Wednesday, May 13, 2015

accessible formation for transformation: Graduation 2015


It was such a great night on Monday at the annual Graduation service. I came away deeply grateful for the organisation I’m part of, and reminded of the privilege of being involved.

Several things struck me that I continue to ponder.

First, the diversity of the student body. We graduated Certificate, Diploma, Degree, Masters and Doctorates. We graduated people who came to use having left school at aged 15. We also graduated 6 doctorates, which is a fantastic achievement over one calendar year. This suggests a very rich learning community, with people accessing education at very different, yet appropriately matched, levels of depth and engagement.

The graduate testimonies also bore this out. One graduate spoke of being a new Christian and finding clarity in their faith. Another spoke of how great it was to deconstruct their faith, to rip it apart in order to understand themselves and their world in sharper relief. These are very different points on a wide spectrum of stages in faith journey. It shows the potential of diverse courses to allow diverse people to growth. Conversely, it shows the limitations of limited offerings.

Second, the honouring of ministry in the guest address by Stuart Cameron. Stuart is a graduate and has gone on to very effective ministry in a range of contexts. He spoke of transformation and in doing so, reminded us that ministry changes lives. The stories he told were not “back in the day” but today. In a broken and divided world, ministry, and thus the awards being offered by us at Adelaide College of Divinity, are for the sake of a world renewed. It dignified ministry. In a world of secular solutions, here were another set of stories – of God’s work.

Third, it was fun. Just pure fun, getting robed up, making space to honour hard work, seeing the energy of the Big Year Out cohort, connecting with colleagues.


Posted by steve at 01:04 PM

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Lost Thing Liturgy

I preached at chapel yesterday. I used Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing, an Academy Award winning animated film, as part of the sermon. I found the original soundtrack on Itunes and the song titles sparked a way to create resonance between Word and Sacrament.

Here is the Lost thing communion liturgy

(Music: The search – 1:00)

The Lord is here.
God’s Spirit is with us.

Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to offer thanks and praise.

It is right indeed, ever-living God,
to give you thanks and praise through Christ your only Son.
Without you our hearts are restless
We are lost
Until we find our home in you

Therefore with all the found at home in you,
With animals and atoms, angels and archangels,
we proclaim your great and glorious name,
for ever praising you and saying:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

(Music: Feeding – 1:16)

On the night before he died , your Son, Jesus Christ, took bread;
when he had given you thanks, he broke it, gave it to his disciples, and said:
Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you; do this to remember me.

After supper he took the cup; when he had given you thanks,
he gave it to them and said:
Drink this, all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant
which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins;
do this as often as you drink it, to remember my mission to lost things

Therefore loving God, recalling your great goodness to us in Christ,
you who came to seek and save the lost
you who told stories of lost sheep, lost coins, lost sons,
you who gathered lost disciples,
by lakes and wayside tax collectors

We celebrate our foundness in this bread of life
and this cup of salvation.

With thanksgiving and hope we say:
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come in glory.

Send your Holy Spirit, that these gifts of bread and wine
may be to us the body and blood of Christ,
and that we, filled with the Spirit’s grace and power,
may be renewed for the mission of your kingdom.

The gifts of God, for the lost of God, Amen.

(Music: Utopia – 3:11)

The music that shaped this liturgy was titled Search, Feeding, Utopia. And so we thank you God that you have searched for us, that you have fed us and for your offer as utopia in the communion we share in this time, this place, this community. And we say together The Lords Prayer …

Posted by steve at 07:20 AM

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

call stories and their place in forming leaders

Monday is our monthly Leadership Formation day at Uniting College. It is a day to gather as a community of candidates moving into ordained ministry. There is time to share and worship. There is also time to process the specific formation required of those called to lead others publicly.

This year we have framed formation around 10 practices of mission spirituality. We are drawing on Susan Hope, Mission-Shaped Spirituality: The Transforming Power of Mission.

