Friday, May 31, 2013

model missionaries: Centurion in Luke 7

During team devotions yesterday, we explored the lectionary reading for the week – Luke 7:1-10.

The Bible text is placed in an envelope and before we read it, we try and piece together what we can recall. This engages us a group. It builds curiousity. It provokes questions.

Then we read it aloud together and ask each other: What surprised us? This often exposes our blindspots, makes us aware of the bits we have historically skipped over.

Finally we ask each other: What might this text mean for us as a College? What might this text mean for us, individually?

Yesterday, the discussion wandered into the cultural layers at work in this text. And then how different cultures have different attitudes to authority. Which led us to wonder if the centurion was a model cross-cultural missionary. He loves where he is planted (v.5). He has obviously built strong relationships (v. 3). He has partnered in community building (v.5). He knows how the culture works (v.6).

A centurion, a Gentile, as an example of mission! A lovely challenge for us to ponder, as we as a College think about what it means to train disciples in mission.

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

Posted by steve at 01:02 PM

Thursday, May 30, 2013

totems for ministry training in the Uniting Church

Totem – A natural object or animal believed by a particular society to have spiritual significance and adopted by it as an emblem.

The pathway to ordained ministry in the Uniting church is divided into four phrases.

First, an initial period of discernment. For at least a year a person has a mentor, some set ministry tasks, some study, which includes the range of ministry opportunities within the Uniting Church, and some intentional retreat experiences. These are designed to explore the question – what is God calling me to.

Second, the Core Phase. If the person believes they are called to ordained ministry, they apply to become a candidate. If accepted, they enter a period of around three years, in which they mix intentional study, ministry practice and formation. This includes being partnered with the Formation Panel, who work with them three times a year, discerning together the best pathway by which to nurture each person’s unique ministry charism.

Third, Phase 3. If deemed ready by the Church, they are ordained and enter a first placement. They are primarily in placement in ministry, but are surrounded by a stronger set of supports. These include a supervisor. They also remain with their formation panel and continue to study.

Fourth, lifelong learning, in which they continue in placement. They are blessed out of a Formation panel. They are encouraged to continue in supervision and in learning.

With that oveview, let me return to totems, in this case the objects by which a particular society places spiritual significance. At the start of Phase 2, the new candidate meets with the Principal. As part of this, the Principal gives them a number of gifts.

I reckon these are totems. Symbolically they speak of what is considered essential to Phase 2. In the case of Uniting College, historically they have included a worship resources (Uniting in Worship 2), a book about the regulations of the church, a book of essays on key polity decisions and a book on the history of ministry formation.

Here’s my question.

What five things would you give to a person about to start training for ministry within a denominational system?

(Note, I am focusing on Phase 2, training, not Phase 3, first placement. The Uniting church has another set of totems for that!).

Posted by steve at 09:12 AM

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Go Danica, Go Pilgrim, Go indigenous immersion

Sunday was Reconciliation Sunday here in Australia. A week to focus on partnership with indigenous people and communities.

Earlier this year, Uniting College partnered with one of our local churches, Pilgrim Uniting, to begin Walking on Country – a long weekend immersed in a local indigenous community, supported by pre-readings and post-trip debrief. This was part of a non-formal teaching plan to ensure our ministry candidates and their families (optional) experience cross cultural immersion among Australia’s indigenous peoples.

Sunday was a fitting time for this new venture to connect back with the local partner church. Danica Patselis (student at Uniting College, currently in a Period of Discernment and married to a candidate) spoke, reflecting on what the experience meant to her. As she later emailed me –

Thanks for prioritizing this trip for the formation of ministers. Nick and I were both renewed and transformed in our thinking and actions from our time with Uncle Tom and Aunty Denise. We are hoping to take a group from Hope Valley to the Congress church to begin conversations, worship together, and learn from the vibrant spirituality of these peoples. But we’re taking small steps as we want it to be long-term action not reactive.

