Monday, December 21, 2020

Vocation, call and a burning bush

A prayer I wrote a few months ago, leading a Listening in Mission class online, beginning with the practice of Dwelling in the Word with a group of KCML interns.

Burning bush prayer

Lord,
When I’m working – tending sheep, being responsible
Help me turn aside to contemplate mystery, seek warmth, feel the burn of wilderness sand

Lord,
When I don’t understand – burning bushes not consumed
Help me trust you, hear you, in the crackle and pop of all that confounds as holy

Lord,
When I’ve nothing to go to – no clear future
Help me say, like Moses, like Isaiah, like Mary, “Here I am, send me,”

Posted by steve at 04:38 PM

Sunday, December 13, 2020

First Expressions book review # 3

Another (3rd) positive academic book review of First Expressions: innovation and the mission of God in an international academic journal. Following reviews in Ecclesiology and Scottish Episcopal Institute Journal, this review is in Practical Theology, an international journal of the British and Irish Association of Practical Theology. The reviewer is Sally Rush, who is from Wesley’s Chapel and Leysian Mission, Newman University and Roehampton University, UK.

Sally begins by suggesting the book will have “particular interest to those who have a missiological interest, ecclesiologists, and those with an interest in the sociology of religion who have been charting the development and impact of these new religious groups. It will also appeal to a wider group of people, primarily in their 40s and 50s now, for whom this material brings back memories and allows them to revisit and re-evaluate their own past.” Well, that’s quite a range of people and of academic disciplines, which is great.

For Sally, a strength of the book “is that it does not flinch from examining parts of the history of the emerging church which some would perhaps rather forget …. Taylor is successful in achieving the delicate research balance of being a critical friend.” She finds the four innovation models: commerce, ecology, indigenous and craft are “useful measures … helping the reader understand how this evaluation can be applied in a truly theological nature.”

She has some critical questions. First, is my use of a leadership model to assess the development of Fresh Expressions squeezing “a messy reality into a clean typology” (although could the gender analysis to conclude the discussion of the leadership model have been a “messy reality” check)? Second, could I dialogue more with Sarah Thornton’s work on youth culture, particularly the usefulness of her concepts of ‘neo-tribes’ and the fluidity within them for my first expressions data (maybe a further journal article Steve?).

Overall, she concludes that the book gives “a new approach with which to (re)evaluate recent ecclesial and missional history … more tools to go back and explore further the case studies and material contained within them.” So that is very gratifying, an affirmation of my thinking as a springboard for others doing ecclesial research on innovation and mission. Thanks Sally.

Posted by steve at 08:09 PM

Friday, December 11, 2020

celebrating First Expressions with my graduating department

celebrating The Theology Department at Otago University have a lovely tradition, an annual end of year celebration of books written by Faculty and former post-graduates. Since I was a PhD post-graduate student of Theology at Otago back in the day, I was invited (back!) to celebrate First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God, the book I had published late in December, 2019. Here is my “celebration” speech, trying to link the book with the PhD research.

First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God is the 2nd book to emerge from my PhD research. I graduated with my PhD from Otago in 2004. As I finished my PhD, I wanted to make the research accessible to the wider church. So I wrote The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change. This was published by Zondervan, USA in 2005 and translated into Korean in 2008. I’ve even been to visit a new church plant in Korea named “Out of Bounds Church” in honour of the book!

There was a large chunk of empirical research – ethnography, interviews, focus groups – I had to drop out of my PhD thesis. Because it was already too big. So I was keen to find a way to do something with that PhD research. So I sought ethics approval and did a longitudinal study. This involved returning 10 years later to the church’s I’d researched in my PhD.

I found that half of the new forms of church were no longer meeting as gathered communities. Which raised ecclesiology questions. Does it matter if innovation doesn’t endure? How might Easter – dying and rising –shape our ecclesiology?

During that 10 year period, the wider denominations – Church of England and Methodists in the UK – had affirmed these new forms of church. They had developed structures like Fresh Expressions to partner with them. So that raised another set of ecclesiology questions – How do organisations discern what is of God and what isn’t? How do churches as organisations best partner with grassroots innovation?

So I interviewed denominational leaders –Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and Stephen Cottrell who’s now the Archbishop of York.

Then I found a publisher – SCM. They have been great to work with.

According to Ecclesiology and international ecumenical journal – First Expressions is a “radical re-conceptualization of the marks of the Church” (more here).

According to the Scottish Episcopal Journal, First Expressions offers “in-depth theological hermeneutic, firmly grounded in Scripture and ecclesiology” (more here).

