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

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

radical re-conceptualization of the marks of the Church – First Expressions book review

There is a review of my book First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God in the latest edition of Ecclesiology 16, 3 (2020), 429-431 by York St John (UK) theologian, John Williams. Ecclesiology is an international, ecumenical and fully peer-reviewed theological journal. The main focus of the journal is on the mission, ministry and unity of the Church. So it’s great to have the book reviewed in that context.

There are lots of affirmations by the reviewer. My book is”substantial” (429) and I’m at my best when engaging in “critical theological and practical reflection on his empirical research” (429). While First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God is considered “particularly useful for those involved in Fresh Expressions” (429) it also deemed to provide a “stimulating contribution to the conversation right across the ecclesial spectrum” (431).

There are some critical questions. My methodology is overtheorized (although better to be overtheorised than under, particularly when it comes to new areas of ecclesial research) and my fourfold typology for ‘innovation’ is confusing (need to be clearer that I am working with metaphors, which by nature require different ways of thinking).

So a mirror on my strengths as a thinker (theological and practical reflection on empirical research) and weaknesses as a writer (over-theorised). And some helpful pointers for further research and writing, for which I am grateful.

And an opinion – that I am offering something distinctly original – “an alternative paradigm for ecclesiology” (431). Across 20 centuries of Christian thought, what I am proposing is a “radical re-conceptualization of the ‘classical marks of the Church” (430), an ecclesiology distinct from paradigms of the church enshrined in historical continuity, hierarchical structure or ecumenical agreement. So that is very high praise – for my book and for Fresh Expressions/emerging church.

Posted by steve at 10:50 AM

Friday, November 06, 2020

Theologies of fulfilment in a reciprocal study of relationships between Christianity and Ringatu in Aotearoa New Zealand

Today involved submitting a paper proposal for the World Christianity Virtual Conference, March 3-6, 2021. Being virtual, it’s a great way to connect with missiologists, without the expense and time of travel.  The conference theme is the borders of religion and it seemed a good chance to take some research I did last year on a “contextualized case-study” – of how Presbyterians in Aotearoa interacted with Ringatu into a world Christianity space.

SEO-World-Christianity-Conference

However it was also a wakeup call. Being 2021, it is after I finish as Principal of KCML. So when it came to “academic affiliation,” I found myself having to tick “independent scholar.”  While I have links with Flinders and Aberdeen University, they are not Faculty roles. While I’ve got some (very exciting) possibilities for 2021, they are all still conversations and none at the public stage. So a reality check.

Anyhow amid the swirl of emotions, here’s the paper proposal, with notice of acceptance (or not), in a few weeks.

Theologies of fulfilment in a reciprocal study of relationships between Christianity and Ringatu in Aotearoa New Zealand

The crossing of borders of religion presents challenge and opportunity. In Aotearoa New Zealand, Christianity’s arrival resulted in new religious movements, including Ringatu, an indigenous religion, emerging in the 1860’s.

For Presbyterians in Aotearoa, a leading figure in the crossing of religious borders was Rev “Hoani” Laughton (1891-1965). Scottish born, Laughton ministered to Maori for all of his adult life. His approach to other religions is evident in an 1960’s lecture he delivered regarding Ringatu. For Laughton, Ringatu is seen as a living religion, in which Christians must immerse themselves as guests. As a result of Laughton’s participation in “hundreds of [worship] services,” he outlines a theology of fulfilment. Ringatu’s birth is a creative fulfilment in response to the historical actions of Christians in the New Zealand War. Laughton works in the hope of a new dawn for suffering Maori forced into an “arrested twilight” by colonization.

Analysis of Laughton’s approach will occur by way of comparative reciprocities. Initially, Laughton will be pairing with Maori contemporary, Rua Kenana. What is Kanana’s approach to the other religion that is Christianity? Are there signs of evolution, fulfilment even, in the Ringatu movement?

Further analysis will occur by locating Laughton alongside Presbyterian approaches to other faiths, in particular, that of John Nicol Farquhar (1861-1929), Scottish born, who ministered in India for much of his adult life. Farquhar published The Crown of Hinduism, arguing that Jesus fulfils the desires and quests of other religions. How might this resonate with Laughton’s approach to Ringatu and Kenana’s approach to Christianity?

The aim is to utilize a methodology of reciprocity in a contextualized case study. Theologies of fulfilment are tested by listening at the border between Christianity and Ringatu.

