Thursday, May 09, 2013
Pilgrimage spirituality interaction
Darren Wright, who so long ago did a very thorough blog review of my Out of Bounds Church book, is interacting with my recent Old Testament festival spirituality talk.
to be honest the idea of seeing our liturgical year being split into 6ish gatherings connected to festivals (we already naturally celebrate 3 festivals in christmas, easter and harvest) sounded like a beautiful and sustainable idea for many people at the conference. People seemed so attracted to the idea of festivals that the other ways of exploring community, spirituality and faith seemed overlooked by many of the group, so with that in mind I thought I’d like to explore each of the categories leaving Festivals to the last.
He is taking each of the categories I introduced – temple, festival, pilgrimage, table, sacred site – starting with pilgrimage.
He explores rural life, driving, weekly bike club rides that exist in almost every town, a driving holiday, transporting cattle/stock along the stock trails, harvesting and sowing (where in Australia one sits alone on a huge machine for days on end). Even geocaching.
Pilgrimage as practice opens up the possibility of seeing the tractor as a space for liturgical & ritual practices, the car/vehicle as one drives between Hillston and Sydney as a space for faith and connection. The task for us now is to develop ideas that help the spiritual practice of pilgrimage develop and professional travellers ways to engage with the region they’re driving through in deep spiritual reflection.
It’s a creative piece of work.
Monday, May 06, 2013
An introduction to communion that I shared today, working with our candidates, faculty and visiting ministers, gathered around the topic of self-care.
There is a story of some ministers gathering. Much like us today, to wrestle with ministry. In the question time, a question is raised. A person aware of their world, concerned about the church. How can we bring people to the altar?
The response is made. Is the question how do we bring people to the altar? Or is the question, how do we bring the altar to people?
An important reminder as we gather. It is not that we come to communion, but that in communion God comes to us. In this we are invited to participate in God’s mission.
Yes, it is about our care. In communion God feeds us, centres us, re-values us around grace and redemption.
But it is more than that. It is also about care for the church. In communion God feeds the church, centres the church, re-values the church around grace and redemption.
But it is more than that. It is also about care for the world. In communion God wants to feed the world, wants to centre the world, wants to re-value the world around grace and redemption.
And so we pray; Spirit, fall on us, that these elements of bread and wine may be for us a participation in your life, love and mission, your bringing the altar to people.
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.
Monday, April 22, 2013
In sure and certain hope
Andrew Dutney, President of the Uniting Church, dropped in on my Sustainability and the mission of God presentation at the Australian Association of Mission Studies (Adelaide chapter) today, when I presented some of my findings from research into UK fresh expressions ten years on.
Andrew offers a fascinating followup reflection, pondering further some of my ruminations around the implications for a church that seeks to live in response to an Easter story of death and resurrection.
One of the interesting things [Steve] found is that there’s about a 50% attrition rate in the Fresh Expressions he’s followed over the last decade. He checked this against other writers’ lists of innovative faith communities like that and found a similar “death” rate.
But he also found significant signs of new life – resurrection even – associated with those short-lived churches. Individual participants report being transformed by the experience and prepared to offer significant leadership in mission after the demise of the Fresh Expression they were part of. Other faith communities – both established congregations and other Fresh Expressions have learned from the experience and example of the community that has wound up. And many of those communities have left behind “products” generated in their years of vitality – art, liturgical resources, training modules etc.
So, Steve told us, that 50% attrition rate doesn’t mean that half of the Fresh Expressions initiated weren’t worth the effort. Not at all. They are integral to the dynamic of the church’s discernment of and participation in the life of the Holy Spirit in the world. They too embody the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic movement.
You’d think a movement oriented around the death and resurrection of Jesus would get that intuitively.
Andrew then moves from fresh expressions to ponder the implications for inherited expressions, particularly churches facing death. It’s really interesting. More here
Tuesday, April 09, 2013
Festival spirituality, mission and ministry
I’m speaking tomorrow at the National Uniting Church Rural Ministry Conference, at Barmera, which is about 3 hours drive north of Adelaide, in the Riverlands.
My topic is festival spirituality. It’s a significant development of some ideas I sketched in my The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change. I will begin by looking at Old Testament patterns of gathering and how it relates to worship, mission, community and interconnection. I will then do a drive by of a number of articles from Rural Theology, contemporary research on belonging and participation, along with research into current festival patterns in the UK.
Here’s my conclusion.
I have wanted to engage with two problems. First, the perception of Christianity as urban, a move which can downplay the vitality of rural ministry. Second, the perception of church as building, geographic and Vicar led.
