Friday, December 06, 2013
intuitive worship: baptism, ministry, deeper water and Psalm 42
Today we farewelled a colleague. They had expressed a desire for a ritual moment, so over a number of days, by email, among a number of folk, a service of leaving was sketched.
It’s been a hectic week at College and with one of the key folk sick, I wasn’t convinced that all the i’s were crossed or t’s were dotted. Just in case, I grabbed a Bible as I left my office – a useful tool in case of emergencies.
Sure enough, it emerged on the walk over that no-one was down to do the Bible reading. I’d suggested it, so was happy to read. Especially since I had a Bible.
It was the Psalm for today in the Lectionary, Psalm 42. It fitted really well with the opening song. The colleague loves Paul Kelly, so we’d chosen Deeper Water, a song about growth, journey, life.
Deeper water, deeper water,
Deeper water, calling them on
As the song played live, I began to wonder were to stand to read. My eyes settled on the baptismal font. Water. An intuitive link gets made in my mind.
So as the song ended, I stood and walked to the baptismal font. I introduced the Psalm as about deeper water, as about where is God in deeper water. (As a hart longs for flowing streams (v. 1); Deep calls to deep at the thunder of thy cataracts; all thy waves and thy billows have gone over me (v. 7).)
As the Psalm ended, I returned (Djed) the lyrics of the song. “Deeper water, calling you on, and you’re never alone.” I dipped my hands in the water of the baptismal font and walked across to our departing colleague and bent to make the sign of the cross on his forehead.
An intuitive moment – a mix of Paul Kelly, Psalm 42 and the Christian ritual of baptism. For it is in our baptism that we are called into ministry. So a re-affirmation of baptism as that which holds us on the ongoing journey into ministry.
A few extra seconds, wordless, in which the waters of baptism were applied. And I returned, in silence to my seat. It had felt, intuitively the right thing to do.
Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, baptism, ministry and Psalm 42). For more resources go here.
Saturday, July 27, 2013
seeing formation: a theology of colour
Can we see formation?
In the Jesus Deck, the card for John 20:16 invites us to see the colours of formation. The risen Jesus appears to Mary. This, for Mary, is a life-changing moment. An encounter, a discovery, a recognition. It is a culmination of a number of years of discipleship, of questioning, following, pondering.
And this is visible. You hear it in her words “Master.”
But you also see it, in the Jesus Deck card, in the colours of the face of Mary. You see, around Jesus is a wheel of colour – hues of pinks, oranges, yellows. What is intriguing is that these same colours are in the face of Mary – she reflects, in hues of pinks, oranges, yellows, the colours of the Risen Jesus. This is deeply theological, a way of seeing the likeness of Christ.
But not Mary. Mary can’t see this. She can feel it. She can verbalise it. But we all know it is impossible to see our own faces. So only the viewer, the other, the outsider, can see the life change, can wonder at the colour.
This suggests a profoundly communal approach to formation. Mary needs us to see. Mary is blessed when we name back to her these colours, tell her what we are seeing. Alone we are limited. Together, all the senses are able to be appreciated.
This connects for me in two ways. First, personally, what are the colours currently in my face? Looking at the card, it struck me that I’ve worked too hard this week. Which directly effects the colours in my face. My being out of balance, my lack of formation, physically, becomes apparent. When I’m rested, when I’m relaxed, when I’ve laughed with friends, that shows – in colour, in my face. That’s interesting to ponder.
Second, this week at Uniting College has included formation panels. For our ministerial candidates, three times a year, for what amounts to a six year period, they meet with same panel of experienced ministers (for more here) Contemplating John 20:16, looking at the Jesus Deck, I realised that these processes are actually about seeing colour. The candidate can feel the impact of training for ministry. The candidate might verbalise this impact. But they can’t see it. It is the gift of the panel, however humanly, however falteringly, to try to name the colours back to the candidate. This is gift, to have what is happening in you and for you discerned and described.
