Thursday, October 30, 2014

the power of the Preamble

In recent years, the Uniting Church in Australia has added a ‘Preamble’ to its Constitution. Emerging from discussion with indigenous folk (UAICC -Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress) it provides an account of the role of the church in Australian (settlement/invasion) and makes some declarations of the Indigenous experience of God.

For instance, here is paragraph 3:

“The First Peoples had already encountered the Creator God before the arrival of the colonisers; the Spirit was already in the land revealing God to the people through law, custom and ceremony. The same love and grace that was fully and finally revealed in Jesus Christ sustained the First Peoples and gave them particular insights into God’s ways.”

Yesterday our Christology class had the second in our indigenous women’s Christology series. We had the privilege of hearing Eseta Meneilly, a Uniting Church minister from Victoria, share how she connects Christ and her culture (Fijian).

She began her lecture by noting the power of the Preamble. How when she read the Preamble, she began to wonder. If the First Peoples of this Australian land had already encountered God, then did the same apply to her Fijian people’s experience? As she pondered this question, she remembered something from her school days. Long forgotten in her journey, a piece of her cultural history.

She shared this cultural history with the class and together we began to see a deeply Incarnational movement by the Christ, to be present in a (Fijian) cultural worldview. We decided that yes, indeed, here was a “particular” insight into God’s ways.

As part of the indigenous women’s Christology project we have videod the lecture by Eseta and a researcher will work with Eseta to see if we can provide a written account. The hope is that this will be added to other indigenous Christology accounts and a student resource might emerge, that can place indigenous theologies alongside the weight of currently published Western Christologies.

But as these efforts to make more visible these rich Christologies continue, I am struck today by the power of the Preamble. I am grateful for the courage of those who dreamed it, wrote it, advocated for it. I’m intrigued by the potential of a written document to bring change, including theological and missiological change. I’m challenged by people, like Eseta, who have taken the Preamble seriously. I’m eager to hear and see what might continue to be produced in the year’s ahead.

Posted by steve at 08:49 AM | Comments (1)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

life to the full: Boyhood and wellbeing

Over the weekend, I watched Boyhood, the coming of age movie by Richard Linklater. It’s outstanding, following Mason from age five to eighteen. Through his eyes we experience broken marriages, domestic violence, bullying and various male rites of passage deemed essential to contemporary Western cultural life. We face the pain and potential of becoming adult.

Over the weekend, I noted that a school in Western Australia were advertising a new position – Director for the Centre for Boys’ Health and Well-being. It is a new role, to inform the school and wider community through guest speakers, research and publication of best practice and next practice related to the health and well-being of boys of school age. It builds on the Centre for Ethics and the Centre for Pedagogy.

It seems to me to be a new way of the church (in this case it is an Anglican school) doing public theology. Here is a group talking wellbeing (which can be framed as John 10:1 – life to the full).

I loved the meshing of input, research and communicate. I love that it’s research linked closely to actual communities, in this case to school and parents. I love that it’s such a practical response to Boyhood.

Posted by steve at 07:13 PM | Comments (0)

Friday, September 26, 2014

mission orandi, mission credendi

Today was the third day of the National Ministers Conference in Jerusalem. A programme re-shuffle meant that I had the luck of doing the last session of the day, starting at 4 pm. After a 7:30 am departure from the hotel for the second day in a row, it was going to be a tough, tough session. So during the afternoon tea break, I re-jigged the session. It needed some group activity, and importantly, an activity that might be meaningful.

The session theme was titled – Walking in their space, gifts of strangers. To explore the theme, we began with Eric, a story of the gifts given by a stranger. We then looked at the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8, in which mission agents, in the meeting of strangers, receive gifts.

