Saturday, November 30, 2019

The missio dei embodied in local community ministry in Scotland

IMG_7973 Leading a Listening in Mission class a few weeks ago, with highlighters in hand, working with a case study, some things clicked and a conference abstract – with a colleague – for the International Association for Mission Studies, Sydney July 2020 (IAMS) emerged.

The missio dei embodied in local community ministry in Scotland
Mark Johnston and Steve Taylor

This paper examines the use of missio Dei in a local community context. It outlines a missology of discerning that provides a way to interpret the birthing of the Blue Horizon Youth Charity in South Aberdeen, Scotland.

Our paper works with the assumption that the missio Dei is axiomatic for a missional ecclesiology. In John 5:29, the Son can only do what the Father does. In Luke 10:1-11, a naming of the Kingdom occurs after acts of healing, suggesting a contextual particularity. Hence listening and discernment in local contexts are essential to mission.

The missio Dei is theorised by applying three frames – neighbourhood listening, diagnosing local narratives and discerning God and the gospel – to a case study of the development of a local community ministry. Listening involves activating presence and seeking immersive relationships of curiosity and proximity. Diagnosing occurs through visual tools, utilising metaphors of icebergs and bridges. Diagnosing enables discerning, evident as documents describing the ethos, beliefs, values and practices of Blue Horizon are critically examined with hindsight. A continuity between listening, diagnosing and discerning is developed, suggesting that for community ministry today, doing what the Father does requires action-reflection on community ministry, pays attention to vulnerable voices in the community, works ecumenically and partners with non-church actors in ways that are inclusive while affirming gospel values.

This research provides tools and outlines practices for the local church, interpreted missiologically. Missiology is returned to the local church as the missio Dei is embodied in local community mission.

Posted by steve at 01:25 PM | Comments (0)

Monday, April 15, 2019

craftivism research: recipient responses

I’m around the halfway mark of the sabbatical. After 6 weeks, I’ve completed some major tasks

  • 10,000 word journal article on mission submitted
  • 6,000 word journal article on life-long learning submitted
  • article to SPANZ completed
  • article to Candour after Christchurch mosque murders on Spirit in trauma completed
  • Sydney Learning and Teaching conference presentation completed (feedback here)

Plus I have completed around 22,000 new words on the First Expressions book project. I’m around 7,000 words ahead of schedule and I’m moving into the editing stage. So I need to adjust the shape of my sabbatical.

It’s time for a more playful task alongside the editing tasks and as a way of celebrating after the completing tasks. I will continue to write on the First Expressions book project in the morning but I’m picking up a more creative project in the afternoons.

Background: I am interested in fresh expressions of Christian witness. One recent fresh expression I’ve become aware of is Christmas angels. It is a form of How to Be a Craftivist: The Art of Gentle Protest, in which angels are knitted and gifted among communities. I spoke on craftivism at the Transitional Cathedral last year as part of their Prophets in the Cathedral series. I am interested in how these angels are received (to read my conference abstract – Craftivism as a missiology of making – go here). It is one thing to ask people why they get involved in a fresh expression project like this. But how do those who find an angel make meaning?

To address this question presented some research challenges. I live in another country, it is not currently Christmas and I don’t want to look like a stalker, chasing people who find Christmas angels to ask for an interview. Helen Kara’s Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide has been a great resource, encouraging me to think creatively about research.

Research method: To address this question, I am experimenting with analysing social media. Each angel was sent out with a hashtag #Xmasangels. This meant that people who received the angels could interact and in ways that are in the public domain. This provides a way to analyse recipent response – How people responded to the angels? What meanings did they make? With help from a colleague, I have extracted over 1,1000 #Xmasangel hashtag tweets. I am now conducting thematic analysis. This is fancy words for printing them out – all 22 pages – on A3 sheets of paper, finding highlighters and coloured pens and reading every tweet, looking for themes.

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Research methodology: As another part of the research, I am also learning to knit. I figure that it is one thing to engage #Xmasangels intellectually. It is quite another to engage by actually making Christmas angels. So I have started to learn to knit. I am keeping a diary of my experiences. It is fascinating to be learning to craft as I am researching craft – a tactile embodying of research. (For those who keep watch on how KCML staff spend their time, rest assured I am knitting after hours and not in work hours).