Monday the practice was called and sent. All Christians are called and sent. Thus all ministers are called and sent. However the candidate journey requires thinking about called and sent corporately. What does being sent mean for our identity as ministers? What does it mean to lead a church in being sent? How does Uniting Church ministry, and in particular the Uniting Church Preamble, shape being sent?

In preparation, I asked candidates to bring with them either a “sending” Bible text that challenged them or a Christian in history who led a sent life that encouraged them.

I then invited the candidates to go for a walk and share their story in two’s. Upon return, they were asked to write up what they heard (not what they said) on the white board. We ended up with a white board covered with call stories – Phoebe, Moses, Brendan the Navigator, Joseph, Nehemiah, Ezekiel, Moses. A rich tapestry of names that have shaped our call stories. Out in the open, removed from us, placed among us, discussion then followed around two talking points. First, were there shared themes? There were, including

  • God is calling and God’s character is revealed in call
  • many were called to make a difference, to be part of change
  • the call was to risk and adventure. This required trust
  • the importance of struggle in responding to call
  • the diversity of call
  • how often the call story a person named meshed with their personality. The response to ministry was a coming home, a true finding of self

Second, how did it feel to trust our story to another? This question enabled us to consider the fact that call is heard and discerned by the church. Call stories might be shared by us, but they are part of processes in which our individuality is placed among others, among people, among the church. This requires trust and vulnerability. We might be mis-heard. Equally, we might not share truly. This is the humanity of being in ministry and being the church. And so we reflected together on what this meant for us, as candidates, working through the process of formation placed by the church.

It was a rich and valuable process, shaped by a set of simple questions – what call story has shaped you? when we hear these stories and place them together, what do we learn?

Posted by steve at 06:21 PM

Saturday, July 27, 2013

seeing formation: a theology of colour

Can we see formation?

In the Jesus Deck, the card for John 20:16 invites us to see the colours of formation. The risen Jesus appears to Mary. This, for Mary, is a life-changing moment. An encounter, a discovery, a recognition. It is a culmination of a number of years of discipleship, of questioning, following, pondering.

And this is visible. You hear it in her words “Master.”

But you also see it, in the Jesus Deck card, in the colours of the face of Mary. You see, around Jesus is a wheel of colour – hues of pinks, oranges, yellows. What is intriguing is that these same colours are in the face of Mary – she reflects, in hues of pinks, oranges, yellows, the colours of the Risen Jesus. This is deeply theological, a way of seeing the likeness of Christ.

But not Mary. Mary can’t see this. She can feel it. She can verbalise it. But we all know it is impossible to see our own faces. So only the viewer, the other, the outsider, can see the life change, can wonder at the colour.

This suggests a profoundly communal approach to formation. Mary needs us to see. Mary is blessed when we name back to her these colours, tell her what we are seeing. Alone we are limited. Together, all the senses are able to be appreciated.

This connects for me in two ways. First, personally, what are the colours currently in my face? Looking at the card, it struck me that I’ve worked too hard this week. Which directly effects the colours in my face. My being out of balance, my lack of formation, physically, becomes apparent. When I’m rested, when I’m relaxed, when I’ve laughed with friends, that shows – in colour, in my face. That’s interesting to ponder.

(Use of Skype for Formation Panels at Uniting College, to enable connection with remote candidates)

Second, this week at Uniting College has included formation panels. For our ministerial candidates, three times a year, for what amounts to a six year period, they meet with same panel of experienced ministers (for more here) Contemplating John 20:16, looking at the Jesus Deck, I realised that these processes are actually about seeing colour. The candidate can feel the impact of training for ministry. The candidate might verbalise this impact. But they can’t see it. It is the gift of the panel, however humanly, however falteringly, to try to name the colours back to the candidate. This is gift, to have what is happening in you and for you discerned and described.

This is deeply communal approach to formation. To reframe Martin Buber, this is not only the “I” of growth, or even the “I” to “I” of a person with a supervisor or mentor. It is an “I” to “we” encounter, a three way partnership between the Risen Jesus of John 20:16, the individual and some members of the body of Christ.

