Thursday, December 11, 2014

Doctor of Ministry in Mainstreet chaplaincy

brucegraduation1

Today we graduated Bruce Grindlay Doctor of Ministry. He received his examiners reports a few weeks ago, on his thesis From Altar into the Agora: Toward a reframing of missional voice and posture of the Mainstreet. Normally we graduate annually in May, but specific circumstances meant an individual ceremony for Bruce was most appropriate.

We’re a small enough College, a flexible enough College, to be able to offer this sort of individualised approach. We crafted a 20 minute service, which include worship, prayer, Scripture, intercession, the presentation of the award and a response by Bruce. It was lovely, with some very poignant moments, including the thanking of Juan Luis Segundo, a liberation theologian who had mentored Bruce.

I was one of Bruce’s supervisors in what was a fascinating Doctor of Ministry project. (A minor supervisor, as Bruce made clear in his speech today, given that so much of the input into the project came from Dr Peter Gunn). Bruce had, in his final ministry placement before retiring, found himself a chaplain to his local business community. That led him on a fascinating journey, given that marketing phrases currently used in Mainstreet shopping environments use religious grammar and images, yet without God. So Bruce analyses whether a church should partnering with current community development strategies and the missional voice and posture that it might adopt.

In his own words:

This thesis analyses the missional identity and vocation of a church located in an open-air, retail, shopping environment and explores the interplay between this Mainstreet shopping environment and the life and mission of the ‘Mainstreet’ church. It explores how marketing phrases echo the theological and missional grammar of the church. In this post-secular environment it asks whether this rhetoric uses religious grammar and images, but without God. By means of an analysis of the images and activities associated with Mainstreet, and a consideration of the theology of shopping, it explores whether current community development strategies on Mainstreet offer new opportunities for congregations to move from the ‘altar’ into the ‘agora’ and to adopt new missional postures. It maps out navigational skills to guide congregations wishing to develop a contemporary missional identity and engagement. It concludes by asking whether the church on Mainstreet can, proleptically, be a sign in word and deed of the Kingdom of God.

Today was a day of great joy and celebration. Much hard work. Much!

Posted by steve at 06:17 PM

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Bible and Popular Culture Summer school Intensive

Do you want to explore the ways the Bible and culture come into dialogue and mutually interpret each other? I’m team teaching as part of Bible and Popular Culture Intensive. It will be a rich summer learning experience.

summer school

Flinders summer school

Enrol now for the Bible and Popular Culture Intensive, to be held at Flinders University in January 2015.

Posted by steve at 04:00 PM

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

THEOLOGY DELIVERS ‘FRESH WORDS AND DEEDS’ WITH INDUSTRY

The following article appeared in the November 2014 edition of Inspiring Research, a Flinders University publication promoting research outputs.

Industry engagement is an important dimension of research activity at Flinders University. For the Department of Theology, industry partners include religious denominations and church leaders.

In 2014, Professor Andrew Dutney, Rev Dr Steve Taylor and Dr Rosemary Dewerse provided leadership and input nationally to the Uniting Church in Australia. This involved keynote delivery at three conferences for ministers from across Australia.

With a theme of ‘Fresh Words and Deeds’ Steve and Rosemary drew for their framework from the thesis of Flinders Theology graduate Rev Dr Tracy Spencer, with its concern for just appreciation of and reconciliation with the histories of indigenous peoples as a foundation needing righting in order for just appreciation of all peoples to be possible in this country. Recent research from Flinders University in contextual theology thus provided a means for important in-service professional development.

The three conferences were located in three different contexts: Charleville, Queensland, where rural challenges were the context; Parramatta, Sydney with its multicultural and multifaith reality; and Jerusalem, connecting with partner organisations in both Israel and Palestine.

The Jerusalem conference also included trips before and after giving opportunity for participants to walk in solidarity with the stories and conflicts of that place. All three contexts provoked rich and very different conversations.

