Friday, July 31, 2020

playing with faith formation with Port Phillip East Presbytery

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I was hosted “online” by the Port Phillip East Presbytery today, talking about
…. connection, interaction, contemplation, and engaging spiritual practices beyond Sunday worship.
… what leaders are trying and discovering about ways to form disciples in a dispersed community
… ministry as play, about creativity and risk and about how the Spirit takes us in new directions.

It is one of the extraordinary gifts of this time of “distancing”, that while it locks us down, it also opens us up. And so I get to “speak” in Melbourne without leaving my home, and to engage with some wonderful colleagues I used to minister with in Australia. The video is on the Port Phillip Presbytery East facebook site.

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It was interesting using two online platforms, Zoom to host a conversation and show the visuals and Facebook live to stream the conversation and enable access and comments. There was a bit of “breathe” holding and risk-taking as we experimented with an online lectio – reading, silence, participation through chat – but it seemed to engage participants. Certainly with 165 comments on the Facebook live feed during the 90 minutes, their was plenty of good interaction with the content.

The time broke into 5 sections

  1. what faith formation and faith practices (or spiritual or discipleship practices) mean
  2. what theological resources shape faith formation and faith practices
  3. how people have been experimenting with online faith formation in recent weeks
  4. the underlying pedagogies that shape my online teaching and learning and recent experimenting
  5. my use of improvisation, play and experimentation in relation to mission and leadership. Why is important to play during a pandemic? Is this normal or abnormal for the church?

I sought to offer theology, reflection and practical examples. Much of my thinking is in a chapter I have submitted for an edited book with Heidi Campbell, which is currently sitting with a publisher. My chapter is titled Lockdown ecclesiologies: the limits and possibilities of enforced online first expressions. I argue that enforced online first expressions are an invitation to appreciate ourselves as child-like, making visible the kingdom as we learn a new (internet) language.

The books I mentioned in order of appearance:

Avis, Paul. (2005). A Ministry Shaped by Mission. T & T Clark, 2005,
Rogers, E. (2009). The Holy Spirit: Classic and Contemporary Readings, Wiley-Blackwell
McCulloch, G. (2019). Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, Vintage
Taylor, S. (2005). The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change, Zondervan.
Taylor, S. (2016). Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration, Mediacom.
Taylor, S. (2019). First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God, SCM
Taylor, S. (2020). communities of practice as action-reflection tools.
Smart, J. (2020, April 28). Survey report: online facilitation and virtual meetings.

Books unmentioned but important for my thinking:
Gauntlett, D. (2018). Making is Connecting: The social power of creativity, from craft and knitting to digital everything (2nd edn.), Polity
Matapo, J. (2020). The vā that binds: a Pasifika education story during Covid-19
McNeil, J. (2020). Lurking: How a Person Became a User, MCD, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

My thanks to Craig Mitchell for the invite, Port Phillip East Presbytery for the hosting and Duncan Macleod for the technology and conversation on the day.

Posted by steve at 07:10 PM

Friday, July 17, 2020

of glasshouses and sandpits: mission and innovation

I spoke on mission and innovation at Central Presbytery earlier this week. By the wonders of technology, the minimum 90 minute flight took 9 seconds as I walked downstairs and turned on zoom. I offered 10 minutes on mission. What does good mission leadership look like, using art and Biblical reflection and the excellent Stanley Skreslet, Picturing Christian Witness: New Testament Images of Disciples in Mission

  • leaving the pen, leaving the existing 99 (John 10: 14-17; Luke 15:3-7)
  • the simplicity of sharing your Jesus encounter (John 4:27-30; 39-42)
  • listening, of finding out where Spirit is already at work in the lives of strangers (Acts 8: 26-31, 34, 36-38)
  • afresh in every different cultural encounter (Acts 14: 14-17)

I then offered 10 minutes on innovation, first pointing out the way that the Presbyterian Book of Order encourages innovation (8.4.1p; 9.45-48; Appendix D-4-E-vii ), then using 3 metaphors

  • enforced
  • glasshouse
  • sandpits

innovationcentral

My argument is that COVID has “enforced” innovation and opened up the church to more change than it ever imagined. However, organisations don’t need to wait for enforced, external change. They can erect glasshouses, to protect and nurture innovation. They can create sandpits, to encourage random play. These are deliberate ways to allocate resource and focus. Mission gives these innovation activities a distinct focus. They are not about novelty, but intentional participation in God’s making of all things new.

The images of glasshouses and sandpits are a development of material in my First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God and a development of Stefan Paas, Church Planting in the Secular West: Learning from the European Experience.