Third (thanks Lynne), this is missional. Anyone can look at the face of another, or in this case the face of Mary. Those inside and outside the community. The encounter with Christ is not only for Mary, not only for formation, it is part of the work of Christ made visible in our world.

Reframing Lindbeck, through time Christianity has developed a grammar for how the colours are described, named, affirmed. This introduces another layer of embodiment. The body in history has this grammar. Saints before (saints current, other candidates in formation, those in the formation panel, Christians and ministers in general) are also colour carriers. This is another dimension of mirroring. Mary can hear her colours described, Mary can also see colours in the lives of others.

(I realise as I write that this is all grist for the mill in preparation for my September presentation in Sydney – Living libraries: Embodiment and transformation in the context of e-learning)

For more on colours and formation see –
Last year I reflected on the colours of formation – to ask what colours are the processes of formation and the use of a colour wheel to capture the organic changes through life.

Posted by steve at 11:30 AM

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Faith as snorkelling

I went snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef this week. (As you do when you live in Australia!) It struck me that snorkelling does have some interesting connections to faith.

It takes a degree of trust, that a thin tube will provide oxygen, that a rogue wave won’t drown you. Related, it assumes immersion, that the only way to snorkel is to snorkel. You can theorise all you want, but at some point you have to immerse yourself in trust. Same with faith, it is a whole bodied immersion in trust.

It can make all sorts of logical sense. The guidebook explains, the guides have gone before, it is reasonable to rely on air through a tube. But despite Scripture, tradition, reason, experience is essential.

That trust is a process. Their is the first brief head plunge with your whole world consumed by survival. Am I breathing? After a while you realise you have energy to look, see, explore. Same with faith, a process by which more and more is opened up.

The result is this realisation you live at the same time in two worlds. Head up, in the pitch and roll and slap of ocean waves. Or immersed in the quiet underwater of a world of exquisite beauty and wonder.

Snorkelling and faith.

Posted by steve at 12:38 PM

Friday, October 26, 2012

faith formation for leaders in mission: hitting the time capsule

In a few weeks, I have to “vision cast,” present a “big picture” to our Uniting church candidates on the topic – academic formation. I’ve been wondering what to say.

Some 6 years ago, I was asked to engage a similar topic while a lecturer at Laidlaw College. It’s interesting to read now what I wrote then, to enter the time capsule, the denominational time capsule, the contextual (Aotearoa New Zealand to Australia) time capsule. Here is my big picture of faith formation some six years ago …

I turned to Paul’s autobiography in Galatians 1:13-18. I pointed out the factors at work in the Paul’s storytelling;
– text knowledge; “advancing in Judaism”
– church knowledge; “traditions of my ancestor”
– human experience; the Damascus Road
– processing space; “after three years”
– community engagement; “acquainted with Cephas.”

I suggested that [Paul’s faith was] re-integrated. He was taking processing time to reconsider text and church in light of human experience. He was processing in community, checking his re-integration with Peter.

And this mix of experience; text; processing; community was life changing for Paul and moved him into ministry.

Considering church and human experience allow him to integrate his past and his emotions; Considering text knowledge allows him to integrate his intellect and build depth and continuity; Processing allows him nuance and insight; Engagement with Peter in community processing keeps him down to earth and people focused.

This was integrating faith; text; church; experience; processing; community

All of us are like Paul; we bring human experiences, we bring church experiences, we have engaged with texts of Bible, history, culture.

And now we become aware of the gift of processing space and the gift of community engagement. So in fact, going to a bible college could, like Paul, be a life-changing experience.

(Full post six years ago here)

Posted by steve at 09:22 PM

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

haunted hope

A poem that give might give some expression to my current stage of being. Or it might not.

is there
while i am here

becomes then

and i am here

memories seep
to faded deeds

coloniser to migrant
tongued tied, in
church, old,
thriving to dying

grief to grow

time ticks
to new hopes

Posted by steve at 05:28 PM

Friday, March 05, 2010

praying the psalm? or the moment?