I have deployed the Old Testament to suggest different modes of gathering, around sacred sites, on pilgrimage, in festivals, around tables. I would suggest these are more congruent with the needs of rural folk, in current patterns of belonging, in ways of participation and the existence already of festivals.
Finally, two examples have been provided, which show current examples of rural churches embracing these new/old forms. My suggestion is that these patterns are more likely to be life-giving for a rural church. Rather than a weekly habit, they provide ways to participate in the rhythm of a community, to embrace sense of place and to offer spirituality for the road trips so integral to rural life.
It should be a fun day.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Gender matters: in church structures
Today I’ve been writing (Sustainability and fresh expressions book project) on the history of mission in Great Britain. What has the God of mission been up to in the past? How might that help us analyse the current and dream of a future?
More specifically, I’ve been writing about the voluntary missionary society, a significant and important gift, from Great Britain, to the world. William Carey, often called the father of modern mission, in his hugely influential An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means, argued not only for mission, but also for a new structure for mission. Drawing from the world of commerce, the trading company and the way it, through seeking shareholders, created participation and enabled action, Carey wondered:
Suppose a company of serious Christians, ministers and private persons, were to form themselves into a society, and make a number of rules respecting the regulation of the plan, and the persons who are to be employed as missionaries, the means of defraying the expense, etc etc
Missiologist Andrew Walls considers this of huge significance, a revolutionary re-structuring of the church in light of mission. He also notes a number of outcomes, including gender matters, the way it allowed women’s giftedness. Walls argues that voluntary societies
assisting [the church's] declericalization, giving new scope for women’s energies and gifts and adding an international dimension which hardly any of the churches, growing as they did within a national framework, had any means of expressing. After the age of the voluntary society, the Western Church could never be the same again. Andrew Walls, ”Missionary societies and the Fortunate Subversion of the Church.”
Often church structures impede women, as so eloquently attested in Maggi Dawn’s recent book. But sometimes (albiet probably unintentionally), they allow the body of Christ to experience “new scope for women’s energies and gifts.” In other words, to more fully be the body.
Yeah for church restructuring!
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
persuasion: a fine art in mission
You are invited to read this while listening to some wonderful Kiwi music, a song called Persuasion, by Tim Finn.
As part of my sabbatical, I’m reading through Paul’s letter, Philippians. I like to bury myself in a Bible book, to read it in one whole go, then segment by segment, a number of times, over a number of months. It becomes for me a sort of recalibration, a reminder of priorities.
Once I’ve engaged Scripture, as a whole, and in segments, I then augment it with a commentary, which adds depth and original context. So over the last few days, I’ve begun reading Ben Witherington’s, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary
He argues for Paul’s use of rhetoric, that in a rhetoric-saturated culture, one in which the “vast majority of people were either producers or eager consumers of rhetoric,” (page 24) that Paul deliberately learns, then uses, this culture way of arguing.
So for example, a feature of Philippians is the absence of Old Testament bible verses. Paul is writing to a highly Romanised culture and in that world, he uses different ways to persuade, including the widely practiced communication art called rhetoric, the art of discourse, the study of how to engage head and heart, skillfully, with spoken words.
Why? Because of mission.
“One cannot command people to believe the gospel but must persuade them … [ever after conversion] … Paul knew that it continued to be better to persuade than to command one’s converts … The objections and the mental and emotional obstacles in the minds and hearts of the listeners had to be answered and removed.” (Ben Witherington, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary 23)
We live in a culture that uses different forms. Not rhetoric, but digital storytelling, art and social media. So, mission in the way of Paul includes giving up on commanding belief, and being willing to not only learn, but also use, the fine arts of persuasion.
As Tim Finn sings,
I will always be a man
that’s open to persuasion
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Comprehending mission – chapter 4 – Theology mission, culture
Stanley Skreslet’s Comprehending Mission: The Questions, Methods, Themes, Problems, and Prospects of Missiology is a wonderful gift. It provides an overview of recent trends in missiology, allowing a person and an institution to locate their questions, their research, their reading in light of other thinkers.
Chapter one, on the who and why of the study of mission, is here. Chapter two, on trends in the Bible in regard to mission, is here. Chapter three part a looked at mission history, the evolution through time, the shifting resources that shaped how the church understood itself. Chapter three part b, on the history of mission today is here.
Chapter four – Theology, Mission, Culture
“Within the realm of missiology, culture becomes a primary conversation partner.” (69)
This includes communication across cultures, agencies of social change, the complex formation of innovation and new contextual projects. (This makes so much sense of my interests and why I find myself reading from change management to social innovation, to indigenous and popular culture.)