As part of the service, as Principal, I offered a greeting (which I emailed sitting on a Melbourne motel floor)

Uniting College have been delighted to partner with Pilgrim Uniting in the Walking on Country initiative. It has been life changing for some participants. It has enabled ongoing conversations about the Preamble, justice, partnership across cultures. It has both broadened, yet humbled, our understandings of mission and ministry. We hope its the start of an annual event and an ongoing partnership both with Pilgrim and local indigenous communities. Maori culture has a proverb “He tangata, he tangata , he tangata” – the people, the people, the people. That was our experience with you and at Camp Coorong. A Pentecost gift to cherish – Principal Steve Taylor

Posted by steve at 06:35 PM

Monday, May 27, 2013

mission research (post-graduate)

One of the joys of my current season is the opportunity to work with a good number of post-graduate students, on some really interesting aspects of mission research. At Uniting College, we’re seeing a growing number of post-graduate students wanting to focus their time on mission. What is even more interesting is that a good number of the projects are empirical in nature, actually working with real people, reflecting on what is happening on the ground, in lives and communities.

These are some of the projects I’m currently involved in supervising

  • Phil (DMin) is interviewing pioneers. Dianna Butler Bass has argued for a pastoral imagination. So is there a pioneer imagination? What are the implications for formation?
  • Gary (DMin) is exploring new monasticism. He has pioneered a course, one that helps people apply Benedictine spirituality to their everyday life. But does it? And what would Benedict say about how one might live monastically in today’s society?
  • David (PhD) is analysing the cultural intelligence of ministers. What factors contribute to cross-cultural expertise? Can they be taught, or is it caught?
  • Lesley (PhD) is analysing how migrants do theology. How is it different from Western approaches to theology? What might be the implications for theological education, especially as Australia sees increasing numbers of migrants call this place home?
  • Fred is investigating male spirituality. He has used the Australian film Mens Group, as a window and is then reflecting missionally on ways to develop male spirituality, whether inside or outside the church
  • (There are two more PHD projects who’ve spoken to me regarding supervision, both currently working their way through university entrance processes. Both will also be empirical projects, exploring the practice of mission and ministry. But I will hang off on naming those until they are a bit further down the track.)

One of the advantages of Uniting College is that we can offer qualifications both at PhD level, through Flinders University and at Doctor of Ministry, through Adelaide College of Divinity. It’s a great combination, allowing us to encourage a range of student interests, all while cultivating a growing research culture in mission and ministry. It’s great in the midst of a busy day, filled with meetings about the College, to suddenly be able to spend an hour with a keen and thoughtful mind, discussing mission, based not on theories but on actual around research.

Posted by steve at 09:56 PM

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Melbourne mission

I spent the weekend in Melbourne at the invitation of the Port Philip West Presbytery.

On Friday night, I engaged with twenty of their core leaders on the topic of new forms of church in a changing world. I mainly talked about some of my UK sustainability and fresh expressions research data, with a particular focus on how denominations can partner in experiments.

On Saturday, i did three sessions with around 70 folk from the Presbytery. I was asked to speak on discernment, imagination and innovation. This meant a long search through my har drive, to eventually pull stuff from my Missional Leadership courses, from my Getting on with Mission distance topic and from teaching I’ve done around change and innovation.

A highlight was the way they engaged with Acts 8, Philip and the Ethiopian, with some really rich group insights. What did Philip offer – listening, openness, risk-taking, relationship with God – which then became a grid for what it means to be church today.

I went over earlier on the Friday, in order to meet with the Melbourne mission shaped ministry team. A group, with folk from the Uniting, Baptist, Anglican and Presbyterian church, are working (hard) on launching the mission shaped ministry course in Melbourne. They’re currently running information events and advertising, including this video, for a course starting in Hoppers Crossing in September.

It’s been quite some months since I’ve been working with lay folk around mission, leadership and change. I’ve missed it!

Posted by steve at 11:33 PM

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Upgrades – resourcing ministry agents

When I was interviewed in regard to being a Principal at Uniting College, I was asked to present how I’d go about the first 3 months, the first 12 months, the first two years.

One of the ideas I suggested has just taken concrete shape.


Verb – Raise (something) to a higher standard, in particular improve (equipment or machinery) by adding or replacing components.

Noun – An act of upgrading something.

verb – improve – better – ameliorate – promote
noun – ascent – rise – climb

UPGRADES (open to any and all): All of us with computers know about upgrades: the constant need to provide protection from viruses, to keep abreast of changes, to ensure integration.

The same applies in ministry. As people, as congregations in mission and in ministry, we need to upgrade, to keep reading, to refresh our resources, to be inspired by others, to modify best practice for our context.

At UPGRADES four essential areas requiring our attention as the Uniting Church in South Australia have been identified from the most recent National Church Life Survey.

For 90 minutes, lecturers from Uniting College and ministry agents from Mission Resourcing South Australia and out in the field will offer their best wisdom and practice from the last three years around new insights, books and life-giving, hands-on ideas.