My Paraclete Psalter: A 4-Week Cycle for Daily Prayer arrived this week. It prays all the Psalms over a 4 week period. This is not a heavy book of Daily prayer, flipping from page to page. This is the Psalms arranged morning, lunch, tea and evening, as an invitation to use the Psalms, stones worth smooth by the centuries (to quote Rowan Williams). It’s gorgeous, just begging to be touched and opened. Leather cover, delicate pages, light and transportable.

The Psalms are arranged according to the time of day, which makes for a lovely resonance.

Until I went swimming.

And then my Psalter suddenly felt a bit sloshy – in a good, yet provoking, way.

The sun was setting into the sea and I just floated, watching this golden orb drop away. It all got pretty spiritual. It even got captured in a prayer: Swimming this evening; Sun dropping gold orbed into summer sea, God of full immersion, Swirl in, on, around me; Your resting child.

Which got me wondering about the place of spiritual disciplines in life. Was this not my “evening Psalm prayer”; the giving of my day, what was done and undone, to God? Wasn’t that Psalm, waiting in my Psalter, crafted out of a moment exactly like this? How do these natural and unexpected moments of our lives align themselves with the “stones worn smooth” of the church’s history? How often is our worship captured in a building and a book, strained through someone else’s words, in a way that alienates us from the moments of life?

Posted by steve at 08:27 AM

Thursday, March 04, 2010

blokes in church? growing petrol heads and art lovers

A really thoughtful post on blokes and church here, from Dr Richard Beck here. The whole piece is fascinating, using Mark Driscoll’s views on masculinity as a starting point for the suggestion that we have an educated/uneducated split that creates deep fissures in our church communities.

The educated [men] teach, preach, and have the public leadership roles. The uneducated [men] are marginalized. Worse, if you are an uneducated male, you are force-fed those feminine metaphors. Educated males, being chickified, don’t mind or even notice the feminine metaphors. But Joe Six Pack notices the metaphors. All this creates a disjoint in the church. Two groups of males who find each other alien and weird.

Which is further clarified here.

people tend to focus on four big issues when it comes to church life: Gender, socioeconomic status, race, and sexual orientation. But I think one of the most pernicious fissures is the education issue. This problem is particularly acute in Christian churches as Christianity has been, from its earliest days, unapologeticly cerebral and intellectual.

He names something that is pretty real and was certainly my experience at Opawa, the challenge to form men spiritually, whether petrol head or art lover. And why I found the Opawa men’s camp last year so moving, the way that the repeated use of lecto divina (of which this is an outcome), inviting men to use their diverse hobbies, their relationships and life experience, their “caves”, as ways into sharing faith and life.  People were asked to bring something from their shed, which equalised and normalised everyone, from petrol head to art lover. And that became the starting point “going to your favorite spot in your “shed”” for engaging the Biblical text. Which is such a long way from cerebral and intellectual.

The most helpful book I’ve found in framing this for me is Phil Culbertson’s New Adam: The Future of Male Spirituality (Book. Educated. Yep, I see the educated irony.) I love the way it explores Biblical texts as they relate to males

  • Abraham struggling to connect with his son from his first “marriage”;
  • David, and whether can we let him enjoy a deep male friendship with Jonathan without it becoming homosexualised in innuendo;
  • David who hides behind his work desk when his family comes crashing in

The author (and friend), Phil Culbertson, comes back to Jesus, who he explores from the angle of a person who enjoys deep male friendships, with working class fishermen and with budding intellectuals and poets (like John).

“Jesus appears to have modeled a style of male-male friendship that was committed, intimate, honest, open and even dependent … But there is no record that Jesus and his male followers did “men’s things” together. They did not go hunting together … nor did they share off-color jokes. They did not compete with each other … Christians can recognize the new Adam in Jesus insofar as he was willing to cherish his own human nature, in all its vulnerability, and yet to turn his face bravely toward an unknown future in which he and the world that he knew would be very different.” (105, 106).

It’s such a missionary challenge and we desperately need some working-class missional churches working in and around these issues.

