Monday, April 29, 2013

Head and heart: a U2 conference review

I will remember this U2 conference for the way it brought together both head and heart.

It began for me with Natalie Baker’s fan film and the stories from fans of how U2′s music helped them avoid suicide and assist their healing from childhood sex abuse. Suddenly U2 was more than entertainment and the conference more than academic. It was inviting us into deep places.

It quickly went deeper, with Bill Carter sharing about his engagement with U2 in the Zooropa tour. His stories, of persuading Serbians to drive past sniper alley in order to share, via ZooTv, their story of living through the bombing of their city, took us even deeper, into the humanity that can emerge amongst inhumanity.

Finally, the presentation by Steve Averill was a further reminder that music is so much more than music. His sharing about the development of U2′s albums documented the visual and tactile side of music – the album and CD cover, the merchandising. It was a reminder that music is about communication, the colours and photos carefully selected to try and capture the essence of the music.

There were more many other highlights but for me, I will remember the head and heart being invited to be whole bodied.

Perhaps it was the jet lag. Flying overseas is always a disorientating experience, so perhaps the way my body responded was to seek another heartbeat.

Perhaps it was the venue, more compact, which encouraged more interaction and engagement.

But I suspect there was more going on, an important corrective for the work “academic”, which can easily hide behind footnote and theory, and in doing, so walk past the beating heart and whole body.

Thanks to all those who made the head and heart possible, especially the Calhoun’s.

For those interested, a brief summary of my contribution to the conference is here. And here is my review of the first, 2009, U2 conference.

Posted by steve at 07:53 AM | Comments (0)

Monday, April 22, 2013

In sure and certain hope

Andrew Dutney, President of the Uniting Church, dropped in on my Sustainability and the mission of God presentation at the Australian Association of Mission Studies (Adelaide chapter) today, when I presented some of my findings from research into UK fresh expressions ten years on.

Andrew offers a fascinating followup reflection, pondering further some of my ruminations around the implications for a church that seeks to live in response to an Easter story of death and resurrection.

One of the interesting things [Steve] found is that there’s about a 50% attrition rate in the Fresh Expressions he’s followed over the last decade. He checked this against other writers’ lists of innovative faith communities like that and found a similar “death” rate.

But he also found significant signs of new life – resurrection even – associated with those short-lived churches. Individual participants report being transformed by the experience and prepared to offer significant leadership in mission after the demise of the Fresh Expression they were part of. Other faith communities – both established congregations and other Fresh Expressions have learned from the experience and example of the community that has wound up. And many of those communities have left behind “products” generated in their years of vitality – art, liturgical resources, training modules etc.

So, Steve told us, that 50% attrition rate doesn’t mean that half of the Fresh Expressions initiated weren’t worth the effort. Not at all. They are integral to the dynamic of the church’s discernment of and participation in the life of the Holy Spirit in the world. They too embody the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic movement.

You’d think a movement oriented around the death and resurrection of Jesus would get that intuitively.

Andrew then moves from fresh expressions to ponder the implications for inherited expressions, particularly churches facing death. It’s really interesting. More here

Posted by steve at 11:44 PM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

talking sustainability and mission

A cancelled appointment, combined with a decision to start early, has meant a valuable few hours in a cafe working on my

Sustainability and the mission of God: a case study of fresh (and failed) expression

presentation for the upcoming South Australian Mission Studies Network Gathering.

It’s a chance for me to present some of my sabbatical data, to be accountable for the gift of time I get given, plus an ongoing chance to process the resultant book project. Today involved trying to extract some clarity from what is currently 32,000 words, spread across 11 chapters.

Here are the six headings/highlights which I hope to address.

1. Defining mission and fresh expressions

2. Describing fresh expressions today
Hearing from the House of Lords. Seeing the impact of fresh expressions in three Dioceses

3. Discerning Rowan’s theo-ecclesio-missi-ology
The impact of Rowan Williams doing theology, being church, practising leadership on the evolution of fresh expressions and the development of Fresh Expressions.

4. Tracing Fresh Expressions
Eleven key leadership strengths supplied by one Bishop, one Archbishop, one funding body, one book, one DVD. Note – eleven, but not twelve!

5. Learning Ten years on
The stories of ten new forms of community and the four ecclesial layers that emerge when fresh becomes failed, yet failed becomes fresh

6. Four insights for sustainability and mission

  • the power of top down and bottom up
  • the place of the whole body in mission
  • the potential of buildings when mission trumps worship
  • sustainability in a divine economy

The event is open to all mission-minded individuals, including scholars, reflective practitioners and teachers.