Posted by steve at 05:48 PM

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

innovation evaluation

One of my tasks this year has been innovation evaluation. As Principal of KCML, particularly in 2016 and 2017, I sought to develop New Mission Seedlings, local mission experiments in partnerships with wider church. The hope was to find spaces to encourage mission and the forming of leaders in mission.

With two New Seedlings developing in 2018, there was always a need to reflect on progress. So over the last 6 months, I’ve worked with one particular local seedling. Together there’s been a 360 design, finding ways to encourage grassroots reflection and generate missional reflection. Being 360, this needed to include children, along with those new to the various mission ministries. So there’s been some careful thought regarding language.

After the design was agreed, I’ve been busy interviewing folk, then compiling and feeding back to the leadership and external funders.

Tonight, there’s a further feeding back, to those invested in this particular seedling.  In preparing, I’ve played with shaping it in the arc of worship.  So tonight, everyone will get a coloured highlighter

IMG_8774

  •  if yellow, they are to look for things in the review to thank God for
  • if pink (purple/orange), they are to look for things in the review to seek forgiveness for (After all, to err is human, to forgive divine)
  • if green, they are to look for things in the review to ask God for help with

So after a bit of an introduction to the review, folk will get busy with their highlighter. This will allow us to move through praise and confession. Next, we will then gather around the Word – by considering some of the Jesus images present in the review, followed by the recommendations (response to the Word). Finally, those with green will be invited to offer prayers of intercession.

An evaluation of innovation, shaped by the arc of gathered worship, that should encourage the 360 participation of all involved.

Posted by steve at 04:28 PM

Friday, October 16, 2020

listening in mission

Leaving a role involves a stream of letting go’s. Yesterday was a letting go of Listening in Mission.

When I arrived at KCML in 2015, the hope was, in the words of the Council of Assembly Convenor, that my passion for contemporary mission and leadership would equip church leaders for today’s world.

With these words of invitation ringing in my ears, Mark Johnston and I looked together afresh at the existing Mission Course offered at KCML. We decided to experiment with our shared passion for contemporary mission and leadership in three ways.

  • first, given our location in the Presbyterian Church, we redesigned the course around the 5 faces of mission
  • second, we redesigned the assessment, increasing the focus on equipping leaders in the practice of mission. This involved a paired assignment, one in year 1, another in year 2, in which our interns formed small groups in their local churches to listen, discern and act in mission.
  • third, we wrapped tutorial support around the assignment. We wanted to provide just-in-time learning, walking alongside interns as they sought to lead in mission. This required us to decrease lecture content. It also required the development of online learning. KCML had no video-conferencing capacity or learning management capacity, so I had to do some self-learning, finding suitable learning platforms (the most recent prior learning technology improvement at KCML had been a binding machine to spiral bind printed notes!).

As a result, I found myself leading the Year 1 interns in Listening in Mission. Over four online learning sessions, I modelled missional spiritual practices and supported interns as they gathered a small group in their local context, to enact the same 4 learning sessions locally, teaching missional spiritual practices to listen, discern and act in their local context.

After a few years, Mark and I realised we might have stumbled upon a stand-alone, online professional learning option. We had ministers noting to us that KCML interns were learning new things about mission. So why not offer the assignment, the written resources and the cohort experience to ministers? Using the online technologies, they could be supported by KCML in listening, discerning and acting in their local context. They could learn with us and from each other, across different Presbyteries.

The result has been three consecutive years of Listening in Mission as life-long learning, advertised through Presbyteries, the PCANZ facebook and at the Connect conferences.

listeninginmission

I’ve even made little video’s to try and spread the word.

listening in mission from steve taylor on Vimeo.

So yesterday’s last Listening in Mission class online was a letting go. There was a wondering (with anxiety), about the future of my gifts in teaching, along with Listening in Mission at KCML. A sense of grief, because I’ve loved this part of the role, being able to engage local contexts. A sense of joy and privilege at what has happened, the resources developed, the insights gained.

In some ways, it was a simple innovation, offering a defined piece of learning online. And the numbers add up

  • 8 – the number of online Listening in Mission cohorts I have taught in the last 5 years (5 cohorts of year 1 interns, 3 cohorts of ministers and church leaders)
  • 50 – the number of leaders, formed around mission practices (30 interns and 20 ministers/church leaders)
  • 300 – the total number of participants, given that each of the 50 leaders was required to gather a small group of 4-6.
  • 50 – the number of churches invited into mission experimentation, supported by KCML to learn locally in mission.

As the Council of Assembly Convenor noted – contemporary mission equipping church leaders for today’s world indeed!

