Tuesday, April 02, 2019

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

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

tear on cheek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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