Monday, November 21, 2016

Festival participation: ethnographic research

Ethics approval from Flinders University gained on 17 November 2016 for

Festival participation: Engagement of church and community in light of secularisation thesis

The Project:

To interview participants at the Bothwell Spin and Fibre Festival (BSFF), Tasmania. Members of the Uniting Church began this bi-annual community festival and continue to be active participants, including a blessing of the fleece liturgy, the providing of wool for festival participants to craft during the Festival and the holding of a Church service on Sunday as the Festival concludes. The festival has grown over the years, attracting international attention. It is considered a success both by the community and by the church.

This project will explore the meanings attached to this event. It will consider a set of ecclesial foci: Why is the church involved, in particular in the gift of liturgy and craft? What specific theologies shape their involvement? Have those theologies changed over time?

It will consider a set of community foci: What does the community think of the involvement of the church? How do they respond to the gifts being offered? What meanings are attached? How do these two foci connect with theorising regarding the secularisation thesis, which predicts that in modern society, religious participation will decline and religious institutions will weaken.

Significance:

There is widespread literature noting the decline of religious participation and institutions in Western society. This is loosely organised around a secularising thesis, which is generally posited to be more advanced in modernity, and thus by implication in urban areas. The BSFF is a rural event.

A festival is a fluid event, interleaving together a range of interests, behind which lie a range of narratives. Research of the BSFF can be theorised in relation to the secularisation thesis, given it is located in a rural context and runs as a festival.

Charles Taylor (A Secular Age, 2007) argues that in a secular age, festivals will be conducted in ways that eliminate the tension between the demands of everyday life and hopes of eternal benefit, most commonly by dropping the expectations of eternity and instead framing ultimate purpose as this worldly. Paul Heelas (Spiritualities of Life: New Age Romanticism and Consumptive Capitalism, 2008) argues for the rise of spirituality practised not by discipline, nor by ecstatic experience but through the practices of everyday life. This resonates with the work of Taylor and provides a framework by which to analyse the data.

This research will test the secularisation thesis in regard to the narratives constructed around the participation of the church. Why might the church might be involved? Does their involvement, and in particular their focus on craft, promote a spirituality that is this-worldly? How do participants understand their involvement and the involvement of the church?

The research thus has implications for understanding the motivations behind the general social benefits attributed to festivals. It provides understanding of how the church positions itself within a community and how community participate in such events.

Posted by steve at 09:39 AM | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

New Mission seedlings: How could a church tend a seedling?

Initiating creative trends in the Church’s witness is part of what it means to be a Presbyterian minister, according to the Book of Order.

The ordinand is admitted to a fellowship responsible for the guardianship of the Gospel – a guardianship which must express itself in freshness and adaptability as the Church is led by Christ to do new things. The minister has not only the task of protecting the Church and the Gospel from error, but also, and particularly, the task of initiating creative trends in the Church’s witness. (Book of Order, Appendix D-4: Ordination and the Ministry of Word and Sacraments, (1966), (vii))

As a consequence, ministerial training needs to include opportunities, encouragement and training in innovation in mission. KMCL is working toward this aim in the birthing New Mission Seedlings. The aim is to establish in each Presbytery of the PCANZ a New Mission Seedling; seven throughout New Zealand over the next few years.

7seedlings

Each seedling  involves a long term commitment to mission in a local community. They are sites for learning

  • for interns learning to lead in mission
  • for KCML as a learning community being shaped by the challenges of initiating creative trends
  • for churches and Presbyteries in mission, invited to partner in establishing new communities of faith
  • for the national church, given that each seedling is established to address a mission question the church nationally does not yet have an answer too. This will be facilitated by annual National Incubators, that share wisdom and stimulate good practice.

nms-graphicver2

In sharing this vision with a local group from a Presbytery, a minister asked an excellent question: Could we participate? We have folk who have skills? Is there some way they can participate? Can partnerships between NMS and local churches be fostered?

My immediate response was to think about the Presbyterian distinctive of shared decision-making. We look to shared processes of leadership rather than to bishops or charismatic individuals. This instinct should shape our approach to initiating creative trends in the Church’s witness. Denominationally, the question of how could a church help a seedling is in fact a deeply Presbyterian question that attends to the richness of our tradition.

A practical response is to note the following:

1 – Presence to ensure solidarity and enhance partnership – from the extreme of move into the area, through choosing to work in the area, joining a club or activity in the area; participating in a local school with reading. There are a range of ways to enter Incarnation, from full relocation, to a range of ways to be alongside.

2 – Gifts – There are a range of ways to participate in initiating creative trends present themselves

  • Finance – people could contribute (food, coffee, events, etc)
  • Service – commit to a team that experiments in ways to serve. This could be on a fortnightly pattern, or in key community events or linked to Christian festivals.
  • Prayer – gathering in the community to listen to God (pray and read Scripture) amid the patterns of the community
  • Specialisation – specific skills might be offered, for example chairing a local board meeting, teach te reo. These involve taking an individual skill and offering it, ideally in ways the express both competency and solidarity.

3. Seasons – this speaks to both length and in timing. You don’t move plants in summer but in winter. So there are seasons in the sending church to discern, that involve the state of the community and vitality of practice. This also applies individually. A person in a demanding season of work has less to give than the season following children having left home.  A season by nature has an ending.  Always invite folk to participate for a season and then to review.

These thoughts could apply to a local church. They could also apply to a Presbytery, given that being presbyterian is about shared mission. Local churches and Presbyteries can be visited, the mission shared and folk invited to participate for a season, in a range of ways as listed above. Will you consider offering yourself for a year, to participate in six prayer walks; or one community festival or a year of listening to children read in a local school?

Each person that participates at the end of their season, faces a choice. To renew their commitment? Or to return to their sending church? Either way, the season of shared mission has exposed them to incarnational and contextual mission. They are richer. They church will be richer. In doing so, we are making another statement.

