Thursday, August 30, 2012

the melbourne mission

I’m in Melbourne for the weekend, speaking on mission to a church camp for Manningham Uniting. The family are flying with me and when I’m not speaking, we’ll be enjoying the sights, sounds and shops of Melbourne.

I’ve been asked to engage with their governance group on Friday evening, do 3 interactive sessions with the whole church on Saturday, then preach on Sunday. It’s something I find myself doing more and more here in Australia – speaking at church camps about mission – I’ve got another two before the years out. A camp about mission. Is this a trend? Or something more Australian than Kiwi?

Posted by steve at 08:02 AM

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Guerilla grafting as sign of new heaven, new earth?

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Revelation 22:1-2

So is this – guerilla grafting- a sign? Or simply acts of vandalism by a romantic few?

For the full story, go here

Posted by steve at 10:42 PM

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

conversion and the Uniting Church Preamble

It was great to drop into one of our integrative classes today for a lecture on the Missiology of Conversion.

We have introduced two compulsory Integrative topics in our new Bachelor of Ministry. Rather than assume that by some sort of informal osmosis, students somehow miraculously become able to weave together theory and practice, Bible and ministry, leadership and theology, we’ve decided that we actually need to both model and expect integration.

So the two compulsory Integrative topics explores six models of theological reflection (from Theological Reflection: Methods).

To ground the models, each year a different theme is chosen. The four teaching streams at Uniting College – Bible, missiology, leadership, discipleship – speak to that theme, while the students workshop a case study from their ministry context, using one of the six suggested theological models.

The theme this year is conversion. So on behalf of the missiology stream I introduced a number of contemporary missiologies of conversion.

First, the Uniting Church Revised Preamble to the Constitution. I suggested the Preamble provided a fascinating approach to conversion – God is already present, faith must be embodied in just deeds, conversion invites all parties are in an ever-deepening Gospel process.

Second, we sat with an essay by Wilbert Shenk in Landmark Essays in Mission and World Christianity which outlines trends in mission in the non-Western world. What do we need to hear, to absorb, from all parts of the globe, not just the Western part, as we begin to think about conversion? What are the best practice insights regarding church, Spirit, Jesus, gospel and culture that need to be shaping us?

Third, a childrens story by Joy Cowley (Tarore and Her Book), which documents how indigenous people in New Zealand were the primary agents in the spread of the Gospel. Again, the story provides a fascinating approach to conversion – God is already present, faith must be embodied in just deeds, conversion invites all parties are in an ever-deepening Gospel process.

Fourth, we conversed

  • What insights from the Preamble might guide conversion?
  • What does “already encountered” (Para 3) mean for conversion?
  • What practices would enable conversion to have a trajectory toward “same love and grace fully and finally revealed in Jesus Christ” (Para 3)?
  • What does “integrity of the Gospel proclaimed” (Para 6) for the mission of the church, past and present?

It was a rich and energising discussion – of mission, of Uniting Church theology, of history.

Posted by steve at 07:04 PM

Monday, August 27, 2012

Uniting College mission future

One of my tasks as Principal is to write for various Synod publications. Here is what got compiled last week for the quarterly Treasurers newsletter.

A few weeks a young couple came to see me, armed with questions about ministry in the Uniting Church. With their permission, this is some of their story.

She was born in rural Australia and moved to Adelaide to study. In 2008, as part of her degree, she did a placement in Port Augusta. She felt a stirring, a sense that she might return one day. She returned to Adelaide to continue her study. She met and married a trained youth worker.

After university study, they found employment in community ministry here in Adelaide. Together they sensed God’s call to the marginalised and poor. In order to explore this call they moved to work with Urban Neighbours of Hope (UNOH) in Sydney. They loved the values of UNOH, of Incarnational work in partnership with the lost and the least. But they still remained restless, sensing their call was not urban, but to regional South Australia.

They moved to Port Augusta, he to community youth work, she to volunteering at the aged care home in Davenport, plus paid a few days a week as part of the Aboriginal education team in the school. They found the most run down suburb and moved in. They find themselves linking with the Uniting Church, one week with Congress, the other week with Port Augusta Uniting Church.

In the Uniting Church they heard about the ministry of Deacon. Hence their visit to see me. They want to be in Port Augusta for the next 15 years, to embrace a ministry of Incarnational community development. How can their sense of call be realised in the ministries of the Uniting Church?

