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
- I wonder what things might be worth celebrating in your community – what gifts of “creation” and “creativity” you could bless?
- I wonder how you might take risks and invite people to participate in these gifts?
- 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.
Friday, March 22, 2013
when it’s broke, there are ways, not to fix it, but to refound it
This has been part of my world this week – Methodist history.
With the guidance of President Andrew Dutney, I’ve been reading about John Wesley (and trying to avoid the interesting diversions like Moravian financial collapses and the resultant impact on mission). I’ve been following a research hunch and testing a research theory. Gerard Arbuckle, From Chaos to Mission: Refounding Religious Life Formation talks about the difference between renewal and refounding. Renewal modifies old methods. Refounding goes back to first principles and allows them to become imaginative resources in the radical rethinking of the way we do things.
Arbuckle thus encourages a focus on the stories, the fundamental questions and the founding vision of the group. Hence my research. If Fresh expressions is about mission what are the mission stories that lie in British soil? How might they be re-found? I’ve been looking at three areas, with Methodism being one. Hence the pile of books.
Take one example: a founding story
“The Wesley emphasis on mission as determining order.” (Rack, The Future of John Wesley’s Methodism)
So the refounding story:
“To determine its shape and structure the future Church may have to return to Wesley’s insight – that such matters be decided by mission.” (Rack, The Future of John Wesley’s Methodism.)
(For another, and very contemporary example, I think this is a superb example of refounding, Andrew Dutney returning to the Basis of Union,)
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
National conference on mission and evangelism
A national conference on mission and evangelism in Adelaide next year: 28-30 March 2014. Uniting College for Leadership & Theology is planning to a five day intensive course on mission and evangelism immediately following the conference for those who are interested and available to participate.
The conference will be open to anyone in the Uniting Church, but it is intended to be particularly helpful for people involved in missional innovation, leadership, community development, training for ministry, and in service across a variety of contexts – congregations, agencies, schools, presbyteries, synods, and global connections. And we’re particularly keen to ensure that the young adult leaders who initiated the idea get to address their agenda in the gathering.
But why would we want to call a national conference on mission and evangelism for the Uniting Church anyway? Well, it’s really all about who we are.
The Uniting Church was formed around the realisation that the Christian movement is all about mission. In paragraph 3 of the Basis of Union the mission God is identified as “reconciliation and renewal…for the whole creation”. Moreover, “The Church’s call is to serve that end…” The church exists for the sake of that mission of God, as a sign, instrument and foretaste of what God in Christ has done as is doing by the power of the Holy Spirit. It exists for mission and evangelism, to live and share the Gospel that heals and transforms broken people and societies.
The Copernican insight that resulted in the formation of the Uniting Church was that in the church of God everything revolves around mission and evangelism – and that none of the things that were keeping the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian churches apart could be justified in terms of the mission of God. It was hard, risky, but there could be no more excuses. It all had to go and a new Uniting Church in Australia inaugurated with the prayer that “God will use their common worship, witness and service to set forth the word of salvation for all people” (Basis of Union paragraph 1).
It’s still true, however, that a lot of what we do, enjoy and are comforted by as a church is not about mission at all – even less about evangelism. A lot of it is just habit, nostalgia, vested interest, or merely a lack of imagination. The need to discern what participation in the mission of God requires of us is ongoing – and so is the need to measure what we are already doing against it.
The Uniting Church is going through a time of tremendous change. Some of it we have chosen but much of it is simply generated by the force of circumstances. In this time of change it is critical that we keep in front of us the point of it all – mission and evangelism or, more properly, participation in the mission of God in Australia today.
In recent years most of our presbyteries and synods have engaged in some kind of process intended to do just that. A national conference on mission and evangelism is a means of acknowledging and encouraging that work. It is also a means of bringing together the insights of the different councils of the church into a fresh national process of missional discernment. It is an opportunity to articulate a shared vision of mission and evangelism linking the church’s congregations, councils and community service agencies.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
mission matters – Uniting College Missiology stream news
Just out is the latest (February 2013) comings and goings from the Missiology stream at Uniting College. It includes description of the Walking on country indigenous immersion experience, with a wonderful participant experience, told as story –
God looked down upon the lands of Australia and saw that things were not well with the Land and its People and something had to be done.