The conferences were hosted by Professor Andrew Dutney, the current national President of the Church. The aim was to help ministers wrestle with contextual issues facing them today and to encourage openness to new ways of knowing and innovation.

Posted by steve at 11:06 PM

Sunday, November 30, 2014

an ordination sermon: It’s all about mission

I preached at the ordination of five Uniting Church ministers today. They are an intriguing bunch. One is a pioneer, two are from CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds), three are heading inter-state, which suggests an endorsement by the church nationally of our training practices at Uniting College. Anyhow, here’s the sermon.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O God.

“The Uniting Church in Australia? It’s all about mission.” That’s according to Introducing the Uniting Church in Australia. Written by Andrew Dutney, currently President of the Uniting Church in Australia.

When you do an ordination, always name drop the President.

And so today’s Gospel reading invites us to look at ourselves, as ordinands, as gathered friends, as the Uniting church – and wonder how we shape up in light of being “all about mission” in Luke 10:1-9.

Some of you learn by doing. As you came in, you should have found 2 sheets of paper on your seat. One, instructions on how to build a boat. Second piece of paper, to make a boat. You’re invited, as I speak, to build a boat.

Some of you learn not only by doing but also by hearing, so come with me to our Bible passage, to verse 1.

Which offers a glimpse of God. Who is God? Well in verse 1, God is revealed as a sending God; appointing people, for the purpose of sending people. And the purpose of that sending is for wider society. That’s in verse 2 – the word “harvest” which is repeated three times in case you slow and you’re began to drift off at that point in the Bible reading.

You are sent, for a harvest. Any farmers in our midst, any wine growers, any orchardists – will be the first among us to realise the urgency of this sending God, the overwhelming focus that needs to be on wider society.
When the harvest is ready, you simply work. From dawn to dusk. Because every minute you delay increases the chance you’ll lose your harvest – to birds and blight, to rain and rot.

So this image of God as a sending God, is set in a context of urgency, an urgency shaped by a concern not for our internal needs, for our own survival, for your own agendas. But for those of wider society.

That’s the God we meet in Luke 10. This image of God is consistent with how Luke, with how the Gospels, with how the church through history has experienced God. The theological word – what you 5 being ordained, heard time and again at College – missio Dei.

It’s not that the church of God has a mission, but that the mission of God has a church. It’s not that we’re bringing people to the altar but that we’re bringing the altar to people. That’s who God is.

How’s that boat going?

Because after experiencing this sending God in verse 1 and 2, we see outlined a set of behaviours of those sent by this sending God. And that’s in the next verses

Take nothing in verse 2; Speak peace – in verse 5; Accept hospitality –Not give hospitality, but eat what is set before you – in verse 8; look out for healing – verse 9

Let me unpack what this might mean with a story. A few weeks ago, I was doing some research on churches in Australia engaged in community ministry today. I interviewed a church that had planted a community garden.

Now more and more churches are doing this. What was unique about this church was that they planted their community garden on a rooftop, four stories high. In central-city Sydney.

In explaining to me how this 4 stories high, central city community garden began, I was told that the church decided to plant a garden, because it was something they knew nothing about.

They had no gardening experience. And so that’s why they decided to plant a garden. Which meant that they had to ask for help. From the local community. And so as a result of asking for help, local gardeners are now deeply integrated into this community ministry. And it feels a really genuine “harvest” to make a pun out of the story and the reading in Luke .

Later in the interview, I decided to check if I was really hearing this right. “It sounds to me, I said “like your lack of knowledge – about gardening – actually became like a gift. By starting with what you didn’t know, it gave the community a way in, a way to get involved.” “

“Absolutely” was the animated reply. “Absolutely. Start with something you don’t know how to do. Because it opens up a different way of being with your community.”

Which I think is what’s being suggested by this Gospel reading, the behaviour’s the sending God is inviting us to in Luke 10.

Take nothing. When you do that, you’ll need help.