TUESDAY 18th June
· UPGRADE 1 – “Worship that inspires” 4.30 – 6.00pm
· Order a meal (Pay for your own, of course!) then stay for…
· UPGRADE 2 – “Communities that welcome” 7.30-9.00pm
**Crazy Kingdom Cost: Attend one for $25. Attend both for $1!**

· UPGRADE 3 – “Mission and Ministry that thrive” 4.30 – 6.00pm
· Order a meal (Pay for your own, of course!) then stay for …
· UPGRADE 4 – “Innovation that engages” 7.30-9.00pm
**Crazy Kingdom Cost: Attend one for $25. Attend both for $1!**

Upgrades occur upstairs in the Jervois Room at Royal Hotel, 180 Henley Beach Rd, Torrensville. Register and pay online here.

Posted by steve at 11:53 PM

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

beaming in the bishop: technology and formation

Technology is amazing. So are creative minds who explore ways to connect technology to formation of leaders.

On Friday, Anglican Bishop, Justin Duckworth (I’ve blogged about his appointment here), came to Uniting College. Not physically, but via video conferencing. He sat with a group of post-graduate students, mainly church ministers in our Master of Ministry – Missional Leadership cohort. Again, not physically, but via video conferencing, because these leaders are spread all over Australia.

They share a passion for mission, within their established church structures. To help facilitate their growth, a group of them are doing a combined learning exercise, called Church Re-think. Spread all over Australia, they gather together regularly, again using video conferencing to share resources.

Books are one resource they share, reading in community, gleaning wisdom for the missional journey.

People are also a resource (see my reflections on the place of living libraries in leadership and ministerial formation here and here). In the case of Bishop Justin, he’s a leader with many years experience of mission on the edge of the church, with that charism now invited into the structures of the church.

Who better to resource a group of ministers thinking about mission inside and outside their own structures?

But he is busy and Adelaide to Wellington is a day of travel.

Enter technology, in which the bishop is beamed in, digitally, to resource a group of leaders, who are also gathered digitally. Together, for a few hours, they wrestle with leadership and mission today. All organised and facilitated by the creative mind of Dr Rosemary Dewerse, Post-graduate Co-ordinator at Uniting College.

Posted by steve at 06:41 PM

Monday, May 20, 2013

a theology of temptations: Goddess film review

Each month I publish a film review, for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 80 plus films later, here is the review for April, of Australian film (Goddess).

A film review by Steve Taylor

Goddess is fun.

Elspeth Dickens (Laura Michelle Kelly) is a young mother, raising an energetic child in the farmlands of rural Tasmania. Her husband James (Ronan Keating) is a marine scientist, absent for long periods chasing whales in the Southern Ocean.

Recently moved from London, their downunder dream of the rural idyll is eroded by his increasing absence and the growing isolation of raising children in a foreign land.

Elspeth turns to the internet, having a webcam installed, setting up a website, entering key words in search engines. She uploads her songs, original and quirky, that showcase her domestic realities. Her ditties of raising kids and washing dishes go viral. This attracts the interest of media magnate Cassandra Wolfe (Magda Szubanski), who flies Elspeth to Sydney to be the face of “Goddess,” a laptop – “for all the women you are.”

Directed by Mark Lamprell (Babe: Pig in the City) this Australian film is shot with an international eye. There can be little other explanation for the inclusion of global sing star, Ronan Keating. He acts, passably, yet strangely does not sing until the popcorn is well and truly eaten (the 75th minute to be precise).

Part musical, part comedy, part romance, Goddess seeks to emulate the success last year (reviewed in the October 2012 edition of Touchstone) of Australian musical comedy The Sapphires. While scenes of rural Tasmania are sure to turn international viewers green with envy, at times the movie tries to hard. The use of whale song and melting ice cream to embody shifting human relationships are more banal than funny.

Like Les Miserables (reviewed in the March 2013 edition of Touchstone) Goddess is adapted for the screen from a musical, Sinksongs. Unlike Les Miserables, the songs in Goddess are interspersed between enough dialogue, surrounded by enough comedy, to provide a surprisingly enjoyable movie experience.

In many ways Goddess functions as a contemporary temptation of Christ. Watching with two teenage daughters, the movie offered a thought provoking exploration of growing up female. These include the tensions around raising children, having a career and responding to the relentless sexualised commodification of the female body.

