Sunday, November 30, 2014

an ordination sermon: It’s all about mission

I preached at the ordination of five Uniting Church ministers today. They are an intriguing bunch. One is a pioneer, two are from CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds), three are heading inter-state, which suggests an endorsement by the church nationally of our training practices at Uniting College. Anyhow, here’s the sermon.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O God.

“The Uniting Church in Australia? It’s all about mission.” That’s according to Introducing the Uniting Church in Australia. Written by Andrew Dutney, currently President of the Uniting Church in Australia.

When you do an ordination, always name drop the President.

And so today’s Gospel reading invites us to look at ourselves, as ordinands, as gathered friends, as the Uniting church – and wonder how we shape up in light of being “all about mission” in Luke 10:1-9.

Some of you learn by doing. As you came in, you should have found 2 sheets of paper on your seat. One, instructions on how to build a boat. Second piece of paper, to make a boat. You’re invited, as I speak, to build a boat.

Some of you learn not only by doing but also by hearing, so come with me to our Bible passage, to verse 1.

Which offers a glimpse of God. Who is God? Well in verse 1, God is revealed as a sending God; appointing people, for the purpose of sending people. And the purpose of that sending is for wider society. That’s in verse 2 – the word “harvest” which is repeated three times in case you slow and you’re began to drift off at that point in the Bible reading.

You are sent, for a harvest. Any farmers in our midst, any wine growers, any orchardists – will be the first among us to realise the urgency of this sending God, the overwhelming focus that needs to be on wider society.
When the harvest is ready, you simply work. From dawn to dusk. Because every minute you delay increases the chance you’ll lose your harvest – to birds and blight, to rain and rot.

So this image of God as a sending God, is set in a context of urgency, an urgency shaped by a concern not for our internal needs, for our own survival, for your own agendas. But for those of wider society.

That’s the God we meet in Luke 10. This image of God is consistent with how Luke, with how the Gospels, with how the church through history has experienced God. The theological word – what you 5 being ordained, heard time and again at College – missio Dei.

It’s not that the church of God has a mission, but that the mission of God has a church. It’s not that we’re bringing people to the altar but that we’re bringing the altar to people. That’s who God is.

How’s that boat going?

Because after experiencing this sending God in verse 1 and 2, we see outlined a set of behaviours of those sent by this sending God. And that’s in the next verses

Take nothing in verse 2; Speak peace – in verse 5; Accept hospitality –Not give hospitality, but eat what is set before you – in verse 8; look out for healing – verse 9

Let me unpack what this might mean with a story. A few weeks ago, I was doing some research on churches in Australia engaged in community ministry today. I interviewed a church that had planted a community garden.

Now more and more churches are doing this. What was unique about this church was that they planted their community garden on a rooftop, four stories high. In central-city Sydney.

In explaining to me how this 4 stories high, central city community garden began, I was told that the church decided to plant a garden, because it was something they knew nothing about.

They had no gardening experience. And so that’s why they decided to plant a garden. Which meant that they had to ask for help. From the local community. And so as a result of asking for help, local gardeners are now deeply integrated into this community ministry. And it feels a really genuine “harvest” to make a pun out of the story and the reading in Luke .

Later in the interview, I decided to check if I was really hearing this right. “It sounds to me, I said “like your lack of knowledge – about gardening – actually became like a gift. By starting with what you didn’t know, it gave the community a way in, a way to get involved.” “

“Absolutely” was the animated reply. “Absolutely. Start with something you don’t know how to do. Because it opens up a different way of being with your community.”

Which I think is what’s being suggested by this Gospel reading, the behaviour’s the sending God is inviting us to in Luke 10.

Take nothing. When you do that, you’ll need help.

Speak peace. Peace is a First Testament word. It’s the Hebrew word “shalom.” It’s about peace in all of life. Peace up with God. Peace across with people – neighbor, migrants, strangers. Peace, down with the earth, in the gardens, on which God-in-Jesus walks.

Look for healing. For wellbeing in people’s lives – for wellbeing in our communities. Up with God. Across with neighbor, migrants, strangers. Down with earth.