After the benediction, about half the folk stayed online with ongoing conversation for another 30 minutes. That was excellent for teasing out the discussion and engaging more deeply. Since then, there has been ongoing requests for more resources in relation to innovation, including resources I’ve been testing the last few years

  • systems innovation evaluation framework
  • innovation evaluation process

All in all, a graced event. All due to “enforced” innovation. As I said in my talk, 5 months ago if Central Presbytery has asked me to speak and I’d said yes, but can I do it online please, it would have been seen as out of the question. But “enforced” is bringing change.

Full notes are here.

Posted by steve at 03:13 PM

Friday, March 06, 2020

making matters grassroots impact #Kiwiangels

Kiwiangels I really enjoyed presenting at St Lukes Presbyterian yesterday. It was great to have the opportunity to offer to a local church and nearby ministers some of my study leave from last year. I took my presentation from Durham Ecclesiology and Ethnography Conference in September. I added in a 15 minute introduction to the variety of ways the church might be “making” – for good and bad – in the world today. I also generated some “free range” activities, to mess with the usual question and answer time by adding things to see, do and make. It was gratifying to overheard conversations as the evening ended plotting Christmas 2020 projects and I came away with the sense of being directly useful to the local church.

Making matters: yarn-bombing and craftivism in contemporary Christian mission

There was some very rich discussion, particularly around the materiality of knitting. The discussion was rich enough to generate 900 words as I wrote this morning, reflecting on the Incarnation in light of the useless yet playful act of yarnbombing knitted angels.

One of the unexpected blessings was becoming aware of the impact of my writing in the lives of ordinary people in the Presbyterian church. In October 2019, I wrote a column for SPANZ, the publication of the Presbyterian Church. Under the title “Making matters,” I concluded,

Are there makers in Presbyterian churches? Yvonne Wilkie, our Church’s former archivist, recalls knitted nativities in Presbyterian history. But that was the past, and we all now live in the present.

The instructions are online (https://www.christmasangel.net/). They are simple enough that, as part of my research, I learnt to make one. Is anyone interested in making and mission, with a downunder #Kiwiangels hashtag? Or are Kiwi summers now too busy and too hot for making to matter?

Last night at St Lukes, I met a person who told me she had read the article and promptly knitted 30 angels, which she gave over Christmas 2019 to her friends and neighbours. Each was thoughtfully and carefully personalised, an act of love. It was humbling to be made aware my written words and study leave research had contributed to a kinder world. Study leave research generates grassroots impact :) Yee ha.

Posted by steve at 09:58 AM

Friday, February 28, 2020

Making matters

Making matters: yarn-bombing and craftivism in contemporary Christian mission

Kiwiangels

What is the role of making in contemporary culture? From pink pussy hats to yarnbombing – craftivism combines craft and activism, providing hands-on ways to engage in change. In 2014, Christmas Angels began as a project of Methodist churches in the North of England, yarn-bombing their communities with hand-made angels. By 2018, the number of Christmas Angels knitted in Great Britain were too many to count. Steve Taylor shares his research, focused on those who received these angels. How was good news as craft experienced? How might making provide new insights into Christian faith and mission as hands-on?

St Lukes Remuera, 130 Remuera Road, 7:30-9 pm, Thursday 5th March.

Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership and author of 3 books and over 200 articles and publications. His latest study leave involved learning to knit and using digital ethnographies to study making in mission. Steve Taylor is married to Lynne, and together they enjoy two adult children.

Posted by steve at 08:33 AM

Monday, October 07, 2019

Listening in Mission key missiology assumptions

listeninginmission2019 I began Listening in Mission 2019 as online continuing education cohort experience a few weeks ago. It’s the 3rd year in a row we as KCML have offered this online educative local mission in neighbourhood experience. In preparing for the opening session (of five), I wanted to articulate some of the missiology that shaped the design of the course. Since we were working with John 21:1-14 in the lectio divina, I turned to that Biblical text as I sketched the key missiological assumptions.

The first assumption is that God is active in the world. This is central to John 21; first in the centrality of the Resurrected Jesus and second in the affirmation that this Jesus “showed himself in this way” (verse 1) by the Sea of Tiberias. Jesus “showed himself” as present and active neither in a building nor in a clearly religious activity, but beside a Lake and in the everyday, working day actions of fishing. Listening in mission assumes that God is active in the everyday working world. This assumption invites us to pay attention to our local communities, to look for Jesus in the ordinary and everyday.

A second assumption is that existing approaches yield little fruit. The disciples have fished all night, but “have no fish.” (21:5). This is the experience of many of our churches. What used to work, the ways we used to gather fish, are not yielding the same results. Our communities are changing. There is nothing wrong with the activity, skill or dedication of the disciples. It is simply that they have no fish.