I noted that this theme, of “strangers/outsiders” being agents of blessing, appears in other places in the Biblical text. For example
• Rahab – Matthew 1:5
• Ruth – Matthew 1:5
• Magi – Matthew 2:11
• Roman centurion – Matthew 8:10 – “no one in Israel have I found such faith”
• Luke 4:26-27- Widow of Zarephath and Namaan the Syrian
• Samaritan woman – John 4:27-30
• Eunuch – Acts 8:26-38
• Roman centurion – Acts 10:1-2

I shared how in preaching on the Syrophonecian woman recently, I was struck by Jesus commendation of her, as having “great faith.” So I entered the story by trying to discern, liturgically, what of her faith was evident in the Biblical text, in words and deeds and by writing an affirmation of faith. I found it a very moving experience, to realise the richness of her Christology at that moment.

So I offered the group an interactive exercise. In groups, take a Bible text. Ask each other what gifts do the outsiders/strangers bring? Have a go at trying to express this gift using liturgical forms eg affirmation of faith, lament, prayers for others?

Why? Practically, it would keep people engaged. It would allow us to be faithful to our call, to prayer the input of the day back to God. At a more subtle level, it would be an example of “mission in reverse.” It would let the voices of those “outside” the community of faith form and shape our worship. In so doing, it might actually inter-weave mission and worship; worship and mission. In other words, a sort of reframing of the historic church affirmation, the rule of prayer is the rule of belief; lex orandi, lex credendi. If we pray our mission, we might end up believing (and acting) our mission.

The result was astonishing. Energy levels went right up. Within 30 minutes, the groups had written 8 short liturgies. Intriguingly, with no orchestration, they spanned an order of service (without the preaching).
• Call to worship
• Prayer of praise
• Collect of illumination
• Confession
• Litany
• Prayers for others
• Word of mission
• Collect of blessing

And so to end the session we worshipped. Each group offered their liturgy. As worship. Which enfolded our day and helped us move through. An example of mission orandi, mission credendi? Time will tell.

Posted by steve at 01:47 AM

Sunday, August 31, 2014

mission then, mission now

I’ve just finished marking a set of assignments for my Mission, Evangelism and Apologetics intensive I taught in Sydney in July. I’m delighted with how the first assignment question worked.

Assignment:
Each student will, at the start of the class, be given a missionary. They will then use the Essential texts
for the course as a beginning point to find out more about their missionary. (These texts are Bevans and Schroeder, Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today or Dewerse, R. (2013). Nga Kai-Rui i Te Rongopai: Seven Early Maori Christians. Rotorua: Te Hui Amorangi ki te Manawa o Te Wheke.)

The student will submit a biography (300 words) of the individual, a summary of how this person understood either evangelism or mission or apologetics (400 words), followed by a discussion of the implications of this understanding for either evangelism or mission or apologetics today (300 words).

Note: If students have other learning styles, they are welcome to submit this assignment verbally, by submitting a 10 minute podcast on a mailed USB stick or uploaded to a website and emailing the relevant URL to the lecturer. The lecturer will be assuming that at 100 words a minute, the spoken length of the podcast is similar to 1000 written words.

I set this type of assignment for a number of reasons.

Fist, stories have power. One way to enthuse and engage about mission is to tell stories. By asking students to do this assignment, I am introducing them to stories, that they might use. (Throughout the intensive, I offered a number of examples – Caroline Chisholm an Australian pioneer and Maori peace stories – to enthuse the class and model the assignment.)

Second, biography as theology. As James McClendon has argued (Biography as Theology: How Life Stories Can Remake Today’s Theology), people’s lives embody doctrine. We see truth in actions. So this assignment was a way of doing biography as theology missiology.

Third, the common perception is that mission in the past has been all about colonisation. This assignment helps them realise that history does include tragedy, but it also includes some outstanding examples of servanthood that brought great benefit to indigenous cultures.

Fourth, it enabled mission to be placed as global, to place our talk about evangelism and apologetics alongside the stories of Maori in mission, pioneering in Japan, India and Europe. It allowed mission to be so much more than Euro-centric.