The Uniting Church’s understanding of ministry is that we are all called to ministry. The Basis of Union says “The Uniting Church affirms …. one Spirit has endowed the members of his church with a diversity of gifts, and that there is no gift without its corresponding service: all ministries have a part in the ministry of Christ.”

The Uniting College is about developing effective leaders of healthy, missional churches who are passionate, Christ-centred, highly skilled, mission oriented practitioners. That is you and that is me and that is our friends in Port Augusta seeking to discern their gifts and calling with the Uniting Church.

Posted by steve at 08:37 AM

Saturday, August 25, 2012

the joys and tensions of a “church serving College”?

It is interesting to reflect on the activities of our College faculty over the last week or so.

One is speaking over the weekend to youth throughout the State about mission. Another is speaking to a chaplains retreat about the place of lament in mission and ministry. Another chaired a gathering of lay folk interested in history, church and influence. Another led a 2 day annual leadership retreat for ministers of another denomination. Another is Interstate, speaking at a young adults camp. You get a glimpse of a College faculty deeply engaged in the life and ministry of the church. Which is very life-giving.

The tension that results is around the multiple masters that a College serves. There is only so much a group of people can do. This post is another way for me to reflect on a recurring issue Can one College serve two masters: academy or church?

Posted by steve at 12:52 PM

Thursday, August 23, 2012

taking the sense making faith challenge

I was most pleased with how the Magarey lectures whole Bible, whole people, whole mission series of retreat reflections ended. I concluded by pointed out how the whole time had been a risk. They had trusted me and they I had trusted them. Together we had trusted God and it had been rich.

So why not continue this pattern of risk together? In preparation I had identified 5 “sense” projects (gathered from Sense Making Faith Body Spirit Journey). I had typed them up, photocopied them and cut them into separate cards. I walked around the room, inviting folk to take one.

Here was the risk. That rather than me give them some options that they might or might not to when they got back home, that they would commit to do whatever sense project was on the card they chose.

And the next time they gather, to be accountable by telling the stories of what happened.

And then I played the scene from Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, when Lucy steps through the wardrobe into another world. It’s a wonderful 2 minutes of taking a risk, to discover a whole new world. A wonderful invitation, a great ending.

Here were the 5 sense challenges. Dare you to take close your eyes, place your finger on the screen and just do whatever one your finger is closest to ….. (more…)

Posted by steve at 07:01 PM

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

the road trip makes sense

My first Principal “road trip” has come to an end. 11 lectures/talks in 6 days with 16 hours driving. This is part of what I did with the Churches of Christ ministers over the last few days. Around the theme of whole Bible, whole people, whole mission we explored the place of senses in the Christian journey.

If we as leaders are give the gift of senses, and people in the Bible had the gift of senses, and people in our communities have senses, then how can these common touching points be lifegiving for our mission and our ministry.

Hence the picture – a table with things to see, canned food to be used in intercession, a Saint John’s Bible: Gospels and Acts to appreciate, colour chips to explore our feelings, a scroll to remind us of the senses in the original, Biblical world.

It felt risky, leading a group of strangers into new terrain. But the feedback – from a person a Christian less than a year, to highly educated leaders, to retired ministers – was overwhelmingly positive. By locating the senses, a very wide range of engagement became possible – personal, how we read the Bible, justice, living well, being church, mission and ministry.

Posted by steve at 06:03 PM

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

whole Bible, whole people, whole mission – Magarey lectures 2012

I’m privileged over the next few days to be working with the Churches of Christ. I’ve been asked to deliver the Magarey lectures, which means two days of input. In discussion with the organisors last year, we’ve agreed on the theme of:

whole Bible, whole people, whole mission

Over the weekend, I asked my traveling companion what were the 3 best things the College could do for the church in South Australia. The reply was immediate

  • form missional agents
  • lead us to engage Scriptures as experiential and alive
  • provide fresh understandings of being church

They then cheated and slipped in two more

  • be of the Synod not apart from the Synod
  • encourage a vital, living, church-facing faith among the College team

It provided a frame in helping me understand what I’ll be doing over these days with the Churches of Christ – engaging the Scriptures as experiential and alive. I will begin with some stories of my mission experience and then one by one, explore our God-given senses – introducing them to this resource.