This results in a third assumption, to be open to surprises from outside ourselves. The invitation from Jesus in verse 6 is to try the other side of the boat. This required the disciples to stop and listen, to attend to a voice from outside their hard-working circle, from a person they did not yet recognise. In Christ, there are new possibilities. These emerge as we pay attention to voices from outside ourselves.

A fourth assumption is that we need the body of Christ. In verse 4 – ‘disciples did not know” and in verse 7, Peter needed John as part of the process of discernment. While we can wonder at why this lack of recognition might be, the text makes clear that the discerning of Jesus was a shared task. This notion of shared discernment is central to being Presbyterian. Aware of our human sinfulness, we enact shared governance. Hence any listening in mission must be communal. We need others to help us looking for Jesus in community.

These 4 assumption
• God is active in the world, so pay attention to local
• Old ways are not working
• Jesus invites to pay attention in new ways
• We need each other
shape the design of Listening in Mission.

Participants are invited to
• gather local because our everyday communities are where God is present
• engage in disciplines of listening, a double listening for God in Scripture and in community
• take time, because new possibilties and new habits are not always immediately obvious
• keep gathering support – both local and in engaging with KCML

____________
For a 90 second video introduction, shot in my friendly local cafe, click here …

listening in mission from steve taylor on Vimeo.

__________

For a musical – pop culture, Kiwi contextual – framing go here

Posted by steve at 08:43 PM

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Speaking twice at Ecclesiology and Ethnography 2019

Today I was scheduled to present a paper on craftivism as missiology at the Ecclesiology and Ethnography 2019 conference. By a strange quirk of fate, I found myself presenting my paper not once but twice.

Conferences tend to group presentations together and I was scheduled to present second at 9:45 am. I arrived at 8:50 am to set up. However by 9 am, with the session due to start, there was no sign of the first presenter. In fact, no-one in the room could recall seeing the first presenter at the entire conference.

Faced with a sudden and unexpected hole in the programme, the conference organiser invited me to proceed at 9 am, given there was another presentation happening at 9:45 am in another room that some folk wanted to hear.

Conference presentations involve simultaneous streams and sometimes people move between streams as part of pick and mixing. At 9:45 am, as I took the final question of my presentation and as I began to thank my audience, a number of folk arrived, expecting to hear my presentation, as scheduled in the programme, for 9: 45 am.

Since I had the time and since I have come quite a long way (half way around the world) and since I’m pretty passionate about the topic, I indicated I was willing to offer the presentation again – and as originally advertised.

Which I did. With enthusiasm :).

The feedback from participants at both 9 am and 9:45 am was some of the most positive feedback I’ve ever had on a conference presentation. ‘Wonderful paper” said a leading scholar from Yale. “This opens up new horizons for empirical research” said another. “Could you video it for my church?” said another. Two folk even stayed for both presentations.

The questions opened up new avenues of thinking and possibilities for further research. They included

  • In what ways were the angels making possible new ways to inhabit the earth?
  • What does it mean for theology when knitted angels are actors in the mission of God?
  • Could I use twitter to conduct a longitudinal research on participants, retweeting to them?
  • How had my participation in the research, particularly my learning to knit as part of the project, changed me?
  • If it was craftivism, then in what ways was it political? What was being subverted?
  • In what ways does my data ‘re-make’ existing understandings of communication as having senders of messages to receivers?
  • Is my model of craftivism emerging from the wisdom literature of the Old Testament in fact a Trinitarian patterning?
  • How to make sense of the complex layers of materiality – the wool, the making, the placing?
  • Can i provide a better account of gender from the data, accounting not simply for men and women but seeking to understand gendered trends, impacts, roles and relationships?

In my responses, I realised how much my thinking has developed since this paper was presented at ANZATS in July 2019. This included insights emerging from my focus group research with the organisors on Monday night and material from my first expressions book (SCM, 2019).

It was a privilege to present once, let alone twice and both times to sense the richness of the research I have done and how it connects both for academics and for local church pastors (hence the “Could you video it for my church?” comment). My thanks to the organisors for accepting my paper and KCML/PCANZ who made possible financially my participation.  And to my family for graciously giving me permission.