Speak peace. Peace is a First Testament word. It’s the Hebrew word “shalom.” It’s about peace in all of life. Peace up with God. Peace across with people – neighbor, migrants, strangers. Peace, down with the earth, in the gardens, on which God-in-Jesus walks.

Look for healing. For wellbeing in people’s lives – for wellbeing in our communities. Up with God. Across with neighbor, migrants, strangers. Down with earth.

It’s flipping upside down our traditional understandings of mission and of what it means us to be a good neighbour.
What if the task of the church in mission is actually not to be a good neighbour?
Rather what if the task of the church is to act in ways that enable our communities to be good neighbours?

How’s that boat going? Do you have a name for it yet?

So what does this mean for ordination? For you 5 – Sherrin, Esteban, Adam, Karen, Casey. For us gathered as church and friends to support you? One way to explore that question is for each of us to ask ourselves where we want to locate ourselves in this Bible reading.

Do we want to locate ourselves by siddling up and standing beside Jesus. To find ourselves at the centre of the action, who sends people out into God’s world?

Good news is that we’ve built an entire church culture around that mode of mission. We’ve developed enormous resources to sustain that type of leadership.

Bad news is that this way of being church requires a world which died about 30 years ago. I’m being dramatic. I’m a preacher. And there are, of course, exceptions. But the reality is, that the church with minister at the centre, sending people out, is now a very old-fashioned way of doing ministry. Is that where you want to locate yourself in this text?

Or do you feel most comfortable being sent. Taking no bag. Speaking peace. Accepting hospitality. Looking for signs of healing.

Bad news is that this is scary and vulnerable. It might not work. It might come across as manipulative. It might leave you, like a disciple in Luke 10, hungry with nowhwere to sleep. Or a church with a community garden that is indeed a fine example of how little you know about gardening. Polite way of saying dead.

If that’s the bad news, the good news is that this is the vision of ministry at the heart to being the Uniting Church.
To quote from paragraph 14 of the Basis of Union – (always name drop the Basis of Union in an ordination sermon)
The Uniting Church recognises … a period of reconsideration of traditional forms of the ministry, and of renewed participation of all the people of God in the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, the building up of the fellowship in mutual love, in commitment to Christ’s mission, and in service of the world for which he died.

Which is why I chose Luke 10 as our reading. And why I’ve invited all of us, you 5 being ordained, all of us church and friends, “the whole people of God” to try and locate ourselves in Luke 10.

But why the boat?

Perhaps it because Luke 10 has shaped the mission life of the church down through history. Like Brendan the Navigator. Born in Ireland, 5th century. Became a monk. Served the church faithfully. Then at the age of 80 sensed God calling him to a new adventure. I’ll repeat that. At the age of 80 – always good to have something to look forward to – sensed God calling him to a new adventure with God.

Which included building a boat. With a sail. But no rudder. No way to steer. St Brendan, felt that he was called to literally trust the wind of the Spirit. Like in Luke 10 – to be sent by a sending God.

The story goes (The Voyage of Saint Brendan: The Navigator) that Brendan set his boat free, with his 12 disciples, from the Dingle peninsula, down bottom of Ireland. He and his disciples drifted past the northern Isles of Scotland, then the Faeroe islands, then Iceland and eventually over to North America. Where-ever they went, they where shaped by Luke 10. They proclaimed God’s peace. Shalom, up, across, down to all creation.

But we’re all educated people aren’t we. We all know Christopher Columbus was the first person from Europe to land in America, not an Irish monk named Brendan. In a boat with no rudder.

Then in 1970, a man named Tim Severin, as part of National Geographic expedition set out to disprove the myth. He built a boat exactly like Brendan the Navigator. But with a radio to call for help. Set sail from Ireland. Sure enough, the winds and the tides carried him to North America, by exactly the same route and with many of the same adventures, that Brendan the Voyager wrote of. Brendan the Navigator was inspired by today’s Bible text Luke 10:1-12, to build a boat, and go on an adventures with God.

So that’s one name for your boat. Brendan’s boat.

