Friday, October 16, 2020

listening in mission

Leaving a role involves a stream of letting go’s. Yesterday was a letting go of Listening in Mission.

When I arrived at KCML in 2015, the hope was, in the words of the Council of Assembly Convenor, that my passion for contemporary mission and leadership would equip church leaders for today’s world.

With these words of invitation ringing in my ears, Mark Johnston and I looked together afresh at the existing Mission Course offered at KCML. We decided to experiment with our shared passion for contemporary mission and leadership in three ways.

  • first, given our location in the Presbyterian Church, we redesigned the course around the 5 faces of mission
  • second, we redesigned the assessment, increasing the focus on equipping leaders in the practice of mission. This involved a paired assignment, one in year 1, another in year 2, in which our interns formed small groups in their local churches to listen, discern and act in mission.
  • third, we wrapped tutorial support around the assignment. We wanted to provide just-in-time learning, walking alongside interns as they sought to lead in mission. This required us to decrease lecture content. It also required the development of online learning. KCML had no video-conferencing capacity or learning management capacity, so I had to do some self-learning, finding suitable learning platforms (the most recent prior learning technology improvement at KCML had been a binding machine to spiral bind printed notes!).

As a result, I found myself leading the Year 1 interns in Listening in Mission. Over four online learning sessions, I modelled missional spiritual practices and supported interns as they gathered a small group in their local context, to enact the same 4 learning sessions locally, teaching missional spiritual practices to listen, discern and act in their local context.

After a few years, Mark and I realised we might have stumbled upon a stand-alone, online professional learning option. We had ministers noting to us that KCML interns were learning new things about mission. So why not offer the assignment, the written resources and the cohort experience to ministers? Using the online technologies, they could be supported by KCML in listening, discerning and acting in their local context. They could learn with us and from each other, across different Presbyteries.

The result has been three consecutive years of Listening in Mission as life-long learning, advertised through Presbyteries, the PCANZ facebook and at the Connect conferences.

listeninginmission

I’ve even made little video’s to try and spread the word.

listening in mission from steve taylor on Vimeo.

So yesterday’s last Listening in Mission class online was a letting go. There was a wondering (with anxiety), about the future of my gifts in teaching, along with Listening in Mission at KCML. A sense of grief, because I’ve loved this part of the role, being able to engage local contexts. A sense of joy and privilege at what has happened, the resources developed, the insights gained.

In some ways, it was a simple innovation, offering a defined piece of learning online. And the numbers add up

  • 8 – the number of online Listening in Mission cohorts I have taught in the last 5 years (5 cohorts of year 1 interns, 3 cohorts of ministers and church leaders)
  • 50 – the number of leaders, formed around mission practices (30 interns and 20 ministers/church leaders)
  • 300 – the total number of participants, given that each of the 50 leaders was required to gather a small group of 4-6.
  • 50 – the number of churches invited into mission experimentation, supported by KCML to learn locally in mission.

As the Council of Assembly Convenor noted – contemporary mission equipping church leaders for today’s world indeed!

As part of our ongoing action-reflection and leaving a record, we at KCML have written about Listening in Mission as one of our innovations in a number of places.

  • Mark Johnston, “Trusting the missio Dei in the midst of mission innovation education,” ANVIL 36, (2)
  • Steve Taylor and Rosemary Dewerse, “Unbounding learning communities: Ako-empowered research in life-long ministerial formation,” Practical Theology 13 (4), 2020, 400-412. Doi.org/10.1080/1756073X.2020.1787005.
  • Steve Taylor and Mark Johnston,“The missio Dei embodied in local community ministry in Scotland,” Ecclesial Futures 2020, 1 (2) (accepted for publication).
Posted by steve at 04:05 PM

Friday, August 14, 2020

Bubble course participant survey

“80% of respondents indicated they had made changes, with many expressing confidence to try new things, particularly online.”

During Level 3 in Aotearoa, KCML offered Bubble courses to provide input for leaders, elders, ministers and whole people of God. They were offered as timely, conversational, engaging, thought-provoking. Their usefulness was affirmed with a request to offer one particular Bubble course – Building Community and Increasing Participation Online to church leaders in Australia.

Bubble Courses2

As part of action-reflection Bubble course participants were invited to provide feedback. While there are many ways to gain feedback, for example analysing chat interactions), as survey provides an opportunity for more considered evaluation.