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What will be the outcomes? I think knowing how people respond to mission is important in guiding future mission action. It is the basis of practical theology and action-reflection modes of learning. I hope to include the results as I teach on mission at KCML and as I continue to be invited by churches to talk about fresh expressions of mission. I hope to present the data to at least one, ideally two academic conferences, as part of reflecting on mission. I hope to write up the results, so that those who don’t hear me talk can still engage with the data. This will include Candour, Spanz and an academic journal. I will also send the results to the Christmas angel organisors. They might want to engage with me and I’m happy to do that. I hope to learn to knit. Above all, I hope to continue to be curious about the world around me and especially fresh expressions of Christian witness.

Over the next few days, I will share my initial impressions of the first read (fancy word for colour coding with highlighters) of the data. While is it very early days, I am already struck by some fascinating recipient responses.

Posted by steve at 04:26 PM

Monday, March 04, 2019

structuring outside study leave

When the Presbyterian Church formed KCML in 2006, the goals for the College included research. KCML is to be responsive to trends and training needs and to foster and facilitate high quality research into these needs and trends. It makes sense, in a time of rapid change, to create capacity for action-reflection on ministry and mission. Such reflection, especially if it is to be high quality, takes time and so to embody the tasks assigned by the church, KCML Faculty are allocated outside study leave, 15 weeks every 3 years.

I was due October 2018, but delayed mine – what with other Faculty already on study leave and to ensure teaching over Spring and Summer block courses. However as of today, I have 13 weeks to engage in high quality research. Over the last few weekends, I’ve been setting up an office at home, making a writing space, printing the various chapter drafts to date and bringing home books I might need.

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Given a need and a trend within the church involves new forms of church, the focus of much of my research will be on sustainability and innovation. In order to make sure the research is accessible to the church, I have signed a book contract with SCM Press. The provisional title is First Expressions: emerging movements in mission and the contracted publisher is SCM. It will bring my action over 25 years – planting a fresh expression, leading a church that planted fresh expressions, developing a “have-a-go” pioneering qualification at UCLT, developing New Mission Seedlings here at KCML, into conversation with theory on mission and innovation. In order to keep it give it a wider “action” frame than my own experiences, it will draw on my longitudinal research on new forms of church ten years on in the United Kingdom. I’m particularly interested in what we learn from those who try/play/experiment and how we theorise the tension between durability in cultures of continuity and fail fast in cultures of discontinuity.

Connecting with SCM was a delightfully random part of last year. I had been keen to pitch them the book project but had lacked the time to polish up a proposal. However, when the editor heard I was going to be in Scotland last year, doing a bit of teaching for the Church of Scotland, he asked to connect. I said that actually, well, I had been wondering about showing them a book proposal and if I gave it a quick polish, could I send it before we met … and the rest is history. It feels so good going into a sabbatical with a specific project, with 10 distinct chapters already in draft form, with chapter summaries of each to give me focus.

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To help me write, I need structure. I also know it is not healthy for me to write all day. So I have allocated other activities to break up my days. So each day is divided into five parts.

  • create – two golden hours of writing – picking up on the research around the value of 2 golden hours
  • make – some tactile engagement with the wider world, in particular craft and the Bible
  • complete – to help motivate during a major project, there are a range of smaller, almost complete projects – rejected journal articles from last year to try in another journal, a couple of spoken lectures to turn into a publication
  • deepen – reading and research, including in the wonderful Hocken, which I find a wonderful re-creative space
  • connect – time to attend to email, rock up to random lectures, blog, administer

I’ve even made time sheets to help me keep track of progress.

Finally, there are the carrots. If I meet the mid-May deadline, I hope to have a few weeks to hikoi with Te Aka Puaho and the whanau of Wiremu Tamehana communities or perhaps go walkabout to visit Aunty Denise Champion in Port Augusta, Australia, and complete with her a joint journal article we began a few years ago.

I can adjust the schedule as I go, or if I fall behind. But it is a start, a way of enabling me to step through the gift that is the space to be responsive to trends and training needs and to foster and facilitate high quality research into these needs and trends.

Posted by steve at 01:54 PM

Friday, January 25, 2019

the burning bush and cultural transmission

Today I spoke at the Otago Museum, giving a conference paper (abstract here) at the Held in Trust: Curiosity of Things symposium. My “thing” was the burning bush (an image central to Presbyterian church identity) as it has been crafted and crossed cultures from Hemispheres to Aotearoa New Zealand.