Posted by steve at 11:29 PM

Sunday, August 17, 2014

bowing to a buddhist monk: a meditation on the Syro-phonecian woman

Here is the sermon I preached this morning at Blackwood Churches of Christ. The lectionary text was Matthew 15:22-28, the story of Jesus encounter with the Syro-phonecian woman. The reading helped me explore a set of circumstances a few weeks ago, in which I found myself bowing to a Buddhist monk. In other words, how do we encounter people of different beliefs and opinions?

……. (more…)

Posted by steve at 06:11 PM

Thursday, August 07, 2014

The Congregation in a Pluralist Society: Rereading Newbigin for Missional Churches Today

News this week that Pacifica, a leading theology journal in Australasia and the West Pacific Basin, will publish “The Congregation in a Pluralist Society: Rereading Newbigin for Missional Churches Today,” a joint article by Darren Cronshaw and myself, in which we offer a conversation between the reality of church life and the work of Lesslie Newbigin.

Abstract
Lesslie Newbigin sought to engage the gospel with Western culture. A rereading of Newbigin’s work offers insights for mission and communicating the gospel in the twenty-first century Western world, including the need to grapple with religious pluralism. For Newbigin, ‘[T]he only hermeneutic of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it’. How plausible is the Newbigin thesis? Can congregations today believe and live the gospel, especially in a pluralistic context? This article is an appeal for attentiveness to the place and priority of the congregation, for the sake of mission in our pluralist society. It is grounded in the experience of two congregational case studies, which opens up conversation with Newbigin’s The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. Methodologically, it applies Neil Ormerod’s understanding of ecclesiology as grounded in ‘historical ecclesial communities’ to test both the groundedness and plausibility of Newbigin’s congregational hermeneutic.

It has been accepted for immediate publication in Pacifica (volume 27 number 2), which is one of Australia’s leading theological journals. It’s great to be writing about mission and church in that sort of context and to be have been able to provide a body of writing which results in congregational studies being considered a legitimate source in theological enquiry.

Posted by steve at 07:42 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

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Shed Church as fresh expressions of church

Phil Smith is planting a new form of community in Caloundra, Queensland. He’s also a journalist and learning with us at Uniting College through the possibilities around blended learning. For a unit this year on “Evangelism, Conversion and the Mission of God,” he created this excellent video about how Christians have engaged in the Men’s Shed movement across Australia.

I played this on Friday as I concluded my Mission intensive at United Theological College, Sydney. It was hot of the press, it was an Australian story, it brought together many of the themes of the course, it did great work linking Biblical narrative, in this case Luke 1:1-12.

What I found particularly intriguing was the work Phil did around what is church, at the very end.

Is shed Church? Or could it be church? Luke’s benchmark for church is followers gathered around Jesus and sent by him to express the Kingdom of God. If a shed is only men gathered around a bbq or a work bench, it doesnb’t measure up, as a fresh, stale or any other expression of church; if however some of these blokes are parts of Christ’s body, connecting with others, investing time and others to grow alongside them, if this is more about Incarnation than recreation … then we’ll see the transforming work of God. And that does look a lot like church.

Posted by steve at 06:43 PM

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Tarlee bound for Trinity Sunday

I’m off early tomorrow morning to spend a day with Tarlee Uniting. They are about 90 minutes drive away. They are led by a Lay Ministry Team, so I’m there to led worship and preach and hopefully give these hardworking locals a bit of a breather. I love these opportunities and find them so very grounding, to be in the country, with folk who are working on creative, whole people of God, outworkings of faith and discipleship.

