Monday, December 31, 2012

The Last Supper at work for mission -Gustave Van De Woestijne’s

Gustave Van De Woestijne is a Flemish Expressionist painter of the early 20th century. His work includes The Last Supper and it is huge.


It hangs almost floor to ceiling in the Groeninge Museum, Brugge, Belgium. (Image is on flicker here)

In the Catholic context of Belgium, surrounded by the religiosity of previous centuries, it is a stunningly unreligious piece of work. One simple full loaf of bread sits on the table. There is no cup, grapes or any other food on the table. Around the table are clustered 12 disciples, portrayed as workers, Flemish miners or farm hands.

Which leaves the size. Why paint what is one of the largest paintings in the Museum? Why make something so ordinary so large?

Either a sign of no faith? A critique of the ceremony and wafer thin spirituality of the religion he has experienced? It certainly has the checkerboard floor often used in religious art.

Or full of faith? A reminder of the very large place for God in the ordinary, in simple bread, shared among workers hands? If so, it has echoes of the worker priest movement, such an intriguing mission development in France, among Catholics, in the 1940s. Priests asked to be freed from parish duties in order to work, in factories, in order to try and reconnect with the working class. It is a fascinating, bold, and innovative approach to mission, that was closed down by the Pope within a few decades.

It is the type of fresh expression/emerging church I’d love to see, one that jumps out of middle class subcultures and across class boundaries, out from church and worship and among the 24/7 patterns of working life. A movement that could only be nourished by a Jesus breaking bread with workers around ordinary tables of life.

Posted by steve at 06:57 AM

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Colouring a contemporary stations of the cross

Amid the ancient history of Saint Salvador Cathedral, Brugge, is a contemporary stations of the cross. Beautifully arranged in a side chapel, it is one, of very few signs, that this faith might be living.

A project by Dutch artist, Jac Bisschops, between 2008 and 2010, he aimed to communicate the essential message of each Station of the Cross. His aim is contemplation, a seeking for simplicity, harmony and clarity. The hubris of the cathedral was thus a thoroughly fitting backdrop.

A feature is the limited palette, five colours

  • blue for infinity
  • brown for transitory earth
  • black for darkness
  • white for purity
  • gold for resurrection

Each base colour is used three times. Layering is used to provide a rich intensity of colour.

Another feature is the interplay of horizontal and vertical lines. In this sense, it has echoes of New Zealand artist, Colin McCahon and his stations of the cross (although McCahonh uses more of a two colour palette).

Together, simple palette, straight lines, rich layers, it actually works. I find myself slowing, pausing. In the concentrating, I find an inviting clarity, a simplicity that reminds me of life’s essence, the reality of Easter. (For those interested, a YouTube video, which includes every piece is here.)

Posted by steve at 05:11 AM

Friday, December 28, 2012

Multi- sensory storytelling

“Passionate people wanted to produce something new”

I went today to the recently opened Historium in Bruges. A wonderfully creative way to access history, that has some challenges for Christian communication and shows the enormous potential of storytelling.

It began with a question, what was it like in the Middle Ages?

The question was answered by multisensory storytelling. They took a red robe, a green parrot and the girl model from a van Eyk painting, Madonna with Canon, to create a narrative, told in audio and through video screens cunning placed around a set, spread over 7 rooms). Each set involved senses, simulating fog, snow, local produce. Animation was used, both to ensure historical accuracy, in the backdrops, costumes, hats, jewellery, but also to enhance the storytelling. The 7 sets/rooms allowed a focus on a wide range of life, customs to guilds, public baths to harbour, created from miniatures and art of the time. The goal is an emotional insight. In other words, not just information. But neither just entertainment. But a use of senses to help people make a connection, and thus to bring the past into the present.

After the experience comes the information, a room full of displays to browse. Imagine if church history or Biblical studies were taught in this way!

It is important to note also the place of collaboration – film makers, musicians, historians, business people all working in partnership.