God looked more closely and saw a Mob of good people who each had stories to tell, but they were scattered across the Land, so they were brought together.
People from the coastal area of Queensland, from the lands of the Snowy Mountains, from across the waters to New Zealand, and from the red sands of the interiors, and they came from the southern coastal areas and the plains of the hills. They were black and white, students and teachers, young and old, male and female but they had all come to learn and experience the ways of the land.
Followed by some emerging missional reflection –
They also learnt that the past could not be changed but the present and future is where change can take place. God saw this and called upon the Creator to gather these people, and with one big hand the Creator picked up these people and moulded them into a tall strong tree that produced beautiful brightly coloured flowers and a sweet tasting fruit that attracts the birds and animals of the area.
The seeds of the fruit are carried far and wide some falling onto fertile soils others not, but in time more trees grow and more seeds are produced, all learning and carrying away the stories of the good people and in time the Land becomes well and also the People of the Land. Then God looked down and said, “all is good.”
Ecclesiology mixed with eschatology! Rich indeed.
It also includes various teaching experiences being offered in 2013 – Reading Cultures (online option); Mission then, mission now; Multi-cultural Worship, Leadership and Mission – which makes you appreciate how missional the stream is becoming. (But they did miss out promoting the Sense Making Faith course.)
Anyhow, for the entire newsletter – Mission Matters Feb 2013
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.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
Getting on with mission. Are you broad enough?
As part of my role as Principal, I am invited to write a 650 word column, to be sent to Uniting churches throughout South Australia. Here is what I wrote last week …
One of the highlights of my first few months as Principal has been visiting rural churches. As part of the Refresh programme, I’ve found myself in Lock, Laura and Robe. It has been a great way to meet new folk and to get a feel for church life beyond the suburban sprawl that is Adelaide.
My topic was Getting on with mission. Mission is a word with so much baggage.
For some it is linked with Stolen Generations. For others, it smacks of Billy Graham Crusades and the mass appeal of stadium preaching. Or the corporate business world, in which mission statements suggest programmes for church growth.
None of these make any sense of the Biblical narrative.
Being a mate – This expression of mission is best seen in the story of the woman at the well (John 4). An encounter with Jesus turns the Samaritan into a storyteller. What is striking is how she, not Jesus, is the primary agent in mission. Even though only minutes old in faith, she is willing to verbally share her moment of encounter with her neighbours who know her so well.
Having a yarn – This expression of mission is threaded throughout the book of Acts, thirty six times in which faith is presented verbally to a group of listeners. What is striking is how different each speech is – in setting, in illustrations, in ending, in effectiveness. There is never a “one-size-fits-all” repeated stock sermon or generic alter call. Instead there is a deep sensitivity to a listening audience and the unique cultures that shape their hearing.
Crossing the ditch – In Acts 8, mission occurs as the gospel jumps continents and the church in Africa is birthed. Ditches are being crossed. They can be cultural. They can also be generational. What is important is who takes the initiative in Acts 8. The primary agents are not the one on mission (Philip), but the Spirit and the Ethiopian. By implication, the first act of mission is thus an act of listening, of finding out where, and how the ditch is being crossed.
Sharing the load – In John 10:11, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life. Mission emerges in the context of “knowing a voice”, of relationships of depth and honesty. Mission takes shape not in words, but in sacrificial actions. When linked with Luke 15:3-7, we are reminded that mission expects shepherds to be wandering far from the walls of the church.
In summary, in the Biblical narrative, mission in the Bible has little to do with imposition, corporate programmes or manipulation. Instead it emerges in relationships, through listening and the sharing of life.
When I look around today I continue to see these images of mission.
Being a mate occurs as we hold a street barbeque, download the “50 ways to share your faith” Synod resource or offer Prayers of Intercession for the various work and play places which our congregations inhabit.