11 questions were asked,
• Which Bubble course did you do? (tick box 3 options)
• How did you hear about the Bubble courses?
• Demographics – Role in church
• What about the Bubble Course you attended would you like to affirm?
• What about the Bubble Course you attended would you like to see improved?
• What about doing a Bubble course online enhanced your learning?
• What about doing a Bubble course online diminished your learning?
• Have you done anything differently as a result? (if yes, what)
• Are there any special thanks you would like to share (anonymously)?
• Would you be interested in another Bubble topic at another time?
• What future topics would interest you?

Here is a summary, which I provided a few weeks ago to one of our governance groups and publicly to the church last week on the KCML website:

Executive summary

KCML ran 6 Bubble courses during lockdown, covering preaching, change, and building an online community. Each course attracted between 30 to 45 participants. Of the potential 90 participants, 20 responded to a request for feedback. These were de-identified, collated, and organised thematically. What follows is a summary of over 4 pages of comments.

Those who provided feedback occupied a range of leadership roles, primarily ordained but including paid workers and laypeople. The average age of those who responded was 59 years old. Some 75% were women. The best mode of advertising was through Presbytery mailouts, with KCML channels (apart from the Principal’s personal Facebook) having no impact.

The courses were overwhelming received as positive. They were experienced as significant in decreasing isolation and providing a strong sense of connectivity and inclusion. Specific comments noted the sense of being valued and being able to learn alongside other recognised leaders in the church.

The courses were experienced as professional and of high quality. Particular strengths of the Bubble courses appreciated by participants included the fact that KCML had a go in the first place, the interactive nature of the courses and the quality of the resourcing. Some spoke of being willing to pay.

Within a week of completion of the Bubble courses, 80% of respondents indicated they had made changes, with many expressing confidence to try new things, particularly online. There is a sense that as they saw risk-taking in the offering of the Bubble courses, they felt empowered to take risks. This encouragement to take risks is worth further reflection in terms of how leadership is experienced within church organisations.

The main suggestions from respondents for improvement included requests for longer sessions. More time would allow for more interaction and reflection. The breakout room experience was variable. Some found them very helpful, others not. It was clear that good moderation would be beneficial, for example through appointing a “moderator”.

There was overwhelming (100%) support for more Bubble Courses. While this is only from those who responded (20 of the 90), it is still very encouraging. The reasons for wanting more Bubble Courses included the valuing of accessibility, along with the positive experiences of being individually resourced and being more connected to the wider church. The most requested topics include pastoral care, public theology, mission and innovation, worship and mental health.

Posted by steve at 03:07 PM

Friday, July 31, 2020

playing with faith formation with Port Phillip East Presbytery

Screen Shot 2020-07-30 at 9.18.23 PM

I was hosted “online” by the Port Phillip East Presbytery today, talking about
…. connection, interaction, contemplation, and engaging spiritual practices beyond Sunday worship.
… what leaders are trying and discovering about ways to form disciples in a dispersed community
… ministry as play, about creativity and risk and about how the Spirit takes us in new directions.

It is one of the extraordinary gifts of this time of “distancing”, that while it locks us down, it also opens us up. And so I get to “speak” in Melbourne without leaving my home, and to engage with some wonderful colleagues I used to minister with in Australia. The video is on the Port Phillip Presbytery East facebook site.

Screen Shot 2020-07-31 at 6.51.39 PM

It was interesting using two online platforms, Zoom to host a conversation and show the visuals and Facebook live to stream the conversation and enable access and comments. There was a bit of “breathe” holding and risk-taking as we experimented with an online lectio – reading, silence, participation through chat – but it seemed to engage participants. Certainly with 165 comments on the Facebook live feed during the 90 minutes, their was plenty of good interaction with the content.

The time broke into 5 sections

  1. what faith formation and faith practices (or spiritual or discipleship practices) mean
  2. what theological resources shape faith formation and faith practices
  3. how people have been experimenting with online faith formation in recent weeks
  4. the underlying pedagogies that shape my online teaching and learning and recent experimenting
  5. my use of improvisation, play and experimentation in relation to mission and leadership. Why is important to play during a pandemic? Is this normal or abnormal for the church?