Monday 22nd April @ 12.30 pm (until 2:00 pm) in S1, Adelaide College of Divinity, 34 Lipsett Terrace, Brooklyn Park, SA. BYO Lunch but Tea and Coffee provided. To RSVP by Friday 19th April or want further information, then contact David Turnbull on 8373 8775 or dturnbull at adelaide dot tabor dot edu dot au

Posted by steve at 11:29 AM | Comments (2)

Monday, April 08, 2013

-Beautiful day. Don’t let it get away

Today is my last day of sabbatical. After six months, spread over two blocks, one April-June 2012, another January-April 2013, like all good things, it comes to an end.

I will spend it preparing for a presentation at a national conference, writing my sabbatical report as an accountability for my Board and summarising my two book projects for a different style of writing. Not the “whole day in a whole week” approach, but the “early start in a cafe for a few hours twice a week” approach.

It is a beautiful day. I must be careful not to “let it get away,” eroded with too much nostalgia.

Update: It was a very profitable day. I prepared a paper, for a talk I am to deliver at a national conference on Wednesday. I prepared it with an eye to journal publication, in a particular journal. Ended up with 3,000 word complete draft.

Posted by steve at 11:10 AM | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Studies in Ecclesiology and Ethnography series: a “down under” perspective

Today I took a break from the Sustainability in fresh expressions book project. I’ve written about 26,000 words, plus transcribed 10 hour long interviews in the last month, and I’m a bit knackered. Lacking sustainability! Plus there were a number of pressing tasks on my academic “must-do” list.

It was good, in the midst of a major book writing project, to pause and actually get something done. For those interested here is my conference paper abstract for the Christians in Communities – Christians as Communities conference (more…)

Posted by steve at 06:10 PM | Comments (0)

Friday, March 22, 2013

when it’s broke, there are ways, not to fix it, but to refound it

This has been part of my world this week – Methodist history.

With the guidance of President Andrew Dutney, I’ve been reading about John Wesley (and trying to avoid the interesting diversions like Moravian financial collapses and the resultant impact on mission). I’ve been following a research hunch and testing a research theory. Gerard Arbuckle, From Chaos to Mission: Refounding Religious Life Formation talks about the difference between renewal and refounding. Renewal modifies old methods. Refounding goes back to first principles and allows them to become imaginative resources in the radical rethinking of the way we do things.

Arbuckle thus encourages a focus on the stories, the fundamental questions and the founding vision of the group. Hence my research. If Fresh expressions is about mission what are the mission stories that lie in British soil? How might they be re-found? I’ve been looking at three areas, with Methodism being one. Hence the pile of books.

Take one example: a founding story

“The Wesley emphasis on mission as determining order.” (Rack, The Future of John Wesley’s Methodism)

So the refounding story:

“To determine its shape and structure the future Church may have to return to Wesley’s insight – that such matters be decided by mission.” (Rack, The Future of John Wesley’s Methodism.)

(For another, and very contemporary example, I think this is a superb example of refounding, Andrew Dutney returning to the Basis of Union,)

Posted by steve at 02:23 PM | Comments (5)

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Dragons’ Den: Ecclesial

This is some of what I wrote today, part of an introductory chapter in Biography of an innovation [working title] project.

In sum, this book is about the sustainability of fresh expressions. What lessons are emerging, from expressions that survive and from those no longer present? How helpful are the support structures, of denominations and from Colleges? What insights might emerge as wider, sociological shifts are considered?

These are not asked as pragmatic questions. I write not as an investor in some Ecclesial Dragons’ Den, tossing up whether to invest the money of a previous generation in either a new monastic dream or suburban youth plant, expecting a return calculable in a Diocesan head count

I write because this is personal …

and so I shift into practical theology, the place of personal narrative, in theological reflection.

Posted by steve at 05:55 PM | Comments (0)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Celtic cross hugger

I hugged a Celtic cross a few weeks. Visiting Leeds, driving through snow, parking outside Leeds Minister, I stepped inside to find this ancient Celtic cross, placed in the middle of the sanctuary. It was found in the city walls and is now placed in the church. Gorgeous isn’t it.

On the way out I couldn’t resist any longer and gave the cross a big hug. I’m a bit of a tree hugger, and find enormous strength from giving a tree a great big hug. But I’ve never hugged a cross before. Which seems a strange thing for a Christian to say doesn’t it!

Here the cross has been especially lit, as part of the worship that Sue Wallace offers at Leeds Minister. Sue is part of a group that offers alternative worship experiences that mix ancient and modern. In a worship service like Transcendence, they take very traditional words (Common Worship Order 1), use robes, offer incense and chant latin, yet mixed with ambient dance backgrounds, projected moving digital images and prayer stations around the building. It’s a wonderful mix of ancient and future.