It’s flipping upside down our traditional understandings of mission and of what it means us to be a good neighbour.
What if the task of the church in mission is actually not to be a good neighbour?
Rather what if the task of the church is to act in ways that enable our communities to be good neighbours?

How’s that boat going? Do you have a name for it yet?

So what does this mean for ordination? For you 5 – Sherrin, Esteban, Adam, Karen, Casey. For us gathered as church and friends to support you? One way to explore that question is for each of us to ask ourselves where we want to locate ourselves in this Bible reading.

Do we want to locate ourselves by siddling up and standing beside Jesus. To find ourselves at the centre of the action, who sends people out into God’s world?

Good news is that we’ve built an entire church culture around that mode of mission. We’ve developed enormous resources to sustain that type of leadership.

Bad news is that this way of being church requires a world which died about 30 years ago. I’m being dramatic. I’m a preacher. And there are, of course, exceptions. But the reality is, that the church with minister at the centre, sending people out, is now a very old-fashioned way of doing ministry. Is that where you want to locate yourself in this text?

Or do you feel most comfortable being sent. Taking no bag. Speaking peace. Accepting hospitality. Looking for signs of healing.

Bad news is that this is scary and vulnerable. It might not work. It might come across as manipulative. It might leave you, like a disciple in Luke 10, hungry with nowhwere to sleep. Or a church with a community garden that is indeed a fine example of how little you know about gardening. Polite way of saying dead.

If that’s the bad news, the good news is that this is the vision of ministry at the heart to being the Uniting Church.
To quote from paragraph 14 of the Basis of Union – (always name drop the Basis of Union in an ordination sermon)
The Uniting Church recognises … a period of reconsideration of traditional forms of the ministry, and of renewed participation of all the people of God in the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, the building up of the fellowship in mutual love, in commitment to Christ’s mission, and in service of the world for which he died.

Which is why I chose Luke 10 as our reading. And why I’ve invited all of us, you 5 being ordained, all of us church and friends, “the whole people of God” to try and locate ourselves in Luke 10.

But why the boat?

Perhaps it because Luke 10 has shaped the mission life of the church down through history. Like Brendan the Navigator. Born in Ireland, 5th century. Became a monk. Served the church faithfully. Then at the age of 80 sensed God calling him to a new adventure. I’ll repeat that. At the age of 80 – always good to have something to look forward to – sensed God calling him to a new adventure with God.

Which included building a boat. With a sail. But no rudder. No way to steer. St Brendan, felt that he was called to literally trust the wind of the Spirit. Like in Luke 10 – to be sent by a sending God.

The story goes (The Voyage of Saint Brendan: The Navigator) that Brendan set his boat free, with his 12 disciples, from the Dingle peninsula, down bottom of Ireland. He and his disciples drifted past the northern Isles of Scotland, then the Faeroe islands, then Iceland and eventually over to North America. Where-ever they went, they where shaped by Luke 10. They proclaimed God’s peace. Shalom, up, across, down to all creation.

But we’re all educated people aren’t we. We all know Christopher Columbus was the first person from Europe to land in America, not an Irish monk named Brendan. In a boat with no rudder.

Then in 1970, a man named Tim Severin, as part of National Geographic expedition set out to disprove the myth. He built a boat exactly like Brendan the Navigator. But with a radio to call for help. Set sail from Ireland. Sure enough, the winds and the tides carried him to North America, by exactly the same route and with many of the same adventures, that Brendan the Voyager wrote of. Brendan the Navigator was inspired by today’s Bible text Luke 10:1-12, to build a boat, and go on an adventures with God.

So that’s one name for your boat. Brendan’s boat.

What Brendan did was how the Celtic church understood mission. Not once, not twice, but so popular they invented a new word to describe it – peregrine – traveller, pilgrim. Robert McFarlane in his book on the history of walking (The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot) wrote of “Ocean roads’ – thousands of them. – In a world before cars and planes, boats were the fastest means of long distance travel.”