Posted by steve at 05:44 PM

Monday, April 01, 2019

Craftivism as a missiology of making

A conference proposal I have just submitted for the ANZATS 2019 conference in Auckland. It seeks to take forward the presentation I gave at the Transitional Cathedral last year (a summary of which was included in Cathedral Extra here).

craft-unsplash

Where #christmasangels tread: Craftivism as a missiology of making

Craft-ivism combines craft and activism. Craft-ivists utilise needlework, including yarn-bombing, cross-stitch and pink pussy hats, in collective acts of protest and solidarity (Knitting for Good!: A Guide to Creating Personal, Social, and Political Change Stitch by Stitch). This paper considers craft-ivism as a contemporary form of mission, with a focus on Christmas angels. In the UK in 2014, some 2,870 Christmas angels were knitted and left in public places, with a message of Christian love. By 2016, this had risen to 45,930.

Given that many Christmas angels included a twitter hashtag, technology can be utilised to access empirical data (Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide) regarding the experiences of those who received this particular form of Christian witness. This paper will examine 1,100 “#christmasangel” tweets. Content analysis will provide insights regarding how recipients make sense of this fresh expression of Christian witness, while geographic mapping suggests that Christmas angels have taken flight all over Great Britain.

Christine Dutton argues that acts of making are spiritual practices that can be formative in the making of new forms of Christian community. This suggests that practices of craft-ivism can be read theologically. Hence, a Christology of making will be developed, reading Proverbs 22:2 “the Lord is the maker” in dialogue with David Kelsey’s theological anthropology (Eccentric Existence: A Theological Anthropology (2-Volume Set)). God is revealed as practicing delight (crafting), wonder (making) and perseverance (a discipline known to all crafters and makers). Hence, acts of craftivism are both a participation in the being and acting of God as maker and a spiritual means of connecting with the world. Missiology is invited to ‘make’ a domestic turn, by participating in practices of making.

(Photo by Michael Mroczek on Unsplash)

Posted by steve at 11:31 AM

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The peaceful man of Aotearoa: Te Whiti

Peaceful man, Te Whiti of Parihaka
by Little Bushmen, live with NZSO

Honouring saints. This song is a mix of lament and remembrance.

It draws inspiration from the dream of peace. The dream is a “feather dream,” in honour of the Parihaka feather, a symbol of Parihaka’s passive resistance movement. For Te Reweti (Joe) Ritai, a descendent of both Te Whiti and Tohu, it originates in a story of an albatross landing on Tohu’s marae at Parihaka (here). A feather was left behind, interpreted as a link to to the Spirit falling on Jesus.

Ihowa, Jehovah God, sent that bird down to leave that feather there, as a symbol of peace, to tell them that it was time to begin their tikanga, their system.

The tikanga, the system, becomes that of peace, “To cast no stone, With wisdom to let go of difference.”

Alongside inspiration is lament. “Still we fight, turn blood to gold.” This is much more that a story from history. This is how we live now. It is about the stain of violence and the lust for wealth. The feather still sings, the Spirit still swoops, looking for those on whom it might alight, to whisper “beloved” on those who bring Te Harinui, good tidings of great joy. This was the origins of the Christian message in Aotearoa, carried on by Maori saints like Te Whiti and Tohu.

Posted by steve at 07:11 PM

Saturday, September 22, 2018

built for change workshop

I tried a new approach to teaching today. I was asked to provide a keynote address in Northern Presbytery as they began a more regional approach to leadership training. I had my book Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration but wanted to move beyond talking head and instead offer  an interactive, engaging workshop task.

As everyone arrived, they received a handout, a summary of my notes. Each handout also had a different coloured sticky note (one of 6 different colours). As I spoke, in introducing the Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration  material, I linked the (6) different colours to the six images of leadership Paul offers in 1 Corinthians 3 and 4.

  • Servant – light yellow
  • Garden – green/blue
  • Build – red
  • Resource manage – pink
  • Fool –dark blue
  • Parent – bright yellow

The workshop task involved dividing the room into three around three church change projects.
A – If you wanted to care for creation in your local community …
B – If you wanted to engage your wider community through social media …
C – If you wanted to diversify your Church Council – younger or more culturally diverse …

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Each person was asked to speak to their selected change project through the standpoint of the colour of their sticky note

  • Servant – light yellow
  • Garden – green/blue
  • Build – red
  • Resource manage – pink
  • Fool –dark blue
  • Parent – bright yellow

Tasks:
1. Think of ways that Paul’s image/the colour of your sticky note is needed in this change project.
2. Think of what would happen to the project if Paul’s image/the colour of your sticky note was not part of this change project.
3. If you finish, see if there is an actual church change project in the group you could brainstorm

There wasn’t time to debrief the groups. But watching the groups, I was struck by how quickly mutual patterns of leadership emerged, with groups looking around going “OK, which colour is next.” And so quickly, every person was drawn into the change project, rather than privileged voices.  Listening into the groups, I heard comments like “oh wow, I can see how all these 6 work together”.

