Thursday, May 31, 2012

en-robe-d for mission

I’m heading south for the weekend to enjoy the beautiful Robe. When not enjoying the beach, the great local coffee or wine tasting at Coonwara, I will be joining the Uniting Church Rural resourcing team. They visit 3 centres around rural South Australia each year, offering training, encouragement and resourcing. This year the theme is mission and I’m doing 3 teaching sessions for them

  • What is mission?
  • What can mission through church look like?
  • Engaging our community (in which I’m offering a mission-shaped ministry module, as part of promoting the 2012 Adelaide msm course).

I’m also leading worship, in which I will try and model some creative ways to engage the weekly lectionary text (Isaiah 6 in Trinity Sunday).

It has been a really intense week, as I’ve juggled study leave (alas very little), preparation, plus chairing the Joint Nominating Committee as we look for a Director of Missiology/Post-graduate Co-ordinator. So a bit of space away from the city and the email will be appreciated.

I was meant to be heading with one of the children, but alas they have been bitten by the flu. Nevertheless, wine, coffee and walking can still be enjoyed.

Posted by steve at 05:21 PM

Trinity worship stations

Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, visual images on themes of pilgrimage). For more resources go here.

On the weekend, I am leading some worship for a group of church leaders in the South East of the State. It is Trinity Sunday and as I reflected on the lectionary readings, and in particular Isaiah 6:1-8, a number of stations seemed to suggest themselves – ways to confess, to intercede, to respond, to commune.

There are many ways to engage the Word. Around the room are a number of stations. You can stay with one. Or you can move. After about 20 minutes a bell will ring. We will gather. If time, there will be space for a few people to share in insight that emerged from engaging the Word around stations. We will then move into communion together.

Confession and absolution station: Coal station
One way to respond to Isaiah 6 is to take time to examine “our lips.” In this Bible passage, the coal becomes a symbol of forgiveness that follows confession.

Take some time to reflect. In what ways have you been a “person of unclean lips”? In what ways do you “live among a people of unclean lips”?

Silently confession any areas of uncleanness that come to mind. Do this by touching the coal to your lips. It might be appropriate to touch your lips more than once.

Please take a coal from the bag and once you have finished, place your coal in the basin provided.

As you end your time at this station recalling the words from Isaiah: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”

Mapping station: “Here I am, Send me.” But where?
Take some time to look at the map. It is laid out, using stones, in the shape of South-Eastern South Australia. Take time to see if there is a place that God puts on your heart. You might like to light a taper and place it on the map in a place that you would like to pray for.

Eating station: “touched my mouth.”
Make yourself a savory snack.

Now enjoy eating your snack. As you do, reflect on the following. The three elements – crackers, cheese, gherkin – invite us to think about the three persons of the Trinity.

What happens if one is left out? What does each distinctive “person” add to our faith? What does each person and the faith of our church?

If you want, make yourself another. And keep tasting, reflecting …. This weekend we have focused on mission, on our taste in the community.

What might your church taste like to those in your community? As a result of this weekend, are there any different flavours you want to add into your church “taste”?

Drawing station: “And I said” What are you “saying”?
This weekend we have asked: What is mission? What does it mean for my church? Isaiah asks us how we will respond. He asks himself the question: “And I said” …..

As a result of this weekend, what do you want to say?

Take some liquid chalk. Write a word or phrase that might capture what you want to say.

(by writing it on the window. The chalk does come off. Promise!)

Take a second colour and write a word or phrase you want to pray that your church might start to say?

Colouring station:
Colour in the icon. Simply enjoy it. As you do ask God to speak to you through the activity.

Posted by steve at 11:53 AM

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Does the Trinity and Rublevs Icon prioritise worship over mission?

trinityiconstylised200.jpg Does Rublev’s Icon encourage a church gathered in worship, rather than a church scattered in mission?

Such is my question as I prepare to speak on mission, including leading worship, amongst leaders of the Uniting churches of the South East on Saturday. It is the only speaking engagement I’m doing in the 3 months of sabbatical. I had said yes before the sabbatical option came up, so I felt it was a commitment I had to honour.

In preparation, I’m aware that the Sunday coming is Trinity Sunday. So the obvious place to go is to Trinity and mission. Here’s what I wrote in 2004.