IMG_7018 My talk drew on some different pieces of my thinking/talking/researching over the last few years

  • block course intern teaching on the Bible in Presbyterian identity (in June 2017)
  • introducing New Zealand Presbyterians to Scottish Presbyterians (in June 2018)
  • keynote at Connect18 on burning bush as basis for a Presbyterian theology of mission (in July 2018)
  • guest speaker at Knox Church AGM (in October 2018)

It was rewarding to take previous work already presented in a range of contexts and find ways to weave it together and offer it in an academic context. It was great to take the rich resources of the Presbyterian Research Centre into a museum setting and to have their support (shout out) during my presentation.

In developing the paper and thinking about the transmission of identity as belief across cultures, a key conversation partner was Webb Keane, Christian Moderns (The Anthropology of Christianity). Here is my final section:

Anthropologist Webb Keane studied transmission of Christianity in Indonesia – over 100 years from Dutch colonisation to post-independence. As part of his research, he did an object study of a Sumbanese house as a paradigm of cultural ordering. He argued that when text is detached from objects, new aspects of the object come to the fore. The result can be “different representational economies” and different modes of objectifying” (Christian Moderns, 269).

Which seems to be is what is happening with the burning bush. The Presbyterians brought words: many words in the Books of order and Westminister Confessions. They also brought a symbol. An object – a thing – which could be re-presented; as craft and taken across cultures in the complexity of communication. As text and object are detached, new aspects come to the fore and multiple “representational economies” come to play.

This highlights the essential role of local agency in global exchange. In the glowing vine of Te Aka Puaho and the stained glass windows of St Johns Papatoetoe, a Scottish symbol has been re-framed. It is being interpreted through different Biblical narratives – Christological for Te Aka Puaho, creation-centred Moana voyages at St Johns Papatoetoe. Burning bushes can be frangipani: Sinai wilderness can be oceans in which “I am is revealed.”

Local agency opens the doors for objects to be become subverting symbols. Imaginations can be re-narrated and fresh currents in theological production become possible.”

Thanks to the conference organisers for having me, to the Presbyterian Archives and staff for being so helpful and to Otago Museum and University of Otago Centre for Colonial Research for being such generous hosts.

Posted by steve at 12:15 PM

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Craftivism in (Transitional) Cathedral Extra

In September last year, I was asked to speak at the Transitional (Anglican) Cathedral in Christchurch. It was a 30 minute talk as part of Prophets in the Cathedral, a combined event run by the Diocesan Education Office and the Cathedral. I was delighted to be asked and I really enjoyed putting something new together. I wanted to look a fresh expressions of mission and in ways that a Cathedral congregation might find new possibilities and in ways consistent with their Anglican understandings of mission.

To my delight, the Dean was so enthusiastic about what I said that he that he emailed afterward asking if a summary of my talk could be used in the Cathedral Extra, the quarterly magazine, which goes to supporters all over Christchurch. It was quite an integrating (weaving) experience for me to knit (pun intended) reading and ideas together from various places in the last 5 years.

What I wrote appeared late in November. I got the back page and all!

craftivism

 

Craft-ivism is as simple as the joining of two words: Craft + activism. It is a form of activism, centred on domestic craft (Greer, Knitting for Good!: A Guide to Creating Personal, Social, and Political Change Stitch by Stitch, 2008). It tends to utilise needlework, including yarn-bombing and cross-stitch and value collective empowerment and creative expression. It has been linked with elements of anti-capitalism, environmentalism and solidarity.

For those who like practical examples, it is the knitting of Christmas angels. In the UK, in 2014, some 2870 Christmas angels were knitted and left in public places, with a message of Christian love. By 2016, this had risen to 45,930 (http://www.christmasangel.net). Domestic craft had become a way of spreading good news in public places.

In 2008 four women in a small Methodist Church in the middle of a housing estate near Liverpool, met to knit prayer shawls for the bereaved and those in hospital. Then they moved to blankets for the local women’s refuge, followed by hats for shoebox appeals overseas. Everything they knitted, they would lay hands and pray for those who would receive the finished items. Three years later, by 2011, that initial group of four women had grown to sixty, meeting weekly to knit and pray, many with no previous church connection. Many of these women were calling Knit Natter their church. The story of Knit and Natter is a fresh expression is analysed by Christine Dutton in Ecclesial Practices 1(1), 31 – 50).