A workshop exercise worth developing.  Invite me :)

Posted by steve at 05:01 PM

Thursday, September 13, 2018

wrestling with strange worlds

Today, I facilitated a group wrestling with Luke 10:1-12. A text that initially felt hard, from an alien world, one that had no immediate relevance for New Zealand today. Out of discussion and honest questions, some shared themes began to emerge. After an hour, we paused and each person was invited to capture in words the insights: what does Luke Luke 10:1-12 mean for mission today?

Here are my words:

The mission of God begins with being sent. Those sent begin to participate by looking for spaces and places in our society where relationships are nurtured. We speak peace to these spaces and places.

If we are not welcomed, we don’t hang around and be whiny and annoying. Instead we respect people and step back.

If we are welcomed, we stay. We listen. We are human. We laugh and enjoy life. We anticipate that in these relationships of being human and present, God will work and there will be healing/change/transformation. We hope/expect/long to find the words to will connect good news with the healing/change/transformation we see. Hence mission today is about being totally reliant on God to be ahead of us.

Posted by steve at 05:06 PM

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas greetings from KCML

fullsizerender3 I write to offer you Christmas greetings from KCML. Thanks for your support, encouragement, advocacy and input over the 2016 year.

For KCML it has been year of growth. Some highlights include
• The shift of Malcolm Gordon to Dunedin and the blessing of KCML corridors filled with creativity and music
• Six graduating interns from 4 different cultures
• A block course in Wellington for the first time ever
• Four new babies born to the ministry intern cohort
• The first ever Local Ordained Ministry resourcing conference
• A hard-working Faculty who have published 3 books and 2 resources, all engaged with aspects of the church in mission and ministry
• The Christianity and Cultures in Asia lecture series
• A significant increase in funding from Presbyterian Development Society in support of New Mission Seedlings
• The approval of the Thornton Blair Christian Education Research Fellow to guide the development of life-learning
• Two online learning experiments to explore being national in our training
• Partnerships in Alpine and Otago and Southland Presbyteries in establishing New Mission Seedlings.

It has also been a year of challenges. These include
• A new team still learning how to pace ourselves
• A number of our graduating interns as yet unplaced
• The ongoing challenge of living out the bicultural and intercultural commitments of the PCANZ

A recent lectionary Psalm speaks to our highlights and our challenges. In Psalm 67, the Psalmist is full of praise, for God’s face shines. It is an echo of the blessing of Numbers 6:24-26, a God of blessing, protection and grace. For the Psalmist, this blessing applies not to Israel but to all the nations. The potential internal and exclusive focus of Israel is re-shaped by this universal love of God. It is this God that we affirm at KCML and as a church look to celebrate this Christmas.

Thanks for your partnership with us. We’re better together.

May you and yours experience the shining face of grace this Christmas,
 
Steve Taylor

Posted by steve at 04:18 PM

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Research: Praying in crisis and the implications for chaplains

tear on cheek Our research data on how churches respond to crisis got a second airing today, at the Chaplaincy in Aotearoa New Zealand conference. (The abstract of our paper is below.) It was good to co-present with research collaborator Lynne Taylor and we were grateful to the conference presenters for giving us the space. It is the second presentation in the space of a few weeks, having presented at the Resourcing Ministers day to around 120 Presbyterian ministers as part of General Assembly 2016 in November.

The data set we are working with includes over 8,800 words of description regarding how over 150 churches prayed on the Sunday after the Paris tragedy. It means there is a lot we could talk about! Today, with a different audience, the presentation took on a different life. As part of the presentation, we also offered a takeaway resource, 8 examples of different ways that churches had prayed in crisis, including a brief commentary from Lynne and I as co-authors.

Being chaplains, and being a smaller group, the questions and matters of engagement were very different.

  • First, the complexity of us. There was affirmation of the theological reflection we had done in terms of noting the complexity of praying “forgive us our sins”; “deliver us from evil.” There is a need to think carefully about who is the “us” as we come in lament and intercession.
  • Second, from the field of mental health chaplaincy, the importance of being sensitive to the re-living of trauma. Particular care needs to be taken in the use of images, given the power of the visual to trigger past pain. So the affirmation of those examples that used the auditory, rather than the visual, in providing ways for people to pray in crisis.
  • Third, the importance of prayers for others including prayers not only for victims, but also for perpetrators of crime. This again, from a mental health chaplain, noting the importance of ensuring prayer was real and engaged the complexity of life.
  • Fourth, the difficulty of praying for crisis in religious communities that lack a tradition, and thus a set of established and well-worn resources.
  • Fifth, the enormous value of this type of research, in helping those who minister, to reflect on what they pray. This is a different, yet very life-giving type of research, that celebrates ministry and encourages the seeking of best practice.