What Brendan did was how the Celtic church understood mission. Not once, not twice, but so popular they invented a new word to describe it – peregrine – traveller, pilgrim. Robert McFarlane in his book on the history of walking (The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot) wrote of “Ocean roads’ – thousands of them. – In a world before cars and planes, boats were the fastest means of long distance travel.”

On these roads that the Celtic church did mission. Take no bag – just a boat with no rudder. Speak Peace. Looked for healing.

So that’s another name for your boat. Peregrine – pilgrim.

And then there’s the Uniting Church. To be more precise the emblem of the Uniting Church. Reading from the book with which I started, President Andrew Dutney, Introducing the Uniting Church.

The black background represents the darkened world. Upon this background the cross of Christ, the risen, crucified One. The dove with wings of flame depicts the Spirit. Beneath it all, holding it up is a … what? ….(34)

“it reminds me of a boat, with the cross as its mast and the dove’s wings as the sail.”

And no rudder. That’s Steve Taylor not Andrew Dutney.

Because, says Andrew “We are uniting, not united. We are on a journey,” a pilgrim people, “looking to the future.” So that’s perhaps that another name for your boat. You as 5 ordinards. Us as the church – that in every Council and in every ordination and in every act of ministry and in every decision, about finance and property, a Uniting Church.

A Uniting Church in Australia. In which it’s all about mission.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, and the actions of the Uniting Church, be acceptable in your sight O Sending God.

Posted by steve at 08:32 PM

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

intensive week: campus comparisons

It is intensive week at Uniting College, with three intensives running in two different geographic locations.

In Adelaide, Theology and Practice of Chaplaincy is being taught by Rev Dr Trevor Whitney. It has attracted folk from around the country, including Frontier Services Patrol Ministers, some of whom have driven for ten hours to be part of the intensive. Their 4wd vehicles sit, large and proud, in our carpark, a physical reminder of a national church.

In Adelaide there is also Formation for Christian ministry, being co-taught by Dr Pete and Sue Kaldor. They’ve joined us from Sydney for the week. That class also includes folk from inter-state, Ministers whom we at Uniting College have trained and now sent nationally, returning for ongoing training as part of their post-ordination training.

In Gold Coast, there is Theology of Jesus, being taught by myself. It is another step in the partnership between New Life Uniting, Robina, and Uniting College Adelaide. According to the Gold Coast locals, there are around 530,000 people who live on the Gold Coast. There are no theological Colleges, apart from a few Pentecostal churches that run in-house offerings. There is also a lack of distance providers in Queensland. The result is a group of the most enthusiastic students I’ve ever had, so grateful for the chance to learn and grow.

Without wanting to create a rivalry! the fact is that Gold Coast campus is far better equipped than the Adelaide campus! Check out this view … some students working on a group project.

newlifeview

This is just the start. New life have a vision for offering ministry training throughout the Gold Coast. To make that happen they are outfitting a newly built area as a lecture room, are planning a dedicated student cafe area and have a medium term plan to build a dedicated set of lecturer offices. It’s a privilege as part of Uniting College to partner with them in their dreams.

Posted by steve at 02:37 PM

Sunday, November 09, 2014

teaching the “flipped” open table of Jesus

My Semester 2, Jesus Christ topic, came to an end this week.  It ended as it began, with food. Every week for 13 weeks, soup has been offered. For two of the classes, the entire lesson was done around food.  One week, as we talked about the open table of Jesus and the final week, as we reflected on our experiences together. In doing so, a very different dynamic has emerged among us. We have become community, shared being human, laughed, shared soup recipes.

christologyclass

The dynamic around soup had reinforced another change in class – a change in teaching methodology. I introduced flipped learning. Class readings and lecture notes were placed online and students were invited (expected) to come to class prepared to engage in activities together.