It’s Trinity Sunday, so that is a natural place to begin. I will use my children’s talk introducing Rublevs icon (doing theology with our eyes). We will also be doing theology with our hands, making friendship bracelets, weaving the colours of the three figures in Rublev’s icon

After the service, I’ve been asked to engage their leadership team in thinking about mission. I will explore with them how Israel gathered in the Old Testament; patterns of
- sacred spaces
- pilgrimage
- festivals
- family meals

What I want to suggest is that this frees imagination on how to be church and Christian, away from “weekly church” to more contextual patterns. This is a development of some thinking I developed in 2012 for the National Rural Ministers conference. I have added some specific examples and I will be interested to see how it goes with a rural church led by a lay ministry team.

Church begins at 9:15 am, so it will be an early start.

Posted by steve at 09:01 PM

Friday, May 30, 2014

Urban Mission Exposure Melbourne June 5-14

Another new innovation at Uniting College …

Explore diverse approaches to ministry and mission as part of our exciting Melbourne Study Tour: Urban Mission Exposure. Led by dynamic pastor, Rev Mark Reisson, you’ll be immersed in urban culture where you can participate in spiritual and discipleship practices, assess context-based new initiatives and reflect theologically on the emerging nature of cities as global cultural centres

Staying in inner-city Melbourne, you will experience the pulse of city and encounter a huge variety of models of ministry and mission, including churches, mission organisations, and innovative projects.This unique opportunity can be studied at Undergraduate and Postgraduate levels.

The cost is $550, which includes all accommodation and transfers and you’ll need to make your own way to Melbourne. Standard tuition fees apply (FEEhelp and Studyassist available).

Find out more by phoning Student Services on 8416 8400 or visiting on Facebook.

Rev Mark Reisson is the Coordinator for Mission and Community Engagement with Churches of Christ in SA and NT, coordinates Surrender Conference in SA and is an adjunct faculty member of the Adelaide College of Divinity.

Posted by steve at 01:15 PM

Friday, May 16, 2014

pioneering mission in Australia: Caroline Chisholm

The saint for today in the Revised Common Lectionary is Caroline Chisholm. Her story is strongly shaped by Australia. In other words, the eyes of the world today will reflect on what is an Australian mission story.

Caroline was born in England. Raised evangelical, she was an adult convert to Catholicism, about the time she met her husband, a sea captain. Coming to Australia on holiday, Caroline was disturbed by the poverty she saw among migrants in Sydney. Meeting each ship as it arrived, she sought to find work and shelter for new migrants.

While initially focused on these acts of mercy, she soon became a tireless advocate for justice. Her life was shaped by lobbying. She was constantly seeking to speak to politicians, seeking reform. She collected migrant stories (Comfort for the Poor! Meat three times a day! Voluntary information from the people of New South Wales, 1847). She shared these stories, both in Australia and also back in England, where she continued to advocate and lobby for reform.

After two years of being ignored, she decided to act without government help. She sought financial backing in order to provide loans to migrants, which was accompanied by support as they settled in Australia, thus making more likely repayment. The loans were provided at rates far cheaper than existing banks and in order to subvert the injustice she saw from landed interests.

Charles Dickens gave her support, including mentioning her work in his writings.

She organised ships and changed onboard systems – with the doctor, not the captain, apportioning rations. Presumably such changes were shaped by the stories she heard as she had listened to migrant experiences.

In 1852, her political advocacy saw the Passenger Act, in which the British Government legislated to improve shipping conditions for passengers (boat people), seeking a new start.

Despite being one of the most well-known woman in England (her portrait hung in the Royal Academy exhibition in 1852), she scorned material reward and status and returned to Australia.

Caroline Chisholm – one story of mission in Australia. As it says in Exodus 3:7, she saw misery, she heard the cry of the oppressed, in this case migrants. In response to listening, she mixed mercy, justice and innovation. She pioneered new expressions of care and worked tirelessly to shape public opinion.

In 2014, with Australia still facing the arrival of many migrants her life is perhaps a source of inspiration and challenge.