I’m hoping (numbers willing) to teach a course in 2013 (starting April) on the place, potential and possibility of senses in mission and ministry, working with a local artist and local storyteller. What I saw today may well become a contemporary case study.

For a video of the making –

Historium: The Making Of from Historium Brugge on Vimeo.

Posted by steve at 07:38 AM

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Tomorrow, 26th December, we Eurostar across the Channel. Time for our Euro experience. Tee hee.

It’s been a busy first two weeks of sabbatical. I’ve had two cracks at writing a publisher proposal. One got the thumbs down, “needs more effort” from a helpful colleague. The second, shaped by the helpful conversation emerging from the first, got a much more encouraging response. So with a greater sense of clarity, of both the big picture and some stepping stones, I’ve now started to work on a couple of sample chapters. It’s been a profitable beginning to the sabbatical.

A surprise is to realise how quickly and completely I’ve forgotten about the Principal pressures. Being sucked into a book proposal in my largest study ever in another country, in another hemisphere, has been a very good way to find some space, mental and spiritual.

But now it’s time to pause, to holiday. Not this year in a Southern Hemisphere of beaches, baches, barbeques and books. Rather a Northern Hemisphere of art galleries, museums and cathedrals.Three weeks to absorb, across Belgium, Germany and France. Looking forward to stepping away, not just from being Principal, but from being sabbatical writer.

Posted by steve at 10:13 AM

Thursday, December 20, 2012

the nativity as a theology for the differently abled: film review of Intouchables

Each month I publish a film review, for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 80 plus films later, here is the review for December.

The Intouchables – A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

“That’s what I want. No pity” Philippe from his wheel chair

It is Christmas. In the next weeks many of us will find ourselves contemplating an image of the Nativity, the crib surrounded by adoring angels, bewildered shepherds and a prayerful Mary.

(from Metropolitan Museum , usage based on their fair use policy and from

The Adoration of the Christ Child by Jan Joest (1515) is one such depiction. While not sited on contemporary Christmas cards, it has caught the eye of scientists, who have identified one angel and one shepherd as displaying the typical features of Down syndrome.

It raises an important theological question. When the Word became flesh, one with all humanity, how might this be good news for the differently abled? What does disability mean to a Christian understanding of being human?

French movie “The Intouchables,” written and directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, provides a delightfully comic, yet theologically thoughtful response.

Philippe (Francois Cluzet) is a tetraplegic, sentenced to life in a wheel chair as a result of a hang glider accident. Needing care, he hires Driss (Omar Sy), a Senegalese migrant, from a long list of applicants. They share little in common, separated by age, ethnicity, upbringing and social context.

Yet together this unlikely pairing help each become more fully human. Their journey is a delight. Those around me in the packed cinema found a shared laughter, an enjoyment with, never at, the differently abled.

The film was voted the cultural event of 2011 in France, enjoying number one at the box office for ten consecutive weeks, becoming the highest-grossing movie in a language other than English. It is easy to see why. The dialogue is deft. The acting is superb.

Some critics suggest easy stereotypes in the contrast between rich white man and poor black man. Yet “The Intouchables” uncovers the brokenness in both their worlds. For one, the relational sterility of wealth, for the other, the drug addicted violence of high-rise migrant housing.

Both Philippe and Driss must eventually find healing for disabilities not just physical, but relational.

Suggesting easy stereotypes also overlooks reality. “The Intouchables” is based on truth, the relationship of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and Algerian Abdel Sellou, spread over ten years. Their story is told in A Second Wind and they remain friends. Together their relationship offers a depth of insight into the task of being human.

