Wednesday, October 31, 2012

the colours of formation

“Ministerial formation is a life-long process. It involves the whole person.” (This quote comes from our Uniting College Formation Panel handbook.)

That is so provocative. How does what a theological college offers give expression to what is life-long and embodied? It is so tempting to assume those who join us are blank slates, in whom we need to download everything they need. It is equally tempting to assume that we have more influence than reality, because a person has countless influences in their lives outside of the theological college experience – family, friends, sport, church – that makes them who they are.

So how does ministerial formation respect the past and integrate the whole? One way to conceptualise this is through categories of theological study, ministry practice and formation. To seek to place equal weight on class, experience and the non-formal practices and disciplines.

Which got me thinking colours. You see, part of the whole person is our visual and our sensory. Part of the whole person means thinking not only in words, but also in colours.

If you had to choose one colour, what colour is theological study?
If you had to choose one colour, what colour is ministry practice?
If you had to choose one colour, what colour is formation?

Posted by steve at 06:11 PM

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

latest mission matters news

Here is the latest Mission matters newslettter from the Uniting College missiology stream. Books worth reading, key participants, update on comings and goings, projects being developed and course offerings for 2013. Excellent progress for a stream birthed at College less than 3 years old!

November 2010 here; June 2011 here; June 2012 here;

Posted by steve at 09:53 PM

Monday, October 29, 2012

Position vacant: Chaplaincy Coordinator

This is the first obvious sign of innovation at Uniting College since I became Principal.

Chaplaincy Coordinator
Uniting College is seeking a gifted person 1 day/week (annual fixed term, renewable) to network, co-ordinate and develop new Diploma of Ministry specialisations in chaplaincy (school, aged, hospital, salt and light). It is essential to possess chaplaincy experience and a higher education qualification. Enquiries and applications to Steve Taylor steve.taylor at flinders dot edu dot au. Applications close 5 November 2012.

Background: In a group brainstorming session a few months ago, we identified first that there is a gap in the Uniting church in chaplaincy training. There are short courses of say six months at vocational level and there are topics (for example Theology and Practice of Chaplaincy) in our 3 year Bachelor of Ministry. But that leaves a lot of space. Second, that in our accrediting of our Bachelor of Ministry degree, we had been encouraged to add a one year equivalent Diploma. While until now we had seen it as a general exit award, the regulations gave us space to make this specific.

So why not offer a Diploma of Ministry with specialisations – aged care chaplaincy, school chaplaincy, hospital chaplaincy? And who knows, in time “salt and light” street chaplains?

Since then, everyone we’ve talked to has encouraged us – our Boards and various stakeholders.

But as we looked at our existing staff, we realised we lacked practitioner expertise in these areas. Hence this new position – Chaplaincy Coordinator – with responsibilities to
• play a key role in developing chaplains who are passionate, Christ-centred, highly skilled and mission oriented practitioners
• promote chaplaincy and chaplaincy courses throughout the South Australian Presbytery/Synod including through the Mission Networks of the church
• assist those teaching core topics in shaping their content and assessment in a way that is relevant to chaplaincy
• oversee the development of and teaching of four elective topics that will maximise the response to chaplaincy needs, through teaching and recruitment of experienced practitioners
• keep abreast of current research in the area of chaplaincy.
• provide course advice and supervision to those seeking to develop skills in or pursuing a vocation in chaplaincy

It is just a start, a testing of the waters, but it’s nice to be setting the sails for a bit of adventure.

Posted by steve at 09:13 PM

Friday, October 26, 2012

faith formation for leaders in mission: hitting the time capsule

In a few weeks, I have to “vision cast,” present a “big picture” to our Uniting church candidates on the topic – academic formation. I’ve been wondering what to say.

Some 6 years ago, I was asked to engage a similar topic while a lecturer at Laidlaw College. It’s interesting to read now what I wrote then, to enter the time capsule, the denominational time capsule, the contextual (Aotearoa New Zealand to Australia) time capsule. Here is my big picture of faith formation some six years ago …

I turned to Paul’s autobiography in Galatians 1:13-18. I pointed out the factors at work in the Paul’s storytelling;
– text knowledge; “advancing in Judaism”
– church knowledge; “traditions of my ancestor”
– human experience; the Damascus Road
– processing space; “after three years”
– community engagement; “acquainted with Cephas.”