Under the media glare, Elspeth sifts a range of modern challenges. Not the temple, but the splendor of international fame. Not angels, but the persistent attention of the male gaze. Not bread for the body, but the sexualisation essential to modern media.

The film turns the humour of potty training into a serious exploration of being human, being family, being female. The scene in which Elspeth is told that she is simply another in a long line of pretty girls waiting to be discovered (exploited?) is a reminder of the disposability inherent in contemporary culture.

Goddess provides no easy answers, simply a feel good finale, in which faithfulness trumps fame.

Posted by steve at 10:34 AM

Friday, May 17, 2013

Sense-gesis: What does Jesus smell like?

Sense Making Faith continues. We have 3 “guides” who share the teaching and 7 participants. Enough for a very rich group experience. Like all good classes, I’m learning as much as the participants.

Last week a rich learning moment occurred as we listened to the noises around the cross. This week a rich learning moment occurred, first as we walked outside. It had just rained and as we walked we became even more keenly aware of night air, wet air, petrol fumes and takeways. We wondered together if a community could have bad smells and what it meant for the church to be a good smell.

Then we returned inside to “smell” the Bible. What are the smells of Christmas, the smells at the calling of the first disciples, the smells of the Easter garden?

The conversation turned to Jesus. What does Jesus smell like? Is the classical Christian affirmation, of Christ as fully human and fully divine, embodied in smell?

In Psalm 45:8 the robes of the Lord are fragrant with Myrrh and aloes and cassia. Is this poetic language? Or does holiness have a smell? Would the resurrected Jesus smell different than the unresurrected Jesus?

All of these, theologically, are pushing at embodiment, what it means for Incarnation to take real presence among us. Some wondered if Jesus smells different ways to different people at different seasons in their lives. Are there times when the full humanity of Jesus is a more pastorally connective than the full divinity? If so, what are the implications for our mission and ministry?

You can see why I love Sense Making Faith!

Posted by steve at 10:29 AM

Thursday, May 16, 2013

I’m in the Flinders Research Spotlight

Flinders Institute for Research in the Humanities have a monthly publication, in which they focus on research achievements. My recent U2 academic conference involvement is currently “top of the fold.”

The words ‘U2’ and ‘academic’ seldom occur in the same sentence. Rock music is often considered adolescent and entertainment. So how can it be academic?

Dr Jason Hanley (Ph.D. in Musicology) has helpfully observed that rock and roll is a cultural artifact. When researched, it becomes a way of learning about ourselves and our world.

It is this potential of music to help us to begin looking at ourselves in the mirror (to appropriate Michael Jackson), that led Dr Steve Taylor from the Flinders University Department of Theology to present a research paper at the second U2 Conference (April 25-28, 2013) in Cleveland, Ohio.

Dr Taylor’s paper utilised the work of sociologist, Paul Connerton, to analyse the live concert performances of the recent U2 360 tour.

For Dr Taylor, participation in the U2 Conference breaks down the perception of the university as “ivory tower.” It also brings a necessary inter-disciplinary perspective to the work of theology, helping it to reconceive its relationship with popular culture. … full article plus picture here

Posted by steve at 12:16 AM

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pentecost worship in indigenous language

Daily chapel at Uniting College today was superb. Our Director of Missiology, Rosemary Dewerse had created a visual environment. In the centre was a world map, with red counters and a red candle lit. The invitation was to lay a counter on the table, and in so doing, to name a place and situation in the world we wished to pray for.

To begin she taught us a chant, in the language of the Adnyamathanha people, from the Northern Flinders.

undakarana ardla, ngapalan yarta yanangka.
In English “The light of Christ has come into the world.”

Using indigenous clap sticks to keep the beat, we began to sing this simple refrain, a gift to us from those who’ve gone before us in this land. A people who’ve endured colonisation and hardship, exploitation and persecution, yet who have still find space to offer their language, their praise, their experience of the life of Christ come into their world.

It was a beautiful, natural, heartfelt way to be in the presence of God. It is part of a shift at Uniting College, in which in more and more ways, we are finding ourselves engaged with indigenous peoples. An important part of this has been relationship building, one to one, and then in Walking on Country, an immersion experience with our candidates for ministry at the beginning of this year.

It’s easy for this to be tokenism, and yet the result for us over recent months has instead been increased enrichment – in stories told in our midst, in shared candidate life together and now in our chapel life. The awareness of the other is becoming such gift.