I sought to offer theology, reflection and practical examples. Much of my thinking is in a chapter I have submitted for an edited book with Heidi Campbell, which is currently sitting with a publisher. My chapter is titled Lockdown ecclesiologies: the limits and possibilities of enforced online first expressions. I argue that enforced online first expressions are an invitation to appreciate ourselves as child-like, making visible the kingdom as we learn a new (internet) language.

The books I mentioned in order of appearance:

Avis, Paul. (2005). A Ministry Shaped by Mission. T & T Clark, 2005,
Rogers, E. (2009). The Holy Spirit: Classic and Contemporary Readings, Wiley-Blackwell
McCulloch, G. (2019). Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, Vintage
Taylor, S. (2005). The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change, Zondervan.
Taylor, S. (2016). Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration, Mediacom.
Taylor, S. (2019). First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God, SCM
Taylor, S. (2020). communities of practice as action-reflection tools.
Smart, J. (2020, April 28). Survey report: online facilitation and virtual meetings.

Books unmentioned but important for my thinking:
Gauntlett, D. (2018). Making is Connecting: The social power of creativity, from craft and knitting to digital everything (2nd edn.), Polity
Matapo, J. (2020). The vā that binds: a Pasifika education story during Covid-19
McNeil, J. (2020). Lurking: How a Person Became a User, MCD, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

My thanks to Craig Mitchell for the invite, Port Phillip East Presbytery for the hosting and Duncan Macleod for the technology and conversation on the day.

Posted by steve at 07:10 PM

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Building community and increasing participation online: international

I taught in Western Australia on Tuesday without leaving my home in Ōtepoti (Dunedin), New Zealand. What would be a 12 hour trip – one way – took about 1 second. Such is the power of online technology.

A few weeks ago, as part of my role with the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, I offered online a short evening course – Building community and increasing participation online. Given the way that COVID was forcing so much of life online – with churches unable to meet and work from home being enforced – I sort to resource church leaders.

I’ve been working in the online space in a whole variety of ways for decades – building my own website back last century, blogging since 2002, having a social media presence (twitter since 2008), encouraging theological colleagues online while Principal at Uniting College, making short educative video since 2011, developing the learning management system while Principal at KCML. So a short course on Building community and increasing participation online, as part of the recent KCML Bubble courses, made sense.

The Building community and increasing participation online short course began with theology. What type of images of God might help us understand being online? I then offered some recent research into use of social media. Who are humans in online spaces? I then offered some practical resources to enhance wellbeing and engagement. This included case studies, reflection on experience and examples of different uses of technology platforms.

The course was focused on Presbyterians in New Zealand and gained excellent feedback. However, because it was online, it also gained international participation. One was a Presbytery minister from Western Australia. Who afterward mentioned the value of Building community and increasing participation online to their team.

Why not do it again for them? Online, this is possible internationally even with lockdown.

international

So on Tuesday, I taught 15 church leaders in Western Australia without leaving my home! Again, I worked alongside co-host Tash McGill. This is an intentional part of the design, an essential way of building community online. As part of the short course, Tash explained the role of co-host and talked about the range of ways to educate online. This began a practical exercise, as the church leaders were invited to design their own “short course” to suit their online context. Practical and participatory.

If it can be done once, in New Zealand and twice, in Australia, it can be done anywhere. So, if you want 2 hours of theology, research and practical resourcing, that is interactive, timely and engaging, drop me a line – steve at emergentkiwi dot org dot nz

Posted by steve at 09:00 PM

Friday, May 08, 2020

Building community and increasing participation online

During lockdown, in order to resource the wider church, I’ve found myself offering two evenings of online input on building community and increasing participation online. It is part of Bubble courses – a KCML experiment – in which we are seeking to offer some timely, conversational, thought provoking. Given the move to online that much of humanity is being forced into, I chose to focus on building community and increasing participation online.

This is a good idea in theory.

Bubble Courses2

But in practice it means I have to practice what I preach! I have to model building community and increasing participation online.

Break out rooms are an easy option. They allow processing but don’t give me as a facilitator much idea of what is happening. In addition, meeting strangers is always a bit awkward, particularly online.

