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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Scholars worship too
It has been an extremely productive year for me in terms of writing. I have just completed my seventh piece of work which, considering my day job as a Principal, and when placed alongside regular monthly film reviews, makes for an extremely productive year.
At church on Sunday, the phrase “scholars” lept out at me. The Magi, scholars from the East, come to worship. There was a sense that scholarship was welcome around the Christmas child. Thanks Jesus.
What I submitted today was a journal article to M/C Journal, a fully blind peer-reviewed journal for media and culture. It is my first publication attempt in relation to my fresh expressions: ten years old research project.
Here is the title and abstract.
The complexity of authenticity in religious innovation: “alternative worship” and its appropriation as Fresh expressions
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 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.
The seven pieces for 2014 are as follows (four have already been published, which leaves three moving at various rates of speed with editors, which is quite standard).
Two peer-reviewed journal articles
“The Congregation in a Pluralist Society: Rereading Newbigin for Missional Churches Today,” Pacifica: Australasian Theological Studies, 27(2), (2014), 1-24, (co-authored with D. Cronshaw).
“The complexity of authenticity in religious innovation: “alternative worship” and its appropriation as Fresh expressions.” (Under review, M/C Journal)
Three peer-reviewed book chapters
“Let “us” in the sound: the transformative elements in U2′s live concert experience,” U2: TRANS- , Going Across, Above, and Beyond with U2, edited by S Calhoun, Lexington Books. (Published).
“Embodiment and transformation in the context of e-learning,” Learning and Teaching Theology: Some Ways Ahead, edited by In Les Ball and J. Harrison, Morning Star, 2014, 171-184. (Published)
“Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods: Plot by plot, plant by plant,” for “Inhabiting Our Neighbourhoods”: a flagship publication of Urban Seed’s new Urban Studies Centre. (Under review).
Two “Other public research outputs”
(In other words they might be important but not in the eyes of the University “peer review” machine.)
Colouring outside the lines (Mediacom).
“Carrying Cuth,” for Farewelling Our Fathers. (It is a “Men’s Studies” take on how men of my generation (40 and up) process the death of our dad’s. (under review).
Now to enter the Sabbath re-creation offered by the entry of the Christ-child into our world
Friday, October 31, 2014
The complexity of authenticity in religious innovation: “alternative worship” and its appropriation as Fresh Expressions
There is a Cultures of Authenticity Symposium in Adelaide, 28 November, 2014. Here’s the brief
Authenticity pervades contemporary culture. This symposium provides a unique opportunity to investigate the significance of authenticity in regards to self, culture and society across key areas of social life from ethics, spirituality, work and intimacy to new media, tourism, health and environment.
The invite is to scholars to submit papers assessing the role of authenticity in late-modern life and its real-world applications and consequences. Full papers will be published in the journal M/C. It seemed a good opportunity to take my research on fresh expressions into a wider conversation, so last night I submitted an abstract:
The complexity of authenticity in religious innovation: “alternative worship” and its appropriation as Fresh Expressions
This paper will explore the formational potential of authenticity in late-modern cultures, with particular attention to unintended consequent complexities as authenticity is appropriated by contemporary religious innovations.
Recently within Western Protestantism a range of new approaches to church and worship has developed. Ethnographic research into these religious communities (called “alternative worship”) shows that authenticity was a generative word, used by these community to define themselves as marginal and thus to justify innovation.
However these acts of self-location, so essential for innovation and identity, were complexified when appropriated by the mainstream. This occurred first as mainstream religious communities sought to implement selected liturgical innovations generated by these “alternative worship” groups. Secondly, an organisation structure (called Fresh Expressions) was formed by appropriating the innovation. However the generative energy was not around marginality but rather on the renewal of existing institutional life.
These complexities can be theorised using the work of Sarah Thornton (Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital (Music Culture)). Her research into culture cultures in the United Kingdom also noted a creative interplay between innovation and authenticity, first in generating innovation and subsequently, complexified as what was marginal gained success in mainstream musical cultures.
This suggests that authenticity plays a complex role in identity formation in a branded world.
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Offspring: fresh expressions New Zealand Presbyterian style
Alongside my keynote sessions to the New Zealand Presbyterian Church General Assembly, over the weekend, addressing the theme – Hospitality as mission: Your place or mine?, I also provided input into Offspring. This was a stream that ran in the mornings alongside the Assembly. Over three mornings, three different Presbyterian fresh expressions told their story. My role was to add some global and historical depth. I told stories of the church in history and around the world. I organised these around three themes
- crossing cultures, with a particular focus on the Gladzor Gospels from the church in Armenia (The Armenian Gospels of Gladzor: The Life of Christ Illuminated (Getty Trust Publications: J. Paul Getty Museum)
- mission and the gospel, with a particular focus on the Celtic church (drawing on part of a chapter from my Sustainability and fresh expressions book chapter)
- what is church, with a particular focus on UK Fresh expressions
At the end of the sessions, the Offspring stream were asked to provide a communique back to the Assembly. This was a grace-filled moment, as the church at the centre opened themselves to hear from the churches on the edge.