At the heart of the Trinity is three persons – Father, Son and Spirit – in the giving of love. Love is shared between persons, in an unlimited, ever-spiraling flow of love. The church fathers used to call this perichoresis – the divine dance of love. It is a beautiful metaphor; fluid, whole-bodied, dynamic.

What makes this missional is that this dynamic, fluid, flowing love is shared with the world, in creation, in Christ, and in the activity of the Spirit. This flow of love refuses to remain self-centred.

When God breathes breath into humanity, created in the image of God, we see the relational love of the Trinity shared. Love is never self-indulgent. In Christ, the relational love of the Trinity is shared. The sharing is so radical, so complete, so life-giving, that one person of the Trinity will die for the Other. The affirmation that the Spirit is in our world reminds us that love is always calling us, always inviting us out of our circles, out of our understandings of community, out of our walls and set practices. In this sense the Trinity is missional,

Further, the Trinity offers us unity and diversity, one love shared between three distinct persons. This also guides our mission. The missional church will be an expression of the shared love of God. Equally the missional church will be locally distinctive, a unique, grounded expression of the God-head.

Thus talk about church and mission needs to be grounded in our understandings of God as Trinity. A “missional church” is not new, but a recovering of very ancient understandings, in which we live, we create, we emerge, as an outflow of the shared love of God. We seek to express fluid, whole-boided, dynamic love. We honour the unity with other expressions of church, we applaud diversity, we celebrate uniquely grounded differences.

I’m still happy with that, some 7 years on. But how to express such concepts – intellectual and theological in worship?

One option could be to invite them to draw in the beautiful sandy beaches around Robe, like here. Another could be to adapt the Rublevs Icon children’s talk, which I did with such positive feedback when I preached last year at Brighton Uniting on Trinity Sunday.

But it raises the question with which I began: Won’t contemplation of the icon simply leave me sitting at the table with Jesus? Doesn’t it encourage a church gathered in worship, rather than a church scattered in mission?

Posted by steve at 11:18 AM

Monday, May 28, 2012

Pentecost gifts: pioneering and Graham Cray

Graham Cray, Archbishops’ Missioner and Team Leader of Fresh is currently in Australia, speaking at Clergy Conferences in Adelaide and Canberra/Goulburn. He rang on Saturday and it was great to be able to connect with him for a quiet wine yesterday. (No photo this time :)) Of course, Sunday was also Pentecost and it seemed so appropriate to be talking mission, pioneering and future church on this day of Spirit celebration. Four things have stayed with me.

First, the God of fun and surprise. It was Graham’s wry conclusion as he noted that there are now over 1000 Fresh expressions among Anglican churches in England. And that latest results just coming in from the Methodists in the UK indicate that when you add in the numbers attending Fresh expressions, they have grown as a denomination.

Second, the ratios. During the conversation Graham noted that there are now around 130 Ordained pioneers being trained in the UK. Coming home, I did the math. Adelaide has about a 1 million people, while UK has around 50 million. Comparative numbers would have us here in South Australia, having training 2-3 ordained pioneers. I thought with gladness of current candidates and recent graduates at Uniting College including Titus, Sarah, Karen, Amel, Peter Riggs and Mandy. It made me glad of what God is doing among us in South Australia. Yet with 6 it is still hard to generate a sense of community and cohesion. As I thought about ratio’s, I began to wonder if it will be sensible for every State, and every Denomination in Australia, to be training their own pioneers? Or do we need a few co-operative ventures among Colleges? And even, heaven forbid! among States?

Third, the sheer intentionality of the change project. As we talked about training of lay pioneers, selection processes for ordination, supervision structures, networking of Diocesian leadership teams in mission learning networks, it was a reminder that this is a whole church reformation. Such is the pioneering Spirit of Pentecost, birthing and re-birthing the church.

Four, the phrase leaders in mission. The UK expects all of their clergy in training to develop their ability to be leaders in mission. All clergy, not just pioneers. A nice re-focusing for me, as I think about the task of being Principal at Uniting College come 1 July, and the call to train leaders for a healthy, missional church.

Thanks Graham and thanks Spirit for Pentecost gifts.

Posted by steve at 01:10 PM

Sunday, May 27, 2012

when the day of Pentecost came: the visual in worship

When the day of Pentecost came. Mark A Hewitt, Pastel & pen. 26 May 2012. (Mark provides a weekly visual for worship here).

