  • their very own paint roller, brand new for their room
  • colour charts for the choosing of colours
  • flowers seeds for their patch of flower garden
  • vegetable seeds for their patch of vegetable garden
  • a creative project idea.

It was a fun moment, which helped them to thing about some of the enjoyable parts of moving. And it was interesting to note how the “transition packs” got immediately packed in the car, and taken over to be put into use.

A simple idea, but one that seemed helpful.

(For more examples of “transition packs” and their use in church ministry, see here.)

Posted by steve at 07:29 AM

Daily prayer for Waitangi Day

Today I was leading our 20 minute daily prayer service here at Uniting College. Being Waitangi Day in New Zealand, a day to reflect upon the Treaty of Waitangi and it’s implications for today, I decided I would name some of my cultural heritage and make it a basis for our daily prayer. (Other worship resources I’ve shaped for Waitangi Day services are summarised here). So last night I DJed a few elements together – something tactile in the shape of a puzzle piece, some Scriptures, a prayer and an active intercessory response. For those interested, here tis (more…)

Posted by steve at 12:24 AM

Sunday, February 05, 2012

the project is prayer: a renovation spirituality

Two weeks ago, we took possession of a project. It is a real mission – every room but the bathroom and laundry needs work. Some rooms had holes in the walls, others had no ceiling.

It has meant an enormous amount of effort, removing previous occupiers animal odours, pulling up carpets, gibbing, plastering, building. We have a deadline in which to be out of our current place, and ideally would like to have at least a few rooms we can sleep in, and store our stuff in.

Today, tiredly, I faced another day of “house work” and wondered what God was up to in all this?

And as I waited, I reflected on the idea that work is prayer. I have some things that greatly concern me, and I realised that the house was connected to these concerns. In other words, every minute I work on the house I am actually responding to the things that concern me. This means that “house work” is literally prayer.

Now the danger is that I think my work will help. And thus prayer simply becomes me trying to resolve the things that concern me.

Yet I began to wonder if there is a deeper way to appreciate the hard work? If work is prayer, then every scrape of sandpaper, every swing of a hammer, is an embodiement of “Give us this day our daily bread”/God resolve these concerns I bring to you.

I left for work with a different, more prayerful, angle on which to find God in the days activities.

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

Posted by steve at 08:47 AM

Friday, February 03, 2012

fantastic read: From chaos to mission

On the plane yesterday to Sydney I started reading Gerard Arbuckle’s From Chaos to Mission: Refounding Religious Life Formation. It is fantastic.

It is not exactly recent (1997), but Jonny has often mentioned Gerard, so last year I brought a copy and it arrived earlier this week.

Gerard is a Catholic, yet his writing has so many echoes – the priority of context, the call for pioneer type ministry, the challenge to face society rather than church. In From Chaos to Mission: Refounding Religious Life Formation he explores these themes in relation to training – (in Protestant speak) how to train missional leaders.

He does this out of personal experience, having tried to reshape a Catholic Seminary for mission. He uses cultural anthropology as a lens, what is happening in the shift to post-modernity and how this influences both the task of mission and those who candidate; plus the cultures of what is happening within organisations, how they respond to change.

For myself, working at Uniting College, which has embarked on a change process around leaders in mission, it was like I’ve found a kindred spirit, albiet from a totally different space. When I become Principal, I think I might suggest we as staff and as a leadership council read it together as a way of looking at ourselves from another perspective.

Oh, did I forget to say, Arbuckle is a Kiwi (but currently works in Sydney, for the Refounding and Pastoral Development unit!

Posted by steve at 08:32 AM

Thursday, February 02, 2012

a day’s retreat with Uniting world

Today I am spending the day with Uniting World, who are the overseas mission arm of the Uniting Church of Australia. My task is to input into the 19 staff, who have gathered on retreat. (It means a long day, as they are meeting in Sydney, so a 5 am start, back in Adelaide by 7 pm).

I think I will frame my time with them around two questions.

First, what do we do with the word “mission”? I will tell a couple of stories that might be a window into the current mission state of the Uniting Church. One will reflect on how church folk are shaped today by their previous experience of mission, the other on our tendency to reduce mission. I hope that will provoke some discussion on how we frame, imagine and talk mission today.

Second, I will ask them about the Uniting Church Preamble, and what is the missiology embedded in it, and what that might mean.

I also have some global mission stories, which I have prepared as takeaway postcards, along with some recent non-Western mission thinking, which perhaps I might salt through the conversation.

I am not at all sure what and who I will find, and my brief has been fairly vague. So I’m feeling a tad nervous, but am praying that some connection points get made and that we all leave a little richer.

Posted by steve at 05:09 AM

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Is it time to change the word “mission”

Let me give one story. Last year I worked for a year with a local church. This involved meeting 4 times with their leaders, preaching once, designing for them some Lenten listening-in-mission exercises and facilitating two forums.

In other words, quite some time.

As the year ended, I asked for an informal catchup, a chance to reflect on the year and what had worked, and what had not.

During the conversation, one of those present suddenly exploded. “I have no time for this black arm band stuff,” he announced. And out poured a long passionate speech, about how busy he was, about how much he prized good relationships with his neighbours, about how there was no way he was going to tell them they needed saving, about how talking to them about god in the hope of getting them church to grow was a sick motivation for being a good neighbour. It was a passionate, articulate speech.

Given that I had preached on mission, I asked him if that was the type of mission he had heard me articulated. When I preached, I had used Luke 10:1-12.

  • Who is God? the Sender.
  • Where is God? in 3 places. First in the church, second in the towns and villages of our communities.
  • What is God up to? seeking relationships, speaking peace and in the seeing of lives changed.

I thought I had done my level, preaching best to offer a contemporary understanding of mission – God is at work in the world and we are invited to participate. Here’s an excerpt from the sermon:

So mission doesn’t starts with us. Not our bright idea. Not something we do because we need a few more people to join our church. It’s simply because God is sending God. Who chooses all types of ordinary, everyday people.

So mission doesn’t starts with us. Not our bright idea. Not something we do because we need a few more people to join our church. It’s simply because God is sending God. Who chooses all types of ordinary, everyday people.

But the stereotypes, the previous bad experiences, seemed to loom to large for what I said to be heard.

Hence my question: Is it time to change the word “mission.” Do we keep trying to redeem the word? Or is it so damaged, that we need to find a new word, a new language?

Posted by steve at 10:31 AM