In order to encourage this, I provided two learning moments. First, a discussion around what type of individual behaviours would enhance our class learning as a group? This generated an informal set of expectations among us. Second, an introduction to how people learn. I offered Bloom’s taxonomy and suggested that the traditional lecture tended to keep class time focused on knowledge and comprehension (bottom half of the circle). However if reading was done prior, this would mean our class time together could be used to focus on analysis, synthesis and evaluation (top half of the circle). In order to help this, every class offered a choice of activities. Students could choose to check their comprehension, or to work with classmates in an activity of their choosing – analysis, synthesis or evaluation.

bloomstaxonomy

The result has been a vastly different learning environment. The class has been pushed in new ways and I’ve learnt a lot as a teacher.

To help us process the semester as we gathered the final time, I suggested reflection around three colours. Green, a moment of growth that had occurred in the class. Red, an emotion we wanted to express. White, any thing else we wanted to share.

It had been an extraordinary class. Alongside the flipped learning, we’ve also had to process tragedy. During the semester, a student in the class unexpectedly died. Healthy one week, fully participating, fully engaged. Then during the week, they suffered an out of the blue heart attack. 

So the class has had to process this sudden gap. In some ways the soup and flipped learning have made the gap larger. We’d become more human, known each other in ways more vulnerable and real. Twenty heads facing a talking head lecturer would not have formed these levels of community. Equally, have formed community, we experienced greater pain. But because we were a community, we drew strength from each other, found a group ready to listen and pray.

Such is the “flipped” and open table of Jesus. More engaged. Perhaps even more painful. Yet more vulnerable, more supportive, more human, more prayerful.

Posted by steve at 06:04 PM

Thursday, November 06, 2014

too busy not to listen

As the Semester ends at Uniting College there is the usual tiredness, mixed with piles (and piles) of marking. At times of busyness, the need to make time to listen is even more important. In fact, listening is one of the most important things a leader can offer their community. We have two ears but only one tongue for a reason. Hence the following invite, being sent out to our students in the next few days. It is an invite to be listened to ….

Greetings,

It has been a year of significant change for students at 34 Lipsett Terrace, Brooklyn Park. Whether you are studying for a Flinders University or Adelaide College of Divinity award, there have been changes – with new technologies, with the library, in ecumenical relationships.

As the year ends, Janet Buchan (Executive Officer, ACD) and Steve Taylor (Principal, Uniting College), would like to spend some time listening to students. Whether you are undergraduate or postgraduate, part-time or full-time, we would like to hear from you.

What is working well? What could work better?

We will offer you pizza. We will guide you through a process of clarifying and refining the good and the bad.

We make three commitments

  • We will provide you with pizza if you RSVP
  • We will listen
  • We will make what emerges a priority for us into 2015.

Date: Wednesday, November 19, 5:30 pm-7:15 pm, student common room. RSVP by Monday, November 17, to lynda dot leitner at flinders dot edu dot au

Hoping to see you

Janet Buchan and Steve Taylor

Posted by steve at 09:42 PM

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Boyhood: a theological film review

Monthly I publish a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 85 plus films later, here is the review for November 2014, of Boyhood.

Boyhood
A film review by Steve Taylor

“The good news is that you’re feeling stuff.”
Father to son in Boyhood

We have either all had one or observed one.

I refer to boyhood: that process by which a child grows into an adult. “Boyhood” the movie follows Mason from age five to eighteen. Through his eyes we experience broken marriages, domestic violence, bullying and various male rites of passage deemed essential to contemporary Western cultural life. We face the pain and potential of becoming adult.

“Boyhood” was twelve years in the making, twelve short stories, each written over the shooting period. It was collaboratively, director and actors together shaping the narrative direction.

Director Richard Linklater is known for movies including “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset,” “Before Midnight.” Each of the three “Before” movies focused on one twenty-four hour period.

Each explored generational rites, earning Linklater a reputation as the definitive cinematic capturer of 20-something contemporary culture, a visual Douglas Coupland.

In “Boyhood,” that one day becomes thirteen years. Academics call it longitudinal studies, repeated observations of the same variables over long periods of time. They also call it particularity, in which the focus on the singularity makes accessible what is universal. It’s impossible to watch “Boyhood” without thinking of your own becoming of age.