On these roads that the Celtic church did mission. Take no bag – just a boat with no rudder. Speak Peace. Looked for healing.

So that’s another name for your boat. Peregrine – pilgrim.

And then there’s the Uniting Church. To be more precise the emblem of the Uniting Church. Reading from the book with which I started, President Andrew Dutney, Introducing the Uniting Church.

The black background represents the darkened world. Upon this background the cross of Christ, the risen, crucified One. The dove with wings of flame depicts the Spirit. Beneath it all, holding it up is a … what? ….(34)

“it reminds me of a boat, with the cross as its mast and the dove’s wings as the sail.”

And no rudder. That’s Steve Taylor not Andrew Dutney.

Because, says Andrew “We are uniting, not united. We are on a journey,” a pilgrim people, “looking to the future.” So that’s perhaps that another name for your boat. You as 5 ordinards. Us as the church – that in every Council and in every ordination and in every act of ministry and in every decision, about finance and property, a Uniting Church.

A Uniting Church in Australia. In which it’s all about mission.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, and the actions of the Uniting Church, be acceptable in your sight O Sending God.

Posted by steve at 08:32 PM | Comments (2)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

indigenous women’s Christologies project

The indigenous women’s Christologies project began tonight. It began with an indigenous Adnyamathanha woman, Aunty Denise, speaking at our theology class, talking about how she does Christology. It was an extraordinary performance, with an hour of what was essentially an extremely sophisticated hermeneutic, laced through with stories of how the oral stories of culture help her address “Who is Jesus for her.” So the Jesus theology class got an outstanding example of contextual theology. The evening was open to the public and it was great to have a few visitors join us, and catch a glimpse of the edges that contemporary theology at Uniting College is currently exploring.

A second evening will occur on October 22, when Eseta Meneilly will join us, offering an indigenous Fijian Christology.

Around this speaking, two further processes are at work. The talk was being recorded, for future reference. In addition a researcher was in the room, listening and recording. The aim is the production of a written and video resource study guide, which in conversation with the presenters can be used more widely – by other classes and by other theologians.

I introduced the lecture today with the following:

“This breakthrough that occurred in early Christianity via dialogue with the different cosmologies is an important precedent and model for the conversations that should take place today between cosmology and Christology.”

Now change three words (worldviews and cultures).

“This breakthrough that occurred in early Christianity via dialogue with the different [worldviews and cultures] is an important precedent and model for the conversations that should take place today between [worldviews and cultures] and Christology.”

In hearing the theology of another, their conversation between their local worldview and a Christology, it helps us begin to form and refine our “model.”

So the class are now processing three questions
- How does Aunty Denise do theology?
- Who is Jesus for Aunty Denise?
- What can I and my community learn for how we do theology?

Posted by steve at 09:25 PM

Monday, October 06, 2014

mission practices in Shaun Tan’s Lost thing

The invite to speak at the Presbyterian Assembly has provided an opportunity to work up some new material on mission and leadership. I’ve been percolating for a while on the wonderful, Academy award winning animation of Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing. I’ve used it three times at the National Ministers Conference on fresh words and deeds, and today was a chance to shape a significant thought piece.

Structurally, I offered four practices
- going
- discerning
- nourishing wonder
- letting go

These were woven into conversation with a number of other voices. First, the Zacchaues text (Luke 19). Second, Susan Hope’s Mission-Shaped Spirituality: The Transforming Power of Mission. Third, The Lost Thing.

I was really pleased with how it shaped up. It seemed to provide an imaginative, practical grounding to my three sessions. And perhaps the first test of a journal article – on the missional insights that flow from the imagination of Shaun Tan.

Posted by steve at 04:38 PM

Monday, September 29, 2014

the weighted coin: inward

Over the last week, in between speaking of Fresh Words and Deeds to a group of ministers in Jerusalem, I’ve been marking assignments.

They are the consequence of my teaching a week long intensive in Sydney in July, titled Mission, evangelism and apologetics. In being invited to teach, it has provided me with a very lifegiving opportunity to think again about how the local church might be effective in mission.