We are declaring that initiating creative trends is a body practice. It refuses to rely on amazingly gifted people. Instead, together, in partnerships, it finds multiple ways to participate in the mission of God. This is some of the thinking that lies behind New Mission Seedlings at KCML.

Posted by steve at 06:59 PM

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Hospitality as mission: Why does the church see itself as host not guest?

579b32ed09f103cbc96337321156219c I was asked to speak at a local Presbyterian church, to finish a month long series on hospitality. Being the last in the series, I offered to speak on hospitality as eschatology – looking at the book of Revelation, in particular Revelation 19:6-9. I also drew on Rublevs icon in what became an exploration of hospitality as mission.

I runga i te ingoa, O te Matua, O te Tama, Me te Wairua Tapu, Amine. May I speak in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, the Maker of all things new.

A story to start. St Paul’s Chapel is the oldest surviving church building in Manhattan, New York. Built in 1766, it’s also the closest church to World Trade Centre twin towers. In the days following the destruction of 9/11, the church leaders met in emergency session. In the midst of such tragedy, they turned to Scripture.

Where would you turn? Ask the person beside you. If you were the church next door to 9/11, where in the Bible would you turn in the days following?

The church leaders turned to the stories of Jesus in the New Testament around food.

Stories like Levis banquet in Luke 5
the disciples eating corn in Luke 6
the son of man eating and drinking like a glutton in Luke 7
the feeding of the 5,000 in Luke 9
the Parable of the Rich fool in Luke 12
the parable of the Great banquet in Luke 14
the feasting when the lost son returns in Luke 15
Jesus eating at Zaccheus house in Luke 19
the Last Supper in Luke 22
the Emmaus Road in Luke 24 (developed from The Out of Bounds Church?)

In light of these stories – of Jesus around food – the church decided the best thing they could offer, as a church, post 9/11, was a gospel of hospitality. They resolved to be God’s presence by providing food for firefighters, for Police and rescue workers. Their 1766 church building had still not been checked for structural safety, so they set up bbq’s outside, serving burgers and offering lemonade.

Once the church building was deemed safe, they opened up their sanctuary. “There were rescue workers sleeping and eating … there were chiropractors and massage therapists working on aching muscles in the side aisles .. there were people sitting on the floor and on the steps leading up to the choir loft .. (Soul Banquets: How Meals Become Mission in the Local Congregation, 3) The church leaders continued to meet and pray. They turned again to the stories of Jesus around food and they made a second decision. That the food and drink, their gospel of hospitality, needed to be of the highest possible quality. To quote the minister “We wanted people to see and savour the extravagance of Christ’s love.” (Soul Banquets, 2)

They appointed a Food captain. The Food captain, himself a local restaurant owner, sourced food from restuarants including the Waldorf Astoria, who arrived with a large delivery of chicken dinners. The church leaders continued to meet and pray. Ten days after 9/11, they made a third decision. To begin serving Eucharist, every day, at noon. Amid the food stations, the chicken from the Waldorf Astoria and the bbqs cooking burgers, an invitation was made to any present, not compulsory, to share around the table of Christ.

A visitor wrote

“It was the most incredible hodgepodge of humanity I’ve ever seen gathered in a church … some of the rescue workers who’d not shown much interest in the eucharist when it began found themselves drawn into the ancient prayers that promise life forever with God and ended up taking communion with tears in their eyes. This was Christ’s church in all its messiness, diversity, ambiguity, brokenness, and holiness. And it was truly beautiful.” (Soul Banquets, 3)

The story is from Soul Banquets: How Meals Become Mission in the Local Congregation. It’s written by a lecturer in New Testament, who suddenly began to wonder if all the stories of Jesus in the New Testament around food might actually be saying something not just about then, but about now, not just about gospel then, but about church life today. The book did research on how churches are using food and the argument is made: that the church has underestimated the power of our church meals, both ritual and informal, as opportunities for mission.

I like to place what happened at St Pauls Chapel – “rescue workers .. drawn into the ancient prayers .. with tears in their eyes. Christ’s church – beautiful – in all its messiness, diversity, ambiguity, brokenness .. .” alongside the Bible reading:

“Blessed are you who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb! These are the true words of God.” Revelation 19:9.

Revelation is often the domain of crazies and cults. That’s not the intention of the original writer John. Writing, in exile in Patmos, as it says in Revelation 1:4. He’s not writing endtime prophecy for those obsessed with the Middle East. He’s writing to seven churches in Asia, to people living in mess, ambiguity and brokenness; to people persecuted by an Emperor, to a church under extreme stress.

He responds by blessing these people; blessing them as invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb. It’s quite an unusual image for heaven. Quite different from streets paved with gold and fluffly clouds. “Blessed are you who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb! These are the true words of God.” Endtime prophecy? Domain of crazies and cults? Or an insight into how to live in times of mess, ambiguity and brokenness.

Eugene Peterson in his commentary on Revelation argues that when John uses the wedding feast, “he is maintaining the social shape of salvation.” (Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination, 158)

That eating, what you do at a wedding, is social activity. It’s what we do with friends and family.
That eating, what you do at a wedding, is a relational activity. It’s where we share stories, remember our past, trace our whakapapa, and share our joy, name our sorrow.
That eating, what you do at a wedding, is a messy activity. It has food scraps for the compost and red wine spilt on table clothes and dishes to wash.
That eating, what you do at a wedding, is an invitational activity. It’s the place where we build relationships. On the marae, the powhiri moves to the cupatea and the final meal moves into the poroporoaki.

The writer of John, in using the wedding feast, is inviting those who live in mess, ambiguity and brokenness, to maintain the social shape of salvation. Interestingly, for all those who consider Revelation is about endtimes, is how much the writer, John, is looking back not forward.