Having now aired the data twice, in two different settings, and had the affirmation of the relevance and importance of the data, it is definitely time to seek an avenue for publication. But after Lynne has finished her PhD!

Praying in crisis: the implications for chaplains from an empirical study of how local churches respond to global events

Steve Taylor and Lynne Taylor

Chaplains often find themselves as a Christian presence in the midst of crisis. This can present a particular set of challenges regarding how to speak of the nature of God and humanity in tragedy. How to think of faith in the midst of unexpected suffering? What resources might Christian ministry draw upon?

One common resource is that of prayer. Given lex orandi, lex credendi (the rule of praying is the rule of believing) such prayers – or lack thereof – can be examined as the articulation of a living practical theology.

In the week following Sunday, 15 November, 2015, empirical research was conducted into how local churches pray. An invitation to participate in an online survey was sent to pastoral leaders in two New Zealand denominations: Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Baptist Churches of New Zealand. An invitation to participate was also posted on social media. The date was significant because on Friday, 13 November, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in Paris. At the same time, a number of other tragedies occurred, including bombings in Beirut and Baghdad.

Over 150 survey responses were received. In the midst of global tragedy, how had the church prayed? What might be learnt from these moments of lex orandi, lex credendi? This paper will address these questions. It will outline the resources used and the theologies at work. Particular attention will be paid to the curating of “word-less space”, given the widespread use of non-verbal elements in the data. The implications for those who pray in tragedy will be considered, with particular attention to the ministry of chaplaincy.

Posted by steve at 05:59 PM

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Praying in crisis: the implications for chaplains from an empirical study of how local churches respond to global events

Abstract acceptance. Delighted to be presenting with my partner, Lynne Taylor, at the Chaplaincy in Aotearoa New Zealand: Telling Our Stories conference, December 2-3. It will be a public outing from empirical research we did into how local churches respond in worship to global events.

tear on cheek

Praying in crisis: the implications for chaplains from an empirical study of how local churches respond to global events

Steve Taylor and Lynne Taylor

Chaplains often find themselves as a Christian presence in the midst of crisis. This can present a particular set of challenges regarding how to speak of the nature of God and humanity in tragedy. How to think of faith in the midst of unexpected suffering? What resources might Christian ministry draw upon?

One common resource is that of prayer. Given lex orandi, lex credendi (the rule of praying is the rule of believing) such prayers – or lack thereof – can be examined as the articulation of a living practical theology.

In the week following Sunday, 15 November, 2015, empirical research was conducted into how local churches pray. An invitation to participate in an online survey was sent to pastoral leaders in two New Zealand denominations: Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and Baptist Churches of New Zealand. An invitation to participate was also posted on social media. The date was significant because on Friday, 13 November, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in Paris. At the same time, a number of other tragedies occurred, including bombings in Beirut and Baghdad.

Over 150 survey responses were received. In the midst of global tragedy, how had the church prayed? What might be learnt from these moments of lex orandi, lex credendi? This paper will address these questions. It will outline the resources used and the theologies at work. Particular attention will be paid to the curating of “word-less space”, given the widespread use of non-verbal elements in the data. The implications for those who pray in tragedy will be considered, with particular attention to the ministry of chaplaincy.

Posted by steve at 04:00 PM

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Hospitality as mission: Why does the church see itself as host not guest?

579b32ed09f103cbc96337321156219c I was asked to speak at a local Presbyterian church, to finish a month long series on hospitality. Being the last in the series, I offered to speak on hospitality as eschatology – looking at the book of Revelation, in particular Revelation 19:6-9. I also drew on Rublevs icon in what became an exploration of hospitality as mission.

I runga i te ingoa, O te Matua, O te Tama, Me te Wairua Tapu, Amine. May I speak in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, the Maker of all things new.

A story to start. St Paul’s Chapel is the oldest surviving church building in Manhattan, New York. Built in 1766, it’s also the closest church to World Trade Centre twin towers. In the days following the destruction of 9/11, the church leaders met in emergency session. In the midst of such tragedy, they turned to Scripture.

Where would you turn? Ask the person beside you. If you were the church next door to 9/11, where in the Bible would you turn in the days following?

The church leaders turned to the stories of Jesus in the New Testament around food.