Posted by steve at 02:38 PM

Friday, May 25, 2012

Got it

Looks like we’ve caught the mouse that was in the house.

🙂 lol

Posted by steve at 10:27 AM

Thursday, May 24, 2012

@pentecost mission is for the geriatric

This is a fascinating video, either at Pentecost or for anyone working with a mainline, declining, aging denomination in mission, leadership and change. Fuller Theological Seminary lecturer Mark Lau Branson shares a contextual reading and interpretation of the Pentecost story in Acts 2 in which he suggests that those gathered in Jerusalem were mainly retirees and it is amongst the faithful elderly that God’s surprising spirit turns up.

Mark is author of the fantastic Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change, which explores the use of Appreciative Inquiry in church life, excerpts of which I invariably use when talking about mission with local churches. Mark is also co-author of Churches, Cultures and Leadership: A Practical Theology of Congregations and Ethnicities, of which Part 3 especially is a superb resource, offering practical skills of leadership by using a case study of real change.

Posted by steve at 11:31 PM

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

the Pentecost practice of small growth

In February, I gave the three favourite women in my life flowers. Not cut, but living. Each plant was different. One was given an indoor orchid, another a outdoor flowering native shrub, another an outdoor native tree.

The period around Valentines Day in Adelaide is hot. It’s summer and things are dry. It meant that a gift of the day also demanded ongoing care. Each morning I could be found, hose in hand, watering the outdoor natives.

Moving into March, I became quite concerned about one. The soil was dry, the sun hot and significant die-back had appeared.

Yesterday, warming down after my morning run, I was delighted to see new growth, the first fragile signs of life taking root.

And to notice that the indoor orchid was preparing to flower again, a beautiful white and lavender about to emerge.

This week we celebrate Pentecost and move into a season in which we pay particular attention to the work of the Spirit. For me, the miracle of the Spirit, and the task of paying attention, is captured in the fragile new life I see in my garden.

For a while in my late teens, I linked Pentecost with great signs and wonders. I’d leave church looking for the miraculous, the dramatic, the extra-ordinary.

In doing so, I would walk right past what was small, the fragile in my garden, the miracle that is any growth, any sign of life, especially in a hot and barren climate. But the Kingdom that is God’s at times seems to pay more attention to the humble, the small, the insignificant. As Jesus welcomes children, as he avoids the crowds seeking miracles, it becomes a reminder that in God’s economy, all growth is worth celebrating, any new leaf worth paying attention to.

This for me, is the Pentecost practice of small growth.

(This is another entry in dictionary of everyday spirituality, under the heading P is for Pentecost).

Posted by steve at 05:00 PM

Monday, May 21, 2012

Do women do it – ministry and leadership – differently?

Do women lead different?


And yes.

That is the conclusion from those who write in Presiding Like a Woman – Feminist Gestures for Christian Assemblies, a collection of 20 essays and 2 poems, reflecting on what it means to “preside”, to offer leadership in ministry, as a woman.

The argument of the book is that gender can be rejected – “Oh we’re all the same.” Or ignored – “It’s awkward, so let’s not talk about it.” Or explored, because, in the words of Ali Green, “By honouring sexual difference we can encourage and inspire others who … have felt excluded by their own culture, both within the Church and in wider society.” (109)

As I read, a number of themes seemed to keep appearing.

First, an embodied spirituality – for example the connection in so many essays to experience. In the words of Gillian Hill “women’s experience and an embodied approach challenge any retreat into abstract ideas.” (155)

Second, the whole of life – and to illustrate, a great example by Ali Green

“As well as being childbearers, woman are also oftentimes the carers and homemakers who look after the very young and old and put food on the table. Essentially, the Eucharist is a meal of companionship where everyone is invited to the table, and where the priest, representing Christ, feeds the guests. The woman presider offers a reminder of this very concrete and humble connection: the transcendent, unsearchable God, through the incarnation, becomes known to us in the basic staples of life.” (Green, 107)

Third, participation – a desire for interactivity and mutuality. A chapter by Nichola Slee explored this in depth, arguing that mutuality flourished when responsibility was taken up to attend to the care of the group.

“whether shared or exercised by one person, attention to the power dynamics within the group and careful management of those dynamics is essential if the community is to function well.” (160)

Four, leadership as gentle space-making – Grey describes how the presider is a midwife “that hears into speech, especially the inarticulate, the invisible, the excluded.” (55) This space-making is facilitated by an ethos of empowering leadership and the deliberate creation of safe space.

