Sunday, June 19, 2016

Urban farming

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


Plant this movie: the International Urban Farming Documentary was on at the Rialto this Sunday morning. It was an inspirational watch. A few scenes moved me to tears, in particular the vision for culture change possible in decaying urban environments.

Movies like this make sense of my first degree, Bachelor of Horticulture, my love for gardens and some of my research and writing into community gardens – like Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods: Plot by Plot, Plant by Plant


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.

Posted by steve at 06:42 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

Saturday, August 02, 2014

community building through community gardens

A few Sunday’s ago I raced into a cafe, seeking a takeaway coffee. It was packed, heaving with people, buzzing with conversation. I felt enfolded by the possibility of human relationships.

Being Sunday morning, I couldn’t help reflecting on how warm, human, relational and busy this place was, compared to many churches around Australia gathering at exactly the same time.

But as I left I reflected on how narrow was this expression of community. It was a community of like minds. I was a stranger visiting this city. If I’d wanted relationship, I could never have found it by pulling up a chair at any of these tables. This was invite only, a chance to catchup with existing relationships, with already established relationships. It was building community, but only with the known and liked.

In contrast, here is a comment on the community building that can occur in community gardens.

“Coffee shops are touted as our cultural commons, but very few people in coffee shops actually interact with strangers … A communal food garden is really one of the few places in our society where you can go and meet someone outside your ethnic or class boundary.” (Fred Bahnson, Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith, 247).

Bahnson goes on to describe how you build such a community. It includes having no fence. “If someone takes your broccoli or watermelons, let them … Leave the work of growing food to those who maintain a porous sense of edges and ownership.” (Soil and Sacrament, 252). He also suggests that when it comes to choosing people to invite to your community garden, the garden you are creating “is first of all for the widow who comes to the door in her negligee, the migrant worker who works three jobs and comes to the garden to unwind.” (Soil and Sacrament, 253)

This is all helpful food for thought in terms of my paper for the Urban Life Together conference in Melbourne (which BTW, Tallskinnykiwi AKA Andrew Jones) considers “fantastic.”)

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 01:50 PM

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Guerilla grafting as sign of new heaven, new earth?

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Revelation 22:1-2

So is this – guerilla grafting- a sign? Or simply acts of vandalism by a romantic few?

For the full story, go here

Posted by steve at 10:42 PM

Friday, July 29, 2011

This is my body: what elements are essential in indigenous aboriginal communion?

I am on a research quest:

What are the elements used in indigenous aboriginal (Australian) communion? Is it bread made from wheat based flour? Or does it involve any indigenous food products? And what was the theology – specifically the initial theology – that shapes the elements?

When I asked the ACD librarian, she looked suitably intrigued and impressed. And then said she needed some time to think, and suggested I come back on Tuesday.

Why my question? Well, I am working on a paper for a conference in early 2012, “Story Weaving: Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theology

A number of thinkers have suggested that the eucharist is a key resource for living both Christianly and humanly in a post-colonial world. These include William Cavanaugh in Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire and Torture and Eucharist: Theology, Politics, and the Body of Christ (Challenges in Contemporary Theology). The argument is that the colonial notions of global and local, universal and particular, are fundamentally disrupted in the eucharist. A similar, but even more tightly focused argument has been offered by John McDowell, in his exploration of the Narrative of Institution in 1 Corinthians 11 (“Feastings in God at Midnight: Theology and the Globalised Present,” Pacifica 23 (October 1010)).

This argument, that the eucharist is a key resource for a post-colonial world, stands in striking contrast to an example by Susan Dworkin in The Viking in the Wheat Field: A Scientist’s Struggle to Preserve the World’s Harvest. She notes that when the Catholic church arrived (colonised) South America, they brought the belief that in Christianity, wheat flour rather than the (indigenous) corn flour could be used to bake communion wafers. In other words, in practice, the eucharist becomes complicit in processes of colonisation, rather than a key resource in resisting globalisation.

What is intriguing is that Dworkin’s next paragraph, however, provide an example of a way in which colonisation can be deconstructed. She describes how in order to provide such colonial bread, wheat needed to be imported. It was grown around local churches. It self-seeded. Through natural processes of selection, the wheat that survived developed genes more uniquely adapted to local environments.

In the late 20th century, scientists realised that such wheat might have enormous potential in safe guarding food production. They began to search through isolated churches in Mexico, seeking genetic material, plants that had adapted and evolved. In other words, what was originally imported wheat was now highly prized indigenous wheat.

This raises a fascinating set of questions, not only around ecclesiology, eucharist and the Narrative of Institution, but around the very elements. What should constitute the very body of Christ? How is it’s composition, complicit in, or resistant to, processes of colonisation?

Hence my research question in the library this morning. Here in Australia, what communion elements did indigenous Aboriginal cultures employ? And was the underlying theology a colonial imposition? And how does this disrupt, or endorse, the work of Cavanaugh and McDowell? And how might the resultant practices, even if unintentional, contribute toward something that might in fact be a unique emerging indigenous gift for a hungry world?