Having a yarn occurs through special services like weddings, Christmas or Anzac Day. Or in the example of a friend of mine, who in a few short sentences at his 50th birthday party, found words to name the changes that faith had wrought in him.
Crossing the ditch occurs in fresh expressions, as we join an Aboutface, through overseas missions exposure trips or as we teach conversational English to refugees.
Sharing the load occurs through the many forms of chaplaincy supported by the Uniting Church. This can be officially, through placements such as schools, aged-care centres, hospitals etc. It can also be unofficially. Each of us have the potential to adopt an ‘unofficial’ chaplaincy posture within our surrounding community – to your street, sporting club, or the local cafe!
(Short advertising break – Have you heard about the new Diploma of Ministry (Chaplaincy) at Uniting College. Whatever type of chaplaincy, it may be an ideal next step for you or someone in your congregation. Why not contact the College to request more information!)
These are the words and image that define my understanding of mission.
What about you and your church? How are you giving expression to the breadth and depth found in the word?
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
latest mission matters news
Here is the latest Mission matters newslettter from the Uniting College missiology stream. Books worth reading, key participants, update on comings and goings, projects being developed and course offerings for 2013. Excellent progress for a stream birthed at College less than 3 years old!
Monday, October 29, 2012
Position vacant: Chaplaincy Coordinator
Uniting College is seeking a gifted person 1 day/week (annual fixed term, renewable) to network, co-ordinate and develop new Diploma of Ministry specialisations in chaplaincy (school, aged, hospital, salt and light). It is essential to possess chaplaincy experience and a higher education qualification. Enquiries and applications to Steve Taylor steve.taylor at flinders dot edu dot au. Applications close 5 November 2012.
Background: In a group brainstorming session a few months ago, we identified first that there is a gap in the Uniting church in chaplaincy training. There are short courses of say six months at vocational level and there are topics (for example Theology and Practice of Chaplaincy) in our 3 year Bachelor of Ministry. But that leaves a lot of space. Second, that in our accrediting of our Bachelor of Ministry degree, we had been encouraged to add a one year equivalent Diploma. While until now we had seen it as a general exit award, the regulations gave us space to make this specific.
So why not offer a Diploma of Ministry with specialisations – aged care chaplaincy, school chaplaincy, hospital chaplaincy? And who knows, in time “salt and light” street chaplains?
Since then, everyone we’ve talked to has encouraged us – our Boards and various stakeholders.
But as we looked at our existing staff, we realised we lacked practitioner expertise in these areas. Hence this new position – Chaplaincy Coordinator – with responsibilities to
• play a key role in developing chaplains who are passionate, Christ-centred, highly skilled and mission oriented practitioners
• promote chaplaincy and chaplaincy courses throughout the South Australian Presbytery/Synod including through the Mission Networks of the church
• assist those teaching core topics in shaping their content and assessment in a way that is relevant to chaplaincy
• oversee the development of and teaching of four elective topics that will maximise the response to chaplaincy needs, through teaching and recruitment of experienced practitioners
• keep abreast of current research in the area of chaplaincy.
• provide course advice and supervision to those seeking to develop skills in or pursuing a vocation in chaplaincy
It is just a start, a testing of the waters, but it’s nice to be setting the sails for a bit of adventure.
Sunday, October 21, 2012
small missional communities and the Uniting church
Jonny Baker describes the growth of small missional communities, with around 30 groups from the London Diocese gathering recently to network.
most were a small community that had moved into a particular area (often one with a lot of deprivation and poverty), meeting together in a bar or home or allotment, seeking to follow christ but their focus is simply helping transform their community – in arts, environment, in social needs, with youth and so on. they are not that focused on growing big – but more like the yeast of the kingdom that jesus talked about infecting the wider batch of dough. a couple of people spoke of the challenge of weaning members off their addiction to consumer approaches to church where they get their fix of worship and teaching and meeting with friends before they could properly engage in this more local, outward focused community approach (maybe we need a 12 step detox programme for leaving consumner church!?). what was also interesting is that many of these described a positive relationship with their local churches – they were not competing for punters – far from it. but they brought a mission energy to the area that could really help a local church or do things a local church was not able to do.