In preparation, I designed the following assessment.

You are to prepare a set of four Lenten studies on mission for your home church. Each study must engage at least one biblical text and the introduction to World Council of Churches statement re mission and evangelism.

Four reasons. First, I wanted students to show me how their understanding of mission might be grounded in the local church.

Second, most of them will lead churches that offer a discipleship opportunity in Lent. So it would be an assessment likely to be directly useful in ministry.

Third, I wanted to expose the students to the best of contemporary missiology. In 2013, the World Council of Churches agreed to a new statement – Together towards life: mission and evangelism in changing landscapes. It is the first statement produced by the WCC since 1982. In the last thirty two years, a lot has changes in the world, and a lot of fresh thinking on mission has emerged.

Fourth, reading the statement, I was surprised with how radical, challenging, theologically and Biblical it was. It is affirming of fresh expressions and surprisingly forthright regarding verbal proclamation of faith. For example regarding fresh expressions ;

“Today’s changed world calls for local congregations to take new initiatives. For example, in the secularizing global north, new forms of contextual mission, such as “new monasticism”, “emerging church”, and “fresh expressions”, have re-defined and re-vitalized churches. (72)

And regarding evangelism:

Evangelism”, while not excluding the different dimensions of mission, focuses on explicit and intentional articulation of the gospel, including “the invitation to personal conversion to a new life in Christ and to discipleship (85).

Overall the assignments were of a pleasing quality. All located four Bible texts and engaged them from a missional perspective. All identified a clear local context and all worked constructively with the WCC document. A pleasing number offered multi-sensory approaches, including film clips, indigenous cultural references, community walks and grounding stories.

One of the students made a comment that fascinating me, and tied in directly with an interactive session I did in Jerusalem. They commented that they had always seen Lent as set aside to look inward. So could they do something in Lent that invited people to look outward.

It was for me a reminder of the current imagination of the church in general, the gravitational pull of Sunday services and gathered worship. It feels to me like the church has a weighted coin. Everytime we toss it up, it lands “inward.”

Mission and worship are two sides of the same coin, but we need proactive strategies and courageous intentionality to restore a pendulum balance. Hopefully, assignments like this – Lenten studies on mission are – a step in a more missional direction.

Posted by steve at 05:30 AM

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Church on the World’s Turf: faith in hard places

How do Christians engage with their world?

Paul Bramadat decided to answer the question by researching a student group on a Canadian campus. For a year, he participated in the InterVarsity club at McMaster University. He interviewed people and attended small groups. He even went with them on a month long mission to Lithuania. All the time, as he attempted to understand them, they attempted to convert him.

The result is The Church on the World’s Turf : An Evangelical Christian Group at a Secular University (Religion in America Series). It’s a sensitive and thoughtful reflection.

He argues that evangelicals are creative and innovative. They employ a complex set of responses. They create a fortress in order to maintain an identity. At the same time, they create bridges in order to be true to their understandings. Key to this is the student group itself – it creates a space in which this creative innovation can be encouraged, in which identity can be nurtured and connections can be established.

“By focusing on evangelicals’ creativity in the face of the perceived hegemony of the secular ethos, not only do we gain a more nuanced view of the resistance of marginalized groups but we also begin to see these Christians as the multidimenensional and imaginative people they are. At the very least, an emphasis on evangelicals’ enthusiastic and creative responses to perceived marginalization might help us understand why evangelical church and parachurch groups show no sign of disintegration and are almost the only sector of contemporary North American Christianity sustaining and even increasing its membership.” (Paul Bramadat, The Church on the World’s Turf : An Evangelical Christian Group at a Secular University (Religion in America Series), 147)

Bramadat makes this argument has he explores attitudes to women, approaches to faith sharing, the understandings of the spiritual. It is a fascinating study, the first in-depth ethnographic study of a Christian campus group Bramadat was aware of (at the time of publication in 2000). It shows the richness possible when ethnography is used in research, the creativity of faith responses to the world around and the possibilities for religious groups to nurture robust relationships with their world.