These are contemporary stories. Yet craft-ivism is deeply rooted in the Christian tradition. In Acts 9, Dorcas crafts clothes for widows, an activity that mirrors the diaconal activity of Acts 6. Her craft-ivism builds a community of widow’s who have found a strong, clear and articulate voice, able to show a visiting Peter what the Gospel looks like in their community.

The Anglican church has five faces of mission and there are elements of all five faces in the work of Dorcas:

  • in nurture and teaching of people – and nurture is what Tabitha is offering to the widows; while teaching is there in the sharing of craft across generations
  • in loving service – and the robes and clothes offered to widows are a wonderful example of practical ministry
  • in proclaiming the gospel – demonstrating Christian community to Peter
  • in transforming society – given that in New Testament times, widows were poor and lacked protection, yet finding in Tabitha an advocate
  • in caring for creation – seen in the role of upcycling as garments are fashioned and re-fashioned

This example from the New Testament suggests that craft-ivism is rooted in Christian history.

Turning, to the Old Testament, God is a craft-ivist in Proverbs 22:2; “the Lord is the maker.” Drawing on the Old Testament wisdom literature, theologians like Paul Fiddes (Seeing the World and Knowing God: Hebrew Wisdom and Christian Doctrine in a Late-Modern Context)and David Kelsey (Eccentric Existence: A Theological Anthropology (2-Volume Set)), argue that to be fully human involves being like God

  • practicing delight (crafting)
  • practicing wonder (making)
  • practicing perseverance (a discipline known to all crafters and makers)

Craft-ivism is thus a human participation with God the maker.  What is significant about Proverbs 22 is that God’s craft-ivism is then located in the context of justice and mutuality.  We see this in verse 9 – “Those who are generous are blessed; for they share their bread with the poor.” Hence Proverbs 22 provides a way to think Christianly about prophetic craft-ivism.

Posted by steve at 09:49 PM

Friday, October 12, 2018

First expressions book contract

Another happy Steve moment.

signingbook

I’ve recently signed a book contract with SCM Press, for a book on sustainability and innovation. The provisional title is First Expressions: emerging movements in mission. It will be drawing on my longitudinal research on new forms of church ten years on. I’m particularly interested in what we learn from those who try/play/experiment and how we theorise the tension between durability in cultures of continuity and fail fast in cultures of discontinuity.

I’ve had the empirical data for a while and the UK trip in June included the opportunity to connect with SCM editor, David Shervington who reached out on twitter and then graciously accommodated my lateness as the British Library refused me entry because my suitcase was too large.  A book proposal and 2 draft chapters, some back and forth and SCM said yes a few weeks ago.

I never imagined writing one book, yet alone three, so I’m pretty pleased.  I’m due for some sabbatical time February through May 2019, so the timing is perfect, with the full manuscript due to SCM in May.  In the meantime, I have a few other deadlines to complete (ducking to hide from Jione Havea and Christine Woods).

Posted by steve at 11:24 AM

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

Friday, August 28, 2015

missional theology of sacraments and the church

Thesis 1 – The sacraments are about the Spirit, not the church. This initial move establishes God as the rightful author and agent of sacramental theology.

Thesis 2 – The Spirit can fall on who and whatever it wants. This is consistent with the Biblical data, in which God keeps surprising. We see this in the ministry of Jesus, most particularly the encounter with the Syro-phonecian woman. Interestingly, this has links with sacramental theology, in the reference to crumbs from the table. We see this also in Peter’s encounter in Acts. Again, I note that this also has links with sacramental theology, in the invitation to eat.

Thesis 3 – The role of the church is thus not to define sacramentality, but to discern sacramentality. The church remains essential to a sacramental theology, not as a definer and defender of boundaries, but as an ongoing discerner. David Ford, in Self and Salvation: Being Transformed notes that the Eucharist is “true to itself only by becoming freshly embodied in different contexts.” This is a way of understanding “rightly ordered”, as an invitation to authentic embodiment.

Thesis 4 – This requires a rich and complex set of tools. We see this move (struggle even) toward discernment, in both the narratives mentioned above, as Jesus affirms the great faith of the Syro-phonecian woman and Peter discerns freshly the work of God. Both of this moves require a process of reflection – in community, by grace, with coherence to the interweaving of experience and tradition. The role of missional theological education necessitates developing skills in these processes. It is this that will enable sacramental practice to emerge from those gathered in community gardens, around skate parks and amid the tables of messy church. The result will be that indeed, in bread, wine and water, Christ will feed the church.