For the first week, I wanted to gain a much more direct read of the group. I decided to do this through the use of chat and polls. I carefully crafted questions and then gave short periods of silence and encouraged the intentional use of Zoom chat function to record responses. I also offered an online poll at the start, to gain feedback which was woven in at a three different points during the 60-minute session, to generate comparison and discussion.

This is all greatly helped by teaching with a co-host – meaning together there are two sets of eyes reading every comment, troubleshooting as possible, giving each other time to think, providing different standpoints from which to respond.

The next day, I did some analysis of the chat comments. There were 148 distinct comments in chat, an average of one every 25 seconds over the 60 minutes. 31 different folk provided chat comments. Given that 43 people turned up on Zoom, this meant that 73% of folk had participated through chat. Of that 73 %, the gender balance was exactly even, with 15 females and 15 males participated (along with one user who was unknown).

It is interesting to ponder what would have happened if I’d run a 60-minute session face to face: would 31 participants have been able to provide direct responses to me over a 60 minute first lecture? I suspect not.

For the second week, with community starting to form with and some shared data (all those lovely 148 comments), it allows us to explore other forms of participation. So yesterday, I emailed participants – to thank them for the engagement and to offer them feedback on some of the comment data. But also to seek their participation in shaping our second week. Again, this involves a simple poll.

polling

Each participant is asked what they want more of – more theology? more research into online spirituality? more practical tips? This data will shape the second week, as together we work to build community and increase participation online.

Posted by steve at 08:55 PM

Monday, October 07, 2019

Listening in Mission key missiology assumptions

listeninginmission2019 I began Listening in Mission 2019 as online continuing education cohort experience a few weeks ago. It’s the 3rd year in a row we as KCML have offered this online educative local mission in neighbourhood experience. In preparing for the opening session (of five), I wanted to articulate some of the missiology that shaped the design of the course. Since we were working with John 21:1-14 in the lectio divina, I turned to that Biblical text as I sketched the key missiological assumptions.

The first assumption is that God is active in the world. This is central to John 21; first in the centrality of the Resurrected Jesus and second in the affirmation that this Jesus “showed himself in this way” (verse 1) by the Sea of Tiberias. Jesus “showed himself” as present and active neither in a building nor in a clearly religious activity, but beside a Lake and in the everyday, working day actions of fishing. Listening in mission assumes that God is active in the everyday working world. This assumption invites us to pay attention to our local communities, to look for Jesus in the ordinary and everyday.

A second assumption is that existing approaches yield little fruit. The disciples have fished all night, but “have no fish.” (21:5). This is the experience of many of our churches. What used to work, the ways we used to gather fish, are not yielding the same results. Our communities are changing. There is nothing wrong with the activity, skill or dedication of the disciples. It is simply that they have no fish.

This results in a third assumption, to be open to surprises from outside ourselves. The invitation from Jesus in verse 6 is to try the other side of the boat. This required the disciples to stop and listen, to attend to a voice from outside their hard-working circle, from a person they did not yet recognise. In Christ, there are new possibilities. These emerge as we pay attention to voices from outside ourselves.

A fourth assumption is that we need the body of Christ. In verse 4 – ‘disciples did not know” and in verse 7, Peter needed John as part of the process of discernment. While we can wonder at why this lack of recognition might be, the text makes clear that the discerning of Jesus was a shared task. This notion of shared discernment is central to being Presbyterian. Aware of our human sinfulness, we enact shared governance. Hence any listening in mission must be communal. We need others to help us looking for Jesus in community.

These 4 assumption
• God is active in the world, so pay attention to local
• Old ways are not working
• Jesus invites to pay attention in new ways
• We need each other
shape the design of Listening in Mission.

Participants are invited to
• gather local because our everyday communities are where God is present
• engage in disciplines of listening, a double listening for God in Scripture and in community
• take time, because new possibilties and new habits are not always immediately obvious
• keep gathering support – both local and in engaging with KCML

____________
For a 90 second video introduction, shot in my friendly local cafe, click here …

listening in mission from steve taylor on Vimeo.