Posted by steve at 06:44 PM

Thursday, July 17, 2014

‘Urban Life Together’ Conference

A great initiative in Melbourne, with a call for papers for an ‘Urban Life Together’ Conference, 17-18 October, 2014. It hopes to bring together Christian activists, thinkers, leaders and practitioners to interact around urban mission.

Input is invited from practitioners, leaders, activists, researchers and students to explore themes or relate issues or case studies. Either a 30 minute paper, or a 10 minute presentation. I’m keen to encourage this, so in a somewhat playful mode, have offered two presentations.

Presentation one – Fresh or failed? Sustainable practices in new forms of church

Perhaps, the biggest challenge is not starting but sustaining for new forms of church. This presentation will tell the story of new forms of church ten years on, based on longitudinal research in Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom.

It will identify three sustainable practices – ember theology, shifting from key leaders to key values and building catholicity. Biblically, it will dialogue with Epaphroditus and the Philippian church, outlining five layers of sustainability. Finally, it will consider the impact of climate change, first sociological, in recent sociology of religion trends and second denominational, in the advent of Fresh Expressions as a movement.

Presentation two – Gardening with Soul

This presentation will explore two movies to suggest insights for urban mission.

Gardening with Soul (2013) tells the story of New Zealander Gardener of the Year, Loyola Galvin, honoured for her work in turning the lawn of Our Ladies of Compassion, Wellington, into Common Ground, a community garden for local apartment dwellers. Grow your Own (2007) explores the impact of Asian migrants on a well-established British allotment.

Together, these movies offer insights into urban mission, including the priority of place, soil as sacrament and the stranger’s gift. These insights will be tested against the reality of inner-city Australian community gardens in central Adelaide and Kings Cross, Sydney.

Posted by steve at 11:29 AM

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Mountain by Drusilla Modjeska: a brief book review

Holiday reading began with Drusilla Modjeska’s The Mountain. Set in Papua New Guinea, it follows a set of characters first in the lead up to independence and second, in the twentyfirst century.

Modjeska is known for weaving fact with fiction and this beautifully written reflection is not exception. The Mountain emerges from her own story, a period of time in Papua New Guinea in the early 1970s and a recent return to develop an art-collective. It circles stories within stories, applying the eye of an artist to the complexity of interactions across times and cultures.

The mountain, from which the book is named, is an isolated site of undiscovered beauty. It becomes known to us first through the gaze of the anthropologists, as English-born Leonard and his wife, Dutch-born Rika visit. Second to post-colonial scrutiny, as Jericho, caught between cultures returns to find himself.

In between these personal journeys swirl a rich ripple of contemporary issues, including environmental battles, the impact of development and the search for identity.

As I read, I became aware of theological undercurrents. Whether intentional or not, the book offers a number of intriguing insights into the Christian understanding of Incarnation. Christianity claims the Word made flesh and this gains particular resonance in The Mountain, as the gift of a child becomes redemptive both for individuals and for a tribe, as it seeks to navigate between ways old and new.

The ancestors give us Leonard. We give you to Leonard. And now you return. Ancestor gift. The child who left us, who we called Jericho, has returned, the man who can make a great noise, blow down the walls. Jericho, the name from the ancestor story of Leonard.

This makes The Mountain both fun and an illuminating insight into the complexity of crossing cultures.

Posted by steve at 09:34 PM

Monday, May 26, 2014

Jesus and the religions

I’m teaching Theology of Jesus in Semester 2, both weekly in Adelaide and by intensive at New Life Uniting Church, on the Gold Coast, in November. Plus I am teaching on Mission as an intensive in Sydney in July.

So today I was doing some preparation, which included reading Bob Robinson, Jesus and the Religions: Retrieving a Neglected Example for a Multi-cultural World.  It is a brilliant conceived book. It asks how Christians should approach other faiths by exploring how Jesus engaged other faiths.

It begins with three Gospel stories – Jesus and the Roman Centurion, Jesus and the Syrophonecian woman, Jesus and the Samaritan Woman. Doing theology, bringing together themes from the three encounters it argues that their are implications for how contemporary people engage plurality.