He’s looking back to the Bible’s first mention, ever, of eating, in Genesis 3; and offering new story, not to broken relationships in the Garden of Eden, but of relationships celebrated in wedding feast.

He’s looking back to Abraham offering hospitality, killing a calf for three strangers.

He’s looking back to the Mosaic Law in Leviticus. Where the mark of being the OT people of God was feasting. Five feasts – Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Trumpets, Tabernacles. And after the book of Esther, a sixth feast – Purim. Six cycles of celebration in which the alien and migrant is welcome.

He’s looking back to the vision of Isaiah 25: A feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine, the best of meats, the finest of wines .. The Lord will wipe away the tears, He will remove the disgrace (6-8)

He’s looking back to the stories of Jesus in the New Testament around food – the Last Supper in Luke 22.
In which Jesus said remember me. Remember what? Remember me with you at Levis banquet, remember me eating and drinking like a glutton, remember me feeding the 5,000; remember me telling you the Parable of the Rich fool and the Great banquet.

And so “Blessed are you who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb,” is not an endtimes prophecy. It’s a looking back, a looking back which gives a social shape to those who live in mess, ambiguity and brokenness.

However, the church often makes a tragic mistake when it things about hospitality and mission. As I posted on social media yesterday: Why so often does the church see itself as host rather than guest, as inviting rather than invited? Some 25 comments later, my friends and followers are still thinking:

  • Is it human nature, it’s easier to give than receive?
  • Is it that dominant cultures are used to be at the centre, not the edge?
  • Is it that we own buildings and somehow that turn us into hosts not guests?

Why so often does the church see itself as host rather than guest, as inviting rather than invited? I’m intrigued by what happens in one interpretation of looking back, in Rublevs Icon, the story of Abraham and the oaks of Mamre.

icon-e2 Painted in the 15th century by Russian monk called Andrei Rublev. Written to a people, living in mess, ambiguity and brokenness. In the background is the trees of Mamre, linking with Genesis 18:1. Three persons: linking to the three strangers in Genesis 18:2. Three persons – similarities – same halo, same blue colour, the colour for divinity; same holding a staff in the same right hand; same head slightly bowed looking at the person beside them.

Three persons – different.

One is green is the colour of spring, the colour of things that grow.
One person has brown, the colour of dirt.
One person is gold, the beauty of God who created a beautiful earth.

So in Rublevs icon, the host is not Abraham. The host is God, three persons of the Trinity – te Matua, te Tama, te Wairua Tapu; The Father in gold who created this beautiful earth; Jesus in brown walked in dirt; Spirit in green to help us grow.

In the middle is the table. All tables have 4 sides. So there is plenty of room for the guest. So anyone can sit. Anyone who wants a relationship – conversation, participate in love, share in table fellowship with Jesus.

So this is hospitality as mission. It’s when God, not church, is the host at the wedding banquet of the lamb. It’s when the Gospel has a social shape – participating in relationship with God. It’s when meals are at the centre; the cup, remember me – looking back – the stories of Jesus in the New Testament around food.

I began with a story – St Paul’s Chapel in New York, in the 10 days after 9/11 – rescue workers .. drawn into the ancient prayers .. Christ’s church – beautiful – in all its messiness, diversity, ambiguity, brokenness .. .” I’ve placed that alongside the Bible reading: “Blessed are you who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” I’ve suggested that this is not endtimes prophecy, but a looking back – to Genesis and relationships broken and the hopes of the Old Testament that find their culmination in Jesus. And the challenge for us to see ourselves not as hosts, but as guests, in the God’s hospitality.

So a story to end. It comes from Rebecca Huntley, who in her book, Eating between the lines, did research on the eating habits of contemporary Australians. She visits food courts and supermarkets and family dinner tables. She also visits the Spectrum Migrant Resource Centre in Melbourne, to attnd a lunch for migrant women.

The aim was to link recent migrants with historic migrants. Each meal features food from the country of origin of one of the migrants. So you turn up to eat the food of another culture. The aim is a social salvation. On each table is a set of questions (Why did you come to this country? Did you have a choice? What was the journey like? What is it like to raise children in a new country?) Rebecca writes:

“the lunch I attended was messy, complicated, disjointed and at times frustrating. It was hard work, much harder than ordering Vietnamese take-away … It was a tiring experience, but much more satisfying .. Food was a conduit, a means of establishing real and potentially transformative relationships.” (Eating between the lines, 132).

Hospitality as mission. The power of finding ourselves as guests at the table of another. Five practical suggestions:

  • Appoint a food captain
  • Set every church table in ways that reflect God’s abundance and creativity.
  • When eating, find ways to encourage genuine conversation – questions on tables to encourage the sharing of lives.
  • Work always to make guests hosts and hosts guests
  • Never forget the church’s special meal – the stories of Jesus in the New Testament around food.

Because: “Blessed are you who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb.”

Posted by steve at 05:52 PM

Monday, March 21, 2016

Rejuvenation in the Church: some theological notes (Candour repost)

(This is a piece I was asked to write for Candour, a blog for Presbyterian Church leaders, in January this year. )

Much of my thinking about a theology of rejuvenation was shaped during the early days of a difficult change process. I was working with a traditional church experiencing steady decline. Expecting resistance, I referred often in my sermons to the numerical decline of the last few decades. After a few months, an older gentleman commented quietly, “It wasn’t all bad you know.”

The comment got me thinking. Were my references to decline working against our shared desire for rejuvenation? I found myself reflecting on the change images used by Jesus in the Gospels. Jesus begins his ministry by declaring himself an agent of transformation, anointed by God to initiate shalom. [Luke 4:18-19] He describes his ministry using images of mustard seeds, yeast and grains of wheat. [Matthew 13; specifically 31-32; 33; 45-46; John 12:24] He commissions the church – as the Father sent me, so I sent you – as an agent of rejuvenation, to partner with the shalom of Jesus. [John 20:21]

Challenged, I threw away my graphs of decline. Instead, I gave out sunflower seeds. Creation grows and changes. Humans grow and change. I found myself tapping into what I now understand as a Trinitarian theology of rejuvenation.