__________

For a musical – pop culture, Kiwi contextual – framing go here

Posted by steve at 08:43 PM

Saturday, August 31, 2019

September 2019 Europe visit

I am England bound today. I had to delay my outside study leave at the start of this year. As a result, I lost two weeks of outside study leave and so my workplace agreed that I take the two lost weeks in September, joined to a UK conference I had already been planning to attend. So my September 2019 plans are as follows:

Friday, 30 August, fly to Auckland and participate in Lighthouse 2019. The Lighthouse is an innovation incubator KCML began in 2016, as a way of trying to encourage discernment in mission and innovation in local community contexts. This year we have 35 people who are in 10 teams, working on a range of community mission projects. I will be providing a welcome and some teaching, alongside the excellent leadership team that has been developing over the last three years.

Leave Auckland, Saturday 31 August to fly to Durham Sunday 1 September. For the week of Monday 2 September to Friday 6 September, I will be a Visiting Lecturer in Practical Theology participating in the Doctor Theology of Ministry Residential School.

Unknown-12

I will be presenting a 90 minute seminar based on my outside study leave research into craftivism, in exchange for library access, accommodation and the excellent company of those in ministry doing a high level of reflection on their practice. It will be an excellent networking opportunity, plus some space to write and offer my research.

Friday, 6th September, I fly to Germany, initially for the weekend to connect with my daughter, followed by a final week of outside study leave, writing. I want to turn the craftivist research into a couple of accessible pieces for Candour and SPANZ.

Friday 13th September, I return to Scotland, for a weekend with the Gay Morley family. I then return to Durham on the Monday, to participate in the Ecclesiology and Ethnography 2019 conference, where I give another paper, also on my craftivism research.

Where #christmasangels tread: Craftivism as a missiology of making

The church is formed by witness. A contemporary ecclesial embodiment of witness is craftivism, which combines craft and activism. One example is the Christmas angels project, in which local churches are encouraged to knit Christmas Angels and yarnbomb their surrounding neighbourhoods. This paper examines this embodiment of craftivism as a fresh expression of mission.

Given that Christmas angels were labelled with a twitter hashtag, technology was utilised to access the tweets as empirical data in order to analyse the experiences of those who received this particular form of Christian witness. Over 1,100 “#christmasangel” tweets were extracted and examined. Geographic mapping suggests that Christmas angels have taken flight over England. Content analysis reveals a dominant theme of a found theology, in which angels are experienced as surprising gift. Consistent with the themes of Advent, this embodiment of craftivism was received with joy, experienced as place-based and understood in the context of love and community connection.

A Christology of making will be developed, reading the layers of participative making in dialogue with David Kelsey’s theological anthropology. The research has relevance, first, exploring the use of twitter in empirical ecclesial research; second, offering a practical theology of making; third, challenging missiology in ‘making’ a domestic turn.

Around this is a number of networking conversations, including with folk involved in Christmas Angels (could we do it in Aotearoa I will be wondering), a colleague to explore doing empirical research on faith-based governance, plus a meeting in Edinburgh with folk from the Church of Scotland, to explore ways we might learn from each other in mission and innovation experiments along with other connections.

I’m grateful for a workplace that provides this type of resourcing opportunity, excited to be presenting some of the work from the first 13 weeks of outside study leave, looking forward to what words might emerge in a different space and thrilled to be seeing my daughter after quite some months apart.

Posted by steve at 02:36 PM

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Dave Dobbyn dropped into class (again) singing Nau Mai Rā (Welcome Home)

Dave Dobbyn dropped into my Listening in Mission class again this week. I am teaching a Listening in Mission (intern) cohort. There are 4 sessions over 2 months:

Mission as gift, call and promise
Being present and listening in neighbourhood/context
Cultivating congregational spaces for conversation and shared practices of missional attentiveness
Discerning and understanding local narratives

These four online Listening in Mission sessions support an action-learning project in which folk gather a group and work with them in listening in their local communities. So the online experience provides support, encouragement and resources. We offer this online support in mission to ordinands training for ministry. We also offer it separately as life-learning for the wider church – a taster Thursday 29 August and first class Thursday 26 September.

listeninginmission2019

Last week, Dave dropped into Mission as gift, call and promise to sing “Waiting for a voice,” from his 2016 Harmony House album. It worked really well – providing a different way of engaging, offering a change of pace.

So Dave dropped in again this week to Being present and listening in neighbourhood/context to sing Welcome Home. First in English, Welcome Home

Second in te reo, Nau Mai Rā (Welcome Home).

It is inspiring to see an older Pakeha man learning a second language. That in itself is an example of listening in mission, stepping as vulnerable into new spaces.