  • Be open to surprise, in the same way Jesus was surprised by the faith of the Roman Centurion, the Syrophonecian  and the Samaritan woman.
  • Affirm what surprises you, again in the same way Jesus affirmed the faith of the Roman Centurion, the Syrophonecian  and the Samaritan woman.
  • In particular, look for faith and humility. This includes the role not only of faith, but of the content of that faith. In all three examples, their “faith appears to include more than heart-felt hope or desperate concern.” (Jesus and the Religions: Retrieving a Neglected Example for a Multi-cultural World, 116).  And so by implication, “Might examples of faith, humility, and insight, wherever they are found in the contemporary world, be affirmed by disciples today – even when they contrast less than favorable with their own.” (Jesus and the Religions: Retrieving a Neglected Example for a Multi-cultural World, 117-8).
  • The exclusion of vengeance. For example, Jesus response to the Roman Centurion is a moment of love of enemy. Moving to other Gospel stories, one might note the rain falls on the just and the unjust, or the banquet parables which include, rather than exclude.

What is even more intriguing is an initial chapter in which Christ becomes an exegete.  The focus is Luke 4:16-30, and how Jesus engages Scripture. Robinson concludes that there are fresh readings, new performances of Scripture as Biblical texts are encountered in the power of the Spirit.  This opens up an exemplary Christology, in which the church reads for direction in how to live its life of witness in the world.

All of which makes for a rich teaching resource.

Posted by steve at 09:23 PM

Monday, March 24, 2014

Please, tend the green zones

I was asked to be the opening, after dinner speaker at the National Presbytery Ministers conference here in South Australia. With folk arriving from all over the country, tired, carrying heavy workloads, it was a difficult assignment. I decided to offer two stories.

My first story was my experience of an Adelaide Fringe Festival show, Henry Lawson goes to Princeton. I built on my blog review and after further conversation with the artist – Ian Coats, suggested that the show was a God at the fringe moment, a rich example 21st century mission – how will we live, told contextually, told publicly, with an invitation to consider God.

I also told a 2nd story. Since Presbytery ministers have significant church leadership responsibility, I told them about my research into Rowan Williams and how he provided leadership, first as Bishop, second as Archbishop, in Fresh Expressions. Based on my research (hauling out a draft chapter from the book project), I suggested that Rowan had

  • a clear theology – grounded in the life of the church;
  • intentional practices – to spend time on the fringe
  • a change strategy – tell stories of how the green zone changes him.

In between I offered Al Roxburgh lifecycles of an organisation as a frame by which to reflect on the two stories.

The Three Zone Model … visualizes the organizational cultures congregations and denominations form at various periods in their lives. It represents a dynamic of continuous change in organizational culture relative to the external environment. Church systems living in the discontinuous change now characterize Western societies will be continually shifting through these zones

After two stories and one frame, I made one request: Please, as leaders, tend the green zones.

So much of the life in Uniting Church congregations is red. So much of our Synod whole church life is blue. Please don’t get stuck there. Please go looking for the green. Please bring those stories, in my case Henry Lawson at the Adelaide Fringe, into conversation with the centre.

Posted by steve at 10:45 AM

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

a tale of two churches

I was teaching on church today in my Introduction to Christian Thought class. I have been thinking a lot recently about the vision of church and the reality of church. So I pulled together a tale of two churches. I took the vision, the ideal, four Biblical images of church as explored in Paul Minear, Images of Church in New Testament. That is one tale of church.

I laid that alongside a second tale of church, the reality, the who is the church, the how did the church act, as explored in Kirsteen Kim’s survey of the church in global history, in Joining in with the Spirit: Connecting World Church and Local Mission

It generated some excellent connections, as we realised how much church changes over time and space, and how that frees us to think about fresh expressions of church today.