And with Pentecost this week, it was a wonderful embodiment of the Spirit’s work, the enfleshing of faith in native languages, the crossing of cultural boundaries.

And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Acts 2:8

Posted by steve at 09:19 PM

Monday, May 13, 2013

hearing the cross as sense-exegesis

We are now three weeks into Sense Making Faith course. Each week we take a sense. We explore its use in our world today. And it’s abuse. We explore it’s use in the Christian tradition. And it’s abuse (often through neglect).

Last week we explored hearing. We brought our favourite spiritual music. We listened and made a list of all the noises we heard. We reflected on how much we miss – of ourselves, of God, of our world, because we don’t listen (ie abuse the sense of hearing).

Then we turned to the Christian tradition. What Bible stories describe God speaking, I asked?

The cross, was one response.

Let’s push that further, I said. What noises do we hear around the cross?

And we began to reflect, “hearing” the cross in a whole new way;

  • tears
  • wailing
  • nails being hammered
  • gamblers rolling dice
  • centurion ordering
  • a last breathe being drawn
  • thunder
  • a curtain being torn

Within two minutes, we had engaged the cross in a much deeper, richer way. This, I suggested, was “sense-exegesis.” We have taken a sense, one sense, and applied it to Scripture. We can do this with any passage. And with any sense.

For more on sense-exegesis, see here and here.

Posted by steve at 10:03 AM

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Pilgrimage spirituality interaction

Darren Wright, who so long ago did a very thorough blog review of my Out of Bounds Church book, is interacting with my recent Old Testament festival spirituality talk.

to be honest the idea of seeing our liturgical year being split into 6ish gatherings connected to festivals (we already naturally celebrate 3 festivals in christmas, easter and harvest) sounded like a beautiful and sustainable idea for many people at the conference. People seemed so attracted to the idea of festivals that the other ways of exploring community, spirituality and faith seemed overlooked by many of the group, so with that in mind I thought I’d like to explore each of the categories leaving Festivals to the last.

He is taking each of the categories I introduced – temple, festival, pilgrimage, table, sacred site – starting with pilgrimage.

He explores rural life, driving, weekly bike club rides that exist in almost every town, a driving holiday, transporting cattle/stock along the stock trails, harvesting and sowing (where in Australia one sits alone on a huge machine for days on end). Even geocaching.

Pilgrimage as practice opens up the possibility of seeing the tractor as a space for liturgical & ritual practices, the car/vehicle as one drives between Hillston and Sydney as a space for faith and connection. The task for us now is to develop ideas that help the spiritual practice of pilgrimage develop and professional travellers ways to engage with the region they’re driving through in deep spiritual reflection.

It’s a creative piece of work.

Posted by steve at 08:58 AM

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Ecclesiology and Ethnography: a “down under” perspective

News today that my academic paper for the ANZATS (Australia New Zealand Association Theological Schools) combined conference 29 June-2 July, in Auckland, New Zealand, has been accepted. The conference theme is Christians in Communities – Christians as Communities.

Ecclesiology and Ethnography: a “down under” perspective

The aim of this paper is to introduce a new area of theological investigation and offer a “down under” response. It will be argued that a new Eerdmans Studies series, launched with paired volumes, Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography and Explorations in Ecclesiology and Ethnography, provides a new way of understanding theology, and the theologian, as a participant with communities in the missio Dei.

The first section of this paper will outline this new Studies series and a number of theoretical moves, including the use of empirical research as a theological necessity, appreciating knowledge as a perichoretic practice and valuing ecclesial situatedness.

The second section of the paper will offer a “down under” response to what has initially been a trans-Atlantic conversation. This will include a methodological engagement with indigenous perspectives on qualitative research. It will demonstrate similarities between the Studies in Ecclesiology and Ethnography series and themes articulated by Linda Tuhiwai Smith (recently honoured as a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit), including valuing qualitative research, seeking community transformation and encouraging research situated in communities of tradition.

However Smith also identifies ways in which research has been an instrument of colonization. Hence a third section of this paper will employ Smith’s “Community up” framework for researcher conduct to analyse a number of case studies present in the Studies in Ecclesiology and Ethnography series. It will be argued that a pivotal point exists in the work of Paul Murray and Matthew Guest, in which the ethnographer is freed to offer the marginalized a new voice and consequently bring change to ecclesial communities.

Dr Steve Taylor
Senior Lecturer, Flinders University
Principal, Uniting College

Posted by steve at 10:47 PM