There were also really helpful links to be made from Nau Mai Rā (Welcome Home) as a song to the theme of the class. Reflecting on welcome, as guest and host, the grace of being able to “offer my hand” and how the Jesus story might resource the challenge of “maybe we’ll find a new way.” The ways that the notion of home and hospitality work in different ways

  • to belong – “woman with her hands trembling, and she sings with the mountains memory”
  • to enfold – “see I made a space for you here”
  • to extend – ‘I offer my hand … I bid you welcome”

Now the pressure comes on for the next class. What song from the Dobbyn catalogue might Cultivating congregational spaces for conversation or Discerning and understanding local narratives?

Posted by steve at 06:08 PM

Monday, August 26, 2019

Welcoming Dave Dobbyn to Listening in Mission

Dave Dobbyn, Waiting for a voice, from his 2016 Harmony House album, made it into my Listening in Mission class.

Dave Dobbyn – Waiting for a voice from Sebastian Beyrer on Vimeo.

I was teaching a Listening in Mission (intern) cohort. There are 4 sessions over 2 months:

  • Mission as gift, calling and promise
  • Being present and listening in neighbourhood/context
  • Cultivating congregational spaces for conversation and shared practices of missional attentiveness
  • Discerning and understanding local narratives

The four online Listening in Mission sessions support an action-learning project in which folk gather a group and work with them in listening in their local communities. So the online experience provides support, encouragement and resources. We offer this online support in mission to ordinands training for ministry. We also offer it separately as life-learning for the wider church.

The sessions is online, because we want to work with participants in their context, not in the artificiality of a lecture space. The online sessions go for about 90 minutes. So it needs some sort of break, to briefly stretch legs. So at the 45 minute mark, I announced I was going to play “Waiting for a voice” by Dave Dobbyn twice. Folk were invited to listen once, and take a short stretch the second time. It was a nice way to break up a class. It engaged senses other than talking. The cycle of a song makes it easy for participants to know when to return.

And of course, the lyrics are fascinating. The theme of the class was Mission as gift, call and promise. Prior to class, folk had been invited to visit a local body of water and read John 21:1-19. This is consistent with the ethos of the learning, wanting to work with participants in their context, to read Scripture in their communities. In John 21:1-19, when Jesus appears by the Lake of Galilee. Jesus is Gift and offers gifts in breakfast cooked. Jesus is Call and calls Peter at the same lake where Peter was first called to follow. Jesus is Promise and promises a feed of fish if they will just put their nets on the other side.

Returning as class, with “Waiting for a voice” ringing in our ears, links were made from the song to the theme of the class.

  • Mission is Gift – “I saw a stranger on the opposite shore; cooking up a meal for me”
  • Mission is Call – ‘waiting for a still clear voice’
  • Mission is Promise – ‘and sure as I’m living, i dined with the one; his words were brighter than a billion suns; he sent me running i never get tired, back into the valley where the world had died’

I have no idea whether Dobbyn would make these connections. But the lyrics make so much sense of John 21. It was an excellent way to pause a class and a great seque back into class. Thanks Dave, for your input.

Posted by steve at 12:23 PM

Monday, August 12, 2019

Listening in Mission 2019

Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership introduces Listening in Mission 2019, cohosted by Steve Taylor and Jill McDonald. Listening is an active process, a “double listening” to God and people. Online technologies will support leaders in undertaking a practical project in their community. As a result, a spirituality of presence, community building, attentiveness, discernment, experimentation is encouraged.

Online taster August 29, 4:30-5:30 pm, followed by five Thursdays, 4:30-6 pm – September 26; October 10; October 31; November 14; November 21. Bookings and queries to principal at knoxcentre dot ac dot nz.

For a jpg, download this.

listeninginmission2019

For a flier, go here – PDF.

For a video introduction, shot in my friendly local cafe, click here …

listening in mission from steve taylor on Vimeo.

Posted by steve at 02:18 PM

Friday, August 02, 2019

formative process and summative assessment in teaching theological reflection in ministry

I teach a course on Theological Reflection. It is a vocational setting. All participants have done an undergraduate theology degree and all are preparing for ministry in a mainline (Presbyterian) context. This trajectory needs to shape the course and two graduate outcomes in particular: one, being attentive theologically to the questions of another in the wider community and two, being able to help a community reflect theologically.