The chapter begins with theology, in particular current research on salvation and ecclesiology. This includes the shift to see mission as an aspect of God rather than as a function of the church. It also includes the recent search for a more developed pneumatology, the place of the Spirit of God.
A second section explores the growing importance of social sciences (again this makes sense of my methods, using ethnography and interviews, plus my interest in the ecclesiology and ethnography project). Mission played an active role in the development of ethnography and anthropology. The 1910 World Missionary Conference pleaded that sociology be included as one of five necessary subjects for all candidates in mission training. (It certainly is at Uniting College, where we teach Reading cultures/Sociology for ministry, as a core introductory topic).
“Not fully appreciated, perhaps, is the way in which sustained research on culture has served to keep missiology closely connected to everyday life, which lessens the risk that its theological concerns will be treated only in the abstract.” (95)
A third section explores gospel and culture, the quite deliberate participation in both arenas at the same time. “The doctrine of the incarnation has also been taken as an invitation to think deeply about human culture as the particular sphere within which Christian outreach necessarily takes place.” (86) There is a rich coverage of the development of research in contextualisation and intercultural theology.
“Writing about fifteen years ago, Lamin Sanneh perceived that Western theology was just about the last discipline in the modern university to show serious interest in missionary experience.” (94)
However, in recent years, writings from Timothy Gorringe Furthering Humanity: A Theology of Culture, Max Stackhouse Apologia: Contextualization, Globalization, and Mission in Theological Education and Kevin Vanhoozer To Stake a Claim: Mission and the Western Crisis of Knowledge, have drawn on missiological research.
Thursday, February 14, 2013
the ending of innovation: last fresh expressions interview
Today marks the last interview of the UK alt.worship research phase. It will be interview number 20. The interviews can be grouped in three categories.
Innovation in groups (alt.worship groups ten years on). The selection is not random but simply based on groups that I interviewed back in 2001 as part of my PhD research. They thus provide a window into sustainability.
- Bigger Picture
- Foundations (Resonance)
- Moot (Epicentre)
- Club culture Project
- Visions (Transcendence)
Innovation in denominations as Fresh Expressions. During the ten years, a key change in the UK landscape has been the advent of Fresh Expressions. It has introduced new words, including pioneer, mixed economy, Bishops Mission Orders. These interviews analyse the environment in which the innovation occurred and explore the leadership practices and insights that lay behind the change.
- Dr Rowan Williams
- Bishop Steve Croft
- Bishop Stephen Cottrell (today, last one)
- Andrew Roberts
Innovation in training. Intrinsic to the formation of new communities is leadership. These interviews analyse the changes that have, and have not occurred, in recognised training systems, in light of the Fresh Expressions initiative.
- Trinity College
- Ridley Pioneer training
- CMS Pioneer Training
- St Mellitus
- John and Olive Drane
Together, these interviews provide a variety of perspectives on mission, leadership and change in the church in the United Kingdom. In cafes, Colleges and churches, bishops courts and Master lodges, I have been gifted some wonderful honesty and insight.
I’m still pondering a frame by which to analyse the data. My instinct is to turn to mission, and especially mission history. This could involve placing Fresh Expressions alongside other mission initiatives in history. Three possibilities spring to mind – the Celtic mission from Ireland to England; the modern mission movement through the voluntary organisations that began with William Carey and the birth of Methodist, which served as a renewal movement in denominational structures.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
mission as the great learning experience of Western Christianity
Following on from my mission as a “converting” ordinance, here is related wisdom from one of the finest missiologists the world has seen, Andrew Walls. Saying the same thing, as mission as a “converting” ordinance, just applied to the whole of Christianity!
The missionary movement was the great learning experience of Western Christianity. By its very nature it brought the Christian faith, when it had become thoroughly accommodated to the life and thought of the West and the conceptual categories of western Europe, into massive interaction with totally different styles of life and thought. (Walls, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission and Appropriation of Faith, 238)
This is what is happening (or needs to happen) with Fresh and emerging expressions of church. It is bringing of missionary learnings, that are distant, over their, far away, into our suburbs, networks and homes.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
mission as a “converting” ordinance
This is some of what I wrote today.