“The [teacher] does not create the community, but she is frequently the one to call the community together and to issue the invitation to the risky, adventurous process of learning.” (159)

What was fascinating was the chapter by Brian Barrett (one of the two male contributors) who placed this within a lovely mission frame. He argues that the traditional image of church as circle is not Biblical. Neither is the one person band.

Rather leadership is about movement, the constant shift between attending to the congregation and to the stranger on the margins;

to “move back and forth across and to the very edges and doorways of the space, enabling and encouraging the movement of others, and, in the process, making visible and tangible the ‘incarnational flow’ within the ‘space between.’” (Barrett, 173)

Much to think about in this book, as I lay it alongside Faith of Girls, Women’s Spiritual Development (here and here) and the emerging church data I am working with.

Posted by steve at 06:57 PM

Sunday, May 20, 2012

why twitter is good for little blogs like mine

“Brilliant,” was the comment.

This week in the calendar of the church was Ascension Day. In honour of the day, I placed a quick note on Twitter, pointing to a number of historic “Ascension Day” posts on my blog:

Ascension day in worship And theology

One post (Ascension day in worship) was an interactive worship service I had offered back in 2010 – Ascension Day and the footprints of Jesus – as a resource. Another post (Ascension day in theology) was a short theological reflection that I blogged back in 2007. (Please note the date. 2007 was some 3 years BEFORE Jeremy Begbie, at Wheaton, declared that the emerging church needed to pay more attention to the Ascension. Three years. Obviously Jeremy Begbie didn’t read my blog in doing his research. LOL!)

Anyhow, none of these posts rank anywhere on google, presumably not because they are bad, but simply because my blog is so small/does not know how to manipulate google rankings.

We are told that google is great for democratisation of information, but it also feeds a very fastmoving, temporary society, in which if you’re not on page one, you’re off the digital radar. Which means that for little blogs like mine, what you post as a resource has a very short shelf life. Which, if you post things hoping they might resource others, becomes self-defeating.

Until twitter. One short tweet this week led to a “brillant” comment by one person and a request by another to use the resources in worship. It put the resource back in circulation, by-passing the google gatekeeping and achieving the purpose of the blog – to share creativity, to pass on resources.

Which makes platforms like twitter more important for little blogs like mine, more important if the web really is meant to enhance connection and resourcing, a subversion of the hierarchies that have developed so quickly in this so-called “flat” networked digital world.

Posted by steve at 08:45 PM

Friday, May 18, 2012

midway marker, in days and words

While Steve is making pleasing progress, he can be easily distracted

As of today, I’m about halfway through this 3 months of study leave.

There have been a few distractions. In the first week of study leave I was involved in the group that appointed Sean Gilbert as the new Ministry Practice Co-ordinator to the Uniting College Faculty. In the last few weeks we’ve begun the selection and interview processes for a Principal’s PA (0.5), a Director of Missiology (0.5) and a Post-graduate Co-ordinator (.0.5). These are not yet filled, so they will continue to be a “study leave” presence.

So what else have I done?

I’ve had afternoon coffees with a range of interesting colleagues, getting me out of my little head in my little writing cave, building the networks.

I’ve written for publication one short 850 word article, on “Diaconal Ministry and Fresh Expressions.”

I’ve lodged one 5,000 word funding bid, seeking $25,000 to do research on Social innovation in religious organisations in Australia.

The major focus has been the book project – “Emerging ten years on: durability and sustainability in fresh expressions.” I’ve written a 4,500 word outline of the entire project, mapping out all 13 chapters, which I’ve sent to a few friends for feedback.

With that big picture in place, I’ve got stuck into four of the six new chapters I want to write. This has involved analysing the focus group interviews – trying to make sense of written transcripts of around 50,000 word in total. Plus analysing the data from 47 survey forms – in particular looking at gender differences between how males and females grow in faith in emerging churches. I am not yet ready to make any conclusions. But I am loving the twists and turns the project is taking me (especially the reading on gender (here, here and here), loving what the data is showing.

All told the word count for these four chapters now totals around 20,000. Not necessarily good words, but words. You can’t edit what’s in one’s head, but you can edit what’s on paper. I reckon I need about 45,000. So I am almost halfway. Today. A day which also marks the midway marker in this three months of study leave.