This is deeply communal approach to formation. To reframe Martin Buber, this is not only the “I” of growth, or even the “I” to “I” of a person with a supervisor or mentor. It is an “I” to “we” encounter, a three way partnership between the Risen Jesus of John 20:16, the individual and some members of the body of Christ.
Third (thanks Lynne), this is missional. Anyone can look at the face of another, or in this case the face of Mary. Those inside and outside the community. The encounter with Christ is not only for Mary, not only for formation, it is part of the work of Christ made visible in our world.
Reframing Lindbeck, through time Christianity has developed a grammar for how the colours are described, named, affirmed. This introduces another layer of embodiment. The body in history has this grammar. Saints before (saints current, other candidates in formation, those in the formation panel, Christians and ministers in general) are also colour carriers. This is another dimension of mirroring. Mary can hear her colours described, Mary can also see colours in the lives of others.
(I realise as I write that this is all grist for the mill in preparation for my September presentation in Sydney – Living libraries: Embodiment and transformation in the context of e-learning)
For more on colours and formation see -
Last year I reflected on the colours of formation – to ask what colours are the processes of formation and the use of a colour wheel to capture the organic changes through life.
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
from spark to worship: praying the Psalms with roses on world map
Yesterday I blogged, grateful for the sparks of inspiration from a Sunday browse through Ikea. I understand creativity as a we
Today I found myself on chapel, which involves around 20 minutes of prayer. It is in the semester break here at College, so it tends to be staff, a smaller group. So here is how the spark became worship.
To give some Scriptural spine, I checked the lectionary readings and selected the Psalm (Psalm 85) for the week, which I printed so folk could read.
I was thinking about how people might want to name their prayers. I’d noticed a few days ago a stray rose still in the garden, so grabbed that on the way to work. To keep it fresh, I took it in a plastic container. Opening the lid during the morning, I was struck by the scent and realised that might be a helpful sense to engage.
With my 20 minutes I welcomed people and invited us to stand around the world map/table. We read the Psalm, verse by verse around the group, which gave voice to our prayer. I handed the rose around the group and as I hoped, people caught the scent and with a word of surprise, discovered it’s joy together.
I noted that at the heart of Christian faith is the Easter story, in which brokenness and vulnerability are so essential. I invited us to pray by handing the rose, again, around the group. We would each break of a petal and place it on the world map, naming what were praying for. We would keep doing this until the rose ran out of petals.
This happened, naturally, beautifully, for around 15 minutes. We concluded by reading again the Psalm, again around the group. And a final picture, to “capture” our prayer.
A spark – a world map. Which became worship – prayers for the world and each other. Which involved the hearing of Scripture, the smell of the rose, the touch of a petal, the visual engagement with the world and each other. And this deep sense of being in the presence of God, tender with each other and God’s world.
Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, praying the Psalms). For more resources go here.
Monday, July 22, 2013
ikea worship inspirations
I love wandering Ikea. (I’ve blogged about this before – Confessions: the place of Ikea in worship and teaching). I invariably, as I wander Ikea, come away with a few ideas for worship, inspired by the fusion of good design with customer sensitivity all fused with the DIY ethic
Here are yesterdays offerings after a Sunday shop:
First, a world map table. It is hard to see, because overhead lighting is reflected in the glass. But it is a world map, etched in a glass table. This has got all sorts of possibilities. For example communion table, with elements placed “for the world.” Or a prayer station, in which people post prayers for the world on the table. Or with a bit of experimentation, it might well be that some pens might be able to write on glass and be washed off. So people could write their prayers on the table.
Second, pop up stations. These are advertised in the children’s section. They are made of cardboard, so can be decorated in all sorts of way. Aesthetically, they would make a great set of stations, all identical, yet all able to be named differently.
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Colour my faith
Olive Fleming Drane posted a delightful picture, of the new floor in Glasgow’s new Paperchase.
It’s a delightful reminder of the power and place of colour. And the implications for our engagement with Christian faith.
Like “colour divina.” Imagine hearing the same Bible text, read slowly, read repeatedly. And each time, standing in a different colour. Where is purple in the text? Where is the colour red? Where do we see green?