Here are the notes that I took, as the stream prepared to share
1-What have we been doing as an Offspring stream? Telling stories, centring in prayer, inspiring each other, connecting, creating community and belonging, challenging each other, global and local stories, clarifying what fresh expressions are, being encouraged by hearing others, eating and drinking, dreaming.
2-There have been opportunities for us to be – Encouraged and affirmed to keep going, thinking and imagination stretched, courageous in responding to what God is telling us to do. We have realised that resources for mission are there in the community not only the church and that significant leadership for mission resides outside Ordained ministers.
3-Challenge for the church – There were many, but these were summarised into one statement
Lest we forget: We are re-forming. God is re-forming us for a new season
It was incredibly rich to offer my stories, while sitting and listening to New Zealand pioneers tell their stories. God is doing some wonderful things among the Presbyterian church.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Evaluation of innovation training: celebrating an ethics milestone
As I landed back in Adelaide, my phone lit up with the news that Ethics approval has been granted to begin the Evaluation of innovation training research project.
The Uniting College of Leadership and Theology has a vision of developing effective leaders for a healthy, missional church. This project aims to evaluate the effectiveness of our training practises, by providing regular and accountable processes of evaluation and feedback.
In 2011, College initiated new programs, focused on training leaders for church and ministry, with particular emphasis on developing innovative and adaptive practises appropriate for the leader’s context.
1. Equipping lay leadership, through the Mission Shaped Ministry (MSM) course (in interdenominational collaboration locally)
2. Training pioneer leaders on a path to ordination, through Bachelor of Ministry (Practice stream) (Pioneer leaders are involved in establishing new churches, ministries and other initiatives, appropriate to the context in which they are placed)
3. Offering professional development of congregational (church) ministers, through the Master of Ministry (Missional stream).
The latter two training programmes are unique nationally. (The mission shaped ministry course is an international, interdenominational initiative also undertaken in other states, in partnership with MSM UK)
This project will evaluate the effectiveness of these training options in building the innovative capacities of church, pioneer and lay leaders.
A suite of questions, developed in 2010 by the Uniting College and National Church Life Survey (NCLS) Research will be asked of students. These questions were designed to test the innovative capacities of church leaders. Benchmark data from the 2011 NCLS will be compared with student data gathered longitudinally.
Data will be compared: beginning students with church leaders nationally (2011 NCLS data), cohort of students over time, and individual students over time.
This research will enable us to assess whether current training is increasing the innovative capacities of students. Aware that this evaluation process may provide information of value to other training providers, ethics approval is sought so findings can be published. Journal articles and other publications on pedagogy/teaching and learning will be prepared and published; focusing on ways training is and can be effective in increasing the innovative capacities of students learning about Christian ministry and mission.
This has been a project I’ve been part of developing for nearly four years, trying to lay a sound research design, in order to build a research base around what we are doing at Uniting College. First was finding the funding, then partnering with NCLS to develop the instrument. Second was finding the funding to design the research and complete ethics approval. Now, finally, we can begin collecting the data.
My personality type finds great significance in the fact that approval was granted the day I return from a two week overseas stint. It suggests a clear focus for the next season of my ministry at College – research on innovation.
Saturday, September 13, 2014
fresh expressions through sociology of religion lens
I found out yesterday that The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) is meeting in Adelaide in 2014. I do have quite a bit on my plate this weekend (including travelling overseas).
But I have been keen for a while to examine my fresh expressions sustainability data using a sociological lens, and in particular to engage with the rich material emerging from the UK. So a quick glance through my book shelves and I have offered the following abstract for consideration.
TITLE: A sociological parsing of everyday religious innovation: An analysis of first expressions
In 2001, qualitative research was conducted of ten new forms of church emerging in the United Kingdom. In 2004, the Church of England adopted an extensive theological apparatus, including the nomenclature of Fresh Expressions, to define, then manage, these emerging innovations.
In 2012, as part of a longitudinal project, further research was conducted, first, into the development of these individual innovations and second into the interplay between institutional intent (Fresh Expressions) and local communities (fresh expressions). This paper seeks to analyse these interactions using a number of sociological lens.