Posted by steve at 09:47 PM

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

resourcing mission as fresh expressions

Here is a list of some of the resources I used at Offspring, the inaugural New Zealand Presbyterian gathering around new missional ventures. The gathering over the weekend included four stories, of new missional ventures by New Zealand Presbyterian churches. I was asked to resource the conversation. I chose to do this by telling stories of mission in other times and places, and inviting participants into processes by which they could make links between what was happening in these local mission stories and ways mission has occurred in other times and places. I told stories from the UK (my recent research into fresh expressions 10 years on) and then from global mission history.

My hunch was that stories are a great way of making missiology accessible. And by offering missiology as story it might dignify and frame the local stories being told.  But in case folk think storytelling is not “theological” or “well-researched,” here are some of the behind the scenes resources I drew on.

  • The definition of mission

the effort to effect passage across the boundary between faith in Christ and absence

was from the introduction in Stanley Skreslet, Comprehending Mission: The Questions, Methods, Themes, Problems, and prospects of Missiology

  • The Tarore story as an expression of missio Dei in New Zealand mission was from Rosemary Dewerse, Nga Kai-rui i te Rongopai: Seven Early Maori Christians, published by Te Hui Amorangi Ki Te Manawa O Te Wheke, Rotorua, 2013.
  • One way to explore the place of the ancient and historic in fresh expressions is the Sanctus: fresh expressions of church in the sacramental tradition DVD (from here).

I’m hoping to find some time to write up my reflections on the mission themes I saw emerging in these four stories of innovation in mission and New Zealand and the parallels I saw them and between Luke 10:1-12.  But first, the day job!

Posted by steve at 10:08 PM

Friday, May 03, 2013

Festival spirituality stories: Spin and Fibre Festival

I’m starting a research project, wanting to collect stories of Festival spirituality. It is an extension of a brief idea I sketched in my The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change (emergentYS) and which I recently developed further.

Festival spirituality (working definition): an occasional period of community gathering for celebration, in which Christians intentionally participate, seeking to make the shalom of God more visible.

This Festival spirituality story – Spin and Fibre Festival comes from Frontier News, May 2013, 8-10. It relates to the 35th Bothwell International Highland Spin In and Fibre Festival, a biennial event held in Tasmania and comes from an interview with Rev Meg Evans, Patrol Minister, Midlands, Tasmania.

Held every two years, Meg is the unofficial chaplain for the festival, which was started by a group of Uniting Church women who were spinning wool to raise funds to restore the church tower. Bothwell is one of the smaller communities in the Patrol located in the Central Highlands, 70 km northwest of Hobart. It has a long history in Merino wool production and the festival remains a huge event for both local and international visitors showcasing crafts and skills associated with superfine wool.

“On the Friday, we shear a sheep for the fleece, and then we hold a ‘Blessing of the Fleece.’ The wool is given out to people to spin during the weekend. On the Sunday I hold a service in the school gym, surrounded by all this wonderful creativity. It is just a great community celebration.”

“People come and tell me how much they enjoy it. I think the fact that the Church is there speaks to people.”

Some interesting things to note

  • gift – the involvement of the church begins with “Blessing”. This suggests a thankfulness. What is blessed (the Fleece) is then given away to participants
  • risk – This clearly involves risk, that the gift might not be “unwrapped,” might not be utilised. Or it might be “wrapped” in a way contrary to the values of the giver.
  • theology of creation – the connection to wool, as the product of local industry, as the lifeblood of what this community, this land, produces. A celebration both of the gift of wool, but also of the creative gifts that surround wool – “crafts and skills associated with superfine wool.”
  • being church as spun (interwoven) presence, first in being close enough to the land to be aan initiating participant, second in being a worshipping presence through the festival, both from the initial blessing through to the service, third in the theology of Meg, “the fact that the Church is there speaks to people.” The church began this event, but was willing to give it away. The church is willing to be one of many participants, many strands, in the fibre of this event. It does not need to own it nor control it.

So this Festival spirituality is mission as chaplain, celebrating creation, with particular attention to presence, participation, gift and risk.

