Thursday, August 04, 2016

saying no

At the start of the year I planned myself a treat. I was deep in the last days of writing my Built for Change book and I needed some light at the end of the tunnel. I love the academic stimulus provided by the annual Ecclesiology and Ethnography conference in Durham. Around that, for the last few years, I have found renewal at Holy Island. So I put in place a plan, to return to the United Kingdom in September.

I found another set of conferences around the Ecclesiology and Ethnography and submitted abstracts (total of three). Two abstracts were accepted. One wasn’t. But it was enough. I spotted a number of potential funding avenues. Over recent months, I’ve worked hard to shift the abstracts from ideas to full draft journal articles in preparation.

Over the last weeks, I’ve begun to wonder if the benefits of the treat might actually be outweighed by other realities. Academically, a number of opportunities closer to home have presented themselves. Financially, airfares are higher than I budgeted. At the same time, money is tight in academic circles. There could be some help, but not as much as I had calculated. Work-wise, there are signs I need to be grounded, not working from a laptop on the road. Family wise, I have a partner on the home stretch of a PhD and the “how can the rest of the family pitch in plan” doesn’t work as well if I’m away for a period overseas. I do need a treat, but this treat felt like it was being increasingly diminished.

Last week, I regretfully decided to withdraw my various conference presentations. I feel regret. I will miss the stimulus and the conversations and the space that is created. The networks are important. People have made decisions and given me opportunity and they will now have to reshuffle programmes.

I also feel relief. I’m glad I can say no. I very much enjoyed taking the 10 days I had blocked out with conferences and writing into the blank space of the calendar: “work on lectures”; “quiet day to read”; weekend away with family.” It has also been good to remind myself of privilege: that to even contemplate an overseas conference is in fact an enormous treat. That is a light in a tunnel in itself.

I share this story in order to honour this blog. On this blog I record things that go according to plan, including abstracts that get accepted and things that get written. So it seems fair to also record things that don’t go to plan and things that won’t get done and the ongoing unfolding of life.

Posted by steve at 12:43 PM

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

living off a laptop

Driving back from Christchurch yesterday, it suddenly occurred to me that I’ve only managed one day working at my office desk, surrounded by my books and files, in the last 4 weeks. Certainly not planned!

First, there were 9 days of block course intensive in Wellington. This was followed by that one day at the office – in which I scrambled to prepare printed resources and organise for the next major piece. That was 15 days on the road. This involved 8 meetings and 5 speaking engagements, spread across 2 countries, 8 cities and towns, made possible through 5 flights and 2 rental cars.

canterbury It wasn’t something I intentionally planned. Rather it was simply what emerged as I tried to make sense of a range of commitments and a set of practical realities.

A desire to be Knox national, rather than Knox Dunedin, combined with a rugby test in Dunedin that sent accommodation prices through the roof, made Wellington a logical option for a KCML blockcourse. An academic conference in Melbourne, made possible a few days of recovery in a friends holiday house near Sydney. A request to speak in Wellington for two days to a group of ministers (Give us this day our daily bread: spirituality of eating) made sense as a stop over coming back from Sydney. A need to connect with incoming (2017) interns and explore potential placements in the Christchurch area, made sense as a next stop after Wellington. Interns and potential placements spread between Rangiora and Geraldine made logical a rental car and so a drive from Christchurch back to Dunedin (mixed in with a lovely few nights restoration at our family holiday home). During which the realisation hit me: one day working at my office desk in the last 4 weeks.

Which meant that today, one of my team cheekily asked the rest of the team if anyone knew who I was. While another asked if I deserved a desk!

Living off a laptop is made possible because of:

1. A flexible family, willing to come with me to academic conferences and join me on holidays and road trips between Christchurch and Dunedin.
2. A focused, competent, self-sufficient work team, very secure in their roles, who get on with their tasks, whether I’m present or not.
3. Evernote and Google calendar, which helps me keep track of a range of details and notes.
4. A computer (Mac) which enables me to access material for speaking engagements as I go, allowing me to be responsive to context and room, to prepare a talk in a hotel room or beachside holiday house.
5. A cellphone, which I can tether as a hot spot and deal with email.

When I began as Principal, I wanted to be a national Principal, not a Dunedin Principal. However I never envisaged the type of movement and travel that would result. I love the richness, the mix of developing leaders, presenting research, offering professional development and dreaming futures with churches and leaders.

But I also love being home and having an office and seeing my books and settling back into the regular routines of running and (snack) writing.

Posted by steve at 08:23 PM

Thursday, January 14, 2016

3 month anniversary: an emotional and grateful reflection

knox This week marks 3 months since I began as Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. I celebrated the one week milestone with some thoughts and it seems appropriate to repeat the practice.