“Pity is the last thing you need. Pity is hopeless. Pity is what someone gives you because he is afraid to take care of you. I didn’t need that. But compassion I don’t need also. It comes from Latin and means ‘suffering with’. I don’t want you to be suffering with me. I need consolation, which in Latin means keeping me as a whole person, respecting me as I am.” (Philippe in Daily Telegraph, 5/9/2012)

Christians can get good at pity. At Christmas we can face many calls for compassion. Might it be that Christ, surrounded by disabled angels and shepherds, calls us to neither pity nor compassion? Rather he invites consolation, the God who in Christ so loved the intouchables, all “the least of these.”

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal, Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, Adelaide. He writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at

Copyright note: Usage here based on the website. The Materials are made available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only…. Users may download these files for their own use, subject to any additional terms or restrictions which may be applicable to the individual file or program. Users must, however, cite the author and source of the Materials as they would material from any printed work, and the citations should include the URL “” By downloading, printing, or otherwise using Materials, whether accessed directly from this website or via other sites or mechanisms, users agree that they will limit their use of such files to non-commercial, educational, personal or for fair use, and will not violate the Museum’s or any other party’s proprietary rights.

Posted by steve at 08:37 AM

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Walking on country: Uniting College Candidates Indigenous Immersion

News via email overnight of funding approved for Walking on Country, an indigenous immersion experience, which we want to have as a compulsory part of our training for candidates for ministry at Uniting College. It’s a project that I’ve been quietly working away on for well over a year – first in going ourselves as a family, then in seeking partnership with Uniting Church Congress, then in approaching a potential funding partner, then in finding a person to provide leadership, including to write up the bid ….

• That a three day/three night educational and spiritual experience of Indigenous culture, history, politics and contemporary lifestyle be incorporated into the training and education of Uniting Church (of South Australia) candidates for Ministry.
• That this occur in different locations each year, based with an Indigenous community.
• That over a three year cycle, with up to 10 candidates attending each year, this program will be attended by the entire Ministry candidate cohort.
• That the program consist of Preparatory reading, an Immersion experience, and a post-trip forum.

1. For participants to become informed and educated about life in particular Indigenous communities
2. For participants to explore ‘decolonisation’ of their colonised thinking and relationships,
3. For participants to develop conceptual, emotional and spiritual foundations for covenanting and friendships with Indigenous communities and the UAICC
4. For participants to commit to a journey of reconciliation with Indigenous Australians, and to the vision for Covenanting in the Uniting Church.

Three days is nothing.

Although it might be better than nothing.

And it fits with a number of other intentional processes we’re working on – looking not for a one-off tokenist experience, but consciousness raising on multiple fronts.

Because missional leaders need to experience boundary crossing – in their guts and bodies and in their contexts – as well as their heads.

Posted by steve at 08:06 AM

Friday, December 14, 2012

My largest study ever

Ripon College is the centering, homing location for our sabbatical. It emerged from a chance email, three Kiwis missiologists connecting. Cathy Ross emailed me congratulating us on our appointing at Uniting College of our new Director of Missiologist, Rosemary Dewerse. Cathy offered us hospitality if I ever came to the UK, which I said I actually was planning to do in a few months. And so we are now here at Ripon College, training place for Anglican Ordinands.

The library is located within the building and I’ve found a quiet little spot. I’ve not worked in a dedicated theological library for a long time and its just magic, surrounded by all the books you are likely to need. It’s like my office, only with more books and no work to distract or desk to tidy. It’s safer than a public library, meaning you can leave your computer to go for lunch or a 15 minute walk-and-break. It’s richer, being able to go to “practical theology” and browse all the relevant shelf, looking for chapters on how the Bible is being used, or going to “ecclesiology” and finding an new resource.

This first week of sabbatical I’ve started with a blank page and written around 4,000 words of a book précis. What do I want to say, how to begin, how to end and the stepping stones to get there? I hope to have a publisher proposal and sample chapter by Christmas.