Posted by steve at 09:20 AM

Sunday, October 25, 2009

forming disciples today: conversations with Christian mission history

Today I started a 4 part sermon series, titled Turning points: key moments in Christian history

Today was the monastic movement, particularly Benedictine spirituality, and the implications for discipleship and mission. Since history is about people, I gave a brief introduction to three monks – Anthony, Clare and Benedict. Since history is about place, I looked at the world’s oldest, largest and most beautiful monasteries.

The sermon raised some significant questions for me in regard to church life today.

1. Forming disciples. Compare a monk, who prays 7 times a day, 7 days a week. That is 49 church services. Consider how much that shapes a person in the way of Jesus. In contrast, much church going is once a week at best. How much can we really expect to grow in our Christian faith, when many of us watch more TV than enter the Christian story? (Now I know that some of you have daily quiet times. But the challenge of the monastic life was how they committed themselves to grow together, not as individuals).

2. Transforming community. I showed a picture of a Celtic monastery, which functioned as a 7 day a week place of prayer, learning, healing and relating. And the mission question, is church really about a worship service that we drive to? How much can we really expect our neighbourhoods to change, as we drive to and fro once a week?

3. Faith for life. Since Benedict was about all of life – prayer and work – ora et labora, then his “rule” must surely have application outside a monastery. It occurred to me that our working days are filled with breaks. We eat 3 times a day, and stop for morning and afternoon tea. So could that be the start of a “local church rule”; in which we commit to pause for micro-prayer every time we hold a hot drink in our hands?

Taking the monks out of history began some pretty challenging after-church coffee conversations. I’d love some feedback on this from my wider blog audience.

I thought it might be of interest to some outside Opawa, so we had a first ever Opawa go – Steve on video, then very basic edit (top and tail) on iMovie, then upload on www. All very new. (coming) (I had lots of powerpoint, but not sure about copyright, so it’s just a straight talking head. Slightly longer than I normally preach, but it was a long weekend, so everyone is a bit more relaxed and there is often less in other parts of the service.)

It was a lot of fun preparing a “history” sermon and I got a stack of positive feedback, people really appreciating a different approach. Variety is spice of life and all that.

And for those who missed it from Friday, here was some of my reading in preparation:
– Mark Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity.)
Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way Of Love
The Rule of Benedict for Beginners: Spirituality for Daily Life
A Public Faith: From Constantine to the Medieval World, AD 312-600
Emerging Downunder
New Monasticism: What It Has to Say to Today’s Church
St Benedict for Today.

Posted by steve at 06:19 PM

Saturday, August 22, 2009

emerging disciples resources: a work in progress

Thanks to those who attended my Emerging disciples workshop in Auckland yesterday. A number of you stayed after to ask specific questions about resources, and I referred you to my blog. Since there’s a lot of stuff here, I will try and draw it together (over the next few days and in between hockey and church). ie this blog post a work in progress (more…)

Posted by steve at 02:02 PM

Thursday, August 20, 2009

emerging disciples

I’m off to Auckland this evening to speak at the 21st Century Challenges to the Gospel conference, organised by Laidlaw College. Here is a PDF of my 2 page handout.

They gave me the topic of “emerging church” but I asked for it to be changed to “emerging disciples.”

Partly because I’m sick of talking about “church”, but mostly it’s where I am at the moment in terms of ministry at Opawa. We have good numbers of searchers among us, particularly from our local community, and so our season is a “discipling” season, with particular emphasis on two groups (using John Drane’s Do Christians Know How to Be Spiritual? typology) – spiritual searchers and the poorer.

Updated: for notes go here.

Posted by steve at 10:15 AM

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

forming disciples

We don’t think ourselves into new ways of behaving
We behave ourselves into new ways of thinking.

(My summary of the end of a chapter in Andy Crouch’s (fantastically well written), Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, in which he argues that to we need to focus not on culture, but cultures; not on big picture but everyday cultural practices.)

Is this statement true and accurate? If so, what does it mean for the way church’s disciple people – for the sermon, the discipleship group, the way we form our youth and children?

Posted by steve at 01:19 PM