Each of the “Before” trilogy also features Ethan Hawke, who in “Boyhood” faces his own need to grow, from 20-something to father of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his older sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). She is also Linklater’s daughter. After the first three years of filming, she wanted out, asking her director father to find a way to kill her “Boyhood” character.

If Linklater is master of the capture of contemporary culture, then what are we seeing as we look in the “Boyhood” mirror? Reflected back are images of developing technology, the seduction of education, the corrosive power of alcohol, the potential of parents no matter life’s circumstances.

The theological notes are intriguing. Good news, a phrase rendered cliché and clunky by so many Christian churches, becomes in “Boyhood” the appreciation “that you’re feeling stuff.” It sets up the final scene in which Mason asks if we seize the moment? Or do the moments seize us? Hence good news becomes feeling the experiences of the now.

It is an intriguing attempt at theology, given that growth over time, grasped through a sense of unfolding memory lies at the movie’s core. This is best depicted by Mason and Samantha’s mother (Patricia Arquette), as she faces the adulthood of her children.

“This is the worst day of my life. I knew this day would come, except why is it happening now? First I get married, have kids, end up with two ex-husbands, go back to school, get my degree, get my masters, send both my kids off to college. What’s next? My own funeral?”

For her to experience the now is news more bad than good. Which perhaps is the real message of “Boyhood.” That growing up is for adults.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal at the Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, Adelaide. He writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at www.emergentkiwi.org.nz.

Posted by steve at 08:51 PM

Sunday, November 02, 2014

looking up

I love the creativity by which spaces are changed. Here is a wonderful example from our recent holiday in Turkey. The interior of a large room, and from the ceiling had been hung bright yellow coloured rings.

lookingup

Walking inside, we noted a change of colour, from yellow to green, along with a change of shape. It seemed invitation, pointing toward another room.

lookingup green

They had even placed a swing inside. Which sure enough, you were allowed to play on. I watched a young child head straight for the swing, and another young couple enjoy some fun together.

lookingupswing

It changed the entire look and feel of the place, from large and stark, to playfully invitational. I have no idea why (not being fluent in Turkish) but it was a memorable and striking way to invite us to “look up.” It created interaction, built conversation with strangers (Wow, what is it?) and offered a set of memories that walked with us into our week.

A church could use their “looking up” to change with the colours of the church year, to hang angels at Advent, to create more intimate surroundings in winter. For a positive, practical, example, Cityside Baptist in Auckland were superb. They had strung wire across their auditorium and this allowed them to attach spots, but also to provide a range of creative offerings – flowers, poppies at Anzac Day.

Up is as much of a space to be curated as the front. (For more on curating and worship; see Jonny Baker, Curating Worship and Mark Pierson, The Art of Curating Worship: Reshaping the Role of Worship Leader)

Posted by steve at 09:30 PM

Friday, October 31, 2014

The complexity of authenticity in religious innovation: “alternative worship” and its appropriation as Fresh Expressions

There is a Cultures of Authenticity Symposium in Adelaide, 28 November, 2014. Here’s the brief

Authenticity pervades contemporary culture. This symposium provides a unique opportunity to investigate the significance of authenticity in regards to self, culture and society across key areas of social life from ethics, spirituality, work and intimacy to new media, tourism, health and environment.

The invite is to scholars to submit papers assessing the role of authenticity in late-modern life and its real-world applications and consequences. Full papers will be published in the journal M/C. It seemed a good opportunity to take my research on fresh expressions into a wider conversation, so last night I submitted an abstract:

The complexity of authenticity in religious innovation: “alternative worship” and its appropriation as Fresh Expressions

This paper will explore the formational potential of authenticity in late-modern cultures, with particular attention to unintended consequent complexities as authenticity is appropriated by contemporary religious innovations.

Recently within Western Protestantism a range of new approaches to church and worship has developed. Ethnographic research into these religious communities (called “alternative worship”) shows that authenticity was a generative word, used by these community to define themselves as marginal and thus to justify innovation.