Imagine different stations, placed on different coloured mats. Confession on red, benediction on green, hearing the Scriptures in purple.
At Opawa, for a period of time, part of the call to worship included the invitation:
Words of introduction: We all come from different weeks; good and bad, busy and slow, major and minor. What colour would describe your emotions and experiences this week?
Action: In baskets at various places around the auditorium are a wide range of colours. Each colour square has a hot dot fixed to the back. As we gather as a community in worship this morning I invite you
a) choose a colour square that says something about your week.
b) peel the backing paper of the hot dot on the back and place your colour on the cross.
You can do this at any time before the service.
Prayer: We will start our service with the following prayer
Leader: Arriving, we bring our current reality.
All: The good and the bad. The busy and the slow. The major and the minor.
Leader: We dare to believe that God is among us.
All: Among us as one who listens, holds, loves, heals, guides.
Leader: We dare to believe that we are safe here.
All: Safe among friends journeying together. Journeying to a deeper knowledge of, love for and service with God. In Jesus name. Amen.
(full post here)
For more on the place of colour in Christian faith, see
Friday, May 17, 2013
Sense-gesis: What does Jesus smell like?
Sense Making Faith continues. We have 3 “guides” who share the teaching and 7 participants. Enough for a very rich group experience. Like all good classes, I’m learning as much as the participants.
Last week a rich learning moment occurred as we listened to the noises around the cross. This week a rich learning moment occurred, first as we walked outside. It had just rained and as we walked we became even more keenly aware of night air, wet air, petrol fumes and takeways. We wondered together if a community could have bad smells and what it meant for the church to be a good smell.
Then we returned inside to “smell” the Bible. What are the smells of Christmas, the smells at the calling of the first disciples, the smells of the Easter garden?
The conversation turned to Jesus. What does Jesus smell like? Is the classical Christian affirmation, of Christ as fully human and fully divine, embodied in smell?
In Psalm 45:8 the robes of the Lord are fragrant with Myrrh and aloes and cassia. Is this poetic language? Or does holiness have a smell? Would the resurrected Jesus smell different than the unresurrected Jesus?
All of these, theologically, are pushing at embodiment, what it means for Incarnation to take real presence among us. Some wondered if Jesus smells different ways to different people at different seasons in their lives. Are there times when the full humanity of Jesus is a more pastorally connective than the full divinity? If so, what are the implications for our mission and ministry?
You can see why I love Sense Making Faith!
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Pentecost worship in indigenous language
Daily chapel at Uniting College today was superb. Our Director of Missiology, Rosemary Dewerse had created a visual environment. In the centre was a world map, with red counters and a red candle lit. The invitation was to lay a counter on the table, and in so doing, to name a place and situation in the world we wished to pray for.
To begin she taught us a chant, in the language of the Adnyamathanha people, from the Northern Flinders.
undakarana ardla, ngapalan yarta yanangka.
In English “The light of Christ has come into the world.”
Using indigenous clap sticks to keep the beat, we began to sing this simple refrain, a gift to us from those who’ve gone before us in this land. A people who’ve endured colonisation and hardship, exploitation and persecution, yet who have still find space to offer their language, their praise, their experience of the life of Christ come into their world.
It was a beautiful, natural, heartfelt way to be in the presence of God. It is part of a shift at Uniting College, in which in more and more ways, we are finding ourselves engaged with indigenous peoples. An important part of this has been relationship building, one to one, and then in Walking on Country, an immersion experience with our candidates for ministry at the beginning of this year.
It’s easy for this to be tokenism, and yet the result for us over recent months has instead been increased enrichment – in stories told in our midst, in shared candidate life together and now in our chapel life. The awareness of the other is becoming such gift.
And with Pentecost this week, it was a wonderful embodiment of the Spirit’s work, the enfleshing of faith in native languages, the crossing of cultural boundaries.
And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Acts 2:8
Monday, May 13, 2013
hearing the cross as sense-exegesis
We are now three weeks into Sense Making Faith course. Each week we take a sense. We explore its use in our world today. And it’s abuse. We explore it’s use in the Christian tradition. And it’s abuse (often through neglect).