As Christians we understand God relates to us in relationships: to create, reconcile and make all things new. Let me apply this pattern to rejuvenation.

In Genesis 2, God is pictured as creating a garden. The words used to describe the activities of God include

Maker,

Former of people,

Breather of life,

Planter,

Pleasant to look at.

Into God’s garden, humans are placed, to work and care. [Genesis 2:15] Rejuvenation begins when we recognise ourselves as gardeners with God, creating environments of visual pleasure and practical nurture.

On Easter morning, the first encounters with the Resurrected Jesus are in a garden. A body is transformed, hope is updated, all of creation is reconciled. [Colossians 1:20] At the same time resurrection challenges a theology of rejuvenation. We see this clearly in John 12:24. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” In Christ, rejuvenation is only entered through death.

Revelation ends in the garden. “Behold, I am making all things new,” is a song of rejuvenation. The verbs of Revelation 21:5, when placed alongside the list of verbs in Genesis 2, give a sense of the Revelation garden completing the Genesis garden.

Maker -> Making

Former of people -> All things new

Breather of life -> Healing

Pleasant to look at -> No curse

The harmonies begun with Creator God, heard in Re-creator God in Resurrection, are completed in the Revelation making of all things new. The trees are for rejuvenation, the “healing of the nations.” [Rev 22:2]

This provides a theological and relational pattern for rejuvenation. It is one based on the three persons of the Trinity. Another pattern is present in the processions of God in mission. In the Creeds, the Church declares both “God from God, Light from Light” and the Spirit “who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” This is how God rejuvenates, in the mission of the Son in the incarnation and the inspiration of the Spirit who draws creation together in grace. This pattern allows us to discern what it means to participate in God’s rejuvenation, whether inside or outside the church. [I am summarising the work of Paul Fiddes, Seeing the World and Knowing God: Hebrew Wisdom and Christian Doctrine in a Late-Modern Context]

Let me end by returning to the story I began with. Three months after I gave out sunflowers, I was shown a photo, of the older gentleman’s grandson, standing dwarfed by a sunflower, planted from one of those seeds. Such is the power and potential of a theology of rejuvenation. For the church, it means that

  • Rejuvenation has a theology when it finds itself within this arc of creation, redemption and the making of all things new.
  • Rejuvenation has a shape, as it expresses the patterns of the mission of God in Incarnation and Integration.
  • The rejuvenation of the church is a subset of God’s work in creation. The Genesis garden is for humanity, God loves the world redemptively in Jesus, Revelation is for the healing of the nations.
  • God is the active agent, initiating and sustaining rejuvenation.

This was the good news my church needed to hear, not my bad tidings of great decline.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin. This article is developed more extensively in his forthcoming Built for Change: Innovation and Collaboration in leadership (Australia: Mediacom).

Posted by steve at 08:58 AM

Friday, November 13, 2015

Steve Taylor, “Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods: Plot by Plot, Plant by Plant”

My practical theology of community gardens is now online, published by Urban Seed. It is one of 16 contributions, which are summarised here. They were all presented at Urban Life Together: Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods, which was a grass roots missiology conference organised by Urban Seed on October 17-18, 2014. Conference contributors were invited to submit their presentations, which were then peer reviewed and copy edited, before being made available online – in order to enhance access.

-1 Here’s the summary of my contribution:

(Abstract):

Gardens offer rich insight regarding how we might inhabit our neighbourhood. This paper considers gardens in Scripture, start, middle and end. It researches the development patterns of two inner-city Australian community gardens. The story of each is brought into dialogue with Scripture, including Luke 10:1–12 and 1 Cor 3:6–9. The insights from this dialogue between Scripture and two urban garden case studies is then enriched by consideration of two movies. Gardening with Soul is a documentary about an urban missionary who turned the lawn of her religious community into a community garden. Grow your Own is the story of a stranger’s gift that grows healing among a well-established British allotment garden. Both point to the power and potential of a seasonal spirituality. Throughout this paper, beginning and end, is also woven experience—mine—into the place and potential of gardens in mission and ministry. The argument from Scripture, case study, film and experience is that gardens invite us and our neighbours to become good, plot by plot and plant by plant.

In this small thing is all of creation! God made it, God cares for it, God loves it. (A Paraphrase of Julian of Norwich)

In some ways, “Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods: Plot by Plot, Plant by Plant” is is something I’ve been writing all my life. It became words because I wanted to reflect missiologically on community ministry, specifically community gardens. There is my personal interest in gardening, woven with research into inner-city community gardens, Scriptural reflection and my film reviewing. It is online here.

Posted by steve at 07:01 AM

Monday, October 12, 2015

so many “news”

Today, I start a new role, as Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. It involves a new country, a new city, a new denomination, a new team. That’s a lot of news!

In an amazing set of “coincidences”, the lectionary reading on the day I moved countries (1 October) was Luke 10:1-12.

sendinmission

Further, as I left Australia, a recent graduate gave me a gift and a word of thanks. “Thanks for sending us out in mission.” The image is based on Saint Brendan and the Celtic pattern of mission.

So it’s nice to be beginning a season of “news” with a reminder of Luke 10:1-12. Here is what I wrote about Luke 10:1-12, for a book on mission in New Zealand, in 2008.

First, listening occurs as the disciples first hear the sending God, and second, seek to discern where God is already at work. Hence the command to “Take no bag, no purse, no sandals” (Luke 10:4). This is a radically different concept of mission. We start not with what we imagine the needs of the community are. Instead we start by looking for the welcome that God has already prepared in advance for us. There are echoes of Exodus 3:5, where Moses is instructed to take off shoes, for he is standing on holy ground. This suggests that for the sending God, the places we go, the mission places, our towns and villages, are actually holy places. This is holiness not as separation, but holiness because God is present and up to something.