For more on Caroline Chisholm see Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Posted by steve at 11:18 AM

Monday, May 05, 2014

how a voluntary society in a rural town made eHistory

I love stories of innovation. Here is one of a voluntary group in a small, rural town, who made eHistory. The full story is here, but to give you a taster, I’ve made a summary, using words from the entire article.

Carnamah is a town and farming community [of 500 people] 300 kilometres north of Perth. The Carnamah Historical Society was founded in 1983 to collect, record, preserve and promote local history. Made up of folk with a background in wheat and sheep farming, they have no ongoing funding and are volunteer run.

To share history and heritage they created online content, 600 pages. Then primary school educational resources. Then an online data base that utilised virtual volunteers to help with transcription and indexing tasks.

The result: thousands more people have discovered and now have a strong and personal connection; donations of heritage material; featured in National Museum of Australia exhibition; appeared in Inside History magazine twice.

The difference is simply that we’ve made a lot of history discoverable online. We want to share, not just possess. We, as a [history] sector have a terrible track record of doing what we’ve always done and not straying too far from the familiar path. It comes down to attitude. Will you learn or try what you don’t know?

The essential ingredients that tend to be lacking are not ideas, examples to follow, time, availability of funding or technical skill. They are very often attitude, ethos and organisational culture.

I think there are a lot of encouragements and challenges in this story for any group in our changing world.

Posted by steve at 07:01 PM

Friday, May 02, 2014

where would we pilgrim in South Australia?

Four overseas examples of pilgrimage and faith formation have got me asking – where would we pilgrim in South Australia?

These four overseas examples of pilgrimage and faith formation have got me thinking – where would we pilgrim in South Australia? Where would we go to connect with the stories from God’s past activity, in order to help discern our participation in God’s future?

I have a student doing a Guided reading with me on this very topic. She’s going on “Celtic” pilgrimage to the UK. More importantly, as she does, she’s asking what it means back in her local, rural, community?

Now I know that at Uniting College we have Walking on Country in which we spend time listening to indigenous stories. And in July there is a Mission immersion trip to Melbourne, to look at examples of current mission practice.

Are these the same sort of innovations? Or is there a local mission pilgrimage piece that’s still beckoning us?

Posted by steve at 10:33 AM

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Together toward life: when The Shaping of Things to Come is much more bleak

The Australian Association of Mission Studies tri-annual conference is in Adelaide in October 2014. With Anthony Gittens the guest speaker, it promises to be a rich mission feast. The theme is Margins, Mission and Diversity and the conference will also acknowledge the tragic death of Ross Langmead.

Here is my proposed paper in which I try to connect the conference theme with my research on sustainability and fresh expressions:

Together toward life: when The Shaping of Things to Come is much more bleak.

The 2013 Commission on World Mission and Evangelism statement on mission encourages the local church in Spirited experimentation, (Local Congregations: New Initiatives). This could be argued to be a discernment of the Spirit’s activity on the margins of the church, for the sake of the world.

Such a (marginal) call is not new to Australia. The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21 Century Church (2003, first edition) is considered a seminal Australian text in missiology. In chapter two, titled “Hope of Post-Christendom”, Frost and Hirsch present six stories of new initiatives in mission.

Investigation ten years reveals that three of these “hopes” are now closed (two incurring significant financial loss, a third misrepresented).

Such levels of failure in experimentation are consistent with data emerging from New Zealand and United Kingdom. Of the five communities described in Threshold of the Future: Reforming the Church in the Post-Christian West (Gospel and Cultures) (1998) none now survive. In the United Kingdom, of twelve communities researched by the author in 2001, only five now survive.

If new forms of church are the shaping of things to come, how might we respond missiologically to such data? Three responses will be explored. First, Biblically, in the mission of Epaphroditus in the letter to Philippians. Second, historically, how The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died understands the rise and fall of Christianity. Third, theologically, how a hermeneutic of surprise, emerging from Romans 8:15 (The Message) and the Pixar movie Up, values adventure over sustainability.

Posted by steve at 08:14 PM