So, I’d be grateful if any readers, especially Australian readers, might suggest any research leads. Because indigenous Aboriginal culture is wide and varied. And because both I and my librarian suspect that the search will be less that straightforward, but mighty, mighty interesting.

Posted by steve at 01:06 PM

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

when meals become mission: learning from 9/11

A recent post at prodigal Kiwi is asking for resources to help churches think through their response to the February 22 Christchurch earthquake.

It caused me to recall the research done by John Koenig on how the church in New York responded after 9/11, which is written up in Soul Banquets: How Meals Become Mission in the Local Congregation. The book begins by interviewing Lyndon Harris, the priest at St Paul’s chapel. Manhattan’s oldest public building, the church closest to twin towers. Lyndon recalls how in the chaos after 9/11, the “many New Testament stories of Jesus’ words and actions at table came quickly to mind.”

So the church simply began serving food. First with volunteers running a street barbeque to feed the clean up crews. Once the church was deemed safe, they turned to serving meals in the shelter of the church.

They made a conscious decision to be a generous host. For them, this involved forming a partnership with a local restaurant to serve food and drink of the highest possible quality.

Some ten days after 9/11, they served communion. They offered this as an option, the liturgy up at the altar table but in a church filled with tables, heaped with food, around which everyday conversation continued. This moment, of food mixed with faith, proved an important and transformative moment of healing for numbers present that day.

Koenig concluded that one of the most healing thing done by churches through out New York in response to 9/11 was the decision to simply eat together. He wrote

“we have seriously undervalued our church meals, both ritual and informal, as opportunities for mission … to realize this potential, we, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, must have our eyes opened by the transforming presence of Christ at our tables.”

Another chapter in the book offers an interesting checklist on what it might means for meals to become mission. It suggests a new set of habits will be required. Mission meals is no slapping of food on a cold tin plate in a chilly church hall.


  • This is serving graciously with human contact. Koenig cites the example of one the busiest church food kitchen in New York, in which each volunteer is expected to find ways to encourage eye contact and genuine conversation.
  • This is setting tables, serving food, eating in patterns and places that speak of God’s abundance and creativity.
  • This is encouraging role reversals by finding ways for all, helper and hungry, to contribute through a diversity of gifts.
  • This is committing to a long-term, intentional project, a willingness to eat together a lot, because in that eating good things will happen.

So, for those wandering about how to be church in Christchurch, how to deal with so much physical loss, so much psychological trauma, so much grief and fear – start by simply eating together.

Posted by steve at 09:56 PM

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bono on justice, mercy, faith and narcissism

U2 are currently touring South Africa. It brings their work on behalf of Africa into particular focus, especially when they face the media in Africa. A few days ago, Bono was interviewed by Redi Tlabi on Talk Radio 702 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The interview ran for about 35 mins. It is a wide-ranging interview that covers music, marriage, justice, mercy, faith and narcissism.

There are some great quotes (transcribed by me, but I’d suggest if you want to use the quotes, then do check the sound recording for yourself):

On justice vs charity:

When it comes to One and Data, people see us as bleeding hearts. We do have hearts, but we’re very tough minded people. Justice matters, not charity. These are monies owed by the poorest to the richest. The grand children are held to ransom.

On the fight for justice:

The World Bank just put out figures that African leaders who qualified for debt cancellation. Between 2005 and 2011, there are an extra 44 million children going to school as a result of debt cancellation. These are World Bank figures.

On his relationship with Africa:

Africa seemed a long way away for a boy growing up in Dublin. Our music has always been influenced by social justice. It was while working in Africa that you start to think about the structural issues of poverty. We raised 200 million (in Bandaid) and then we realised Africa spends that much on debt repayment a month.

On himself:

I am definitely capable of narcissism. I’m a rock star.

On whether aid to Africa positions them as victims:

We all needed aid. Ireland did. Germany did. Get over it. We are thinking what are the obstacles in the way of justice, equality and freedom.

On whether Bono is religious:

I’m a believer. I have a deep faith but I am deeply suspicious of people who talk about their faith all the time. It is utterly a part of my life. I try to read the Scriptures.

On his upbringing:

My upbringing made me suspicious. Faith is a very beautiful thing but religion can be a very ugly thing. My faith has helped me in that struggle.

For the full interview as a sound file, go here.

Posted by steve at 06:00 PM

Sunday, November 21, 2010

film review: eat, pray, love

Battling away today on a “theological” film review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, reminded me that I have failed to post my November film review, of the movie Eat, Pray, Love, (for Touchstone New Zealand Methodist magazine.) It has probably my most provocative opening sentence in a while.