I returned to work this week and found myself awaking each day profoundly grateful that I’m called to this role, at this time and place. I am so appreciative of the space to innovate, the genuine invitation and repeated expectation that KCML will live into its mission to train the whole people of God. I am excited by the possibilities that have been generated in staff conversation and at a two day staff retreat in December. While these are still embryonic and face many more conversations with key stakeholders, there is a whole host of creative, connective, ideas beginning to take shape. I am grateful for the resources that come with the KCML space. This includes the team, the variety of financial stakeholders, along with the enormous goodwill and generosity I’ve experienced, repeatedly, within the Presbyterian church and the KCML team. Very quickly as a team we have moved into constructive, prayerful, accountable relationships that are a delight to participate in. They are a group joyfully facing a new future.

This is a great role, in a great place. Long may the honeymoon continue :)

Posted by steve at 01:56 PM

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

My close of placement service

Close of Placement Service: Rev. Dr. Steve Taylor
Time: 3:00 pm
Date: Monday 7 September 2015
Where: Chapel of Reconciliation, Uniting College, Adelaide College of Divinity (34 Lipsett Terrace, Brooklyn Park)

Everyone Welcome.

Please join us afterwards in the College Common Space for drinks and nibbles from 4pm-5:30pm, where there will be the chance to say farewell to Steve, Lynne and Kaylee, to hear some words of thanks and enjoy a glass of wine or juice and some local cheeses.

RSVP 3 September 2015 to

Posted by steve at 09:13 AM

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dunedin property owners

Our quick jump across the ditch has proved remarkably successful. We looked at 8 properties in Dunedin over the weekend. We were accompanied by a Dunedin local, who was invaluable in terms of local knowledge and insight. The upshot was that we made an offer on a property on Monday, which was accepted on Tuesday (subject to building inspection).

It’s a great place that all four of Team Taylor fell in love with pretty much from the moment we walked in the door. It is architecturally designed with lots of character spots to sit and connect. It’s got sea views over the Otago Harbour, yet is set in native bush. It’s close to work, yet has a drive home with harbour views that will be important in creating the necessary distance. It’s not got a lot of room for garden due to the bush, but a glass house should really help and there is plenty of room for chickens and perhaps even a beehive or 3.

Practically, it has 3 bedrooms and 5 different configurations of living areas, which should well suit the needs of our family. We expect to be able to take possession on the date we wanted – the 5th of October – which gives us a week to settle before I start at Knox and Kayli starts at her new school on the 12th of October.

It is a great relief psychologically to know where we are going, stopping and staying for this next chapter of our lives. It’s difficult to express how important this is for our family.

Posted by steve at 09:35 AM

Friday, August 21, 2015

Quick jump across the ditch

Team Taylor are re-uniting across the ditch for a few days. Friday is a flight from Adelaide to Christchurch, where we pick up our New Zealand recently purchased car and drive to Dunedin.

Over Saturday and Sunday, we are house hunting. (Hence the need for the car, to drive around a string of open homes). We have this idealistic little plan; that we would buy a house in Dunedin in time for us to move in when we start my new role as Principal at Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership in early October. To do that requires buying a house about 6 weeks prior, that is about now in August. To do that requires selling a house in Adelaide in late July. We’ve done the house selling in Adelaide, so lets see if the house buying in Dunedin part happens. No worries if it doesn’t, but lets at least have a go.

Then Monday through Wednesday, I get to connect with my new work team. They have an annual retreat about this time of year and have invited me to join them. It will be two days of getting to know and starting to build connections. It’s all part of the transition and I’m looking forward to starting a new role with this sort of relaxed, relational, future facing occasion. As a team, we will also be connecting with quite a few Presbyterian church leaders from different cultures around New Zealand, in particular Pacific and Asian. So that’s a very rich introduction to a new community I’m called to serve among.

However, it has meant an unbelievably late night at work, clearing the desk. This week has involved Monday through Wednesday facing our five year Finders Departmental Review, on top of a monthly Board meeting and lecturing.

It will be lovely to take that jump …

Posted by steve at 02:04 AM

Sunday, July 19, 2015

a “working” holiday – run: write: relax: renovate

The last week has been “working” holiday. It’s been rich and intense. The week followed a daily pattern – Run. Write. Relax. Renovate. It’s a pattern I’d recommend.

In regard to renovate, we have some tasks that have to be completed before we can put the house up for sale. We brought a real do-up a few years back, and the return to New Zealand has placed a deadline on the project. So the week began with a to do list on the family white-board and away we went.