Posted by steve at 10:09 PM

Sunday, December 09, 2012

the sabbatical begins

And so it begins …

  • For sabbatical – Adelaide, Hong Kong, London, Oxford (Ripon College) – from Sunday 9 December
  • For holiday – London, Bruges, Amsterdam, Cologne, Mainz, Freiburg, Paris, Oxford – from 26 December until 15 January
  • For research (to be organised) – Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Edinburgh, York, London – from 25 January until 15 February
  • For visits (to be organised) – Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Glasgow – from 16 January until 23 January

I’ve thought about not blogging until I get the book (Sustainability and Fresh Expressions) written. As a discipline. But Lynne joked that would be like cutting of an arm. That I blog to get my thoughts organised. So who knows ….

Posted by steve at 07:35 AM

Saturday, December 08, 2012

these walls will talk

One of the advantages of living in a house renovation is some space to play. Over the last few months, in order to try to gain even a tiny bit of work/life balance, I’ve been knocking off work early every Monday, to spend time with one of the family.

Together we’ve been working on a few projects. This is one of them –

– chalk paint as a background, words painted using my icon paints, etched via cut lettering from a local craft shop.

The plan is to use chalk, to write on the walls the things we’re glad of, and what we’re hoping for. It’s part of what we need to do as a family, to keep a focus on gratitude and hope.

Then, when the renovation project eventually gets to this room, we’ll simply paint over the top of “gratitude” and “hope”, leaving our family prayers permanently part of the house walls. It will probably need one more coat than normal. But hey – at least these walls will talk.

Posted by steve at 04:29 PM

Friday, December 07, 2012

creating the church of tomorrow

Twice in the last few weeks, a prayer by Oscar Romero has come my way. Romero was a Catholic Archbishop in El Salvador, assassinated on 1980, while celebrating Mass in a small chapel in a cancer hospital where he lived.

God of hope,
Help us to step back and take the long view.
Remind us that what we do in our lifetime
is only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is your work..
Nothing we do is complete, which is only a way of saying that your realm always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No one program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals includes everything.
Help us remember what we really are about:
we plant seeds that will one day grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need future development.
We provide yeast that produces
far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything.
Knowing this frees us, for it enables us to do something.
It may seem incomplete, but it is really a beginning,
a step along the way.
Our efforts provide an opportunity
for your grace to enter and do the rest.
You are the master builder, and we work with you.
We may never see the end results that are known to you.
Even so, we are prophets of a future
that holds your promise.

Given the way the prayer has found me, it seemed appropriate that it become the devotional for our team retreat on Thursday. I provided two ways to respond. One was to pray by planting a seed of petition. The other was to pray by watering as thanks. Outside (because dirt and water don’t go with carpet), I had placed a seed tray and a pot of colour from home.

Inside, we said the prayer together, a different person taking a phrase each. We then sat with the prayer in silence for 5 minutes. I then invited folk to move outside. And to either plant a seed “we plant seeds that will one day grow” or to water the pot “We water seeds already planted.” We then concluded by again saying the prayer together, again a different person taking a phrase each.

The focus of the retreat day was strategic planning and it was just lovely to begin the day watering and planting, reminding each other that- “We cannot do everything. Knowing this frees us, for it enables us to do something.” (To end the day, we shared communion and had a party. But that’s another post).

Posted by steve at 11:27 PM

Thursday, December 06, 2012

choose you this day whom you will serve

I led a combined gathering of Board and College team on Tuesday. It’s been an excellent year and it seemed appropriate to gather and celebrate and be in relationship.

We also had some need to talk further about our focus as a College. So before we ate together, we had some work.

In preparation, I invited the following exercise. I noted that College has many potential people to serve/stakeholders. I listed some of them

  • Candidates (POD – Phase 3)
  • Ministers – continuing education (Phase 4)
  • lay leaders (Lay preachers, MoP)
  • chaplains
  • lay ministry teams
  • lay people
  • agencies
  • university (postgraduate students, research)
  • others

I then asked the question – All organisations have limited resource. So, as we think about each stakeholder, what % of energy should college give to each?  Being a percentage, it needed to sum to 100.