Stories like Levis banquet in Luke 5
the disciples eating corn in Luke 6
the son of man eating and drinking like a glutton in Luke 7
the feeding of the 5,000 in Luke 9
the Parable of the Rich fool in Luke 12
the parable of the Great banquet in Luke 14
the feasting when the lost son returns in Luke 15
Jesus eating at Zaccheus house in Luke 19
the Last Supper in Luke 22
the Emmaus Road in Luke 24 (developed from The Out of Bounds Church?)

In light of these stories – of Jesus around food – the church decided the best thing they could offer, as a church, post 9/11, was a gospel of hospitality. They resolved to be God’s presence by providing food for firefighters, for Police and rescue workers. Their 1766 church building had still not been checked for structural safety, so they set up bbq’s outside, serving burgers and offering lemonade.

Once the church building was deemed safe, they opened up their sanctuary. “There were rescue workers sleeping and eating … there were chiropractors and massage therapists working on aching muscles in the side aisles .. there were people sitting on the floor and on the steps leading up to the choir loft .. (Soul Banquets: How Meals Become Mission in the Local Congregation, 3) The church leaders continued to meet and pray. They turned again to the stories of Jesus around food and they made a second decision. That the food and drink, their gospel of hospitality, needed to be of the highest possible quality. To quote the minister “We wanted people to see and savour the extravagance of Christ’s love.” (Soul Banquets, 2)

They appointed a Food captain. The Food captain, himself a local restaurant owner, sourced food from restuarants including the Waldorf Astoria, who arrived with a large delivery of chicken dinners. The church leaders continued to meet and pray. Ten days after 9/11, they made a third decision. To begin serving Eucharist, every day, at noon. Amid the food stations, the chicken from the Waldorf Astoria and the bbqs cooking burgers, an invitation was made to any present, not compulsory, to share around the table of Christ.

A visitor wrote

“It was the most incredible hodgepodge of humanity I’ve ever seen gathered in a church … some of the rescue workers who’d not shown much interest in the eucharist when it began found themselves drawn into the ancient prayers that promise life forever with God and ended up taking communion with tears in their eyes. This was Christ’s church in all its messiness, diversity, ambiguity, brokenness, and holiness. And it was truly beautiful.” (Soul Banquets, 3)

The story is from Soul Banquets: How Meals Become Mission in the Local Congregation. It’s written by a lecturer in New Testament, who suddenly began to wonder if all the stories of Jesus in the New Testament around food might actually be saying something not just about then, but about now, not just about gospel then, but about church life today. The book did research on how churches are using food and the argument is made: that the church has underestimated the power of our church meals, both ritual and informal, as opportunities for mission.

I like to place what happened at St Pauls Chapel – “rescue workers .. drawn into the ancient prayers .. with tears in their eyes. Christ’s church – beautiful – in all its messiness, diversity, ambiguity, brokenness .. .” alongside the Bible reading:

“Blessed are you who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb! These are the true words of God.” Revelation 19:9.

Revelation is often the domain of crazies and cults. That’s not the intention of the original writer John. Writing, in exile in Patmos, as it says in Revelation 1:4. He’s not writing endtime prophecy for those obsessed with the Middle East. He’s writing to seven churches in Asia, to people living in mess, ambiguity and brokenness; to people persecuted by an Emperor, to a church under extreme stress.

He responds by blessing these people; blessing them as invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb. It’s quite an unusual image for heaven. Quite different from streets paved with gold and fluffly clouds. “Blessed are you who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb! These are the true words of God.” Endtime prophecy? Domain of crazies and cults? Or an insight into how to live in times of mess, ambiguity and brokenness.

Eugene Peterson in his commentary on Revelation argues that when John uses the wedding feast, “he is maintaining the social shape of salvation.” (Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination, 158)

That eating, what you do at a wedding, is social activity. It’s what we do with friends and family.
That eating, what you do at a wedding, is a relational activity. It’s where we share stories, remember our past, trace our whakapapa, and share our joy, name our sorrow.
That eating, what you do at a wedding, is a messy activity. It has food scraps for the compost and red wine spilt on table clothes and dishes to wash.
That eating, what you do at a wedding, is an invitational activity. It’s the place where we build relationships. On the marae, the powhiri moves to the cupatea and the final meal moves into the poroporoaki.

The writer of John, in using the wedding feast, is inviting those who live in mess, ambiguity and brokenness, to maintain the social shape of salvation. Interestingly, for all those who consider Revelation is about endtimes, is how much the writer, John, is looking back not forward.

He’s looking back to the Bible’s first mention, ever, of eating, in Genesis 3; and offering new story, not to broken relationships in the Garden of Eden, but of relationships celebrated in wedding feast.

He’s looking back to Abraham offering hospitality, killing a calf for three strangers.