Over the week, we completed 7 of the 11 projects, and made significant progress on 10. The entire outside of the house is now painted. The laundry has a new ceiling, which is painted, along with the walls. A new set of front steps has been framed, cut and concreted. The rear side door has a fresh external coat. The front deck is scrubbed, cleaned and prepared for painting. There has been a really good sort of the garage and kitchen, with some stuff cleaned and packed ready to shift and other stuff taken to the Red Cross.

As well as the 11 tasks, there have also been lots of other tasks done along on the way – a new exterior barge board, stain on a small piece of inside skirting and a side garden built. There are still odd little tasks to do, but we think it’s time to call the agent and hold a “finishing party.”

In regard to write, I have some writing tasks that, like the house, also need to be completed. They include my research on sustainability and fresh expressions. I completed a set of interviews back in 2013. I’ve continued to write but the project remains unfinished. I enjoy writing, so I decided to use the “working” week to experiment with different approach, that of snack-writing. Snack writing involves writing little and often. The idea is that it is better to snack than binge, it is better to write little and often rather than seek big blocks of time.

Practically, snack writing involves trying to write five days a week, first thing in the morning, for no less than 45 minutes and never any more than two hours. The theory is that big blocks are virtually impossible to find in the pressures of contemporary academic world. Also, the brain writes better when it is asked to work little and often. You are more likely to be in a good flow by the end of two hours. That gives the brain something to chew on during the rest of the day. It also raises levels of motivation when you return the next morning as it is easier to return to something that your brain recalls as being in a sweet spot. Finally, a research project found that people who shifted from binge writing to snack writing increased in both quantity and quality. (They produced 2 more peer reviewed articles per year).

So I wrote each day, never for more than two hours. Over the week, I wrote 2,500 words, an average of 500 words a day. I made good progress on a significant chapter that I’ve been struggling with. By the end of the week, I felt I had an significant new section and an overall argument for that chapter. I also realised I had gained greater clarity on the entire project and a clearer, more defined argument has emerged. It had provided a way to ease back into what is currently 9 draft chapters written at various times over the last two years. The result is that I can now tell you in 150 words what the book is about, which is very good thing. For me, for the acquisitions editor and eventually for you, the reader :).

Hence the pattern of the “working” holiday week. Run to pray. Write to snack. Relax with coffee (at our local cafe 3 blocks away). Renovate to return (to New Zealand).

I’d not recommend it as a pattern for every week of my holiday. But it certainly helped me put aside my day job as a Principal. And it provided a lovely pattern that generated momentum and progress on a number of fronts.

Posted by steve at 02:39 PM

Thursday, August 28, 2014

one year on: missing Dad, Dad dreaming

It’s a year since Dad died, suddenly, but peacefully. I’m taking tomorrow off, to sit with the pain, to watch the video of the funeral, to walk through the memories. Here’s one memory, a summer dream, that keeps me going …

About four months after Dad died, I awoke one night, aware that Dad had just walked through my dreams. I was in a home and walking down a hallway, a door opened and Dad stepped out.

He was wearing long blue jeans, nicely cut and a knitted sweater. He looked good.  I said hello, reaching out to touch the wool as Dad walked past. It was warm and soft.  Dad turned, meeting my gaze and smiling. He appeared younger, happier, gentler. Then silently, he moved on down the hallway.

Waking, lying in a darkened room, I pondered feelings of presence and absence. Dad was there, a presence I could still talk too. Yet Dad was moving on, unable in this dream to talk to me. I felt both comforted and saddened, aware of grace, reminded of grief.

Continuing to ponder the dream in the  days following, it slowly dawned on me that in my dream Dad was walking.

Walking. It had been years since I’d seem him walk. His last years had seen him trapped in a wheel chair.

Christians claim the resurrection of the dead. That Dads will not just walk, but also talk.  Yet in the here and now, my Dad walked, stepping softly, warmly, through my subconscious. The dream offered a new way to connect with my Dad beyond death.  Deep within the recesses of the parts of me that I cannot fathom, cannot control, Dad lives.

And walks. It’s a source of great comfort, while I wait for the end of time, when I’ll find myself not only able to walk, but also to talk.

I miss my Dad.

Posted by steve at 11:25 PM

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

leadership: giftedness or weakness

I hear a lot of talk about leadership giftedness. We have strengths, we have talents, we have “sweet spots” and we are called to find ways to express those. The body of Christ is diverse and we need to offer our uniqueness.

As Lent begins, I’m pondering leadership weakness.

As this first image from Si Smith’s wonderful 40, Jesus packs away what he is has spent a life being good at, packs away the tools of his trade, what gives him security, income and purpose.

And heads off into the wilderness, to places of insecurity and discomfort, where he will meet his inner self, face his temptations.