It is a much more traditional service than anything I would have imagined doing ten years ago, and yet somehow, because it is reinterpreted within a multimedia framework, it really works! I think it is because the familiarity of the traditional Mass structure enables people to cope when something unusual and creative happens. We have also found that some spiritual seekers are put off when everything is very new – when it isn’t how they imagine church to be. (“Alternative Worship and the Story of Visions in York,” in Ancient Faith, Future Mission: Fresh Expressions in the Sacramental Tradition, 14)

I interviewed Sue as the snow fell. We talked about her journey in ministry, her learnings over the years, what made Visions one of the longest lasting and creative alternative worship groups in the UK, her understanding of liturgy and how mission is experienced as spiritual seekers connect with art, music and history.

It was a rich conversation that jumped out of so many of the boxes and stereotypes of fresh expressions and missional church. It is a conversation I’m looking forward to transcribing and analysing this week. And then, once transcribed, placing it alongside the insightful ethnographic study of Visions by Matthew Guest, Evangelical Identity and Contemporary Culture: A Congregational Study in Innovation (Studies in Evangelical History and Thought).

Posted by steve at 07:36 AM | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

changing sabbatical gear

The last few days have been a delightful change of gear after an intense sabbatical period. Shannon arrived back from Germany on Friday and we’ve had a wonderful time catching up and being tourist. London called over the weekend – Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Harrods, Globe Theatre, Sung Eucharist at St Pauls, British Library, Sherlock Holmes Museum.

Monday included the Bate Music Museum, playing the oldest known English oboe and farewell cups of tea with folk who’ve helped make our time so much richer relationally.

Today we fly home. It’s been just over two months since Team Taylor left Australia for English shores. Workwise I have

  • completed a 5,000 word book proposal and lodged it with an editorial board
  • written about 25,000 further words on various chapters of that proposal -
  • interviewed 20 folk around England and Scotland as part of the Fresh Expressions ten years old project. That has involved nine separate trips, from Bristol to Aberdeen to Cambridge to London
  • done some profitable networking – enjoyed good pub time with Pete Ward, postgraduate practical theology at Aberdeen University, led Pocket Lamp worship at mission shaped ministry Board meeting, spent time with pioneers at Church Missionary Society and Ridley College

Personally, spiritually I’ve had a wonderful break. I’ve been blessed by some wonderful art in Europe, London and Glasgow (read back through the blog over the last few months). I woke up in Paris and realised I’d forgotten I was a Principal. A good thing! I’ve enjoyed compline prayer at Ripon College, although still can’t get my head around the practice of plain song when only a handful of folk are present.

When I get back, I enter my last phase of sabbatical – 6 weeks of intensive writing. It’s time to complete something!! I feel like I’m well positioned to do that. I’ve incubated, researched, data analysed and read enough that I’ve now got two books inside me and it’s time for the waters to break!

Posted by steve at 02:35 AM | Comments (5)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

my tears at St Pauls

I shed tears at St Paul’s on Sunday. It was the 11:30 am Sung Eucharist. I don’t normally cry but as I stood in the line, waiting for that small white round disc to be pressed into my hands, I felt this surge of emotion.

I’m still trying to work out why.

It’s not that tears need a reason. They’re a feeling that can just be felt.

But our feelings are often a way of knowing more clearly who we are, so I’ve been pondering the tears that rolled down my cheek.

I think it was the sheer, outrageous gift that I found myself part of.

St Paul’s is a tribute to excess – the ornate ceilings, the expanse that must cost a fortune to heat, the staff that cope with thousands of tourists. All of this is sheer economic loss, an enormous burden for church and nation.

Yet it was all free. Which is not a common experience being a tourist in London.

And done with such grace and ease. The church had supplied more ministers around the communion table than I had fingers to receive that dry little wafer. The invitation was for any and all, with faith and no faith, to participate as much or as little as comfortable. All around me were strangers, some fumbling orders of service, others wondering when to bow and bob. All relaxing into the ease of grace. All without any dilution of the Christian narrative. Grace – free gift – in the shape of confession, Scripture, sermon, creed, communion.

A sheer outrageous gift, which made perfect sense of that little white disc that was about to be pressed into my hand. I think that’s why the tears rolled down by cheeks at St Paul’s on Sunday.

Posted by steve at 10:16 AM | Comments (3)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

the ending of innovation: last fresh expressions interview

Today marks the last interview of the UK alt.worship research phase. It will be interview number 20. The interviews can be grouped in three categories.

Innovation in groups (alt.worship groups ten years on). The selection is not random but simply based on groups that I interviewed back in 2001 as part of my PhD research. They thus provide a window into sustainability.