Wesley described Holy Communion as a ‘converting ordinance,’ an event in which through participation in the event of Communion, people encounter Christ. In a sermon on the verse “Do this in remembrance of me,” he wrote:
But experience shows … Ye are the witnesses. For many now present know, the very beginning of your conversion to God (perhaps, in some, the first deep conviction) was wrought at the Lord’s Supper. John Wesley, The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, Vol 3, p. 188-9
It is worth noting first, the language of “experience” and “witnesses,” and thus the priority of experience in Wesley’s theology. Second, the language of “beginning” and “first,” suggesting that conversion is a process. Third, that participation in the ordinance changes the participants.
This provides a theological lens by which to explore innovation as a “converting ordinance,” to consider that while “Fresh Expression Case Study” might have set out to “convert,” the journey of innovation resulted in their experiencing a number of conversions: five in total,
- Conversion of senses
- Conversion to hope
- Conversion by community
- Conversion through journey
- Conversion in humanity
Innovation thus becomes a “converting” ordinance. It changes sender, sent and sendee (the intended recipient of the message).
Monday, December 31, 2012
The Last Supper at work for mission -Gustave Van De Woestijne’s
Gustave Van De Woestijne is a Flemish Expressionist painter of the early 20th century. His work includes The Last Supper and it is huge.
It hangs almost floor to ceiling in the Groeninge Museum, Brugge, Belgium. (Image is on flicker here)
In the Catholic context of Belgium, surrounded by the religiosity of previous centuries, it is a stunningly unreligious piece of work. One simple full loaf of bread sits on the table. There is no cup, grapes or any other food on the table. Around the table are clustered 12 disciples, portrayed as workers, Flemish miners or farm hands.
Which leaves the size. Why paint what is one of the largest paintings in the Museum? Why make something so ordinary so large?
Either a sign of no faith? A critique of the ceremony and wafer thin spirituality of the religion he has experienced? It certainly has the checkerboard floor often used in religious art.
Or full of faith? A reminder of the very large place for God in the ordinary, in simple bread, shared among workers hands? If so, it has echoes of the worker priest movement, such an intriguing mission development in France, among Catholics, in the 1940s. Priests asked to be freed from parish duties in order to work, in factories, in order to try and reconnect with the working class. It is a fascinating, bold, and innovative approach to mission, that was closed down by the Pope within a few decades.
It is the type of fresh expression/emerging church I’d love to see, one that jumps out of middle class subcultures and across class boundaries, out from church and worship and among the 24/7 patterns of working life. A movement that could only be nourished by a Jesus breaking bread with workers around ordinary tables of life.
Wednesday, December 05, 2012
the advent of fresh expressions – the wilderness (part 2)
This Advent, O Lord, soften the hearts of parents toward the next generation
Part 1- the advent of fresh expressions – the bare barrenness of tradition
The Gospel of Luke begins with barrenness and soon shifts to wilderness. John the Baptist, camel haired and with locust wings in mouth, will emerge from the desert. The theme will continue with Jesus, who in preparation for ministry, will walk into the wilderness. In doing so, there are echoes with Israel, who found God in the desert, who were birthed as a community, their identity and practices shaped by wilderness. It will resonate with the words of the prophet Isaiah, who dreamed of rough places smooth.
So what is the place of wilderness in advent? What resources will sustain the encountering of God in the rough and tough? What does desert do to the demands for vitality and the dreams for health and growth?
May we be find fresh treasure in wilderness
Shade in the deep valley
Clarity from the rocky outcrop
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Comprehending mission – history today
Chapter one is here. Chapter two surveys recent trends in missiology with a particular focus on the Bible and mission. Chapter three looked at mission history, the evolution through time, the shifting resources that shaped how the church understood itself.
So what of today? “Scholarly interest in mission history is remarkably strong today.” (62) The shift began in the 1980s with the realisation that mission history reveals remarkable data about boundary crossing.
Increasingly, studies point to the way missionaries sought to subvert imperialism, hand in hand with the remarkable role of indigenous people in cross-cultural encounter.
“Mission history can be controversial, especially when ideological or theological convictions are put into play. Apologetics on behalf of Christian mission, as a rule, cannot be substituted for serious historiography. Strident secularism, likewise, can impede understanding by deciding for others what religious beliefs and behaviours necessarily signify.” (66)
Another focus has been women in mission. First, their stories have been told. Second the place of mission in enabled women to offer their gifts has been uncovered. Third, the role of women in developing global movements of solidarity and partnership.
A new resource for mission has emerged – photography. The digitizing of photographs offers a rich resource for reflection, for example the Internet mission photography archive website. The Dictionary of African Christian biography offers a multi-lingual online archive. These are rich new resources that ensure mission history remains full of possibility.