However these acts of self-location, so essential for innovation and identity, were complexified when appropriated by the mainstream. This occurred first as mainstream religious communities sought to implement selected liturgical innovations generated by these “alternative worship” groups. Secondly, an organisation structure (called Fresh Expressions) was formed by appropriating the innovation. However the generative energy was not around marginality but rather on the renewal of existing institutional life.

These complexities can be theorised using the work of Sarah Thornton (Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital (Music Culture)). Her research into culture cultures in the United Kingdom also noted a creative interplay between innovation and authenticity, first in generating innovation and subsequently, complexified as what was marginal gained success in mainstream musical cultures.

This suggests that authenticity plays a complex role in identity formation in a branded world.

Posted by steve at 08:28 AM

Thursday, October 30, 2014

the power of the Preamble

In recent years, the Uniting Church in Australia has added a ‘Preamble’ to its Constitution. Emerging from discussion with indigenous folk (UAICC -Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress) it provides an account of the role of the church in Australian (settlement/invasion) and makes some declarations of the Indigenous experience of God.

For instance, here is paragraph 3:

“The First Peoples had already encountered the Creator God before the arrival of the colonisers; the Spirit was already in the land revealing God to the people through law, custom and ceremony. The same love and grace that was fully and finally revealed in Jesus Christ sustained the First Peoples and gave them particular insights into God’s ways.”

Yesterday our Christology class had the second in our indigenous women’s Christology series. We had the privilege of hearing Eseta Meneilly, a Uniting Church minister from Victoria, share how she connects Christ and her culture (Fijian).

She began her lecture by noting the power of the Preamble. How when she read the Preamble, she began to wonder. If the First Peoples of this Australian land had already encountered God, then did the same apply to her Fijian people’s experience? As she pondered this question, she remembered something from her school days. Long forgotten in her journey, a piece of her cultural history.

She shared this cultural history with the class and together we began to see a deeply Incarnational movement by the Christ, to be present in a (Fijian) cultural worldview. We decided that yes, indeed, here was a “particular” insight into God’s ways.

As part of the indigenous women’s Christology project we have videod the lecture by Eseta and a researcher will work with Eseta to see if we can provide a written account. The hope is that this will be added to other indigenous Christology accounts and a student resource might emerge, that can place indigenous theologies alongside the weight of currently published Western Christologies.

But as these efforts to make more visible these rich Christologies continue, I am struck today by the power of the Preamble. I am grateful for the courage of those who dreamed it, wrote it, advocated for it. I’m intrigued by the potential of a written document to bring change, including theological and missiological change. I’m challenged by people, like Eseta, who have taken the Preamble seriously. I’m eager to hear and see what might continue to be produced in the year’s ahead.

Posted by steve at 08:49 AM

Monday, October 27, 2014

sticky innovation: making change concrete

Making change stick. It’s one of the challenges of innovation. Finding ways to embed change in the life of your organisation and your systems, so that change lives on. Last week I saw this happen in two different ways, by ritualising and by double-dipping.

First, by ritualising. Last year as our annual Presbytery and Synod approached, I was in a group discussing a separate issue, of how to name a change in our candidate process. Uniting Church ministerial training guidelines, passed in 1997, reviewed and affirmed in 2007, call for a Third Phase of Ministerial Education. It is intended to be period of sustained and intentional mentoring and support for newly ordained ministers during the first three years of ministry practice. In South Australia, this partnership happens through Formation Panels. Nine times in Phase two, five times in Phase three, a group of experienced ministers meet with those in Phase 3, to provide support in transition, to advise in managing time, developing an appropriate work-life balance and doing all those firsts – wedding, funeral, baptism, Easter, AGM, conflict!

Deep relationships form. Then suddenly, the minister has moved to Phase 4. How to honour this change? At the same time, another group I was part of was planning the annual Recognition of Ministry service, in which retiring ministers are thanked and blessed. Why not weave a new ritual into that evening? Why not ask all those transitioning into Phase 4 to stand? Why not celebrate this expression of growth? Why not ask the retiring ministers to bless them?