As part of our ongoing action-reflection and leaving a record, we at KCML have written about Listening in Mission as one of our innovations in a number of places.

  • Mark Johnston, “Trusting the missio Dei in the midst of mission innovation education,” ANVIL 36, (2)
  • Steve Taylor and Rosemary Dewerse, “Unbounding learning communities: Ako-empowered research in life-long ministerial formation,” Practical Theology 13 (4), 2020, 400-412. Doi.org/10.1080/1756073X.2020.1787005.
  • Steve Taylor and Mark Johnston,“The missio Dei embodied in local community ministry in Scotland,” Ecclesial Futures 2020, 1 (2) (accepted for publication).
Posted by steve at 04:05 PM

Monday, October 12, 2020

editor as detective and gardener and servant

I’ve just sent off to the publisher my first ever edited contribution.
– 1 editorial, of around 2,600 words
– 5 blind peer-reviewed journal articles, each around 6,000 words
– 3 reviewers, together reviewing 4 recently published books relevant to mission

IMG_8725

The edited contribution is Volume 1, Issue 2 of Ecclesial Futures, an international, ecumenical peer-reviewed journal, aiming to provide high-quality, original research on the development and transformation of local Christian communities and the systems that support them as they join in the mission of God in the world.

Ecclesial Futures began for me in August 2016. As part of the International Association of Mission Studies conference in Korea, a group of us met to reflect on what we felt was a gap in missiology – research focused on the local church, that offered a dialogue between academic and practitioner. Over the next few years, a number of organisations agreed with us, generously offering seed money for an initial four issues. Momentum developed and an editorial board began to form.

It was just over a year ago, in September 2019, that I met with co-editor, Rev Dr Nigel Rooms. We spent the day wandering York. Nigel is an experienced editor, of the Journal of Adult Theological Education and now of Practical Theology. During the day, we talked about an editorial ethos of encouragement, of prioritizing constructive peer review and a willingness to mentor potential writers who have not published before.

Volume 1 was published in June 2020 and has been well received. This includes affirming feedback about the visual appeal (“attractive, easy to handle,” “looks great”), the readability (“well pitched”) and connectivity (“interesting research and reflections on mission and the church and crucially it relates to what is happening on the ground”). There have been requests for permission to use articles in training and formation of ministers, along with affirmations from an acquisition librarian in an internationally recognized University regarding the quality and craft. There have also been challenges, including the need to further diversify our editorial board.

My task over the last 3 months has been project-managing volume 2. This involves finding blind reviewers for various articles, moderating between reviewer and author, providing encouragement to authors and gratefulness to reviewers, editing for argument and clarity. Finally, writing an editorial, which introduces the issue and maps out some trajectories we as editors want to encourage.

It’s been a new experience, chipping away in the midst of a myriad of other changes. I’m passionate about the local church and the interface between thinking and doing. But like any new thing, there’s been lots of learnings and plenty of questions.

Why be an editor?

You get to be a detective – It’s been a lot of fun trying to work out who might be a good blind peer reviewer. Each article is unique and each invites examination from different perspectives. Hence co-editing means asking around, seeking recommendations, checking CV’s online. In the process, I’ve been enriched. It has certainly extended my networks and I’ve met some really interesting new people.

You get to be a gardener – The 5 articles are quite different now from the 5 articles individually submitted. It has been fascinating to see authors respond to review, sharpen their argument, read more widely, draw in new material. To use the gardening image, each article is a different plant. Each has required different approaches to pruning. Each author has needed different amounts of fertiliser. As editor, it has been a great gift to watch a stranger read something an author is so familiar with and say “I think this is the heart of your argument.” And then see the author respond, and the article return stronger, more coherent.

You get to serve – The local church deserves the best of our thinking and acting, our research and our praxis. Co-editing Ecclesial Futures is one way for me to seek to serve the local church, for which I’m grateful.

Posted by steve at 01:56 PM

Friday, October 09, 2020

Healing amid crisis: an analysis of theologies of healing in public prayer

The Association of Practical Theology in Oceania (APTO) Conference is online in 2020 – December 3 to 5. I couldn’t afford to go normally but virtual is whole other story. The theme is Encountering God: Practical Theology and the Mission to Heal. After a conversation or three with fellow researcher Lynne Taylor, thinking about our praying in trauma research, we’ve submitted the following abstact:

Healing amid crisis: an analysis of theologies of healing in public prayer as local churches respond in gathered worship to tragedy and trauma

Christian practices embody and reflect lived theologies. The gathered worship service is theory- and theology-laden, offering insight into Christian understandings of how God is engaged in human history and what human response could and should be. Investigating how Christians pray corporately is thus a potentially fruitful way to explore underlying theologies.

