Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Praying in crisis: an empirical study of how local churches respond in gathered worship to local and international tragedy and trauma

After the Christchurch mosque attacks, there were many, many ways that people responded. One of them was to research, as part of action-reflection capacity building. So (the remarkable) Lynne Taylor and I initiated the following.

tear on cheek

Email to Presbyterian and Baptist Churched — Research for an investigation on how churches responded to the Christchurch mosque terror attacks

The research explores how churches responded in their worship services to the recent mosque shootings in Christchurch. How do churches talk about tragic events? What do they do in response to such events in their worship services? For example, what and how do they pray? What resources do those leading the services draw on in deciding how to respond?

In doing so, the research explores best practice in this area of church pastoral ministry. It provides insight on church practice, as a resource for training of future leaders in theological reflection, congregational leading and worship leading and to assist with professional development of ministers and worship leaders.

All ministers and worship leaders are invited to participate. Depending on your responses, the questionnaire should take 5-10 minutes to complete.

It is a followup to work we did in November 2015 – Praying after Paris – which resulted in a presentation to Presbyterian ministers and another to chaplains at the Chaplaincy in Aotearoa New Zealand conference.

Using the same questions, but with new data from a differently tragic situation – will provide further action-reflection insights. Hence a joint paper proposal submitted last week for ANZATS 2019.

Praying in crisis: an empirical study of how local churches respond in gathered worship to local and international tragedy and trauma

Christian practices embody and reflect lived practical theologies. The gathered worship service is theory- and theology-laden, offering insight into Christian understandings of how God is engaged in human history and what human response could and should be. Investigating how Christians pray corporately is thus a potentially fruitful way to explore underlying theologies.

This paper draws on empirical research to investigate how local churches pray in response to trauma and tragedy.  Online surveys were conducted in November 2015 (following coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, along with bombings in Beirut and Baghdad) and in March 2019 (following the shootings at the Christchurch mosques). In the midst of trauma, how had churches prayed? Pastoral leaders in two New Zealand denominations (Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa NZ and Baptist Churches of NZ) were invited via email to participate in both phases of the research. General invitations to participate were also posted on social media.

In this paper, we consider the resources used by local churches and the theologies evident in their worship responses.  The data will be read through the lens of Storm Swain’s understanding of God as earth-maker (holding); pain-bearer (suffering); and life-giver (transforming). How might these theologies interpret the data? Are different understandings of God present when events are local in contrast to events that are global?  What of human responses to trauma of earth-making/holding; pain-bearing/suffering; and life-giving/transforming? The implications for those who pray in trauma and tragedy will be considered, with particular attention to the theological work possible through the practices of Christian public prayer.

Posted by steve at 08:57 PM

Thursday, August 16, 2018

identity: pondering the interplay between indigenous and hybridity

What I think is at stake is how identity is constructed. In modern colonial worlds, we construct either-or (for more see Robert Young, Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race). At the heart of The Mountain, by Drusilla Modjeska, is an exploration of hybridity. It is done through the use of a word from Tok Pidgin, that of hapkas. Here is a great piece of dialogue from the book:

“Hapkas. It’s a great word. My kids use it all the time. They call themselves hapkas. I’m from the Sepik, their mother’s from Milne Bay. It’s a point of pride. Makes them interesting … Haven’t you heard of hybridity.” (The Mountain, 278).

So in contemporary PNG, rather than either-or constructs, hybridity is nurtured. The interplay between identity, being indigenous and hybridity is also the heart of author Modjeska’s struggle. Can she, from another place, write about PNG? Or can only indigenous people write about PNG? But then what is indigenous? Is one indigenous by blood, birth, or social construct? If social construct, who has defined it? Most likely the coloniser; as a term to construct people who are ‘other.’ And in so doing the term indigenous homogenises. Perhaps not in countries with one indigenous culture (although even in those countries there seems to be tribal identities that suggest distinctives). But applied to countries with diverse cultures, it becomes a piece of linguistic trickery that is difficult to sustain. How can a person from Milne Bay, one of the 800 plus languages, write a PNG perspective that speaks for all those 800 languages? They can’t, yet the category of “indigenous” as applied to a nation, of PNG, suggests this is possible. We need ways to escape binary worlds and to name the fluid patterns of migration and cultural exchange which have always categorised human identity. This is what make notions of hybridity so generative.

Posted by steve at 12:44 PM

Thursday, October 27, 2016

U2 Praying after paris: a research query

In a couple of weeks I am co-presenting a plenary session at Practising hope: gathered and scattered, a day resourcing ministers prior to the Presbyterian General Assembly. The advertising blurb is as follows:

9:15 am Plenary: Hope gathered. How do churches respond to hard stuff? How did PCANZ churches worship and pray as they gathered on Sunday, November 15, 2015 in light of major international events? Steve and Lynne Taylor will present findings from their research into 160 churches, to explore how churches respond in gathered worship to hard stuff. What was practiced? How was hope understood? What theologies of God in suffering were at work? What does this say about being church in the world today?

It is one thing to agree to speak. It is quite another to find something coherent, interesting, deep and engaging. I’ve been quietly mulling away, working on the data, which is SO interesting. But it also slips and slides in SO many directions. Where in all this is the creative points of connection that might open up the conversation.