This week the annual Presbytery and Synod approached again. The order of service from last year was found and the email arrived. “Steve, last year we did something. Can you remember what it was, because it needs to be done again.” And so ritualising, weaving a growth moment, with prayer, into a worship service, had “stuck.”

Second, double-dipping. In May, we introduced a change into our Adelaide College of Divinity graduation service. As each graduand came forward, they were briefly introduced. A few sentences that told where they had come from, what they had studied and where they were going to. This involved a prior brainstorm regarding what we as Faculty knew of the student, followed by a phone call to ensure the student was happy with what would be said. A bit of work. But the feedback was overwhelming. Students felt personalised, the audience felt connected.

Last week, we faced the annual government reporting. It includes a graduate survey, to capture employability. We all grinned. No need do that research, because we already have that data. Sure enough, every single graduation introduction, had the employment data we needed. Double dipping. Using one piece of work twice. It makes the change likely to “stick” because of the value of double dipping.

Making change stick is harder that starting change. But ritualising and double-dipping are all practices which make change concrete.

Posted by steve at 10:22 PM

Friday, October 24, 2014

the teaching challenge: theology

I wrote this recently, in response to a Flinders University request to explain why I teach, and how this applies in how I teach theology. (It is a few paragraphs by way of contextual introduction in what was a 5,500 word paper about evidence-based research I’m doing into the impact of flipped learning on the student experience).

Theology students are more likely to be part-time and mature in age. This presents a range of challenges including managing significant diversity within the classroom and working with a range of anxieties as mature age students return to study.

Theology is often closely tied with personally held beliefs. Some students are studying for a vocational role in their religious communities, while others study for interest. This presents some unique learning challenges. Students are being invited to engage critically with beliefs that at times they, or the communities to which they belong, are highly invested in.

In response, I seek to be a learner-centred educator. I believe that each student comes with a unique finger print and deserves space and processes to connect their existing life experience with the subject matter. People learn best when safe space is created, so a classroom of respect and appreciation of diversity is essential. Thinking aloud must be allowed.

Posted by steve at 10:47 AM

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

singing a new song

The lectionary Psalm for the day has twice, in the last six days, begun with the words “Sing a new song.” I used it to begin our team meeting community time last week. What new things are we seeing, that we need to “sing” in thanks to God? It opened up a rich and celebrative conversation.

Reading the words again today, it struck me that singing has different dimensions. It can be aural, the audible lifting of voice. The singing can be recorded and thus the the audible lifting of voice can be shared. The singing can also be written down as sheet music, and thus others can perform the new song for themselves. In so doing, the performance can then change, as new harmonies are added, as different speeds or mixes are incorporated. Each are ways to “sing a new song,” each allow different layers of reach, influence and release.

I used this notion of “singing a new song” to reflect back over what God has been doing in and around me in recent weeks.

First, the “singing” of the indigenous womens’ Christology project. This was aural in class last week. But through strategic use of funding, there is the hope it can be recorded. The hope is that in “singing” this indigenous song, that different contexts are freed to sing their own unique harmonies, to find confidence in their own “performance” of Jesus.

Second, the “singing” of the urban gardens presentation I did at the Urban Life together conference. This was sung on Saturday, to a group of conference participants. The conference hopes to produce a book, and so my aural “song” might well end up “recorded.” (If I can find the time).

In the meantime, some of what I said was “recorded” in bits on my website. It’s one of the reasons I blog – to sing a new song, and in a different “recorded” way than book based “recording.” During the conference, a stray conversation with another conference participant offered another “mix.” Again, I recorded this by blogging it, linking community development, missiology and urban development. In turn, it attracted some wonderful comments, which linked with flipped learning and it helped me make connections to another “mix”.

Aural, recorded, performed: the many ways that we can sing a new song.

Posted by steve at 03:46 PM