I suggested that [Paul’s faith was] re-integrated. He was taking processing time to reconsider text and church in light of human experience. He was processing in community, checking his re-integration with Peter.

And this mix of experience; text; processing; community was life changing for Paul and moved him into ministry.

Considering church and human experience allow him to integrate his past and his emotions; Considering text knowledge allows him to integrate his intellect and build depth and continuity; Processing allows him nuance and insight; Engagement with Peter in community processing keeps him down to earth and people focused.

This was integrating faith; text; church; experience; processing; community

All of us are like Paul; we bring human experiences, we bring church experiences, we have engaged with texts of Bible, history, culture.

And now we become aware of the gift of processing space and the gift of community engagement. So in fact, going to a bible college could, like Paul, be a life-changing experience.

(Full post six years ago here)

Posted by steve at 09:22 PM

Thursday, October 25, 2012

insider, outsider perceptions

At Uniting College, we’re in the midst of a vision, planning and promotion process. We’re taking some months to explore questions like  – What is our unique God-given charism (call)? What is the unique context in which we’re placed? Given that context, what do we want to be in 4 years time (vision)? What do we need to focus on to get there (signposts)? How would we know if we’ve got there (measurable outcomes)? What markers will set to guide our progress (strategy)?

We began with a 3 day workshop in September and it’s been fascinating to be part of a theological College of a mainline church engaging in such a process. The amount of energy, goodwill and clarity generated has been wonderful.

A second phase of the process began today, 2 days of work around promotion. Focus groups (potential students, current students, graduates, staff) will be woven together with phone interviews and a survey.

One of the exercises from today was around the question of what draws a person to a College/seminary. Focus groups were asked to list the following in order of priority. What will be fascinating will be comparing focus groups. What do potential students value, compared with what staff think potential students they might value?

Here’s the list of 12

  • focus (missional)
  • flexibility in study
  • teaching staff
  • theology
  • emphasis on practical experience
  • subject selection
  • college culture
  • denominational alliance
  • levels of study – from diploma to PhD
  • working with local churches
  • location of campus
  • emphasis on research

What would you put? What would be your top 2? What would be your bottom 2?

Posted by steve at 02:24 PM

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

the place of balaams asses (ie Christian kitsch) in theology

In relation to my previous post, Kinda commented “I recognized this immediately, as will every other 10 yr old girl in America, as Lisa Frank with a little Jesus photoshopping.”

That’s exactly why I put it up!

I’ve been reading Betty Spackman, A Profound Weakness: Christians & Kitsch. As an artist, she set out to critique these poor relations of ecclesiastical art, only to find herself torn between being deeply moved and outraged by their sentimental appeal.

It is 440 pages, of souvenirs, fakes, crafts, tracts, relics. Her conclusion is that if God can speak through Balaam’s ass, he can “certainly communicate through even the humblest art.” Yes – even a photoshop of a child’s book.

She goes on, “which rather nullifies the arguments of taste and craftsmanship when it comes to Christian outreach. However, this doesn’t mean we should be content with making mediocre art. Also, we should always keep in mind that in truth it is people, not plastic nightclubs, Christians, not kitsch, that are called be lights to the world.” (A Profound Weakness: Christians & Kitsch, page 21)

This has important mission implications, for these are dialogue points for conversation.

It’s why I, as a theologian, research on popular music (like U2) and TV animated cartoons (like Bro’town). Because I might just get to be challenged by Balaam’s ass and the insights via 10 year old girls.