My strengths give me security. I know I can write and speak and improvise on my feet. I know I can listen well, find a clear phrase, think through a situation.

My strengths can be habitual. I turn to what I know, to what is well worn and familiar. Yet in times of immense transition, the future might actually be found in new habits, new people, new postures.

I wonder what it means if I were to pack away the tools of my trade – turn off the computer, the cell phone – and head into the wilderness. I wonder what temptations would find me.

And whether they are best met by my strength? Or by my weakness?

Posted by steve at 06:24 PM

Friday, January 03, 2014

one of New Zealand’s finest private walks

Team Taylor are having a very relaxing holiday.  Lots of catching up with friends, reading, doing puzzles, reflecting.

New Years included the ceremonial burning – all the stuff from 2013 we wanted to leave behind – and then dancing in hope of a better 2014 with sparklers.

We’re about to head off on the Kaikoura Coast Track, 3 days of walking – off the Christmas dinner! Day pack only, (not a real walk! says one member of Team Taylor) but still a great chance to walk a great piece of Coast. Expecting seals and hoping for a whale sighting!

Posted by steve at 11:35 AM

Saturday, December 14, 2013

flood damage

We headed out to our family holiday home today. It had been hit by floods in June and today was the first time we’ve seen it since. It’s been a place of much happiness and family memory creation, so there was a certain trepidation, wondering what we would find.

We could have had a look in August, when we came back for dad’s funeral. But we had enough grief to cope with at that time and I couldn’t face looking at the bach.

The floods had certainly taken their toll, with over a foot of water through the entire house. Good friends and the insurance company have been hard at work in our absence. Carpet has been lifted and taken away, damaged walls have been cut out, repaired and then painted, new kitchen cupboards installed.

Today was about getting everything outside and sorting. Belongings too damaged in the tip pile, bedding to be washed in another. Every single dish and cultery washed, to remove silt and dried.

We did enough work today that we can move in tomorrow. The day was warm, perfect for drying. It’s hard to believe that six months ago, the entire place was inaccessible, with flood waters over two feet high over the entire village.

We’ve lost a lot of belongings. But we’re glad of insurance. And friends and family, who’ve done so much in our absence. And sunshine and gentle winds, which are so good at airing bedding.

Posted by steve at 06:07 PM

Monday, November 04, 2013

21st Century Theological training – vision radio interview

My radio interview on 20twenty – Life, culture & current events from a Biblical perspective is available here.

Adelaide College of Divinity have introduced some innovative 21st century concepts including study tours and Blended Learning.

Host: Neil Johnson
Guest: Steve Taylor – Principal Uniting College (part of ACD)

I talk about the value of ecumenism in education in a pluralist world and about 3 waves of distance as it impacts upon theological education

  • distance as written
  • distance by broadcast
  • distance by blended learning

I also talk about flipped learning and the rationale for beyond the classroom study tour experiences – those who learn by watching. I finish by reflecting on the imperative of mission in theological education, including the places we go and the books we read if our God is a global God.

“Steve Taylor, you are an inspiration” concludes the radio announcer, Neil Johnson.

Posted by steve at 06:02 PM

Sunday, October 13, 2013

sustainable Sundays

Today we built a solar oven. A few hours at a local community centre, with some cardboard, aluminium foil and glue.

It’s meant to be able to cook pretty much anything, simply using the heat of the sun – casseroles, corn on the cob, potatoes, cup cakes, bread, eggs. It takes a few hours to cook. Which was part of the pleasure and promise, the hint of a different pace of life, a more sustainable Sunday.

It was too wet outside to try but here’s a video of how it’s meant to work. (Although being a vegetarian I’ll be trying something different)

Posted by steve at 09:29 PM

Sunday, October 06, 2013

offspring has sprung

My time with the Presbyterian church at Offspring is over. Very rich. But very intense.

Lots of personal encouragements – seeing former students and Christchurch pastoral colleagues – realising my Out of Bounds Church? book has born fruit – some fascinating interaction on mission, fresh expressions, pioneering, leadership and sustainability.

My input sessions seemed to go well – it was great to be telling NZ mission history stories alongside some Australian mission history stories I’ve picked up in my travels – to be able to bring indigenous gifts from Australia across the Tasman.

The highlight was hearing the stories of four Kiwi pioneer ventures, and realising afresh that God is still up to lots, albiet in fresh ways, in New Zealand. I’d love to write up some of these reflections and missiology I see emerging.

But not now.

First a precious 24 hours to pop back to Christchurch and see Mum, and together continue to process the loss of Dad. Nothing like Mum’s mock white-bait fritters.

Posted by steve at 03:39 PM