DAY 1 21st August

1030-1145 Session 1 – whole Bible, whole people
1330-1500 Session 2 – Journey into seeing
1530-1700 Session 3 – Journey into hearing
1930-2100 Session 4 – Journey into smell

DAY 2 22nd August

0900-1015 Session 5 – Journey into touch
1045-1200 Session 6 – Journey into taste
1400-1500 Session 7 – Journey into whole mission

Posted by steve at 08:58 AM

Monday, August 20, 2012

preludes and Practical Theology (or leadership as an orchestra)

Update: Tonight as the woodwind instruments played, the birds outside the chapel began to chirp. Nature’s harmonies in chime!

On Thursday I slipped into the back of a school concert, to listen to one of Team Taylor play oboe in the Senior Concert Band. Exhausted after a long day at work, including preparation for the Eyre Peninsula trip, it was exactly what I needed, a reminder of the power of music to invite, to soothe, to create space in which to be.

The previous weekend I’d been reading Jeanne Stevenson Moessner, Prelude to Practical Theology: Variations on Theory and Practice. She suggests that “theology is like music of religious inquiry.” (67)

Practical theology does not exist in isolation but in an orchestra filled with homileticians, religious educators, spiritual mentors, pastoral care and counseling specialists, liturgists, liberation theologians, missiologists, sociologists, and ethicists. (67)

Moessner notes the mutuality within a musical community and the non-hierarchical role of the conductor as a model for leadership. Here are the 7 principles of orchestration (55).

1. Remember that people, or music lovers, want to hear an orchestra, not an institution.
2. Look for the common solutions even in chaos, for chaos precedes the creative act.
3. Accept repetition as a normal occurrence in the music of ministry.
4. Lead by allowing others to take initiative,
5. Develop leaders (musicians) who are flexible, creative and also collegial.
6. Encourage a free exchange of ideas, or scores.
7. Understand that God is not necessarily efficient, but passionate.

Sitting listening to “Mekong” on Thursday, it all made sense – not logically, but intuitively, artistically, beautifully.

Posted by steve at 08:54 PM

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Eyre update and the gift of wide open spaces

I’m just back from a great weekend in the Eyre Peninsula – 6 hour drive up on Friday, talking about mission on the Saturday, 6 hour return drive today. The reason was an invite to work with the Rural Resourcing team for the Uniting Church, addressing the theme “Getting on with Mission,” and leading in communion.  Here is some of our work together

As part of my teaching I’d asked folk to make a symbol of their communities, which I then collected. During the concluding worship, these symbols were re-distributed, held and in small groups folk prayed for each other’s mission across the Peninsula. A wonderful expression of inter-connection.

These were placed on the communion table. The lectionary text was John 6, so I had taken up a bread maker, which meant hot bread for communion. The smell a wonderful image of mission.

There were 41 folk from all 16 churches from across the Eyre Peninsula and lots of very positive feedback. Being told I’m “practical” and “commonsense” is very gratifying feedback from country folk from another country!

While I’ll probably be tired by weeks end, I return very aware that these things are just what I need as part of my Principal rhythm. The wide open spaces of rural Australia were a tonic after a busy week of meetings. What is more important is how these events get me out among the churches and engaging with lay people. They earth me among the struggles (to survive)

and the joys (finding a church in the middle of nowhere in which 60 folk gather each Sunday)

Posted by steve at 10:08 PM

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

mission postcards

I shut the door this afternoon and found some space to do some creative planning. The result was some mission postcards – four in total. One side of each postcard is an art image, on the other side a Biblical text. The task will be for folk to work in groups to identify the mission practices present.

The occasion is that fact that I’m working with some rural churches in the Eyre Peninsula over the upcoming weekend. Rural as in 6 hours drive one way. So I leave on Friday morning and return Sunday evening.

I am doing three of these rural events this year. In May I was in Robe, while in September I’ll be in Laura. In Robe I did 3 sessions. But there’s only time for 2 sessions in the Eyre Peninsula, which meant I needed to find a new way to get to where I wanted to go.

I’d be playing with an idea for a while, emerging from Picturing Christian Witness: New Testament Images of Disciples in Mission by Stanley Skreslet.

In sum, mission in the New Testament involves four domains

  • being a mate – being salt and light in our neighbourhoods
  • having a yarn – voicing our story
  • crossing the ditch – stepping across boundaries both cultural and generational
  • sharing the load – the determination to stretch, to extend the reach of Christian pastoral compassion.