For the last few years, in seeking to attend to these graduate outcomes, I have developed a summative assessment which involves peer review. Students grade (50% along with me) each other’s work, providing both comment and a grade, which I moderate. This attends to the vocational aim of helping a community reflect theologically, which includes being able to assess theological reflection.

However, peer review does not come easily and so I need to provide some opportunity for rehearsal. This includes myself as lecturing doing the assignment. Each year I choose a recent issue and do the assignment (for a 2018 example of reforming ecclesiology in Oceania see here). I provide this “fresh” piece of theological reflection to the class. I give them time to read my model answer and check they are still clear about the assignment. I then ask them to “grade” it. This allows anxieties, fears and understandings to be clarified in community, before they attempt a peer.

Overall, the formative process and the summative assessment has been very generative. It makes clear the vocational endpoints and creates an energy as the class rehearses together. It allows a far greater attentiveness to each other’s work and uniqueness of contexts. While there are anxieties, the interns appreciate engaging more deeply with each other. It’s a really worthwhile process of engaging in capacity building.

Here is a video

explaining Theological reflection assignment Recording from steve taylor on Vimeo.

which explanations more of the why and how, the process and the resources used. The resources and handouts I describe in the video are

  • Case study – of Church as Cathedral of Living Stones – here

For more on theological reflection in this particular vocational space of ministerial formation

  • theological reflection as integrating the journey’s of life go here
  • theological reflection as decolonising through place-based methodologies go here.
Posted by steve at 05:28 PM

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Feedback: unbounding theological education in the context of ministerial vocations

Friday I co-presented a research paper at the Sydney College of Divinity Learning and Teaching Theology Conference.

Graduate formation and life-long learning in the context of ministerial vocations

Proposal: That the theological college should partner with local church communities, unbounding learning to offer it in “communities of practice.”

The presentation went well. The technology worked and the tag-presenting with Rosemary Dewerse went smoothly.  We ran out of summary handouts (here Graduate formation handout.) which is always a good sign.  The questions from conference participants were very helpful.

Directly after the paper

  • Can you give some examples of what it might look like to unbound theological education? (We had, so pointed to the two stories we had shared)
  • What is the real issue? If the real issue is a crisis of faith in churches, then what role should theological education be expected to play?
  • How would we assess our ‘graduate outcomes’? What type of processes could we use to ensure that unbounding theological education is forming people? (We pointed to the ways we are seeking to assess New Mission Seedlings over a 7 year period)

In further conversation over meals and coffee

  • Do we have a business model? Have other theology providers tried what you are doing and can you learn from them?
  • Being devils advocate – if you move theology toward the local church, might that dilute the quality of the education? What could be done to avoid the educational experience being “lowest common denominator ” shaped by a person who has not read or studied?
  • We used a practical theology model as proposed by Mark Lau Branson.  What we happen if we used the model by Richard Osmer in Practical Theology: An Introduction? Osmer suggests four stages:  describe – history – normative – strategic.  In our presentation, we shared three stories to outline what this might look like, but it might be that using ‘strategic planning’ frameworks would be valuable if we had a governance board wanting to take a next step, wanting to unbound theological education more broadly across the church.

Excellent questions, showing good engagement and helping us clarify work done and still needed.

We had arrived at the conference with a 2,000 word verbal presentation based on an already drafted 6,000 word journal article – in our back pocket, possibly ready to submit depending on feedback.

Our sense is that the above questions helpfully extend our work. They are important, yet they are practical – a strategic plan, assessment matrix, quality control, viable business plan.  Rosemary and I discussed a next set of steps which involve

  • submit the article we have drafted, pretty much as is
  • develop the material further, with two purposes – a chapter for the conference book and a strategic plan presentation (if a governance group is interested).  Development would include a different practical theology model (swapping Mark Lau Branson for Richard Osmer, Practical Theology: An Introduction) in order to weave the interface between theological reflection and a strategic plan that covers operations and education.
  • These are two distinct pieces of work: drawing from the same data but are responding to the more practical interests of conference attendees, which are different from the journal article we are targetting.

So, all in all all, very useful exercise – forcing us to clarify two years of work, giving us generative feedback on next steps. Our thanks to Thornton Blair, who made it possible.