Firstly, innovative entrepreneurialism, a concept Warner deploys to investigate contemporary religious life (Secularization and Its Discontents, 2010). It will be argued that this lens has limited potential. It provides a mechanism to understand the institutional impulses of Fresh Expressions. It describes outputs from these local (fresh expression) communities. However, it makes little sense of themes emerging from the interview data, regarding the interplay between everyday faith and life.
Second, generational. Many of the local innovations researched emerged among University educated young adults. Research into the trajectories of young adult religious belief (Christianity and the University Experience: Understanding Student Faith, 2013) certainly offers a more nuanced understanding of fresh expressions as located within a wider sociological ecology. However, this lens offers few conceptual tools to map the interplay between local innovation and ecclesial institution.
Third, belief as cultural performance. Abby Day argues for varieties of belief, as evolving over time, especially when tied to sets of sustaining relationships (Believing in Belonging: Belief and Social Identity in the Modern World, 2011). This provides a helpful way to understand Fresh Expressions, as a cultural performance responding to changing social ecologies. It also makes sense of some of themes emerging from local fresh expressions. However, the fact that a number of the fresh expressions had, by 2012, ceased, suggests an additional category, that of belief enacted in funeral performance.
Friday, May 16, 2014
pioneering mission in Australia: Caroline Chisholm
The saint for today in the Revised Common Lectionary is Caroline Chisholm. Her story is strongly shaped by Australia. In other words, the eyes of the world today will reflect on what is an Australian mission story.
Caroline was born in England. Raised evangelical, she was an adult convert to Catholicism, about the time she met her husband, a sea captain. Coming to Australia on holiday, Caroline was disturbed by the poverty she saw among migrants in Sydney. Meeting each ship as it arrived, she sought to find work and shelter for new migrants.
While initially focused on these acts of mercy, she soon became a tireless advocate for justice. Her life was shaped by lobbying. She was constantly seeking to speak to politicians, seeking reform. She collected migrant stories (Comfort for the Poor! Meat three times a day! Voluntary information from the people of New South Wales, 1847). She shared these stories, both in Australia and also back in England, where she continued to advocate and lobby for reform.
After two years of being ignored, she decided to act without government help. She sought financial backing in order to provide loans to migrants, which was accompanied by support as they settled in Australia, thus making more likely repayment. The loans were provided at rates far cheaper than existing banks and in order to subvert the injustice she saw from landed interests.
Charles Dickens gave her support, including mentioning her work in his writings.
She organised ships and changed onboard systems – with the doctor, not the captain, apportioning rations. Presumably such changes were shaped by the stories she heard as she had listened to migrant experiences.
In 1852, her political advocacy saw the Passenger Act, in which the British Government legislated to improve shipping conditions for passengers (boat people), seeking a new start.
Despite being one of the most well-known woman in England (her portrait hung in the Royal Academy exhibition in 1852), she scorned material reward and status and returned to Australia.
Caroline Chisholm – one story of mission in Australia. As it says in Exodus 3:7, she saw misery, she heard the cry of the oppressed, in this case migrants. In response to listening, she mixed mercy, justice and innovation. She pioneered new expressions of care and worked tirelessly to shape public opinion.
In 2014, with Australia still facing the arrival of many migrants her life is perhaps a source of inspiration and challenge.
For more on Caroline Chisholm see Australian Dictionary of Biography.
Sunday, March 30, 2014
Together toward life: when The Shaping of Things to Come is much more bleak
The Australian Association of Mission Studies tri-annual conference is in Adelaide in October 2014. With Anthony Gittens the guest speaker, it promises to be a rich mission feast. The theme is Margins, Mission and Diversity and the conference will also acknowledge the tragic death of Ross Langmead.
Here is my proposed paper in which I try to connect the conference theme with my research on sustainability and fresh expressions:
Together toward life: when The Shaping of Things to Come is much more bleak.
The 2013 Commission on World Mission and Evangelism statement on mission encourages the local church in Spirited experimentation, (Local Congregations: New Initiatives). This could be argued to be a discernment of the Spirit’s activity on the margins of the church, for the sake of the world.
Such a (marginal) call is not new to Australia. The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21 Century Church (2003, first edition) is considered a seminal Australian text in missiology. In chapter two, titled “Hope of Post-Christendom”, Frost and Hirsch present six stories of new initiatives in mission.
Investigation ten years reveals that three of these “hopes” are now closed (two incurring significant financial loss, a third misrepresented).
Such levels of failure in experimentation are consistent with data emerging from New Zealand and United Kingdom. Of the five communities described in Threshold of the Future: Reforming the Church in the Post-Christian West (Gospel and Cultures) (1998) none now survive. In the United Kingdom, of twelve communities researched by the author in 2001, only five now survive.