According to Rowan Williams, who emailed in January, saying he was – “impressed with the theological analysis .. [First Expressions is] an important book.”

Thanks to the University of Otago, who provided PhD scholarships and post-graduate conference funding. Thanks to the Theology Department for celebrating books emerging from PhD research. Thanks to any of you who might want to review it for Anglican Taonga or Methodist Touchstone!

Photo by Matthieu Joannon on Unsplash

Posted by steve at 05:32 PM

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

help the entrepreneurs in ministry articulate vision and direction – First Expressions book review # 2

Another review of First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God, this time by Eleanor Charman in the Scottish Episcopal Institute Journal 4, 3,(Autumn 2020), 91–93.

Rev Eleanor Charman is a priest at St Peter and the Holy Rood Episcopal Church and the first full-time curate ordained in Caithness since 1746 (According to here). So Eleanor is a bit of a pioneer herself!

After a fair review of the 4 parts of the book (and a much more positive engagement with my feminist methodologies and metaphors of innovation than the review of First Expressions in Ecclesiology), Charman concludes:

Taylor’s book reveals the myriad of complex dynamics that weave through communities as they seek to establish themselves … [Taylor] has systematically researched various aspects of the communities, through interviews and extensive reading. Taylor provides an in-depth theological hermeneutic, firmly grounded in Scripture and ecclesiology … the reader will have a better and more informed understanding of the nature of pioneering. This in turn may help the entrepreneurs in ministry articulate vision and direction with their gathered communities as they seek to establish new first expressions.

The Scottish Episcopal Institute Journal aims to be a vehicle for debate on current issues in the Anglican Communion and beyond. It invites dialogue on what it means to think as an Episcopalian in Scotland in the twenty-first century and aims to be a catalyst for prayer and theological reflection at the heart of the Scottish Episcopal Church. So it’s a really interesting context in which to have my work read in relation to helping “entrepreneurs in ministry articulate vision and direction.”

Thanks Eleanor Charman. Thanks SCM for publishing and for working hard at reviews.

Posted by steve at 10:47 AM

Friday, December 04, 2020

Healing amid crisis: an analysis of theologies of healing #APTO2020 paper

With the wonders of modern technology, I “flew” to Melbourne today, along with Dr Lynne Taylor, to “present” (online) at the Association of Practical Theology of Oceania virtual 2020 conference. It was made possible through video conferencing, with creative use of pre-recorded papers, watched by participants prior, followed by live discussion, open to all conference participants, of the papers.

Here is a brief introduction to our paper: Healing amid crisis: an analysis of theologies of healing in public prayer as local churches respond in gathered worship to tragedy and trauma

We are Steve Taylor, Principal, Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership; Senior Lecturer, Flinders University and Lynne Taylor, Jack Somerville Lecturer Pastoral Theology, University of Otago.

Christians act. Christians act in prayer, witness and justice. Practical theology understands such actions as embodying lived theologies: theology lies behind and within them.

For John Swinton and Harriet Mowat (Practical Theology and Qualitative Research, (London: SCM, 2006), 5): Practical Theology is critical, theological reflection on the practices of the Church as they interact with the practices of the world, with a view to ensuring and enabling faithful participation in God’s redemptive practices in, to and for the world.

Working with this definition, we examined how churches prayed in gathered worship on the Sunday after the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings. What were the practices of the church at that time? How did they faithfully participate in God’s redemptive practices?

Some 153 churches responded to our questionnaire. In this paper, we analyse this data with a focus on healing.

A feature of the way churches prayed was their use of the Psalms, particularly psalms of lament. There was also evidence of other responses that were psalm-like, even if they did not draw overtly on the Psalms. Following Ellen Davis (Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament, (Lanham, MD: Rowmand and Littlefield, 2001), we argue that this use of the Psalms and psalm like actions was a move towards healing. It was a first step which was a truth telling through an uncovering of the wounds.

Churches named (uncovered) multiple wounds. One was the wounds experienced by primary victims and their families. Another was a wound to Aotearoa’s self-perception as a nation. A third wound was that of a culpability, recognising the potential for evil in all of us.

In the data we saw a lived theology that named wounds as a first step in journeys of healing and was part of multiple commitments to remember, find compassion and express solidarity.

(For more on our research – see “Praying for Christchurch: First Impressions of how local churches responded in gathered worship to the mosque shooting,” Stimulus: the New Zealand Journal of Christian Thought and Practice, due out online (and free), later this month).

Posted by steve at 02:44 PM