I also see it as a way of getting out of the “alt.worship” mode, in which the energy mainly went into re-creating gathered worship. In small missional communities, the energy is focused on life-as-mission. Both are ways of beginning a mission, but I suspect different beginning point suit different personalities and also different contexts.
The question, as one who who grew up anabaptist, is how these missional communities relate to the wider church. This piece for me is addressed in Pete Ward’s Liquid Church, in which the use of “flow” becomes a way to envisage relationships. What is fascinating about Jonny’s quote is the way this flow is being located locally – within local churches. Good stuff.
Within the Uniting/Adelaide context in which I now work, I see a number of distinct possibilities. We need a way of being Presbytery (dare I say, mission network/s) that allows accountability and resourcing to be shared. The gift of the Uniting church is a church in every suburb and thus a physicality about being neighbourhood. The other weakness of being small and missional is resourcing when you start to connect with the marginalised. Again a Presbytery-as-network would address this.
A further facet about being Uniting is the potential for partnerships with Uniting Care, who can provide professional resourcing but can’t be “church” without conflicts of interest around proseltyising. Is there a 3 way synergy that needs to emerge – Uniting Care; local church buildings; small missional communities? ie professional resourcing + local presence + engaged life-as-mission groupings.
Now all we need is a motion at Synod that invited a new mission network around small missional communities; and a College committed to training missional pioneers.
Oh but wait, haven’t we got the second already?
Tuesday, October 02, 2012
the politics of Christian influence: Christianity and colonisation
James Boyce’s 1835 explores the Founding of Melbourne and in doing so, the conquest of Australia. Such books are essential reading for all those who care about mission and the witness of the church, because they allow us to reflect on the past.
Chapter 5: London 1835 includes a summary of the place of Evangelical Christianity in colonisation. “With the assistance of their …. [evangelicals] …. the British government became focused on the physical and moral welfare of indigenous people to an extent unknown before, or for the most part, since.” (37)
First, it helpfully notes that British Evangelicalism of the early 1800s should not be confused with present day American Evangelicalism.
Second, it notes the motivation. Once Slavery was abolished, indigenous welfare became a priority area of Evangelical concern. “Government control, along with support for enterprising ‘respectable’ settlers, was urgently needed to counteract the harm done to natives by lower-class European.” (38-9) This provides a contrast to the Domination narrative, which is often pinned on Christian colonisers. “The simple fact that evangelicals accepted that people had rights based on prior possession set them apart from the dominant settler discourse, which argued that the right to land arose from using it for farming.” (39)
This produced an ironic tension, that Christians supported colonisation because they saw it as “the primary means of ensuring that Aborigines were not degraded or killed by the lower order of Europeans.” (40)
Third, this advocacy on behalf of indigenous people relied on information. What happened in Melbourne and in the colonising of Australia, was that distance and lack of missionaries on the ground, meant that the Christian politicians lacked data to work for justice.
It’s a fascinating narrative about the relationship between church and society and the attempt to use politics for influence.
(New Zealand readers will want to read Chapter 7 – The Treaty, as it provides a fascinating analysis of a Treaty signing, both the politics and the processes, just a few short years before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. But that is for another post).
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
I shut the door this afternoon and found some space to do some creative planning. The result was some mission postcards – four in total. One side of each postcard is an art image, on the other side a Biblical text. The task will be for folk to work in groups to identify the mission practices present.
The occasion is that fact that I’m working with some rural churches in the Eyre Peninsula over the upcoming weekend. Rural as in 6 hours drive one way. So I leave on Friday morning and return Sunday evening.
I am doing three of these rural events this year. In May I was in Robe, while in September I’ll be in Laura. In Robe I did 3 sessions. But there’s only time for 2 sessions in the Eyre Peninsula, which meant I needed to find a new way to get to where I wanted to go.
I’d be playing with an idea for a while, emerging from Picturing Christian Witness: New Testament Images of Disciples in Mission by Stanley Skreslet.