This paper draws on empirical research to investigate how local churches pray in response to trauma and tragedy. Online surveys were conducted in November 2015 (following coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris) and March 2019 (following the Christchurch mosque shootings).

The paper is part of a larger project, that seeks to examine how in the midst of trauma, churches might pray. Previous analysis has examined the empirical data in dialogue with Storm Swain’s understanding of God as earth-maker (creating/holding); pain-bearer (suffering); and life-giver (transforming) (in Trauma and Transformation at Ground Zero: A Pastoral Theology); and with Samuel Well’s typologies of God’s presence (Incarnational Mission: Being with the World).

This paper analyses the data paying particular attention to healing. What images of healing are evident? Who are envisaged as agents of healing? What is the telos, the imagined shape of a healed world? As one example, a church invited prayer by placing native grasses on the altar. This suggests several theologies of healing, including remembering, with one grass for every victim murdered, and hospitality, recognizing those who died not as “other” but as lives planted in indigenous soil.

The implications for those who pray in trauma and tragedy will be considered, with particular attention to the theological work possible through the practices of Christian public prayer.

It will give us the opportunity/push/invitation to look again at the local church in action and to take in a new direction research shared at ANZATS 2019 and about to have published in Stimulus, the New Zealand Journal of Christian Thought and Practice

“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 (co-authored with Lynne Taylor), (accepted for publication) 2020.

Posted by steve at 10:05 PM

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Fatima: a theological film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 155 plus films later, here is the review for October 2020.

Fatima
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Fatima is a movie for the faithful. Directed by Marco Pontecorvo, it tells the story of ten-year-old Lúcia (Stephanie Gil) and her two young cousins, Jacinta (Alejandra Howard) and Francisco (Jorge Lamelas). They report a visitation from Mary, the mother of God. She promises to return monthly, with words of comfort and prediction. Children can be impressionable. Would you believe a child?

In devout Portugal, news of future visits from Mary, attract the masses. Month by month, the crowds gather. Some 70,000 are present for what was the final reported visitation on October 13, 1917. What happened is known as “The Miracle of the Sun.” Lúcia asks Mary for a miracle. Many in the crowd reported seeing the sun spin three times. Each rotation lasted three or four minutes, casting rainbow coloured light across those gathered. Others in the crowd saw nothing. Who would you believe?

In a country racked by war, the voice of suffering is ever-present. Some 12,000 Portuguese troops died during World War I, while civilian deaths due to famine and flu exceeded 220,000. The mother who prayed the rosary for her son to be safe becomes the one who yells in grief as Lucia walks past her door. When Mary speaks of world peace to a child, would you believe?

The voice of religion is heard through the village priest, Father Ferreira (Joaquim de Almeida). During the first decades of the twentieth century, a secularising government placed the church under intense pressure. Clergy were imprisoned, seminaries closed and religious orders suppressed. If there is a time for every activity under the sun, then when is the time for keeping a low profile and when is the time to believe a child? In a number of touching scenes, the potential of saying the rosary to generate peaceful protest is clearly visible.

The voice of the sceptic is heard through Professor Nichols (Harvey Keitel). The year is 1989, and in the name of research, the academic professor visits the now elderly Lucia. Why do divine apparitions always conform to the iconography of the culture in which they appear? Why would stigmata appear on the palms of the hands when it is now known that Roman crucifixion involved the binding of the wrists? These visits are a skilful piece of plot development. Over several scenes, the events of 1917 are given room to breathe. As the present interrogates the past, the space for intellectual doubt is held. In the face of secular scepticism, would you believe a child?

What Fatima lacked was the voice of development. In a poignant moment, Lucia believes Mary is telling her to learn to read. An illiterate ten-year-old, tending sheep rather than attending school, suggests a peasant economy. Is organised religion a force for progress? Or is it the opiate of the people, suppressing women and children in patriarchy and poverty?

Fatima rewards but slowly. Over time, you realise you are looking at life through the eyes of a child. If you were that child, would you believe?

Posted by steve at 08:36 PM

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

crafting of call in the knitted theologies-of-ordination series

Last year, during my sabbatical as part of my research into craftivism and knitted angels, I learnt to knit. It is one thing to research intellectually. It is quite another to research by actually making. It certainly locates me as a dependant learner, feeling helpless and needing instruction.

