Wednesday, January 30, 2013

mission as the great learning experience of Western Christianity

Following on from my mission as a “converting” ordinance, here is related wisdom from one of the finest missiologists the world has seen, Andrew Walls. Saying the same thing, as mission as a “converting” ordinance, just applied to the whole of Christianity!

The missionary movement was the great learning experience of Western Christianity. By its very nature it brought the Christian faith, when it had become thoroughly accommodated to the life and thought of the West and the conceptual categories of western Europe, into massive interaction with totally different styles of life and thought. (Walls, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission and Appropriation of Faith, 238)

This is what is happening (or needs to happen) with Fresh and emerging expressions of church. It is bringing of missionary learnings, that are distant, over their, far away, into our suburbs, networks and homes.

Posted by steve at 08:40 AM

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

back from Bristol

Just back from a productive trip to Bristol. Two aims.

First, as part of alt.worship ten years on research project. Some ten years ago I visited an alt.worship group called Resonance, meeting in the Cotham Parish Church. I joined them for worship and interviewed the then Vicar, Paul Roberts.

Ten years later, Resonance no longer exists. But Foundation meets in the same church, similar time, similar ethos. So as part of the ten years on research project, I went back to visit, again to join them for worship. And this time to interview two people, the current leader, Tim Summers and the former Vicar, Paul Roberts. And to explore what was same, what was different, and what they’ve learnt about sustainability. Lots of wisdom in those two people and lots of learning from the story. A privilege to listen to.

Second, to visit Trinity College. To put on my Principal of Uniting College hat and ask what they are learning about forming leaders in mission. They are one of six Colleges I am trying to connect with here in the UK. Again lots of wisdom and a privilege to listen.

Then back home. The only downside was the driving. Yesterday I got my right and left mixed up and got lost. Today I got my east and west mixed up and nearly ended up in Wales. A relief to finally be back at base.

Posted by steve at 06:05 AM

Sunday, January 27, 2013

mission as a “converting” ordinance

This is some of what I wrote today.

Wesley described Holy Communion as a ‘converting ordinance,’ an event in which through participation in the event of Communion, people encounter Christ. In a sermon on the verse “Do this in remembrance of me,” he wrote:

But experience shows … Ye are the witnesses. For many now present know, the very beginning of your conversion to God (perhaps, in some, the first deep conviction) was wrought at the Lord’s Supper. John Wesley, The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, Vol 3, p. 188-9

It is worth noting first, the language of “experience” and “witnesses,” and thus the priority of experience in Wesley’s theology. Second, the language of “beginning” and “first,” suggesting that conversion is a process. Third, that participation in the ordinance changes the participants.

This provides a theological lens by which to explore innovation as a “converting ordinance,” to consider that while “Fresh Expression Case Study” might have set out to “convert,” the journey of innovation resulted in their experiencing a number of conversions: five in total,

  • Conversion of senses
  • Conversion to hope
  • Conversion by community
  • Conversion through journey
  • Conversion in humanity

Innovation thus becomes a “converting” ordinance. It changes sender, sent and sendee (the intended recipient of the message).

Posted by steve at 09:31 AM

Saturday, January 26, 2013

a (UK) sabbatical update 2

Well first, sadly, some more of team Taylor departed, leaving me alone in UK for next 4 weeks. The very isolating part of the UK sabbatical has begun.

This week I began trying to implement my book proposal and test if my method would work. In essence, I’m trying to think about the wisdom of experimentation by telling stories. Specifically, stories of churches doing things differently. The stories are congregational studies, and I am placing them in conversation, to see what themes emerge, what wisdom they can learn from each other. It’s an attempt to implement an approach to understanding church by Nicholas Healy, Church, World and the Christian Life: Practical-Prophetic Ecclesiology (Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine), who argues that the most life-giving way to be the church is through being the church, what he calls a “theodramatic” approach.

So we gain more insight about being the church on mission today by storytelling among communities who have lived it. The stories have to be ethnographic, based on people living with churches and surveying participants, not just interviews with a leader likely to spin and spruik. There is one major continuous story, my data on Cityside over 10 years, and ten other selected stories, from four countries.

So this week I was immersed in two concrete stories.

First, Matthew Guest’s study of one of the largest and most influential evangelical charismatic churches in the UK, St Michael le Belfrey, in York, in which is also nestled an emerging church called Visions. His book Evangelical Identity and Contemporary Culture: A Congregational Study in Innovation (Studies in Evangelical History and Thought) based on living with the church for 12 months, attending worship, interviewing, surveying. It’s a wonderful book, full of rich and perceptive insights into being church based on lived experience, not theory.