In sum, mission in the New Testament involves four domains
- being a mate – being salt and light in our neighbourhoods
- having a yarn – voicing our story
- crossing the ditch – stepping across boundaries both cultural and generational
- sharing the load – the determination to stretch, to extend the reach of Christian pastoral compassion.
I’ll then provide some contemporary examples of each, hoping that in the mix of Biblical engagement, art, conversation and stories from today, folk will find fresh resources for their context.
Monday, June 18, 2012
living in cultures of change
Spotlight, a leading national craft and curtain shop, sells raffia. This simple fact is important for local indigenous expression.
Yesterday Team Taylor enjoyed the annual open day at the Warriparinga Living Kaurna Cultural centre. We enjoyed the live music, watched the kids play a traditional game, kicking around a possum skin (yep, possum) and joined the local basket weavers.
As we chatted we learned that traditionally basket used reeds and grasses. However such things disappear in modern industrial cities. Either the practice of basket weaving dies. Or else the cultural adapts.
Hence the importance of raffia from Spotlight.
It reminded me of a conversation a few weeks ago. I was wine tasting and some older folk were chatting beside about the impact of technology. Will our children be able to read and write, in an age of screens and e-readers? They were concerned about cultural death.
I pointed out that my children are reading more widely and broadly as a result of the purchase of Kindle’s. To which they shrugged, sighed and said “I guess you’ve got to just so with the times.”
The resignation in their voices, the words they use, were very similar to what I hear in church circles. It suddenly occurred to me that
One, responding to change is not just an issue for the church, but for all cultures. It is a shared human challenge.
Two, that avoidance or assimilation, fighting or acceptance, are two very limited responses.
Three, that Christians who think about culture-making, about a variety of practices by which to live in change, that the adaptive resources from within indigenous cultures, are a helpful resource for living in change – not just for the church, but for all humans in modern society.
Tuesday, June 05, 2012
An Australian migrant theology?
In Robe (where I spent the weekend) when you enter West Beach, you are invited to beware of migrants. Specifically, migrant birds.
What sort of migrant theology might emerge from this type of posture?
It would expect migrants to arrive exhausted, recognising they have travelled far, they have seen much, they need lots of space to “conserve their energy.”
It would expect migrants to “rest and feed”, to find resources to renew them, to prepare them for the next stage of their journey.
It would offer them space, be willing to change direction and “walk and drive below the high tide mark.”
A pattern that has been happening for thousands of years before any white fella arrived, a pattern in which the land of Australia has sought to serve, renew and restore migrants.
(This is another entry in dictionary of everyday spirituality, under the heading M is for migrants).
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
is religion better or worse for society?
A range of opinions regarding the public social good of religious institutions exist.
• an “ivory tower” perception, in which religious organisations are judged to have no earthly focus, and thus little practical public good
• a “culture destroyer” view, in which religious organisations are considered to be of toxic value to tolerance and goodwill of society
• a “public good” generator, in which religious organisations are investigated as potential contributors to public social capital.
The rationale for this “public good generator” position is that religious organisations currently exist as a significant contributor in the not-for-profit arena. Some research has indicated that church adherents are more likely to serve as volunteers. For example, church attenders are more likely to be volunteers in local community groups (43%) than the wider Australian population (32%). Across all denominations, volunteering within the congregation has a strong positive relationship with volunteering in the community. Rather than being only church-focused, church volunteers are outward-looking and active in their community. (Source: NCLS Research/University of Western Sydney joint study on volunteering (2001))
However, existing religious organisations face significant challenges, in regard to adaptation to new technologies, how to participate in a pluralistic and multi-faith society and strategies in the face of declining membership and a shrinking resource base. These factors suggests that social innovation for religious organisations will be an imperative, in order to sustain their existing contributions to public social capital. In a changing world, how might historic values of compassion, respect and justice (Uniting Communities Vision, http://www.unitingcommunities.org/?q=About-Us) continue to be enacted?
This study will seek to provide research data that might guide religious institutions in addressing such questions today.
This is something I wrote for a University/Partner organisations funding bid I’ve been putting together over the last week. (One page of an 17 page).