Posted by steve at 12:03 PM

Monday, October 22, 2012

fascinating art image ecological Christ, Colossians 1

I saw this on Facebook and have no idea of the original source, nor the artist’s intent. But to me it seemed a fascinating expression – in the colours of the rainbow, the dolphins, so often a sign of ecological harmony, rising – of Colossians 1:18-20 – the ecological Christ.

all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross

Posted by steve at 09:39 PM

Sunday, October 21, 2012

small missional communities and the Uniting church

Jonny Baker describes the growth of small missional communities, with around 30 groups from the London Diocese gathering recently to network.

most were a small community that had moved into a particular area (often one with a lot of deprivation and poverty), meeting together in a bar or home or allotment, seeking to follow christ but their focus is simply helping transform their community – in arts, environment, in social needs, with youth and so on. they are not that focused on growing big – but more like the yeast of the kingdom that jesus talked about infecting the wider batch of dough. a couple of people spoke of the challenge of weaning members off their addiction to consumer approaches to church where they get their fix of worship and teaching and meeting with friends before they could properly engage in this more local, outward focused community approach (maybe we need a 12 step detox programme for leaving consumner church!?). what was also interesting is that many of these described a positive relationship with their local churches – they were not competing for punters – far from it. but they brought a mission energy to the area that could really help a local church or do things a local church was not able to do.

I also see it as a way of getting out of the “alt.worship” mode, in which the energy mainly went into re-creating gathered worship. In small missional communities, the energy is focused on life-as-mission. Both are ways of beginning a mission, but I suspect different beginning point suit different personalities and also different contexts.

The question, as one who who grew up anabaptist, is how these missional communities relate to the wider church. This piece for me is addressed in Pete Ward’s Liquid Church, in which the use of “flow” becomes a way to envisage relationships. What is fascinating about Jonny’s quote is the way this flow is being located locally – within local churches. Good stuff.

Within the Uniting/Adelaide context in which I now work, I see a number of distinct possibilities. We need a way of being Presbytery (dare I say, mission network/s) that allows accountability and resourcing to be shared. The gift of the Uniting church is a church in every suburb and thus a physicality about being neighbourhood. The other weakness of being small and missional is resourcing when you start to connect with the marginalised. Again a Presbytery-as-network would address this.

A further facet about being Uniting is the potential for partnerships with Uniting Care, who can provide professional resourcing but can’t be “church” without conflicts of interest around proseltyising. Is there a 3 way synergy that needs to emerge – Uniting Care; local church buildings; small missional communities? ie professional resourcing + local presence + engaged life-as-mission groupings.

Now all we need is a motion at Synod that invited a new mission network around small missional communities; and a College committed to training missional pioneers.

Oh but wait, haven’t we got the second already?

Posted by steve at 08:30 PM

Friday, October 19, 2012

What is missiology?

I wrote this at the start of 2010, as the inaugural Director of Missiology, being asked to develop a new missiology stream at Uniting College, which included history and theology, but expected it to be taught out of a Missio Dei perspective. I came across it again this morning and wanted to note it here as placeholder.

“a time when missiology (reflection) is as important as mission (action)” – Ross Langmead

Missiology IS NOT Colonialisation-ology, although it has been and can still can be. Nor is it Growing churches-ology, although it has been and can still can be.

Missiology IS participation in God’s purposes in the world, with particular attention to the voice of the other.

It asks questions about God and humans: including “what is God up to in the world?” and “what does it mean for humans to participate in that activity?” It is aware that these questions have been asked before and in other cultures, and so looks to church history and theology for challenge and inspiration.

Missiology skills
1. Be able to articulate mission then, mission now, both in Australia and across history
2. Ability to read contemporary contexts, both local and in general popular culture
3. Experience cross-cultural
4. Be able to work with the theological tradition in light of contemporary questions
5. Demonstrate ability to connect Uniting Church practices with contemporary spiritual searchers
6. Be able to cultivate leadership – whether a mission hub, forming a new expression, community development, salt and light in workplace

Posted by steve at 08:46 AM

Thursday, October 18, 2012

In scarcity there is both beauty and intrigue

“We’ve always used the limitations of the band as a creative tool almost.”


“In scarcity there is both beauty and intrigue.”