I’ll then provide some contemporary examples of each, hoping that in the mix of Biblical engagement, art, conversation and stories from today, folk will find fresh resources for their context.

Posted by steve at 09:31 PM

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

finding my Baptist story in the Uniting story

The front of my Masters thesis has the following inscription:

The Lord hath yet more light and truth to break forth from [God's] holy Word.

It was 1996 and I was training to be a Baptist minister in New Zealand. Exploring mission (in this case analysing contextual images of the atonement as part of post-graduate research) it was liberating to discover these words in an old Baptist hymn book and their origin in a sermon, preached by an early Pilgrim father, John Robinson, in July 1620.

Growing in my Baptist identity, I felt a connection. This was a history I found inspiring. Here were people who prized religious freedom and radical discipleship, who had a way of seeing God that looked forward, that expected growth and innovation.

Imagine my surprise last week, some 16 years later, in another country, in another denomination, to hear these very same words quoted. Not only quoted, but then to be invited to sing the very hymn, from which the words come (We limit on the truth of God).

No, not in a Baptist church, but in a recent worship service here at Uniting College. The service, part of our monthly Leadership Formation Day, was shaped by an invitation for us in the Uniting Church to remember the Great Ejection, a moment in history this month some 350 years ago, when non-conformists where forced out the Church of England.

During the service, four candles were lit.

As each was lit, a part of this story was named, various leaders celebrated, the importance of religious freedom and radical discipleship named. It was explained to us that the Uniting Church was formed from three denominations. Now, in the three years that I’ve been around the Uniting Church, I’ve heard a lot about the Methodist and the Presbyterian roots. But there is a third partner, the Congregationalist church. And here in chapel, this previously silent member of the family, the Congregatationalist part, was being given voice.

“the Congregational mind: in taste, catholic; in feeling, evangelical; in expression, scholarly; in doctrine, orthodox.’” (Bernard Lord Manning)

I sat open mouthed, amazed, that what was a very important part of my Baptist story, was also part of the Uniting Church story, also named, repeated, honoured. My (Baptist) long lost traveling companions are also Uniting Church long lost traveling companions. We share similar forebears.

(For those who think that what happened 350 years ago is dry and dusty, it’s worth noting that earlier this year, a Service of Reconciliation was held at Westminster Abbey. Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, preached at the service, in which the Anglican church sought forgiveness for the Great Ejection. Here is some of what Rowan preached –

‘Until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.’ [Ephesians 4.13]

Our Christian faith is something constantly growing, constantly moving towards greater maturity, a greater approximation toward the stature of Christ. And as we grow we need for our maturing, challenges that push us away from infantile faith.)

Posted by steve at 09:45 PM

Monday, August 13, 2012

nature’s blessing

After a full day at work, in which in spite of my best efforts, the unrelenting email increased and the jammed calendar got a few more appointments stuffed in it, it was a gift to encounter this

blossom, gently laid during the day over my car windscreen.

I drove home aware of being given a gift, being offered a totally different way of looking at work – not as offices in which I work long and hard, but as a place open to grace, to the gentle gift of natures nurture.

(For another blossom experience, see B=Blossom in my ever expanding Dictionary of everyday spirituality).

Posted by steve at 07:13 PM

Saturday, August 11, 2012

the kainga returns

kainga – a Maori word for home, address, residence, village, habitation, habitat.

This is the colours we’re painting the outside of our house – offwhite (Quartz) walls and chocolate brown (Balsamic) windows (inside the window is a wine bottle, a gift from one of my classes, and a VW combi model).

Unsure about how the stresses of being Principal would impact me, I’ve taken a month off the house. But it was good today to be back into it today. Painting top coats is always very satisfying. Instant gratification, although they rely on the hours of undercoat preparation.

Anyhow, the overall result is pleasing.

This is our kitchen window, which had totally stumped our local window tradie. He spent over 20 minutes walking around it, inside and out, scratching his head, to eventually declared he’d never before seen anything like it.

The previous owners had taken a window out. The window they tried to put in place didn’t quite fit! So they just put it in anyway, leaving left 10 cm “air holes” either side. It must have been a cold place in winter!

So it was out with the old window. Which also meant new exterior cladding to cater for the hole left. On the way, it was worth putting in batts, before a new window got inserted, undercoated and now – today – painted.

Posted by steve at 09:12 PM