Monday, August 30, 2010

evaluating fresh expression birth narratives

In a few weeks I’m due to head to the UK, to take part in the Evaluating fresh expressions research consultation in Durham.

Which means some preparation! Back in 2001, as part of my PhD study, I interviewed various UK folk in regard to the alt.worship movement. Questions like

  • outline your involvement
  • in what ways do you see contemporary culture influencing you
  • how accessible is (should) worship be
  • how would you describe the place of mission and faith contextualisation

I ended up attending 10 UK alt.worship services, interviewing 17 people/groups (early pioneers like Late, Late Service, Visions, Dave Tomlinson) and talking to 9 more. It was fascinating stuff, but in the end my PhD simply got too big, and so I had to leave all of this research behind.

Now some 10 years later, I’m wondering if this stuff might be useful.  So I have begun to dig out the tapes.  I’ve heard the scrape of coffee machines in London cafes,  footsteps echoing through church halls in Hackney and tea being poured in Northern England.  Sure, 2001 is so last century. But I’ve found some great quotes:

“One of the things we learnt was that you need quite a lot of determination and quite a lot of encouragement if you want to be given the space to do something new within the church.”

“The very fact [evangelicalism] has been formed by the book speaks volumes about the kind of cultural baggage evanglicalism has.”

And some great questions being raised: What does sustainability look like and who’se responsibility is it? Does it matter if new forms are not longer with us? Is “surviving as Christians and living faith authentically within late-twentieth century London” less missional than “being a compassionate local presence working for peace and justice within the community”?

Whether I have the time to turn all this primary data into a research presentation I’m not sure.  Whether I have the time to construct a thesis that can honour these voices, connect with the Fresh Expressions literature that began to emerge 5 years later and still say something helpful remains to be seen.

But today I feel like I’ve been at table with some real heroes, some outstandingly creative, missional pioneers.

Posted by steve at 03:41 PM

Saturday, August 07, 2010

review of jonny baker’s book curating worship

Curating Worship by Jonny Baker (although it should really be Jonny and co. and Disclaimer:  I am one of the co.!) is an excellent addition to the emerging church/missional church discussion. 

Curating worship is a term used to frame an approach to worship that is neither liturgical presiding nor fronting a band. Rather it is the skills of framing other people’s elements. It’s a ethos of participation:

“In many church circles the only gifts that are valued for worship are musical ones or the ability to speak well. This attitude needs shattering, and opening up so that poets, photographers, ideas people, geeks, theologians, liturgists, designers, writers, cooks, politicians, architects, movie-makers, storytellers, parents, campaigners, children, bloggers, DJs, VJs, craft-makers, or just about anybody who comes and is willing to bounce ideas around, can get involved.” (12)

Or in the words of the Uniting Church, Basis of Union, “the one Spirit has endowed the members of Christ’s Church with a diversity of gifts, and that there is no gift without its corresponding service.” Or in a Baptistic understanding, the priesthood of all believers. So curating worship is an approach by which the priesthood of all believers, with their diverse gifts, can find corresponding service in public worship.

What Jonny wants to do is write a book because “creative processes can seem mysterious and unattainable, even intimidating. The hope is that lifting the lid off the process and thinking might help demystify curating worship, and encourage people: ‘You can do it!’ (7)

He does this through what he calls 12 interviews with people involved in curating worship experiences around the world. While Jonny calls them interviews, I actually think they are conversations in which Jonny engages in lengthy to and fro. Because they are companions and friends, because relationships are established, Jonny can push and probe, asking some tough questions:

  • Does it matter if emerging churches remain small?
  • Arn’t some communities actually leading as artists and not curators?
  • What are the theological implications when alt.worship communities close?
  • What is the place of intellectualism?

Which makes this one of the most honest books I’ve seen from inside the emerging/alt.worship conversation. It also means a book in which the medium is the message – a book on curating in which the main author actually curates, shining the light on others. The range is rich – from public exhibition artists to pastors, from New Zealand through Australia to USA and UK, from those at the centre of churches to those off the edges, from lay to ordained.

The book has another heartwarming upside and that is the way it locates itself in a dialogue not with the church, but with the creative world, particularly the notion of curating as it has been researched in art and museum studies. What this means is a book that does not have to gain momentum by scoring points against other practices and practitioners in worship, which makes for a generous and creative read.

Curating Worship is an excellent read that marks a moment of maturity in the emerging/alt worship movement. First in articulating a clear and unique theology of worship. Second in conducting a critical conversation. Third in genuinely modelling a collective approach to authoring.

PS If you live in Adelaide and want to purchase a copy, I have a boxful of 20 books.

Posted by steve at 03:10 PM