Second, Tracy Robinson who wrote a Masters thesis, based on participant observation and interview methods to explore a Fresh Expression in Oxford. She concluded that the worship of this emerging church emphasised movement and change rather than rootedness and stability, which is better for some types of people than others.

So a week of note taking and writing up what learnings emerge as these two churches talk to each other, and to my main case study, Cityside Baptist over 10 years.

Plus a week of organising – pulling together trips in the week coming to Bristol on Sunday/Monday and a trip to Cambridge on Thursday/Friday to do research on UK experiments 10 years on.

Posted by steve at 09:31 AM

Friday, January 25, 2013

a rural fresh expression: the Glebe at Luss

A highlight of staying with John and Olive Drane was a visit to Loch Lomond, specifically Luss. A small rural town, which has a rich history (1500 years of continuous Christian presence, being originally founded by Saint Kessog.) And a fascinating fresh expression. Here is the pilgrim cross that marks the start of the Glebe.

A glebe is a name for a piece of land owned historically by the church, used to fund the minister. In the case of Luss, the land was across a creek and inaccessible, being washed away in a storm in 1993. Soldiers from the Royal Engineers were persuaded to rebuild it and it is becoming a place of pilgrimage. Here is an introduction from the minister, Dane Sherrard

There is also a social justice dimension. The church has linked with young people from the cities of Scotland, who come to work on the Glebe, take part in leadership training and outdoor recreation. Local business have become involved, with finance and materials.

There is also a public-prophetic theology, given that with more and more land around Loch Lomond being used for exclusive resort accommodation, this is also about providing public space for public recreation.

The minister, Dane Sherrard, moved to Luss in 1998. Now this is some years before all the talk about pioneering, fresh expressions and network churches. Dane is certainly not young or hip looking. But he knows the internet. He’s got an online internet presence, his own LussTV youtube channel. And here is him using the internet to discuss the Presbytery Strategic Plan!

Have a listen. It’s very good missiology – strategic thinking, networks, community partnership, pilgrimage, hospitality, missio Dei. Which left me reassured, that fresh expressions and pioneering are not only for the young nor the urban. Go Dane. Go rural communities.

Posted by steve at 10:10 AM

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Faith in the midst of violence: the La Faruk Madonna

In a side room at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, is placed the La Faruk Madonna. At first glance, it looks your standard religious fare, three paintings, an angel either side of a Madonna.

But the story behind the paintings is extraordinary, for they are painted on old flour bags in the middle of World War 2. The artist, Giuseppe Baldan, was by a prisoner of war. Hence the backdrop behind the angels and the Madonna is a prisoner of war camp, including the prison fence, the Sudanese desert, a washing line and the huts that held prisoners.

The story is that Italian prisoners of war, captured by the British in North Africa, sought permission in the camp to build a chapel. A chapel needs decoration and so the La Faruk Madonna was painted, an aid for prayer, a source of hope.

As the war ended, the paintings were saved from the camp and were given to the British commander for safe keeping. It was a mark of respect for the humane way he had treated the prisoners and honoured the art.

It is both comforting and disturbing. Comforting in the creativity of humans, even in bleak times. Disturbing in that here were British and Italians worshipping the same God, yet finding ways to kill each other. What did the British think as they saw the angels being painted and as they watched the prisoners turn up for worship week by week, as they heard the prayers to “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

Posted by steve at 11:13 PM

Friday, January 18, 2013

a (UK) sabbatical update

Well first, importantly, it snowed. Very important experience for a UK sabbatical.

I’ve been back at work writing for a week. It’s been productive, with a 5,200 word book proposal now with an editorial board. That feels a significant milestone, and has involved 3 significant re-edits over the last few months, while I try to work out exactly what I wanted to say. Now the nervous wait begins, but in the meantime, there is clarity on each chapter, a clear plan for the way ahead, which will greatly focus the writing over the coming weeks. Time to stop analysing data and produce some conclusions!

I’ve continued to read: a refresh on recent trends in practical theology plus working my way through congregational studies. The highlight has been discovering Nicholas Healy, Church, World and the Christian Life: Practical-Prophetic Ecclesiology (Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine) (thanks Pete Ward). It is a critique of the ideal (what he calls blueprint) church, any approaches that systematise and idealise. Instead he argues for “concrete” church, fallible, open to critique, always seeking to grow.

This week I’ve also begun to organise the research phase of the sabbatical, trying to set up around 20 interviews around England, Wales and Scotland. The research is in two parts. First, wearing my Principal hat, is talking with a some theological colleges about how they are training leaders in mission, what they are learning, how they are resourcing their staff for that challenge. Second, is to seek to interview again the alt.worship groups I interviewed back in 2001 in the UK. My hope is to reflect with them on their mission learnings, to glean from fragile edges.