Winemaker, Chapel Hill Wines

So, might the decline of the church in the West be a good thing? Might it result in beauty, intrigue, creativity – but only if seen as a gift to be embraced, rather than a crisis to be fought.

(For two practical examples of how this might be important in leadership, see here).

Posted by steve at 09:28 PM

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

bush theology

I’ve been on study leave the last few days. I booked out the time back in June to be in Tasmania with Cheryl Lawrie feeling art and space. That fell over.

So I’ve gone walking instead. About 25 minutes from home is the Onkaparinga National Park, which includes 17 km of gorge.

The plan has been simple. Walk and read. I’ve immersed myself in 2 Corinthians. The first day I read the entire book just for flow. Today I read it for images of mission. Walk for 20-30 minutes then read a few chapters. Walk again – Pondering what it means for mission, for leadership, for spirituality.

It’s been exactly what I needed. No internet access. Hard physical work. That sense of nurture being held deep by earth. Engagement with Scripture.

And along the way, some bush theology.

  • Spirituality needs rapids and calm pools, shelter and sun. Both are to be enjoyed and appreciated.
  • If you keep casting about there’s usually a path.
  • Feeling lost generates anxiety. It can be lifegiving to ponder what generates anxiety and where is God in those moments of anxiety.
  • Essential to renewal is giving space for earth to heal itself.
Posted by steve at 08:44 PM

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

leadership as health intensives

Very excited about our two upcoming November leadership intensives – exploring leadership as health, and the practices needed to make possible communities that are mission-driven, innovative, discerning and culturally engaged.

Heathy Church / Healthy Organisation – For leaders, lay or ordained, on building healthy, missional churches or organisations. Lecturers: Craig Bailey, Carolyn Kitto, Steve Taylor. 12-23 November. Weekdays 9am-12pm

Leadership as Discernment: Participants will apply a communal discernment process to their own context, engage key readings in communal discernment and mission, and explore the Manual for Meetings as a discernment tool. Lecturer: Beatrice Panne. 27-29 November, 9am-1pm.

It’s a continued roll out of from our Leadership stream, wanting to take leadership beyond pragmatics and theory and into a spirituality grounded in life. For more information go here.

Posted by steve at 09:54 AM

Monday, October 15, 2012

artist shoots holes in her Bible

When I was doing a Master of Fine Art degree, I was required to present a paper about semiotics to a contemporary theory class …. I had procured a large, black Bible of my mother’s which she had ‘retired’ because it was so heavily annotated she wasn’t able to read it any more and I’d nailed it to a wooden target, of the type hunters shoot at for practice. I set these against a tree in my aunt’s orchard and shot at them three times with my father’s rifle, blasting the pages of the Bible apart … My (non-Christian) classmates were shocked when I showed them the results, as they knew I was a Christian … I learnt a great deal from it and it generated one of the most constructive dialogues in that class. I wanted to simply say that it is not the book that is sacred per se but the living word that is in me, that changes how I live and how I treat my neighbour. (Betty Spackman, A Profound Weakness: Christians & Kitsch, 35)

This is a fine example of the power of art to engage theology. The theme is so intellectual – semiotics and I would rush to footnote and read. Yet Betty places this within her lived experience, of nurture and growth. And in so doing, raises many important questions regarding a theology of revelation in regard to Scripture. Where is sacred found? In words of text or witness of life?

Posted by steve at 11:39 AM

Sunday, October 14, 2012

End of greed – Be kind to animals

Today I preached at Journey Uniting. The topic they asked me to address was animal care. First time a church has ever asked me to preach on that type of topic!

But I have an experience of a dog scoffing the communion bread. Which in time became a journal article – “Even The Dogs Eat the Crumbs That Fall From Their Masters’ Table”: A Contemporary Reflection on The Sacramentality of Communion” Colloquim 39, 2 (November 2007), 209-225. Which seemed an interesting challenge to offer as a sermon.

So I wove together three personal stories, a selection of Biblical passages, three Christian thinkers (Isaac of Nineveh, Francis of Assissi, Paulos Mar Gregorios) along with Rublevs icon.


Posted by steve at 09:24 PM