He’s looking back to the Mosaic Law in Leviticus. Where the mark of being the OT people of God was feasting. Five feasts – Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Trumpets, Tabernacles. And after the book of Esther, a sixth feast – Purim. Six cycles of celebration in which the alien and migrant is welcome.

He’s looking back to the vision of Isaiah 25: A feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine, the best of meats, the finest of wines .. The Lord will wipe away the tears, He will remove the disgrace (6-8)

He’s looking back to the stories of Jesus in the New Testament around food – the Last Supper in Luke 22.
In which Jesus said remember me. Remember what? Remember me with you at Levis banquet, remember me eating and drinking like a glutton, remember me feeding the 5,000; remember me telling you the Parable of the Rich fool and the Great banquet.

And so “Blessed are you who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb,” is not an endtimes prophecy. It’s a looking back, a looking back which gives a social shape to those who live in mess, ambiguity and brokenness.

However, the church often makes a tragic mistake when it things about hospitality and mission. As I posted on social media yesterday: Why so often does the church see itself as host rather than guest, as inviting rather than invited? Some 25 comments later, my friends and followers are still thinking:

  • Is it human nature, it’s easier to give than receive?
  • Is it that dominant cultures are used to be at the centre, not the edge?
  • Is it that we own buildings and somehow that turn us into hosts not guests?

Why so often does the church see itself as host rather than guest, as inviting rather than invited? I’m intrigued by what happens in one interpretation of looking back, in Rublevs Icon, the story of Abraham and the oaks of Mamre.

icon-e2 Painted in the 15th century by Russian monk called Andrei Rublev. Written to a people, living in mess, ambiguity and brokenness. In the background is the trees of Mamre, linking with Genesis 18:1. Three persons: linking to the three strangers in Genesis 18:2. Three persons – similarities – same halo, same blue colour, the colour for divinity; same holding a staff in the same right hand; same head slightly bowed looking at the person beside them.

Three persons – different.

One is green is the colour of spring, the colour of things that grow.
One person has brown, the colour of dirt.
One person is gold, the beauty of God who created a beautiful earth.

So in Rublevs icon, the host is not Abraham. The host is God, three persons of the Trinity – te Matua, te Tama, te Wairua Tapu; The Father in gold who created this beautiful earth; Jesus in brown walked in dirt; Spirit in green to help us grow.

In the middle is the table. All tables have 4 sides. So there is plenty of room for the guest. So anyone can sit. Anyone who wants a relationship – conversation, participate in love, share in table fellowship with Jesus.

So this is hospitality as mission. It’s when God, not church, is the host at the wedding banquet of the lamb. It’s when the Gospel has a social shape – participating in relationship with God. It’s when meals are at the centre; the cup, remember me – looking back – the stories of Jesus in the New Testament around food.

I began with a story – St Paul’s Chapel in New York, in the 10 days after 9/11 – rescue workers .. drawn into the ancient prayers .. Christ’s church – beautiful – in all its messiness, diversity, ambiguity, brokenness .. .” I’ve placed that alongside the Bible reading: “Blessed are you who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” I’ve suggested that this is not endtimes prophecy, but a looking back – to Genesis and relationships broken and the hopes of the Old Testament that find their culmination in Jesus. And the challenge for us to see ourselves not as hosts, but as guests, in the God’s hospitality.

So a story to end. It comes from Rebecca Huntley, who in her book, Eating between the lines, did research on the eating habits of contemporary Australians. She visits food courts and supermarkets and family dinner tables. She also visits the Spectrum Migrant Resource Centre in Melbourne, to attnd a lunch for migrant women.

The aim was to link recent migrants with historic migrants. Each meal features food from the country of origin of one of the migrants. So you turn up to eat the food of another culture. The aim is a social salvation. On each table is a set of questions (Why did you come to this country? Did you have a choice? What was the journey like? What is it like to raise children in a new country?) Rebecca writes:

“the lunch I attended was messy, complicated, disjointed and at times frustrating. It was hard work, much harder than ordering Vietnamese take-away … It was a tiring experience, but much more satisfying .. Food was a conduit, a means of establishing real and potentially transformative relationships.” (Eating between the lines, 132).

Hospitality as mission. The power of finding ourselves as guests at the table of another. Five practical suggestions:

  • Appoint a food captain
  • Set every church table in ways that reflect God’s abundance and creativity.
  • When eating, find ways to encourage genuine conversation – questions on tables to encourage the sharing of lives.
  • Work always to make guests hosts and hosts guests
  • Never forget the church’s special meal – the stories of Jesus in the New Testament around food.

Because: “Blessed are you who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb.”

Posted by steve at 05:52 PM