Posted by steve at 12:59 PM

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Decolonising the (theological) curriculum through place- based pedagogies

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After teaching Theological Reflection on Saturday – on place-based methodologies – I spent some time reflecting on the experience. It was shaping up to be a hot afternoon, so in the morning I worked up a new activity, inviting the class to walk the local botanical gardens in order to break up a 3.5 hour lecture slot. It began out of compassion, but as I reflected, there were some interesting learnings happening. A potential reflective-practice journal article abstract began to take shape

Decolonising the (theological) curriculum through place- based pedagogies

A Theology of Place from :redux on Vimeo.

How to teach place-based theologies to those who might feel shallow-rooted? My practice-based research sought to investigate place-based teaching in the context of theological education among those being formed for the vocation of ordained ministry. I sought to decolonise the curriculum, introducing indigenous theologians, who document the way that identity is formed through  generations of relationships connected to place.  Richard Twist (Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys: A Native American Expression of the Jesus Way) emphasises the need to do theology in relation to a primal sense of connection to birth place, Denise Champion (Yarta Wandatha) examines the interplay between land and people, while Maori approaches to pepeha develop identity in relation to landmarks like mountains and river. 

The challenge was that the cohort was not indigenous. As migrants, or descendants of migrants, experiences of a sense of relationship to place can be limited.  In addition, the class was experiencing dislocation, gathered from various national locations into a context not familiar to participants.

The space between indigenous knowing and migrant experience was presented as an opportunity. The writing of Alifeti Ngahe (Weaving, Networking and Taking Flight) was instructive, providing vocational examples of how he migrated into new communities and developed place-based theologies.  Students were invited to locate themselves as “other” and in that epistemic rupture (Rosemary Dewerse, Breaking Calabashes) find a posture of investigative curiosity.  The class was sent in groups to examine statues in a local Botanical Park. They were provided with a short history of various monuments and instructed to see if they could do what Alifeti had done, make theological connections with place. 

Each group reported a range of insights. Work was then done as a cohort to shape the insights into prayers of approach for use in the context of vocational ministry. The liturgical movements of thanksgiving, confession and lament provide room to examine a range of important movements in the journey of decolonisation. This enriched the place-based reflection and provided vocational application.  

The argument is that practice-based pedagogies inform the practise of place-based ministries. Outdoor experiences, paying attention to local monuments, naming epistemic rupture and listening to indigenous theologians provide important resources in place-based teaching.    

Posted by steve at 10:33 AM

Sunday, February 03, 2019

theological reflection as integrating the journey’s of life

An introduction to theological reflection. A 3 hour class to begin a learning community, orientate interns and introduce assessment. In preparing the class, I had 7 different definitions of theological reflection. I decided to lie these down the hallway leading into the lecture space.

walkingin1

This meant that we began the class not in the room, but in the hallway. I introduced myself and noted that we would all be bringing our stories, our life experiences, our learning to date, into the class. The task of theological reflection was to work with our lived reality. As interns, we were preparing for ministry and that meant that all those we ministered to would also be bringing their stories, their life experiences, their learning to date, into our churches.

walkingin2

I invited the interns to walk slowly down the hallway, to take their time and engage each definition. In a few minutes, we would choose the one we liked the most and the one we disliked the most. This generated good discussion. People signed their names to various definitions, owning their understandings of theological reflection that they brought into the room.

But the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand is a diverse church culturally. It has a covenant relationship with the Maori Synod, Te Aka Puaho. So out of respect for that relationship, I showed a 4 minute video clip, an introduction to the tukutuku panels that adorn the front of Whakatane Maori Presbyterian Church. We glimpsed a very different approach to theological reflection, one expressed through art, that worked with tradition and culture in new and different ways.

And so I invited the class to return to where we began. To walk back out of the classroom and into the hallway. To slowly walk back in, past each of the definitions of theological reflection. And to ask themselves

which definition of theological reflection best sums up this example of indigenous theological reflection?

The students returned with very different definitions. One definition that initially was disliked the most was suddenly liked the most. A definition that made no sense suddenly was clear. It was an illuminating moment as we realised afresh that what we bring – culturally – shapes our theological reflection

An excellent beginning to theological reflection.

Posted by steve at 07:49 PM