Last week we explored hearing. We brought our favourite spiritual music. We listened and made a list of all the noises we heard. We reflected on how much we miss – of ourselves, of God, of our world, because we don’t listen (ie abuse the sense of hearing).
Then we turned to the Christian tradition. What Bible stories describe God speaking, I asked?
The cross, was one response.
Let’s push that further, I said. What noises do we hear around the cross?
And we began to reflect, “hearing” the cross in a whole new way;
- nails being hammered
- gamblers rolling dice
- centurion ordering
- a last breathe being drawn
- a curtain being torn
Within two minutes, we had engaged the cross in a much deeper, richer way. This, I suggested, was “sense-exegesis.” We have taken a sense, one sense, and applied it to Scripture. We can do this with any passage. And with any sense.
Tuesday, May 07, 2013
breath prayers as communion
At communion yesterday (as well as offering a missional introduction), I wanted to try and embody the great prayer of thanksgiving. It is a prayer that is often patterned on salvation history, moving from creation, through the people of Israel, to Jesus, with the saints. One way to offer embodiment, and experience embodiment, is through the simple act of breathing.
I’d also been thinking about brains. As you do!
And the fact that apparently connections between neurons in the brain produces an electrical charge. With every electrical charge comes a corresponding magnetic field. And that although magnetic fields rapidly lose their force, they never completely dissipate. So every thought and memory ever produced still lives, as an infinitesimal magnetic trace. So how to engage with that reality at communion?
God we breathe in air. As we do, we thank you for creation, for the air we breathe, the birds that sing in the morning, the colour of the gum trees.
God we breathe in air. Air breathed by others. As we do, we thank you for those who’ve gone before, for the prophets and saints who’ve showed us how to live life and seek justice.
God we breathe in air. Air breathed by others, including the God-man Jesus. As we do, we thankyou for the humanity of Jesus’ breath, the places he walked, the people he healed, the grace he offered, the words he said.
And so we pray together the prayer, Jesus invited us to pray …. and we recall the words of Jesus, who took bread ….
Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, visual images on themes of pilgrimage). For more resources go here.
Monday, May 06, 2013
An introduction to communion that I shared today, working with our candidates, faculty and visiting ministers, gathered around the topic of self-care.
There is a story of some ministers gathering. Much like us today, to wrestle with ministry. In the question time, a question is raised. A person aware of their world, concerned about the church. How can we bring people to the altar?
The response is made. Is the question how do we bring people to the altar? Or is the question, how do we bring the altar to people?
An important reminder as we gather. It is not that we come to communion, but that in communion God comes to us. In this we are invited to participate in God’s mission.
Yes, it is about our care. In communion God feeds us, centres us, re-values us around grace and redemption.
But it is more than that. It is also about care for the church. In communion God feeds the church, centres the church, re-values the church around grace and redemption.
But it is more than that. It is also about care for the world. In communion God wants to feed the world, wants to centre the world, wants to re-value the world around grace and redemption.
And so we pray; Spirit, fall on us, that these elements of bread and wine may be for us a participation in your life, love and mission, your bringing the altar to people.
Monday, March 25, 2013
It looks fantastic
“It looks fantastic. Opening ourselves to new ways of encountering Scripture has got to be a good thing. Having had a tantalising taste of Sense Making Faith for myself (see here and here), I’m keen for other ministers and Christian leaders to experience it. We will distribute this to all our ministers and key leaders with a hearty endorsement – Dr Greg Elsdon”
A very supportive comment from Dr Greg Elsdon, State Minister. Churches of Christ in SA & NT, when he saw the Sense Making Faith publicity.
“Sense making faith” is a course specially designed to help participants be more aware of God through all their senses. It is an experiential course that takes you on a spiritual journey. Each session will uncover Biblical resources, the church tradition and our world today. Space will be given to reflect on the implications for mission, church and discipleship. Specific coaching in relation to application to speaking and worship leading in the context of the local church and its ministries will be available if wanted.