Second, community building starts because the sending originates in community. The disciples are then sent out in community (Luke 10:1). They are sent to eat and drink in table fellowship (Luke 10:7). (It is a great life being a Luke 10 missionary!) As one writer put it (Robert Tannehill, Luke), “the mission requires contact with people in their homes and towns, while brief contacts on the road are insufficient.” Mission is an act in community, an invitation to dwell, deeply, incarnationally, within the lives of people.

Third, the mission of God includes the proclamation of peace (Luke 10:5). This speaking has echoes of First Testament concepts of shalom. God’s covenant concerned the whole of life: economics and politics, crime and justice, societal and environmental relationships. God was forming Israel as a community to live together in ways that protected new migrants, offered justice when accidents occurred and encouraged sustainable farming. The mission of God is thus this call to seek the wellbeing of all the facets of our community. Hence we engage in acts of healing.

Fourth, Luke 10 is written to a changing church in a changing world. During times of change we all seek certainty. Some seek certainty in historic understandings of church and the Bible. Others seek certainty in charismatic leaders. Luke 10 offers us a different type of certainty, that of God in the world. Luke 10 tells the story of a sending God who invites us to seek God’s future in the ordinary and everyday. It is an affirmation that 70 no-name disciples could be trusted with God’s missionary purposes. It is the anticipation that as we accept the hospitality of the culture, then God’s healing and redemptive purposes can be discerned. It is a vision of church as wholistic, embracing shalom: word, sign and deed. It reminds us that God is active in our world, at the tables and cafes of our culture.

Old words. Historic words, that provide a simplicity and a clarity for the “new” season – listen, build community, speak peace, welcome change in the ordinary and everyday.

Posted by steve at 05:25 AM

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Book Review: The Faith Lives of Women and Girls

Book review: Done for Regents Review 6.2 (April 2015), Regent’s Park College, Oxford publication.

The Faith Lives of Women and Girls: Qualitative Research Perspectives, ed. Nichola Slee, Fran Porter, Anne Phillips. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2013.

One way (for a male) to review a book on women by women is through a lens provided by a third woman. Drusilla Modjeska, in her study of the writings of Australian women describes the “enormous energy” required by women writers to maintain themselves intellectually and artistically (Exiles at home : Australian women writers 1925-1945 / Drusilla Modjeska, 15). She documents the essential role of one person, Nettie Palmer, in nourishing women writers and how her work as an editor created a supportive network in which women writers flourished.

It is a helpful frame by which to approach The Faith Lives of Women and Girls, edited by Nichola Slee, Fran Porter and Anne Phillips. Such an approach offers historical insight and encourages a respectful gratitude for their essential and nourishing role as editors and initiators of a supportive network in which research on female faith might flourish.

The Faith Lives of Women and Girls is part of Ashgate’s Explorations in Practical, Pastoral and Empirical Theology series. It consists of 19 chapters, all written by woman, all emerging from practical theology. Each chapter offers original qualitative research on the faith lives of women and girls, drawing on a range of approaches, including ethnography, oral history, action research, interview and case studies.
This alone makes the volume worthwhile. Reading as a minister, I found myself reflecting on my pastoral and ministerial practice. Anne Phillips chapter (God Talk/Girl Talk) offered new preaching resources, while Kim Wasey’s chapter (Being in Communion) challenged my hopes regarding the impact of women presiding at the Eucharist.

The book raised what seems a perennial question in practical theology, concerning the relationship between sociology and theology. Some chapters felt more sociological and descriptive than theological. Other chapters, like Fran Porter’s work on Irish women’s understanding of God (“The ‘In-the-middle’ God: Women, Conflict and Power in Northern Ireland) offer rich theological insights (including for my Easter preaching at a youth camp).
The quality of research and reflection did vary across the volume. This is perhaps inevitable in a volume that includes both experienced researchers and post-graduate students.

Studies of between six to ten women, as in Jennifer Hurd’s chapter on understandings of death (“The Relevance of a Theology of Natality for a Theology of Death and Dying and Pastoral Care) or Francesca Rhys’s unpacking of ordinary Christologies (Understanding Jesus Christ), raise questions about the place of sampling and representation in qualitative research.

The Faith Lives of Women and Girls lacked an overarching theme. The introduction suggested a distinct discipline. However the absence of a concluding chapter that synthesised a theme (or themes) raised questions concerning what makes feminist practical theology a distinct discipline. Is it anything that studies women? Is it, given that all 19 contributors are women, something done only by women? Or is it that 19 fine grained studies might, with the ongoing encouragement of contemporary Nettie Palmers, be the grit around which a pearl of great price, research resulting from the lived experience of women and girls, begins to develop?

I suggest the latter and look forward to reading further work from those who contributed to this important and ground breaking volume.

For application to fresh expressions see here.

Posted by steve at 07:16 PM

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Writing in Australia: a missiological analysis

During my time in Australia, I’ve had 26 pieces of writing published. This includes 13 book chapters; 2 peer reviewed journal articles; 3 book reviews in peer reviewed journal; 7 other pieces including 3 in Australian Leadership. It totals to over 80,000 published words in the 5 years.

(I have also completed work on a number of rejected journal articles and work on two book manuscripts in relation to sustainability of fresh expressions.)

In preparing for the Mission and the church course, I decided it would be interesting to analyse this published-in-Australia writing from a missiology perspective. It would test the frame of this course, the seven practices. It would also be a way of letting the frame test my work. Am I covering all the areas of mission or am I narrowcasting?