  • Host
  • Sanctuary
  • Bigger Picture
  • Foundations (Resonance)
  • Moot (Epicentre)
  • Grace
  • Club culture Project
  • Visions (Transcendence)

Innovation in denominations as Fresh Expressions. During the ten years, a key change in the UK landscape has been the advent of Fresh Expressions. It has introduced new words, including pioneer, mixed economy, Bishops Mission Orders. These interviews analyse the environment in which the innovation occurred and explore the leadership practices and insights that lay behind the change.

  • Dr Rowan Williams
  • Bishop Steve Croft
  • Bishop Stephen Cottrell (today, last one)
  • Andrew Roberts

Innovation in training. Intrinsic to the formation of new communities is leadership. These interviews analyse the changes that have, and have not occurred, in recognised training systems, in light of the Fresh Expressions initiative.

  • Trinity College
  • Ridley Pioneer training
  • CMS Pioneer Training
  • St Mellitus
  • John and Olive Drane

Together, these interviews provide a variety of perspectives on mission, leadership and change in the church in the United Kingdom. In cafes, Colleges and churches, bishops courts and Master lodges, I have been gifted some wonderful honesty and insight.

I’m still pondering a frame by which to analyse the data. My instinct is to turn to mission, and especially mission history. This could involve placing Fresh Expressions alongside other mission initiatives in history. Three possibilities spring to mind – the Celtic mission from Ireland to England; the modern mission movement through the voluntary organisations that began with William Carey and the birth of Methodist, which served as a renewal movement in denominational structures.

Posted by steve at 09:29 PM | Comments (10)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

the fragility of creativity

On Sunday, on the way from Oxford to Gatwick to Aberdeen, I took some time to enjoy the British Museum, including Room 95, Chinese Ceramics. An entire room, shelf after shelf, wall after wall, of Chinese pottery. An extraordinary range of colours and shapes, tracing changes in style over the centuries.

Chinese ceramics are the most advanced in the world and a recurring word was innovation, the ability to keep refining, adapting, improvising over time.

It was beautiful.

Yet fragile.

Perhaps the two go hand in hand.

Can you have innovation and creativity without fragility? How does it change things if we see our fresh expressions and pioneer leaders as ceramic? Creative and fragile.

And the irony, that at some point creativity needs to be set – fired, painted, presented. You can’t keep deconstructing, playing. Both pottery wheel and kiln are places of creativity. At some point you need to stop. Interesting.

Posted by steve at 11:07 PM | Comments (0)

Home 11 years ago

This was home 11 and a half years ago. For three months we lived here. Being in Aberdeen today brought back lots of really, really good memories. I was working on my Phd, we were planting Graceway in Auckland, the kids had not yet started school.

From here we welcomed our parents, we visited Ireland, we explored Aberdeen and parts of the UK, we visited lots of UK alt.worship groups. Our youngest learnt to walk in this three month period. The Kiwi dollar was at an all time low against the pound and we ate lots of 9 pence tins of tomatoes from Lidl supermarket.

It’s a strange, yet rich blessing, to revisit a place that was home on the other side of a world.

Posted by steve at 05:59 AM | Comments (1)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Aberdeen practical theology

I’m flying up to Aberdeen today. It will be nice to be back, after being based there for three months in 2001, in my last UK sabbatical, working on my PhD. It’s only a flying visit.

I am presenting at a Research seminar on Practical Theology on Monday. I will use the opportunity to explore some of an initial chapter I am writing, introducing practical theology, linking it with ecclesiology and ethnography and outlining how I proceed in my study of emerging churches. I sort of like the mix involved when last week I am leading worship with pioneer leaders and with the mission shaped ministry board, and this week presenting at post-graduate seminars.

Last time I presented in Aberdeen (2003) the result was a journal article – “Doing practical research downunder: a methodological reflection on recent trends in Aberdonian practical theology,” Contact 142, 1 (2003): 2-21. I doubt that will happen again, but who knows.

I said yes because presenting ideas to post-graduate students is a great way to test them. In this case I want to try out a few ideas, including the Mary and Elizabeth story in Luke 1 as a way to appreciate the doing of practical theology, in particular as a study of embodiment. This includes two art works – The Visitation by Rogier Van Der Weyden and The Visitation Icon. I also want to outline the place of anecdote and story in constructing our ecclesiologies and get some feedback.

I tend to find that talking my ideas out, both in presentation and during question and answer, is a very helpful experience – part of my aural learning preference! Plus catching up with John Swinton and doing an interview with Paul Thomson, who pioneered the Club Culture Project in Edinburgh back in the day!

Posted by steve at 06:40 PM | Comments (0)