Saturday, December 03, 2016
Research: Praying in crisis and the implications for chaplains
Our research data on how churches respond to crisis got a second airing today, at the Chaplaincy in Aotearoa New Zealand conference. (The abstract of our paper is below.) It was good to co-present with research collaborator Lynne Taylor and we were grateful to the conference presenters for giving us the space. It is the second presentation in the space of a few weeks, having presented at the Resourcing Ministers day to around 120 Presbyterian ministers as part of General Assembly 2016 in November.
The data set we are working with includes over 8,800 words of description regarding how over 150 churches prayed on the Sunday after the Paris tragedy. It means there is a lot we could talk about! Today, with a different audience, the presentation took on a different life. As part of the presentation, we also offered a takeaway resource, 8 examples of different ways that churches had prayed in crisis, including a brief commentary from Lynne and I as co-authors.
Being chaplains, and being a smaller group, the questions and matters of engagement were very different.
- First, the complexity of us. There was affirmation of the theological reflection we had done in terms of noting the complexity of praying “forgive us our sins”; “deliver us from evil.” There is a need to think carefully about who is the “us” as we come in lament and intercession.
- Second, from the field of mental health chaplaincy, the importance of being sensitive to the re-living of trauma. Particular care needs to be taken in the use of images, given the power of the visual to trigger past pain. So the affirmation of those examples that used the auditory, rather than the visual, in providing ways for people to pray in crisis.
- Third, the importance of prayers for others including prayers not only for victims, but also for perpetrators of crime. This again, from a mental health chaplain, noting the importance of ensuring prayer was real and engaged the complexity of life.
- Fourth, the difficulty of praying for crisis in religious communities that lack a tradition, and thus a set of established and well-worn resources.
- Fifth, the enormous value of this type of research, in helping those who minister, to reflect on what they pray. This is a different, yet very life-giving type of research, that celebrates ministry and encourages the seeking of best practice.
Having now aired the data twice, in two different settings, and had the affirmation of the relevance and importance of the data, it is definitely time to seek an avenue for publication. But after Lynne has finished her PhD!
Praying in crisis: the implications for chaplains from an empirical study of how local churches respond to global events
Steve Taylor and Lynne Taylor
Chaplains often find themselves as a Christian presence in the midst of crisis. This can present a particular set of challenges regarding how to speak of the nature of God and humanity in tragedy. How to think of faith in the midst of unexpected suffering? What resources might Christian ministry draw upon?
One common resource is that of prayer. Given lex orandi, lex credendi (the rule of praying is the rule of believing) such prayers – or lack thereof – can be examined as the articulation of a living practical theology.
In the week following Sunday, 15 November, 2015, empirical research was conducted into how local churches pray. An invitation to participate in an online survey was sent to pastoral leaders in two New Zealand denominations: Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Baptist Churches of New Zealand. An invitation to participate was also posted on social media. The date was significant because on Friday, 13 November, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in Paris. At the same time, a number of other tragedies occurred, including bombings in Beirut and Baghdad.
Over 150 survey responses were received. In the midst of global tragedy, how had the church prayed? What might be learnt from these moments of lex orandi, lex credendi? This paper will address these questions. It will outline the resources used and the theologies at work. Particular attention will be paid to the curating of “word-less space”, given the widespread use of non-verbal elements in the data. The implications for those who pray in tragedy will be considered, with particular attention to the ministry of chaplaincy.
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