I was (pleasantly) surprised to find that my writing covers all seven areas. I have written most about the planting and forming of new ecclesial communities and least about evangelism. (although I do spend a lot of time talking about evangelism with certain PhD candidates!) Four of the pieces do not fit the frame and I want to think further therefore about whether the frame might need some adaption.

Prayerful discernment, listening – 3
Apologetics – 2
Evangelism – 1
Catechesis – 4
Ecclesial formation – 4
Planting, forming new ecclesial communities – 6
Incarnational mission -3
Unplaced – 4

This exercise thus becomes helpful in guiding my ongoing research. I need to pay more attention in the next phase to apologetics and evangelism. Overall, the pieces include a degree of engagement with indigenous voice, but less engagement with Pacifica cultures. Again, doing this overview of my work helps clarify for me my ongoing research.

On the course website, I have provided an annotated bibliography of this writing. Over the next few days, I will be adding a brief summary of each piece. I will also provide a second paragraph, explaining the missiological reasons why I wrote it and what were the missiological questions that I was seeking to engage with.

This resource sits alongside a standard class bibliography. That was representative of global voices. This is one voice. Most of these pieces I have written do not provide a neat overview of learning to date. Instead, they are more at the edge. They are seeking to address questions I think need to be answered in moving mission thinking forward. This includes the fact that many of my pieces involve engagement with contemporary popular culture and from these emerge conversations about various practices of mission.

The full bibliography is as follows: (more…)

Posted by steve at 10:23 AM

Saturday, June 13, 2015

We’re all men: gender in teaching mission

Monday I begin a four day intensive, teaching on Mission and the church. Much of this week has been spent building the online site – loading up readings, video clips, extra resources, web links – that will enhance the educational experience.

introduction to Mission and the Church from steve taylor on Vimeo.

Glancing at the class list yesterday, I shook my head in disbelief. The entire cohort, all 9 of the enrolled students, are male. And, if the surnames are in any way reliable, all white fella.

I can’t recall teaching an all male, white fella class. Ever. Certainly not in my experience in the Uniting Church, where one of the things I have most appreciated is the greater gender mix that is present, compared to my experience in Baptist Churches in New Zealand.

I am puzzled and disturbed. What to do?

I do have diversity built in through the readings, which include voices, male and female, and from Asia, Africa, Europe, United States, Australia and New Zealand. I do have guest presenters both male and female. I do have short spoken mission biographies to splice in at various points, of woman and indigenous. The stories of fresh expressions video clips are of women pioneers.

But that does not address the mono-cultural discussion that will inevitably result.

Cancelling the class does not seem fair on each individual who has enrolled. I suspect it is also not permissible in a higher education environment.

I don’t think I can suddenly find someone willing to give four days to participate in an intensive at such short notice. And it runs the risk of tokenism, asking one voice to speak for an entire culture or gender.

I wonder if I should, on the first morning, note the reality of our room. And then place three chairs at three points around the class. And suggest that every now and again, we pause and ask each other:

Now if a woman, or a first-nations person, or a migrant with English as a second language were present in our discussion, what might they be adding to our discussion? What might they be critiquing?

This runs the risk of transference. But at the heart of mission is a commitment to engage with the other. So three empty chairs might in fact provide an object lesson in lack.

Posted by steve at 11:57 AM

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Church and mission in multi-faith contexts

Ecclesial Identities in a Multi-Faith Context: Jesus Truth-Gatherings (Yeshu Satsangs) among Hindus and Sikhs in Northwest India, by Darren Duerksen, is a fascinating book. Part of the American Society of Missiology Monograph Series, it offers research into the church in a mission context. The focus is Yeshu Satsangs (Jesus truth gatherings) amongst Hindus and Sikhs in Northwest India. These are “insider” movements. They critique the forms of the inherited Christian church and want to experiment with new forms of church. Sound familiar?

Yeshu Satsangs embrace the Hindu bakhi tradition, an approach to religion that focuses not on elaborate temple rituals, but on devotion connected to a respected leader. They also tend to be multi-cultural, attracting people from Hindu, Sikh and tribal communities. In sum, “a less ritualized and more socio-religiously inclusive community that is part of the Hindu framework.” (52)

Three religious forces have shaped their emergence.

First, foreign mission. A glance into history shows that in response to early Christian work, Hinduism was revitalised. It engaged in reform which strengthened its (Hindu) life and witness.

Second, Dalit conversion. Widespread mass movement to Christianity has meant the perception that “Christianity is the religion of the Dalits.” (65)

Third, Pentecostal. They tend to offer an exuberant worship, led by charismatic, entreprenurial pastors. These forms of spirituality communicate more of a western culture. So, “the learned practices of eliciting God’s power, such as using words like “hallelujah” and shouting “praise Jesus!” (in English) perpetuates the perception that Christianity is “western” or Other.” (68)

We now turn to the emergence of Yeshu Satsangs. This is where it gets interesting missiologically. In light of this history, and in trying to understand their faith in their cultural context, these Yeshu Satsangs have emerged as mission experiments. Duerksen conducted interviews with 8 leaders and 50 followers (satsangis) and argued for a a number of distinct practices.
- worship using local forms and instruments (bhajan or kirtan). These provide an emotional tone and a more indigenous habitus
- objects like incense and coconut for communion; the blowing of a seashell trumpet as a call to worship
- a preaching style, in which leaders sit on a mat on a platform, the incorporation of phrases that are more Hindu or Sikh

The result is a church that has a distinct set of identities. These include a bhakti-influenced devotion to Jesus, the experience of God’s blessing and power, a careful discerning of evil and a distinct Christian witness.

Finally, Duerksen reads the book of Acts in light of the research. Acts is chosen because it is the story of the church’s emergence. Duerksen explores how Jewish Christian’s understood their identity, how they remained rooted in many of their Jewish practices as they sought to follow Christ. He argues that this approach, rooted in tradition and culture, offers a helpful way to understand the Yeshu Satsangs.