If new forms of church are the shaping of things to come, how might we respond missiologically to such data? Three responses will be explored. First, Biblically, in the mission of Epaphroditus in the letter to Philippians. Second, historically, how The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died understands the rise and fall of Christianity. Third, theologically, how a hermeneutic of surprise, emerging from Romans 8:15 (The Message) and the Pixar movie Up, values adventure over sustainability.
Friday, January 17, 2014
fresh expressions impact in UK
Overnight, research was released on the impact of fresh expressions in the UK. The research was designed to move from anecdote to systematic data and involved surveying 10 Dioceses in England. The results are so encouraging, with over 500 fresh expressions planted, numbering over 20,000 people, of whom 40% have no previous church background and 35% are people who used to belong to church. I hope to reflect more on the data in the coming days, but in the meantime, here is the summary (click to enlarge).
The timing is great, because here in Adelaide, through Uniting College, there are a number of training and resourcing opportunities in this area for those in Australia wanting to know more.
Stories of mission – Monday, 20 January, from 7:30 pm, at City Soul, Ben Edson is sharing his fresh expressions story, of pioneering ministry, among young adults, in city centre Manchester (more here).
Pioneering workshop – Tuesday 21 January, from 9:30 am, at Uniting College, a day to gather around pioneer training stories and reflect on what we’re learning for selection, training, placement (more here).
Pioneer training – a week long intensive with Dave Male and local stories, March 17-21, at Uniting College
Evangelism, conversion and the mission of God – a week long intensive with John and Olive Drane, March 31-April 4, at Uniting College, sharing place of faith sharing today.
All of these are chances for us in Australia to contextualise, grow and learn.
Monday, November 25, 2013
seeking birth in death: a new way of discerning fresh expressions
I’m currently reading The Faith Lives of Women and Girls. Qualitative Research Perspectives. Edited by Nichola Slee, Fran Porter and Anne Phillips, recently published by Ashgate, it offers 19 chapters of original research on key aspects of women’s and girl’s faith lives. It uses a range of approaches – ethnographic, oral history, action research, interview studies, case studies – to help explore faith from a feminist perspective.
I’ve got stuck on the chapter by Jennifer Hurd, “The Relevance of a Theology of Natality for a Theology of Death and Dying and Pastoral Care: Some Initial Reflections,” (Chapter 17, 195-205). Hurd is a minister, aware from her experiences in recent years that there are changes in attitudes and practices within church and society concerning death and dying. She sets out to research the pastoral and theological relationships between birth and death.
As a theoretical frame, she uses the work by Grace Jantzen on natality, who has argued that the predominant choice of western civilization from Graeco-Roman times to the postmodern age has been characterized by violence and death. Jantzen calls this “necrophilia.” The result has been destructiveness, fascination with other worlds to the detriment of this one, and an antipathy toward the body and sexuality.
Jantzen suggests an alternative, which she terms “natality,” one characterized by beauty, creativity, new beginnings, flourishing and love of life. Her focus is the potential to make new beginnings, evident in new birth. But not only about birth. All beginnings that are becomings that make for creativity, life, health and wholeness.
Hence the Christmas Carol, Angels from the realms of glory
Sages, leave your contemplations,
Brighter visions beam afar:
Seek the great Desire of nations;
Ye have seen his natal star:
Hurd then interviews people experiencing death and dying and argues that in these narratives is the presence of natality. She draws out four threads from Jantzen – embodiment, engenderment, relationality, hopefulness.
So why am I stuck?
- First, I read Jantzen in my PhD and it has been helpful to my current writing to re-find her.
- Second, with my dad dying, I’ve recently been through the valley of the shadow of death.
- Third, I’m concerned about gender and leadership development.
- Fourth, I’m fascinating by how change does, or does not happen. Hurd comments how “often, feminist theology has responded to the necrophilia of patriarchal church and society by declining to address death.” (Hurd, 199).
So why am I stuck? Well it’s got me thinking. You see, it’s so tempting, especially in church circles to avoid the hard conversations about death and decline, and it’s fascinating to read how Hurd argues that both death and natality are threshold experiences, a shared liminal experience.
“Undoubtedly, natal elements have always been a major part of Christian theology and pastoral care.” (205).
But Hurd finds natal elements not after the death, but in death, dying and bereavement. This includes a continued relationality, “contrasting with the ‘letting go’ which is sometimes part of pastoral care in bereavement.” (205) Which for me is truly fascinating. This is not a “letting go” of declining bodies (and by extension, dying churches). This is finding a new becoming in their midst.
What I’m pondering is not a “inherited church” dies, so that “fresh expressions” live. Rather lets explore natality in all of life – in ways that offer relationality, hope, embodiment, for all.
It also means that while death is inevitable, the process will not be seen as failure, but as a pathway through which new life is possible.