With the sabbatical ended and the journal article submitted (“When ‘#xmasangels’ tweet: a Reception Study of Craftivism as Christian Witness,” Ecclesial Practices 7 (2) 2020, (co-authored with Shannon Taylor)), I kept knitting. Another scarf, then a babies cardigan, then some fingerless gloves from re-found op shop wool.

With a week of holiday recently, I found myself knitting dishcloths. During the week, I was sitting with the emotions of my resignation as Principal of KCML. The sadness at the ending of my relationship with ordination formation, mixed with the release from a demanding role which was at such odds with the understandings by which I had been called. As I knitted, I found myself thinking back over a decade of teaching and leading in the forming of ministers, beginning in the Uniting Church in Australia, followed by the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa.

In the Uniting Church, when deacons are ordained, they are given a gift of a towel (along with a Bible, water, bread and wine), to indicate the diaconal call to a ministry of service.

A group of people, representing those amongst whom the minister will serve, comes forward. They bring a Bible, and water, bread and wine, along with a bowl and towel. Other symbols related to the field of service may also be brought.

One of them says: We are the people of God. We bring the holy Bible, and water, and bread and wine as signs of the ministry to which you were ordained.

Another says: We are the people of God. We bring the symbols of our common life and service.

The minister takes the Bible, opens it and places it on the lectern or pulpit; takes the jug and pours water into the font; and takes the bread and wine and places them on the communion table. S/he then takes the bowl and towel and any other symbol/s and places them in front of the communion table.

As I knitted, I realised that dishclothes offered a similar symbol. I was “hand-making” a symbol of service, that embodied the call to mission and ministry.

So began the knitted theologies of ordination series! Dishclothes, each of which speak to theologies of call to mission and ministry.

First, co-mission.

dishcloth2

Knitted dishcloths as a symbol of ordination as a service of Christ; the colours an affirmation of the creative humanity upon which the Spirit of Christ falls and by which service to Christ is made/woven into the church in mission. Three colours to demonstrate the three strands of word (teach), sacrament (baptise) and discipling (make disciples) by which the co-mission (with other disciples) of Jesus (Go into all the world) is fulfilled (working with the wonderful work by Paul Avis, A Ministry Shaped by Mission).

Second, formation.

ordination3

A symbol of service. Handmade because every act of service in ministry and mission is handmade – is “truth through personality.” In the making of this dishcloth a blemish was discovered – a strand so thin the wool needed to be broken. Despite this blemish, the knitting continued. Such is the call of God, weaving human brokenness into a tapestry of love. Indeed as I knit, it becomes clear who this gift is for.

Third, ending.

ordination3

Casting off is required for completion. Repetitive stitches, knit two then pull one over. So close, yet more care is required. My stubby little fingers struggling to pull one stitch over another. A theology of ending – repetition, patience, trying not to rush, little human fingers requiring kindness. Ending a ministry of service is unique work.

As I keep knitting, I hope to add to this series …

Posted by steve at 10:28 AM

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Nurturing faith online: praxis connecting theory

Some work for my 4th and final Nurturing faith online Community of Practice. After 6 months of action experiments, I’m giving feedback to each participant – bringing their experiment into conversation with theory. What from our praxis confirms? What challenges?

Theory – identity – digital media can be used by people to articulate and work out their religious identities and visions

Praxis – this Community of Practice has involved 4 regulars, 3 others, along with several others who committed to watch a later recording. Meeting online 4 times over 6 months, this Community of Practice brought people together from three countries. While none live in physical proximity, they have found common ground online. This common ground is shaped by a religious vision, a curiosity about nurturing faith online.

Participation was an act of agency. Each person focused on an experiment in trying to make sense of a rapid change. Hence they Community of Practice was an active participation in the out working of a religious identity.

Hence the articulation of vision was in word and deed. Rather than be overwhelmed by COVID, the undertaking of experiments demonstrated dynamic, flexible and adaptive actions. Risks were taken and new things emerged

  • karaoke for playful shared ecumenical worship
  • short courses that invited people outdoors to pay attention to their surroundings and listen more deeply to silence and space
  • listening through surveys that opened up realities of God online
  • experiments in community that showed the reality of fluid identity formation
  • experiments in participation that bore witness to the possibility of relating and connecting

Online has made visible the work that people are willing to do – in their own time – to express and explore their identities online. This is an active, creative, playful vision of nurturing faith online.

Posted by steve at 09:24 PM