At the same time, I’ve also been working on a writing deadline – a chapter on live performances of U2’s “Mysterious Ways.”

Today it clicked. Two separate conversations suddenly began talking to each other. How did churches pray after Paris? Well, I wonder how U2 “prayed after Paris”? The band after all were due to play in Paris November 15, 2015. The concert was postponed. When they returned The New York Times wrote: “The Paris show that concluded U2’s Innocence and Experience tour was concert as personal memoir, archetypal story, prayer, exorcism and vow of unity.” Hmmm. Prayer!

How did they pray, live, publicly, in the midst of so much pain?

I wonder what happens when the prayer life of U2 after Paris is put alongside the prayer life of churches?

I have had, after all, work published on U2 and lament, looking at how they prayed publicly after the Pike River Mining Tragedy in New Zealand (Boase, E.C. and Taylor, S. (2013). Public Lament. In MJ Bier and T Bulkeley, ed. Spiritual Complaint: The Theology and Practice of Lament. Eugene, USA: Pickwick Publishers, pp. 205-227).

I have also had work published on how U2 memorialise the dead (Taylor, S. (2015). Transmitting Memories: U2′s Rituals for Creating Communal History. In Scott Calhoun, ed. U2 Above, Across, and Beyond: Interdisciplinary Assessments, Lanham, Maryland, USA: Lexington Books, pp. 105-121.) In other words, I’ve already done some reading and thinking.

And so, for the sake of research, in the name of resourcing ministers, another purchase is made: iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Live In Paris

Posted by steve at 06:42 PM

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The potential of micro-ecclesiologies: Or Who else, beside historians, should visit archives?

I delivered the Presbyterian Research Centre Network winter lecture tonight. It was my 4th talk, on my 4th different topic, in my 4th city, in the last 8 days. Tonight was a chance to try out something I’ve been thinking about for a while, to run a “research query” on the possibilities of what I defined as “micro-ecclesiologies” for practical theology.


Here’s my conclusion

In the first half of this talk, I embarked on an “inquisitive and chaotic … [journey] guided by … curiousity.” (quoting Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading). I described visits to the Presbyterian Research Centre, Alexander Turnbull, Hocken and Auckland Research Centre. I described their taonga – the richness possible from lectures on explosions, Parihaka ploughs and historic photos – and the value for childrens’ workers, Biblical scholars, those interested in indigenous use of Scripture, peace activists and those desiring to locate any local church within an ecology.

In the second half of the paper, I defined and described micro-histories. I coined a term which I think is unique – micro-ecclesiologies – and then examined it in light of the Creedal affirmation of the church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic. I argued that “micro-ecclesiologies” allow us to understand the church as particular (one), participating in God’s life of justice (holy), partnering (catholic) and pioneering (apostolic) – 4 P’s in a Presbyterian context, complete with engagement with the theology of the Presbyterian Book of Order.

In other words, while there is a physical, there need be no intellectual gap between KMCL (or the Department of Theology) and Presbyterian Research Archives. Such are the partnerships offered through the study of micro-ecclesiologies.

I really appreciated the opportunity. It was great to hole up in the library this morning and have a few hours of solitude to pursue a “research query” and see where it went.

Definition of query: A query is an inquiry into the database … [It] is used to extract data from the database in a readable format according to the user’s request. (Definition from here).

booksresearch Some of the books I had not picked up for quite a few years – Miroslav Volf After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity since my PhD; Graham Ward Cultural Transformation and Religious Practice since 2007 – and it felt like I was meeting old friends again. It was wonderful to then be able to test the “research query” with a group of thinking people at the lecture and sense the energy in the room. The result is a 5,100 word paper, pulled together yesterday afternoon and this morning, half of which is new words, taking forward some thinking I’ve wanted to do in relation to practical theology and ecclesiology and ethnography. It could well be either a journal article or the draft of a methodology section for a book project. We will see. For today, it was simply wonderful to be able to think, with friends both old (the books) and new (the Presbyterian Research Network).

Posted by steve at 08:08 PM

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Why bother with historical research in practical ministry and theology?

I’m delivering the NZ PRESBYTERIAN RESEARCH NETWORK Winter Lecture Thursday, 16 June 2016

Why bother with historical research in practical ministry and theology?

Who else, beside historians, should visit archives? In the first part of this talk Steve Taylor will share some examples of how he has used archives in indigenous study, children’s talks, practical theology and missiology. The logic behind Parihaka ploughs, explosive lectures, building plans for A-frame churches and archival accounts of hitching lifts on passing boats demonstrate the value of archival research across a wide variety of ministerial and scholarly disciplines.


The second part of the talk will offer a frame by which to integrate these disparate archival examples into being church today. Micro-histories draw on a range of diverse research tools, including observation, interview, survey and archival research, to provide insight. What then, are the possibilities and limits when archives are understand as resourcing and illuminating micro-ecclesiologies? How might micro-ecclesiologies as a “theology of the unique” enrich the church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic?

Winter Lecture, Thursday, 16 June 2016
5.30 to 6.45pm, Knox Centre

Posted by steve at 03:46 PM