It is rich and fascinating missiology. It deserves to be placed alongside the literature for emerging church and fresh expressions, in a mutual search for missional wisdom.

Posted by steve at 10:22 AM

Sunday, May 03, 2015

research memo: How to evaluate mission? Using processions of mission in Preamble

Research memos describe what is being processed during a research project. They allow you to describe the research process and what may be emerging in the data. They can be written during and after research. They can be a few paragraphs or a few pages. Here is a research memo in relation to tomorrows’ presentation:

The Trinity as two processions in mission: a post-colonial proposal for evaluating ecclesial life
Monday, 4 May, Uniting College for Leadership and Theology Research hour, 4-5 pm

As I begin to analyse my data, the question of evaluation emerges. Simple measures for evaluation are numeric and financial. Do these communities grow? Do they survive? How are they sustained financially? I find these problematic. First, they don’t account for the richness of my data. Second, my methods are qualitative and numbers are quantitative. Third, the standards of numbers applied to fresh expressions are not consistent with those applied to inherited churches.

So I am looking for more explicitly theological measures. I wonder if a Trinitarian mode might help. First I consider God as Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. This is promising. I can argue that my data shows a high degree of creativity and a high degree of faith sustaining, but less of an overt redemption. However when I read my widely, I note a wider theological unease with God as Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. It runs the risk of turning God into a doing, not a being; of cleaving the immanent Trinity from the economic.

Then, by a process of curiousity, I discover the work of Bernard Lonergan, Neil Ormerod and Robert Doran in regard to the processions of mission. I read over eight journal articles and two books. This is most promising and a framework develops, by which I can assess my data. It would allow quantitative measures to be held with a qualitative frame. It unites the immanent Trinity with the economic Trinity.

However, I remain aware that I am reading men, from a Catholic and Western tradition. Thus there is an (inevitable) particularity about where they are doing theology from. I continue to ponder this. Is there any work done on the processions of mission from a post-colonial perspective?

Not that I can find. However, I can still work from first principles and primary data. The source closest to hand is the Uniting Church Preamble. While on Walking on Country, among indigenous people, I read again the Preamble. This is a most promising direction. There are indeed two processions of mission in the Preamble. However they yield quite a different framework by which to consider my data.

At this point, I remain undecided about whether to try and synthesis the two frames (Lonergan et al and the Preamble), or to keep them distinct. I suspect a way to progress my thinking might actually perhaps lie in my data. Thus my next task is to see what emerges from my data when these two frames are applied. But as it stands, I certainly have enough to present in my paper tomorrow.

Posted by steve at 09:22 PM

Monday, April 27, 2015

Accepted – “Inhabiting our neighbourhoods: Plot by plot, plant by plant”

News today that my chapter on community gardens in urban spaces has been accepted for publication. It was written for the launch of “Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods”: a flagship publication of Urban Seed’s new Urban Studies Centre and was a proposal for a contemporary urban missiology for community mission.

The editors commented: “We really enjoyed this piece. One of us said, “The more I read the more fascinated I became, and I’m not into gardening!””

Here’s the abstract for the chapter, which I’ve provisionally titled Inhabiting our neighbourhoods: Plot by plot, plant by plant

Gardens offer rich insight regarding how we inhabit our neighbourhood. These include opening ourselves to the stranger’s gift, the slow, seasonal work of prayer-as-composting and celebrating life together.

This chapter begins by bringing the development patterns of two inner-city Australian community gardens into dialogue with Scripture, including Luke 10:1-12 and 1 Corinthians 3:6-9. Stranger’s gifts emerge when we act in ways that enable our community to be neighbours, both good and diverse.

These insights are enriched by consideration of two movies. Gardening with Soul is the story of an urban missionary who turned the lawn of her religious community into a community garden. Grow your Own is the story of a stranger’s gift that grows healing among a well-established British allotment garden.

The argument, from case study, Scripture and film, is that gardens provide rich insight, in practices, processes, patterns and postures, regarding how we might inhabit our neighbourhoods.

It should be out in the middle of the year.

The only major suggestion for change is to make the structure a little more like a garden. This involves making a little more room for wildness, less linear logic and more ripe vegetables and fistfuls of herbs! Which was how I presented the spoken paper, but in writing, sought to conform to a more academic style, so I will gladly conform!

I was one of very few academics present and I’m delighted to be able to add some missiology reflection into what was a gritty, community-engaged conference. It’s also the first time some of my monthly published film reviews (which now number nearly 100) have been woven into a publication, along with what is a personal hobby. So it all feels nicely integrated. It also brings to six the number of pieces of work written in 2014 that will now be published. A good year indeed!

Posted by steve at 01:06 PM

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

witnesses of a wounded church: sermon on Luke 24 (Easter 3)

A sermon I preached among our candidates and Faculty. The Biblical text was Luke 24:36b-48 (Easter 3) and I have been reflecting on being Christian in a country with such a tragic historical relationship with indigenous peoples.

On Saturday, I was offered front row seats at the episcopal ordination of Chris McLeod as Assistant Bishop with special responsibility for ministry alongside Aboriginal people in South Australia. It was amazing to drive down King William Road at 9 am on Saturday morning and to see Bishops from all over Australia and New Zealand all dressed up.

ordination outside st peters

And behind them to see clouds of smoke from an indigenous Kaurna smoking ceremony, billowing above their heads. I wondering if St Peters Cathedral was on fire for a minute.

Chris is the first ever Aboriginal Bishop in South Australia; and the 3rd ever in Australia. Chris is one of my PhD students, hence my ability to secure a front row seating. Closer to the action even that all the Clergy, including Peter, Vicky’s husband.

ordination Chris McLeod

The ordination made major news, with footage on Channel 7 on Saturday night and in the Sunday Times yesterday. When interviewed by channel 7, the sound bite they grabbed was of Chris saying he hoped to a Bishop of healing. It struck me as a rich way to understand our Bible text, the Gospel reading for Easter 3; Sunday April 19. In particular the last words from the reading, from verse 48 – you are witnesses of these things.