Ten weeks of journey facilitated by three guides:
Steve Taylor – Principal of Uniting College, writer, blogger
Mark Hewitt – Minister at The Corner UC, visual artist, photographer, with a passion for creating spaces that are worshipful and allow spiritual exploration
Sarah Agnew – a poet and Biblical storyteller. She leads the church with biblical storytelling, workshops in storytelling, poetry, worship and public speaking, teaching biblical studies and writing stories, prayers and liturgy.
So if you would like to deepen your spirituality and/or to help lead others in worship, preaching or devotions in ways that are engaging and inspirational, then “Sense making faith” is for you.
Wednesday evenings 7pm for 7.30-9.00pm, commencing April 24 through to June 19, The Corner Uniting Church, Warradale
Audit fee: $275.00. (Or can be taken for credit as a Guided Reading in the Diploma or Bachelor of Ministry)
For more information download brochure from Sense Making Faith April web or contact Eloise Scherer at Uniting College: 08 8416 8420.
Saturday, March 23, 2013
Palm Sunday worship and mission creative resources
Lots of internet search traffic interest looking for Palm Sunday resources, so here they are collected together – borrow, add, cut, paste – enjoy:
Friday, March 08, 2013
Prayers of illumination
Preparing for Pocket lamp worship first, with Jonny Baker and CMS Pioneers, second with the mission shaped ministry Board, a few weeks ago got me thinking about Prayers of illumination. I think it was holding the pocket lamp open, thinking about light, and the phrase – prayers of illumination – sort of floated through my consciousness.
Liturgically, a prayer of illumination is the prayer prayed before Scripture is read and spoken. In churches that consider themselves non-liturgical, it has a predictable pattern asking for God’s help as Scripture is preached, a predictable place just before the sermon and a performative dimension, inviting a focus on what is about to be said.
In liturgical churches, when used (curiously more infrequently, in my experience, than in non-liturgical churches), it tends to be a set prayer, more likely to be varied, drawing from church tradition or various Scripture.
One example of a prayer of illumination, slightly varied from Scripture, is drawn from Psalm 19:14
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our heart, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and Redeemer.
What is interesting is the context, what comes in the 13 verses prior. You see, in the Psalm illumination comes from two places – nature and Scripture.
The first six verses (1-6) reference illumination in creation – heavens, skies, sun, heat – all of these are proclaimers of God’s handiwork. From them “pour forth speech.” (19:2). As for example, in this “baptism” experience, or in this recent book release – Forest Church: A Field Guide to Nature Connection for Groups and Individuals by Bruce Stanley – which I am hoping to blog review chapter by chapter over the next few weeks.
The next five verses (7-11) reference illumination in Scripture, and the hope of wisdom, joy and light.
So, presumably when the prayer of illumination is prayed, it is invitation to consider both the Book of Nature and the Book of Scripture. And it suggests that the sermon that might follow will tell stories of human experience, offer insights from nature and reflect on Scripture. Perhaps in at least equal measure? Now that’s the type of prayer, I’d love to say Amen too.
Because, according to the Psalm, both are arenas of illumination. Sure, not without discernment. I mean, you sure need discernment to read Leviticus, or Proverbs, or Revelation or any portion of Scripture. And yes, you need discernment to read nature. Which is probably why you pray the prayer. Because illumination is a gift, from God’s Spirit. And prayed in community, because faith is corporate and discernment is always about what seems “good to the Holy Spirit and us.” (Acts 15:28)
In community and in need of God.
So a variant on pocket lamp worship would be to spend an entire service exploring Prayers of illumination. Place a whole lot up around the walls. Give people a lamp. Get them to walk, to read. Invite them to place their lamp beside the one that most connects. Share this in groups. Invite discussion on where God reveals Godself, on how discernment happens, both in practice and in the history of the church. Invite them to chose the prayer most meaningful, and pray it individually, at home, as they gather around Scripture. In so doing, the use of Prayers of illumination corporately would be enriched and renewed for another season of the life of the church.
Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, visual images on themes of pilgrimage). For more resources go here.
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).