“Indulgent, wealthy, tourism porn” would be a more accurate title for this movie. (more…)

Posted by steve at 06:20 PM

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

spirituality of gardening

Saw this over the weekend, in a shopfront, yep – INSIDE a shop window, pavement on left, pram handle on rigth, corn and tomatoes in the middle looking grand.  Got me thinking about how easy it is to play with space, about what it would mean to grow a garden indoors and then to actually celebrate communion, the life of God given for the world, in the middle of that garden.

indoor life

indoor life

Posted by steve at 12:47 PM

Sunday, January 27, 2008

coffee is for community

Fascinating article in the Otago Daily Times about Kiwi cafe owners brewing up a storm in London. Features cafes like Flat White and Sacred Cafe. And I think the concluding remarks have something to say to emerging church.

cafe.jpg “It’s also the character and intimacy the typical New Zealand cafe offers its customers … large coffee chains have been kept at bay in New Zealand by the raft of smaller, independent cafes. And this approach to business is also evident in (the Kiwi run cafes in) London: all the cafes are small, charismatic, intimate, slightly quirky, and comfortable …. Independence is compromised by trying to be too big …. One of the key points … is the sense of community. It’s really the heart and the soul.” (Saturday 26 January 2008, page 51)

Community. Community. Community.

Posted by steve at 09:27 PM

Thursday, September 20, 2007

tasting the Kingdom again

Here is another taste of the Kingdom. Last year, we spent a church meeting gathering around Scripture. Instead of me as pastor coming up with vision, I read a Scripture, offered some exegetical background, and invited each person to consider how Opawa could practise this Scripture in 2007. We then entered into community discernment and 7 ideas were generated. (For more detail, go here.)

One was that of workplace blessings from Opawa to people who work locally as a “thanks” for the work they do. Over 2007, this has slowly gained legs. A month ago books were given to a local kindergarten. (In return, they made us a card and then a group of them rolled up and joined us for our monthly family night. Quite cool really). This month, a cake baked for our local school, with a card from us, the church, to them. They have just been through a Department of Education review, so the cake was perfect timing.

In Luke 10, the disciples of Jesus are sent to speak peace among the towns and villages. I wonder if giving books and making cakes is a 21st century way of speaking peace into the communities around our church.


Photo from (here, as part of the picturing of 30 days in September series).

Posted by steve at 07:49 PM

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

tasting the Kingdom

Church on Sunday, (that is Digestion, our evening church service) happened around a meal. People bring food and we sat at one long table, complete with tablecloth and candles and sparking grapejuice. We do this about once every 3 months.

Just as we started, there was a furtive movement in the foyer. I went out, and a man was huddled in a corner, and wanting a food parcel. “Sure”, I said, “at the end of the service. But why not wash your hands and come and join us. We’re eating here tonight and there’s even roast chicken.”

He sat among us, enjoying his share of first, seconds and thirds. He laughed with us, and listened as we broke bread and shared. He left with a full belly and a food parcel.

The regulars were curious. I told them he might just be an angel. I think we were more blessed than he. He got to eat food in human company. We got to taste the reality of the radical hospitality offered at the wedding banquet of the Kingdom.

Go here for another example of tasting the Kingdom.

Posted by steve at 10:39 AM

Saturday, April 21, 2007

earth day: where are the christians?

A reporter from Challenge Weekly rang yesterday. He wanted to do a story on us at Opawa Baptist, because he had noted that Opawa Baptist was the only church in New Zealand he had come across doing anything for Earth Day.

Since Earth Day, April 22, falls on a Sunday this year, all of our church newsletter’s will include a Sustainability insert. I am preaching on “what does the resurrection of Jesus have to do with the environment” at the 10:30 am service, part 3 of a 4 part series on “Yeah? Jesus alive. Right!” that explores what the resurrection means for our everyday lives. From 3 pm we are showing the Inconvenient Truth, and a scientist and Christian film reviewer will respond. I am then preaching on “On earth as in heaven: is the Kingdom of God good news for our environment?” on Sunday at 7pm, starting with this great video clip from the Simpson.

After the phone call, I was not sure whether to feel a lone leader, or a lone fruit loop. I had thought that people who worship God the Creator, and who meet on Sunday when it is Earth Day, would have quite a bit to say about the environment, particularly given all the current societal concern around global warming. Yet it seems that I think alone. Am I missing something?

Posted by steve at 01:01 PM

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

the dog just scoffed the communion bread

It’s Sunday night and the people of God are gathered around the communion table. The youngest is Sam, all of 10 months. The oldest is Gavin, all of 60. A visitor wanders in late and takes a seat on a empty couch. Complete with dog on a leash. Rotwieler cross pup.

The people of God stir. Two teenagers quiz the minister. “What’s he doing here?” Same as you, replies the minister, “Being part of church.”

“Why a dog in church?” the 6 year old quizzes her mother. Delicately the mother picks her way toward an answer. All strangers are welcome. Yes. But are all animals? You see, the 6 year old is a bright one. The 6 year old has a rabbit! If the dog is welcome, then is this a precedent. Mother pictures rabbits lopping up aisle and fish bowls balanced delicately on child laps.

Back at the communion table, religion continues. The words of invitation are offered. This is the table of God. All are invited.

The loaf of bread is broken. Gifts of God. And the broken body of Jesus is passed down the table. For the people of God. People tear a hunk of God’s body. Crumbs shower on carpet.

Out of the corner of the eye, a blurr of movement. In a flash, the body of Christ is gone, woofed down by hungry jaws. Teenagers stare. The 6 year old is agog. Eagerly the dog looks up, licking the crumbs of Christ off salivating jaws.

Gifts of God for the people of God. A moment of hospitality? Or a moment of heresy?

Posted by steve at 12:22 PM