Posted by steve at 10:18 AM

Thursday, July 16, 2015

valuing empirical research in the study of fresh expressions

This is a section I wrote today, part of Part 3 of the Sustainability and fresh expressions book project

Third, the argument – as to the presence of both sect and mystic types – emerges from a study of one community. In so doing, the value of empirical research is evident. The experience of Matthew Guest, gained by the repetition inherent in ethnography, the repeated experiences of engaging Visions, generate the insights regarding the social boundaries, unseen but present. His interviews provide a depth of insight, probing the complexity of participant experience (Evangelical Identity and Contemporary Culture: A Congregational Study in Innovation). Such data can only be generated by the fine-grained studies characteristic of qualitative research into the lived experience of being in community.

Yet every move toward such depth comes at the expense of breadth. It is an inevitable limitation. We gain insight into Visions, but are left needing to contrast with other comparable communities. This becomes possible by comparison with other empirical studies. The researchers might be different, but the data can be examined, probed for evidence of internal identity and the manner in which relationships with culture are being mediated. This returns us to my data presented earlier, the ten fresh expressions presented in Part 1.

Posted by steve at 11:00 AM

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Freedom to pursue not a formula to follow

This week I’ve been teaching an intensive, Mission and the church.  It has been an exhausting week  – intensives by their very nature are demanding.  At the same time, it has been a very fulfilling week. Nearly half the class was from inter-state and it was a joy to be resourcing the church nationally.  All of the class had significant ministry experience and thus it became not an exploration of theories for when people might move into ministry, but an intensely practical examination of what could be done now, in living communities. It is a privilege to opens a space and keeps alive a conversation about mission.

My intention is that the conversation is

  • hopeful – in the midst of church decline and structures that stifle, to keep providing ways to subvert and maintain
  • storified – if God is going ahead of us, if missio Dei is for real, then alongside theory of mission needs to be stories of God’s activity and action
  • contextual – theory and stories need to be told in ways that allow people to contextually adapt and innovate, not photocopy. Never once did I hear “oh, we couldn’t do that,” which is a sure sign that contextual has been lost from a teaching context
  • creative – whole church, with our whole bodies, embodying the Gospel, needs to be modelled in the course delivery. All these senses need to be engaged, not just the ears and eyes
  • evidence-based – stories of God’s activity are the evidence from which we discern mission. Three of the 8 sections featured post-graduate research which was studying  stories, in order to discern. So time and again we found ourselves immersed in learnings from people coming to faith, communities exploring innovation 10 years on, churches planting community ministries.

The feedback has been enormously positive.

An email:

Thank you again for a great short course on mission, and the church’s place in it. It has given me, and my congregations, much inspiration to live and work to do, and enjoy.

A final comment.

“I’ve gained a freedom to pursue, not a formula to follow.”

As always, I gain as much as I give in these conversations. On Thursday, as I shared some of my research of sustainability and fresh expressions (2 of the 8 chapters I’ve drafted), I found new insights emerging. It is a project I’m struggling to nail, unsure how to tell the story. As the class questions rained down upon me, I found myself making some fresh connections (and kicking myself that I’d forgot to record this section). All an important part of my own processing and clarifying.

Posted by steve at 09:07 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

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The Trinity as two processions in mission: a post-colonial proposal for evaluating ecclesial life

A precis of some reading, thinking, writing and chatting (with anyone I think might even be vaguely interested in listening).

How to evaluate the mission life of a church? Popular measures include numerical, economic (can we afford a minister and building) and romantic (the good old days). This paper will explore the measures that emerge when the Trinity is understood as one God, three Persons and two processions in mission. It will seek to develop the work of Bernard Lonergan, in conversation with Neil Ormerod. It will analyse their understandings, including paying particular attention to the understandings of Spirit and mission embedded in the Uniting Church Preamble. This provides a post-colonial voice in the development of a proposal for a post-colonial missional ecclesiology. Four markers will be identified and tested on a case study: the author’s empirical research into fresh expressions of the church ten years on.

Which I get to present, Monday, 4 May, Uniting College for Leadership and Theology Research hour, 4-5 pm.