Now we’re off to Glasgow for the weekend – snow willing! – to catch up with John and Olive Drane. Which will be great.

Posted by steve at 09:14 AM

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Let me in the sound – not! U2 conference paper proposal

I was informed (graciously) today that my U2 conference paper (April 2013) proposal was not accepted. No explanation as to why. For the record (pun intended), here was my proposal (it makes the title even more poignant!).

Update: An invitation, on 6 March 2013. Due to a late withdrawal, might I be interested, despite the late notice, in presenting my paper! Let me in the sound is, after all, a live performance option.

The paper emerged from this moment of listening pleasure, which was deemed “perceptive” by well known U2 scholar, Beth Maynard. In terms of theorising, I consider their would be some real insight to read U2 against the work of Martin Stringer, UK social anthropologist, who has a body of research applying sociology to live liturgy.

Let me in the sound: the role of one liners in the live concert experience of U2

This paper will analyse the use of one-liners in U2’s live concert performance. It will explore the differences between U2‘s known songs from their studio albums and live performances (as recorded in the limited U22 CD that resulted from their most recent 360 degree tour). The paper will catalogue the one-liners and outline how they serve as a significant dimension of the live concert experience.

Three dimensions of these one-liners will be explored. First, how they particularise, offering a unique concert experience. Second, how they reframe, providing a different hermeneutical lens by which a song might be interpreted. Third, how they humanise, enhancing the connection between the band and the feelings of concert-goers.

An example is illustrative. During the live performance on U22 of “Until The End Of The World,” the following one-liner is employed: “Where’s Frank? 13 years ago, this very evening, we said goodbye to Frank Sinatra.”

This one-liner served to particularise, marking this concert (live from Mexico) as occurring on an anniversary of significance. It served to reframe, linking the song with a legend in rock music. It served to humanise, crafting a respectful memory with regard to those who have gone before.

This analysis will be placed alongside recent liturgical writing, in particular the work of Martin Stringer, On the Perception of Worship and his argument that with regard to ritual, it is in the irregularities that significance is generated.

Posted by steve at 08:29 AM

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

creative resource: British Library Illuminated Manuscripts now online

The British Library has just put online their illuminated manuscripts, both images and information. Since the Library holds one the richest collections of medieval and renaissance manuscripts in the world, this is a rich resource.

Since I’m currently working on the Emmaus Road, a search produced 8 images. Here is one from a Psalter, England, Central (Oxford); 1st quarter of the 13th century, before 1220. (I love how the legs are disappearing up, a reference perhaps to Ascension. Also love the fish on the table, a creative addition to the normal bread/eucharistic references).

This is one of 56 images in the Psalter. Imagine a Bible with 56 coloured images, hand crafted. Such a contrast to the text only versions that currently dominate the market! That surely says something about creativity and value and provides food for current Bible reading practices. (For more of my reflections on this theme, see faith shaped by art not words)

By contrast, here is one from Bruges, Belgium, in the 1400s, where we were a few weeks ago.

Of even more interest/usefulness is their public domain copyright policy –

The Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts content is now available for download and reuse. Although still technically in copyright in the UK (and a number of other common law territories) the images are being made available under a Public Domain Mark* which indicates that there are no copyright restrictions on reproduction, adaptation, republication or sharing of the content available from the site.

Posted by steve at 08:18 AM

Monday, January 14, 2013

A prayer for writers (for me)

Having returned from holiday over this weekend, my main task for the next 12 weeks is to write. (I have some research to do, but that takes second place behind my hope of completing a book – on sustainability in emerging and fresh expressions.) I face the 12 weeks with mixed feelings. It’s been 7 years since my first book and that breeds a certain sense of anxiety. I feel quite unsure if I can capture what I want to say. Will I be clear enough? Sustained enough? Academically able enough?

Writing is such an individual experience. It feels so egotistical, this individual pursuit to be heard. Why might my words be worthy of being read? Why, in a world of so many books, should I pollute with yet more information?

There are a whole lot of academic pressures at work – to publish, to get the right press, to be recognised. Again, a complex set of emotions and motives to sift.

So this morning I found some phrases from Philippians 1:9 helpful.

“And this is my prayer:”
“love” – and so to write out of love for God, church, people and world
“knowledge” – and so to write respectful of the tradition, of those who’ve gone before and my contemporary colleagues in scholarship, all the while conscious of the intuitions and feelings that are learnings within myself
“depth of insight” – to write something that might, through God’s mercy, shine some light on the yet simply complex and complexly simple task of being a disciple in this contemporary world.

And so, to writing I will go …

Posted by steve at 09:08 AM

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Art and creativity as acts in community

Walking art galleries. Something I’ve done a lot of in recent days. There is a pattern. Payment. Coat removal. The signs – no flash, no backpacks. The rooms patrolled. Pictures framed. Ropes to divide, cameras to watch.