So, 6 weeks on, at the mid-way marker, a full book manuscript is still a possibility by the end of study leave, 29 June.

Posted by steve at 06:58 PM

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

a big day: social innovation research funding bid

Today I ticked off one of my study leave goals, submitting a funding bid to do some research into pioneering (social innovation) in Australia. It has involved a lot of work, a few late nights, some 5,000 words, spread over 26 pages of application and pulling together support from 4 different partners.

The bid is titled “Social innovation within religious communities in Australia.” The aims are “to undertake an analysis of quantitative data, and gather further qualitative data in order to analyse the skills and capacities required to catalyse and sustain innovations that build social capital and enhance the public good in the not-for-profit sector.”

It has involved negotiating with various partners, trying to think about their needs and how they might link with the aims of the University (research). The intended outcomes (if the bid is successful) will include a mix of articles, book, video and help in our post-graduate research.

It’s a highly competitive process, so I’m not holding my breath.

But it’s been fascinating to try to explain pioneering and fresh expressions in publicly accessible language (almost mission in itself perhaps?). And it’s been great to have the space of sabbatical to write and re-write. It’s allowed me to met some new people, be stretched in new areas and be very glad that Uniting College has a relationship with Flinders University, that makes such collaboration even a possibility.

But it’s left me stuffed.

Posted by steve at 09:49 PM

is religion better or worse for society?

A range of opinions regarding the public social good of religious institutions exist.

• an “ivory tower” perception, in which religious organisations are judged to have no earthly focus, and thus little practical public good

• a “culture destroyer” view, in which religious organisations are considered to be of toxic value to tolerance and goodwill of society

• a “public good” generator, in which religious organisations are investigated as potential contributors to public social capital.

The rationale for this “public good generator” position is that religious organisations currently exist as a significant contributor in the not-for-profit arena. Some research has indicated that church adherents are more likely to serve as volunteers. For example, church attenders are more likely to be volunteers in local community groups (43%) than the wider Australian population (32%). Across all denominations, volunteering within the congregation has a strong positive relationship with volunteering in the community. Rather than being only church-focused, church volunteers are outward-looking and active in their community. (Source: NCLS Research/University of Western Sydney joint study on volunteering (2001))

However, existing religious organisations face significant challenges, in regard to adaptation to new technologies, how to participate in a pluralistic and multi-faith society and strategies in the face of declining membership and a shrinking resource base. These factors suggests that social innovation for religious organisations will be an imperative, in order to sustain their existing contributions to public social capital. In a changing world, how might historic values of compassion, respect and justice (Uniting Communities Vision, continue to be enacted?

This study will seek to provide research data that might guide religious institutions in addressing such questions today.

This is something I wrote for a University/Partner organisations funding bid I’ve been putting together over the last week. (One page of an 17 page).

Posted by steve at 09:54 AM

Monday, May 14, 2012

A theology for the ‘wild things’

I want to place two “life moments” side by side, in order to help me reflect on the place of a theology of ‘wild things.’

During the last few months, I’ve been part of a religious group exploring the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience. The list is such a positive, life-affirming list and the resources have been challenging and helpful.

During the last week, Maurice Sendak, the writer of “Where the wild things” died. In memory, on the spur of the moment, on Saturday evening, we invited friends to mark his passing by watching the movie, “Where the wild things are.”

We missed it when it came out. It seemed an appropriate way to mark a man who had such an interesting ethos to ponder — “I like interesting people and kids are really interesting people.” And who wrote a book about a child and the ‘wild things’ that include fear, anger, grief. “Wild things” which Max, needed to learn how to live with, yet also “wild things” that made him a “really interesting” kid.

Which got me thinking about a theology in the ‘wild things.’ How, when, where, do communities of faith ponder not only the “fruits of the Spirit”, but the deeper emotions that make us human: anger, sorrow, denial, betrayal?

What about sermon series on these?

I mean, they were all felt, or experienced by Jesus. (See for example, some of my thinking/feeling from last year on the feelings of Jesus. And here). So Christianly, we should have plenty of resources. Often the emotions are tucked into Holy Week. (And part of what makes it so exhausting.) Watching “Where the Wild Things” are made me wonder if we need other places, beside Holy Week, in which to explore these emotions theologically?

Posted by steve at 07:07 PM