Posted by steve at 10:45 AM

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Authenticity in Religious Innovation: “Alternative Worship” and “Fresh Expressions”

My journal article – The Complexity of Authenticity in Religious Innovation: “Alternative Worship” and Its Appropriation as “Fresh Expressions” – has now been published in Media and Culture. Because it’s not only a publication that is peer reviewed, but also online, it is available for free – here.

In the article, I begin with an introduction to three thinkers who analyse the place of authenticity in contemporary culture. They are Charles Taylor (The Ethics of Authenticity), Philip Vanini (in Encyclopedia of Consumer Culture) and Sarah Thornton (Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital).

I then explore the rise of alternative worship and Fresh Expressions under three heading:

  • Generation of Authenticity-as-Originality
  • Mainstream Appropriation
  • Consequent Complexification

This generates what I think is the guts of my argument -

Both “alternative worship” and Fresh Expressions are religious innovations. But Fresh Expressions defined itself in a way that conflated the space. It meant that the boundary marking so essential to “alternative worship” was lost. Some gained from this. Others struggled with a loss of imaginative and cultural creativity, a softening of authenticity-as-originality.

More importantly, the discourse around Fresh Expressions also introduced authenticity-as-sincerity as a value that could be used to contest authenticity-as-originality. Whether intended or not, this also challenged the ethic of authenticity already created by these “alternative worship” communities. Their authenticity-as-originality was already a practicing of an ethic of authenticity. They were already sharing a “horizon of significance” with humanity, entering into “dialogical relations with others” that were a contemporary expression of the church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic (Taylor The Ethics of Authenticity, 52, 48) …. The value of authenticity has been found to exist in a complex relationship with the ethics of authenticity within one domain of contemporary religious innovation.

A colleague who read it last night called the article “brilliant.” A practitioner responded that it made sense of a ministry context they were part of. So that’s very encouraging.

I’ve blogged about some more of the journey to publication here. But in essence, during Presbytery and Synod last year, I pulled together a paper proposal from a part of my PhD thesis that I’d always wanted to develop further. The abstract was accepted, which forced me to write a 1500 word paper for TASA (The Australian Sociological Australian). The feedback was very positive and that gave me enough momentum to turn the spoken words into written words. The peer reviewers used words like “insightful … well-researched … innovative … an original use of Charles Taylor’s” and it was accepted with minor editorial comments.

It is the first publication resulting from my fresh expressions 10 years on research project and I hope becomes a spring board to complete the book (just write Steve). Or in the words of one peer-reviewer – “I get the impression that this is part of a wider study, and, if so, it is one that I look forward to reading.”

Posted by steve at 06:18 PM

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The complexity of authenticity in religious innovation: “alternative worship” and its appropriation as “Fresh expressions”

Yes, yes, yes.

I was delighted with the news today that my journal article The complexity of authenticity in religious innovation: “alternative worship” and its appropriation as “Fresh expressions” has been accepted for publication in mcjournal, an online peer-reviewed journal of Media and Culture. It will be published in late March, 2015, as part of an edition devoted to the theme of authenticity.

There were some lovely comments from the reviewers – “good quality … insightful points … well-researched … the analysis is innovative … an original use of Charles Taylor’s concept of the ethic of authenticity combined with Vanini’s parsing of the word.”

Here’s the abstract for my article:

Philip Vanini’s theorising of authenticity as original and sincere helps parse the complexity of contemporary religious innovation.

Ethnographic research into new expressions of church (“alternative worship”) showed that authenticity was a generative word, a discourse deployed in these communities to justify innovation. Sarah Thornton’s research (Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital) into club cultures similarly demonstrated an entwining of marginal self-location with a privileging of authenticity.

Such acts of self-location, so essential for innovation and identity, were complexified when appropriated by the mainstream (“Fresh expressions” of church). The generative energy therein became focused not around originality but in maintaining the sincerities of existing institutional life.

This article began life as part of a foray I did late last year, taking my research on sustainability and fresh expressions into a sociology context. I had been reading in sociology of religion and so wanted to get some feedback from that particular discipline in terms of how I was utilising their categories in my research.

So I presented two conference papers, this one on the complexity of innovation, and a second one on the sociological parsing of fresh expressions. I was very encouraged with the response to my two presentations. I worked over my study leave in December to turn the paper into an article. And now the news of acceptance for publication.

This was one reviewers concluding comment – “I get the impression that this is part of a wider study, and, if so, it is one that I look forward to reading.” Too right :)

Posted by steve at 08:32 PM