But it turns out such an approach to art is cultural. At least according to A History of the World in 100 Objects.

Of the 100 objects that are the focus of the book, number 39 is a painting from China. Called the Admonitions Scroll, dated around AD 400, it introduces a very, very different way of understanding art appreciation.

“each imperial ruler has left their mark on (the art piece), in the form of a stamp carefully placed in the blank spaces around the paintings … Some of the previous owners have also added their own comments to the scroll. This brings a kind of pleasure you can never find looking at European painting: the sense that you are now joining a community of discerning art lovers who have cherished this painting over centuries.” (A History of the World in 100 Objects, page 213-4)

So this is another approach to art. You make it with interactive borders, a white space for viewers to engage. In doing so, you allow, expect even, participation. All very different from the wonderful solo artist who produces solo art works. Instead we have a work for community.

Which sounds like an early form of blogging to me, that deliberate attempt, at least for those who allow comments (!) to encourage participation, to expect work to be modified and affirmed.

There is one caveat. In the case of Object 39, the participating community is elitist, in this case the emperors. In contrast, any can blog and any can comment.

Still, the challenge remains. Who is art and creativity for?

(This links with the work of Thomas Struth – which I’ve blogged about here) and his exploration of how people engage galleries and museums, and how museums and galleries actually control people.)

Posted by steve at 02:16 AM

Friday, January 11, 2013

Middle-aged Cathedrals as cultural mirrors

In order to help me process Europe, and its accompanying museums, galleries and cathedrals, I’ve been reading A History of the World in 100 Objects. It’s a great book. It takes 100 objects from the British museum. Not just high profile items, but also ordinary things like wine jugs and loose change. And places them in context and culture. And so provides windows into cultures and patterns and ways of being through time and space.

Object number 20 was the statue of Ramesses II. I read it the day we visited the Cathedral at Cologne. Described as an Everest among cathedrals, it is one of the largest in the world in floor area. I must confess to having a rather allergic reaction to cathedrals. I struggle with the fusion with military conquest, with the way God is imaged as remote, so inaccessible in the height of roof and distant altar.

So what does this have to do with the Statue of Ramses II?

This serenely smiling sculpture is not the creation of an individual artist, but the achievement of a whole society – the result of a huge, complex process of engineering and logistics – in many ways much closer to building a motorway than making a work of art.

So a cathedral is much more than a reflection of God and church. It’s also about society. How a town can show off their organisation and culture, their ability to plan, resource, be a team.

It’s also a way for artists to participate. I mean, there were no galleries back then. So you can have your work locked up in kings collections. Or brought by wealthy benefactors. All remove your work from the public. Or participate in cathedrals, thus engaging the public.

In other words, I need to understand cathedrals within their cultural context. And to appreciate how they flow within a society, in community rather than through an individual “God and me” lens. They are mirrors not just off the church, but of the whole of society.

Posted by steve at 04:56 AM

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

the year that was – 2012

It’s always interesting to look back over the blog as one way of reflecting on the 2012 year past. The most interesting thing for me is the decline in blogging that began in July, coinciding with becoming Principal. I was posting 25 times a month prior and 19 times a month after. Given that I blog as a way of reflecting aloud, it is an interesting development.

So, posts from 2012 that I like, that give some sense of the year gone

So there you are. Fascinating to look back and see the blessing as I pay attention to the natural world, the importance of creativity, the priority of mission and the ongoing opportunities to write.

The writing has been the most interesting, with a frontpage article here, this artists floor talk being requested for an international publication, along with the usual more academic book chapters (this published, this accepted for publication) and monthly film reviews.

Posted by steve at 06:16 AM

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

A New Years spirituality – Amsterdam Festival of Lights

The Amstersdam Festival of Lights has been an unexpected treat. For those travelling from a Southern Hemisphere, having darkness fall from 4 pm onwards takes some adjustment. The up side is the chance to play with light.

For the last few years, Amsterdam has maximised this climatic advantage with a Festival of Lights, inviting artists to mount installations in key locations.

Ovo is one installation. In the shape of an egg, it thus suggests new birth. With over 700 lights, each individually able to respond to changes in light, temperature and fog, it proves itself flexible and adaptable. New birth is not a one size fits all, but a uniquely beautiful response to changing environments.

Seeing it today, on the first day of a new year, it became a prayer, for new life in a new year, for beauty that responds to the uniqueness of my changing environment, our changing world.

A time lapse video of the making is here, with the Ovo in full colour, from about 2.11 on.

Amsterdam Light festival: the making of timelapse from Amsterdam Light Festival on Vimeo.

Posted by steve at 07:37 AM