I’m a missiologist, so when the word witness pops up in the Bible text, I pay particular attention. When I’m working with church groups I often suggest that “witness” is a better word for us to use than “evangelism.” Witnesses simply pass on what they experience. In court the task of an eyewitness is to report what you see. No hearsay, no interpretation, no guesses at motives or the big picture. Simply be a witness.

For most church groups, this is encouragement. And challenge. Encouragement, because there’s a simplicity when evangelism becomes report what you see. You don’t need to know everything. You don’t need to be skilled at apologetics. You don’t need to know all the story. You don’t even need to have done Heritage and Polity or Church, Ministry Sacraments. So that’s an encouragement. We’re to be witnesses. It’s as simple and as honest as report what you see.

But alongside the encouragement, there’s also challenge. Do you have a faith story that’s active enough to witness to? Can you share of healing. Or are you stuck nursing your resentment and pain, polishing it for revenge? For a mainline church like the Uniting, when at times being a church member has been linked to social status, the invitation to be a witness becomes a particular challenge.

I love the way that “witness” in this Bible text is so framed by experience. The disciples are startled and terrified in v. 37. Those are pretty honest words to keep in your story of witness. Jesus responses with “Touch me and see” (v. 39). That’s a pretty experiential approach to being a witness. And by eating fish in v. 43. That’s a very practical response to being risen.

I love that these honest and experiential and practical details are included, presumably as an example of what being a witness will actually look like. It will involve telling the honest and experiential and practical details. Which helps me make sense of the ordination of Chris. He hopes to be a Bishop of healing. For Chris to do that there’ll need to be remembering. And a grieving. You see, Chris’s mother and grandmother are stolen generation.

And so Chris can’t tell his story without telling their story. And in so doing, telling the story of a church, who contributed to their pain. That’s what will need to happen as Chris sets out to be a witness to healing.

I’ve been reading Australian Catholic theologian, Nieil Ormerod’s lastest book, Re-Visioning the Church: An Experiment in Systematic-Historical Ecclesiology. Neil looks at the church through history. He divides history up into eras and every Era he gives a name. And the name he gives to this era, the era we’re all in together, is the Era of the Wounded Church.

And it’s in this Era of the Wounded Church that you and I are called to be a witness. It’s in the era of woundednes that you are seeking to exercise ordained ministry in the Uniting Church.

Which means, taking into account the Ordination on Saturday, our witness must to include our woundedness, the woundedness of the church. That’s the only way for our story to have the human and experiential and practical details which are so clearly part of being a witness here in the Luke 24. Being startled and terrified. Touch my wound, and see.

Neil Ormerod (Re-Visioning the Church: An Experiment in Systematic-Historical Ecclesiology) talks about the defensiveness that has emerged within the Catholic church as it is wounded. But also about the creativity that’s also been part of the church’s story, how the church has transformed itself through history. And by how the strongest transformation’s have occurred when mission has been the integrating principle.

So the church in the Era of woundedness can chose to be a defensive witness. Or an honest, truthtelling, finding creative transformation in mission witness. You are witnesses of these things.

The Uniting Church recently agreed to a new Preamble to its Constitution. Which begins, As the Church believes God guided it into union so it believes that God is calling it to continually seek a renewal of its life as a community of First Peoples and of Second Peoples from many lands.

Continually seek a renewal.

After the ordination on Saturday, I got talking to a Uniting Church colleague. And he said that he and his mob really hoped this is ordination was not just symbolic. That it would actually lead to real change.

And we could ask the same about the Preamble. How is it practically, continually renewing our witness. As a College. As individuals. Because every one of us who lives in Australia, we are witnesses of these things.

Posted by steve at 07:49 PM

Sunday, April 12, 2015

picnic rugs, being church and mission planning

I’ve been sitting for the last few days with Faith Ringgold’s art. Titled Church Picnic Story Quilt, 1988, it is tie-dyed and printed fabrics; acrylic on cotton canvas. It tells the often bittersweet history of daily life in Black America from a personal and feminist perspective, combining traditions of storytelling and quilt-making in her painted “story quilts.” Because of copyright, I’ll simply provide a link.

It is a visual resource suggested by Imaging the Word: An Arts and Lectionary Resource, the fabulous visual lectionary resource. It is suggested to accompany the lectionary reading – Acts 4:32-37.

It strikes me as a helpful way to think about being church on mission. The quilt is about a church picnic, of Freedom Baptist Church. It’s outdoors and that’s always a more public space for a church. The picnic involves various families on rugs. They’ve got their food spread out on the rugs and I like to think that’s a gesture of sharing. Each rug, and each of the dishes on the rugs, is distinctive and I like to think that each family is bringing something unique, a food that they especially enjoy and especially enjoy preparing. There are children running around and I like to think they are acting as ice-breakers, providing a way to ease into relationships and create connections across rugs.

It got me thinking about appreciative enquiry, (Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change) and how it emerges so easily from this art image.

- What is your dish? In other words, what are the unique gifts of your community you would like to share? What efforts would you make to ensure you give time to offering that unique dishes?

- What are the public spaces in which you need to spread your rug? In other words, where, outside your building, and in what community, are you spreading your rug? What do you value about that space?

- Who, in your community, are the children, the people that create connections? What efforts could you put into nourishing those strengths?

I would suggest that with about 30 minutes in groups working on these questions, a church would have found some rich material for their mission planning. They would have established their strengths, the strengths of their context and how they might go about connecting their strengths with the strengths of their community.

Such is the gift of an art piece of a picnic rig and some well chosen questions.

Posted by steve at 10:43 PM