What would you answer? How do you think a College should allocate resource?

Posted by steve at 08:59 AM

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

the advent of fresh expressions – the wilderness (part 2)

This Advent, O Lord, soften the hearts of parents toward the next generation
Part 1- the advent of fresh expressions – the bare barrenness of tradition

The Gospel of Luke begins with barrenness and soon shifts to wilderness. John the Baptist, camel haired and with locust wings in mouth, will emerge from the desert. The theme will continue with Jesus, who in preparation for ministry, will walk into the wilderness. In doing so, there are echoes with Israel, who found God in the desert, who were birthed as a community, their identity and practices shaped by wilderness. It will resonate with the words of the prophet Isaiah, who dreamed of rough places smooth.

So what is the place of wilderness in advent? What resources will sustain the encountering of God in the rough and tough? What does desert do to the demands for vitality and the dreams for health and growth?

Desert God
This Advent
May we be find fresh treasure in wilderness
Shade in the deep valley
Clarity from the rocky outcrop

Posted by steve at 08:00 AM

Monday, December 03, 2012

the advent of fresh expressions – the bare barrenness of tradition (part 1)

The Gospel of Luke begins with barrenness. An older couple. Faithful yet childless. It is like so much of the Church in the West today, older, faithful. Yet so often barren, with no living memory of church birth, no experience of participating in the life flow that is new communities.

The result is a wondering about one’s future, a quiet misgiving about the family line, the next generation of young people.

It is in this barrenness we glimpse the Spirit’s work. A promise of a fresh expression.

Luke 1:15-17 “He’ll drink neither wine nor beer. He’ll be filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment he leaves his mother’s womb. He will turn many sons and daughters of Israel back to their God. He will herald God’s arrival in the style and strength of Elijah, soften the hearts of parents to children.”

Interesting that last phrase. The hearts of parents need softening. So often this is the way with fresh expressions. Parents simply don’t understand. Congregations need convincing. Of course the present will shape our future. Church is reduced to historic ways, discipleship to a rigid patterning.

Hearts being softened, of course, is essential to the advent of this fresh expression. In the following verses, the child is born. Elizabeth wants to name him John. But tradition speaks. Luke 1:61-62 “But,” they said, “no one in your family is named that.”

With this fresh expressions, times they are a changing.

This Advent, O Lord, soften the hearts of parents toward the next generation

Posted by steve at 08:08 AM

Saturday, December 01, 2012

the potential and place of corporate discernment

Something anew was born yesterday. The timing seemed almost inspired, given this is Advent.

At Uniting College, one of the mechanisms by which candidates participate in their growth as ministry people is Formation Panels.

A person applies for selection as a Minister of the Word or Deacon. If accepted, they are placed in a formation panel. A Formation Panel consists of 3-5 experienced ministry practioners and an Academic Adviser from College. They meet three times a year. This group listen to a new candidate. Together they design a process that mixes formal study, formation and ministry skills and length of process. A candidate and the panel journey together, usually for six years, through the more intense training phase (2) and for the first (phase 3) three years in ministry. Listening, sifting, naming, checking.

Yesterday, was Formation Panel day and all over College among the 40 plus people in phase 2 and 3, all sorts of conversations were happening. Direction for next year was being clarified. Progress in the deep work that is individual growth was being monitored and discerned. Frank conversations about suitability for ministry were being had. Wisdom about how a new minister in placement might handle a difficult situation were being gleaned.

And in one life, a change of direction was being born. Something a candidate had written in preparation, was being linked with some knowledge of their life skills. A question was asked.

And a light bulb went off. The person visibly lifted. A whole new door in ministry was becoming clear.

And so the panel went back to work. A new course plan will need designing – a different mix of formal study, formation and ministry skills. Because of corporate discernment. The willingness to listen long enough and hard enough, to wait (this Advent), for the work of Spirit anew.

Posted by steve at 09:10 AM