Questions for discussion

  1. I wonder what things might be worth celebrating in your community – what gifts of “creation” and “creativity” you could bless?
  2. I wonder how you might take risks and invite people to participate in these gifts?
  3. What might an authentic presence look like? Think about this both from your perspective as a church and from the perspective of visitors and locals.
Posted by steve at 11:08 AM

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Festival spirituality, mission and ministry

I’m speaking tomorrow at the National Uniting Church Rural Ministry Conference, at Barmera, which is about 3 hours drive north of Adelaide, in the Riverlands.

My topic is festival spirituality. It’s a significant development of some ideas I sketched in my The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change. I will begin by looking at Old Testament patterns of gathering and how it relates to worship, mission, community and interconnection. I will then do a drive by of a number of articles from Rural Theology, contemporary research on belonging and participation, along with research into current festival patterns in the UK.

Here’s my conclusion.

I have wanted to engage with two problems. First, the perception of Christianity as urban, a move which can downplay the vitality of rural ministry. Second, the perception of church as building, geographic and Vicar led.

I have deployed the Old Testament to suggest different modes of gathering, around sacred sites, on pilgrimage, in festivals, around tables. I would suggest these are more congruent with the needs of rural folk, in current patterns of belonging, in ways of participation and the existence already of festivals.

Finally, two examples have been provided, which show current examples of rural churches embracing these new/old forms. My suggestion is that these patterns are more likely to be life-giving for a rural church. Rather than a weekly habit, they provide ways to participate in the rhythm of a community, to embrace sense of place and to offer spirituality for the road trips so integral to rural life.

It should be a fun day.

Posted by steve at 09:37 PM

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Comprehending mission – chapter 4 – Theology mission, culture

Stanley Skreslet’s Comprehending Mission: The Questions, Methods, Themes, Problems, and Prospects of Missiology is a wonderful gift. It provides an overview of recent trends in missiology, allowing a person and an institution to locate their questions, their research, their reading in light of other thinkers.

Chapter one, on the who and why of the study of mission, is here. Chapter two, on trends in the Bible in regard to mission, is here. Chapter three part a looked at mission history, the evolution through time, the shifting resources that shaped how the church understood itself. Chapter three part b, on the history of mission today is here.

Chapter four – Theology, Mission, Culture

“Within the realm of missiology, culture becomes a primary conversation partner.” (69)

This includes communication across cultures, agencies of social change, the complex formation of innovation and new contextual projects. (This makes so much sense of my interests and why I find myself reading from change management to social innovation, to indigenous and popular culture.)

The chapter begins with theology, in particular current research on salvation and ecclesiology. This includes the shift to see mission as an aspect of God rather than as a function of the church. It also includes the recent search for a more developed pneumatology, the place of the Spirit of God.

A second section explores the growing importance of social sciences (again this makes sense of my methods, using ethnography and interviews, plus my interest in the ecclesiology and ethnography project). Mission played an active role in the development of ethnography and anthropology. The 1910 World Missionary Conference pleaded that sociology be included as one of five necessary subjects for all candidates in mission training. (It certainly is at Uniting College, where we teach Reading cultures/Sociology for ministry, as a core introductory topic).

“Not fully appreciated, perhaps, is the way in which sustained research on culture has served to keep missiology closely connected to everyday life, which lessens the risk that its theological concerns will be treated only in the abstract.” (95)

A third section explores gospel and culture, the quite deliberate participation in both arenas at the same time. “The doctrine of the incarnation has also been taken as an invitation to think deeply about human culture as the particular sphere within which Christian outreach necessarily takes place.” (86) There is a rich coverage of the development of research in contextualisation and intercultural theology.

“Writing about fifteen years ago, Lamin Sanneh perceived that Western theology was just about the last discipline in the modern university to show serious interest in missionary experience.” (94)

However, in recent years, writings from Timothy Gorringe Furthering Humanity: A Theology of Culture, Max Stackhouse Apologia: Contextualization, Globalization, and Mission in Theological Education and Kevin Vanhoozer To Stake a Claim: Mission and the Western Crisis of Knowledge, have drawn on missiological research.

Posted by steve at 06:08 PM