Saturday, July 10, 2010

God in the margins and cross the boundaries

It has been a fascinating 24 hours at the Engaging the Basis of Union conference. The aim is to provide scholarly discussion on the Uniting Church’s Basis of Union and I was urged to attend by my work. I think the hope was for me to network and get more of a feel of the whole Uniting ethos/theology/style.

To be honest, I came reluctantly. I needed a weekend with family, not yet another weekend away on church stuff, yet another meeting with strangers, yet another chance to feel displaced. But the ticket were booked and away I go.

What has resonated the most for me was the session on “transcending cultural, economic, national and racial boundaries, and hearing the wisdom from a Korean theologian and a Fijian theology. Here are some of the choice quotes, all of which I apply to my own sense of displacement:

  • “to be open to the grief of leaving your cultural home is to be willing to share in the healing of others.”
  • “when you live in the margins, you gain the privilege of seeing two centres”
  • “the time does come when you discover a piece of yourself even in a strange land”
  • “offering a hospitable space to a new culture can’t be at the expense of a Christ-following which challenges injustice”
  • “if Jesus did contextual theology, then don’t forget he still came into conflict with his context.”

All of these had a sense of God speaking to me. It doesn’t make it any easier for me to be in Australia, but it has provided some fresh lens.

Posted by steve at 06:13 PM

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

this is classic: emerging church danger!

Two strangers met at an academic conference. One was me, new to Australia, new to lecturing in the Uniting Church. The other was retired, also a lecturer, a figure large in the life of the Uniting Church. Over lunch we compare notes, talking about the history of theological education in Australia. Wanting to listen, I, the new one asks a broad, opened ended question:

New one: So what is the most important thing a person coming new to the Uniting Church from New Zealand needs to know about the Uniting Church?

Retired one: The danger of the emerging church. The Uniting Church is founded on the Creeds and Reformers and the emerging church is a danger to that.

The mouth of the new one falls open in surprise, amazed at this turn in the conversation!

New one: Oh, I thought the Basis of Union encouraged a pilgrim people, a people always on the journey. That’s why we are called Uniting, not United. So wouldn’t some sort of commitment to the emerging church be some sort of commitment in the Basis of Union to the emerging church?

Retired one: Yes, but a prior article in the Basis of Union says we have a commitment to the worldwide church and to our relationships. The emerging church is a danger to that.

New one: Oh, we’ve recently as a Synod had speakers from the Anglican church in the UK. They, in partnership with the Methodist church, are working on fresh expressions. So they suggest some sense that emerging church is part of the worldwide church conversation.

Pause. Genuine pondering on both sides.

New one: What is interesting is that they called it “fresh” not new. They do not want this to be seen as something new, denying the Reformation, but simply as the challenge for each generation, to be a faithful and pilgrim people in their generation.

The conversation moves on … true moment

Posted by steve at 08:09 PM

Monday, May 03, 2010

mission that’s out of the valley 2: motivations for Uniting mission

So on Saturday I spoke to about 70 local Adelaide youth leaders. My topic was mission. Here is what I did.

I started by talking about motivation. Why bother spending a gorgeous autumn afternoon talking mission, especially with a Showdown looming?

  • first, mission is in my blood, and I introduced my background
  • second, mission is in your (Uniting) blood. To explore this I presented a visual summary (hat tip Craig Mitchell) of the Basis of Union. People commented on the priority of words like church and (members/people) and (God, Jesus, Christ). This suggests a great motivation, than mission is simply God transforming lives, not of the clergy, but of the whole people of God. So mission is simply changed lives and it’s essential to the Uniting blood.
  • third, mission is also in our history, positively, and I told the story of Brendan the Navigator and the values of risk and edgy adventure
  • fourthly, mission in our history negatively, and I told the story of Samuel Marsden. Who in New Zealand is a mission hero, but in Australia is the flogging chaplain, an appalling mission example as he dealt excessive punishment to convicts. So as we think about mission, we need to own our past, both positive and negative and be aware of how that history shapes our imagination.
  • fifthly, the fact that only 5% of Uniting churches have offered the whole people of God training in faith sharing. That’s a tragic statistic for a denomination in which church and (members/people) and (God, Jesus, Christ is in their blood. So, while mission is broad, in the Uniting context, evangelism as mission, certainly deserves some sort of intentional focus.

So, I wanted to talk about mission as evangelism and I intended to explore that under three headings

  • being a mate – sharing with friends
  • having a yarn – announcing the good news
  • crossing the ditch – incarnational mission

(These are highly Aussie phrases and they came to mind while reading Darren Cronshaw’s most excellent Credible Witnesses, Companions, Prophets, Hosts and Other Australian Mission Models, Urban Neighbours of Hope, 2006.)

That was the first part of four segments. For what I said –
1) in relation to faith sharing, go here,
3) in relation to practice at an ordinary church, go here.

Posted by steve at 09:39 AM