Tuesday, December 17, 2019

On Innovation and Mission: introducing my new book First Expressions

Steve Taylor introduces his new book First Expressions : Innovation and the Mission of God … 700 words to summarise a 95,000 word project …

280719_irst Expressions FINAL CORRECT copy

On Innovation and Mission

Nearly half of fresh expressions will die. My research into new forms of church found 50% of churches had tried and died. My analysis of research by others found 62% of what were proclaimed as “models to hope on” had died.

A pragmatic ecclesiology values numbers. Like Dragons’ Den, a church with limited resources wants to invest wisely. If fresh expressions die, are they worth investing in? A pastoral ecclesiology values people. What is the impact on faith formation when the church that one starts and another joins organizes its own funeral? Is there an innovation ecclesiology, that can locate birth and death in the relationship between innovation and mission?

What research? To understand innovation in mission I studied eleven local church communities in England, Scotland and Wales. I came to call these communities “first expressions”. The name captures a “boldly go where no-one has gone before” approach to spirituality, evident as communities like Visions used video projection to transform church buildings in an Illuminating York Festival or Late Late Service explored “the music that we grew up with and forms of learning that we’re comfortable with” (God in the House, 1996). The term “first expressions” captures the new (and terrifying) reality of those who innovate without roadmaps from those who have gone before.

This was an empirical study. It is tempting for ecclesiology to work with ideals. I wanted to research reality. As Julian of Norwich declares, in one small thing – in my case “first expressions” – is all of creation. I developed a woven ecclesiology, that upholds the value not only of gathering in worship, but of intergenerational faith formation, leadership development and the making of creative product.

I returned 11 years later, to interview and to participate. This gave me a longitudinal study of first expressions, likely the first in the world. In focus group interviews, I heard stories of creative communities like Grace smashing their sense of identity in order to orientate around values not particular leaders. I interviewed leaders of the communities now dead and heard of “Vicar factories” in which the space to create and question resulted in leadership gifted to the wider church.

In the meantime, alongside these first expressions locally, church denominations innovated with Fresh Expressions. I expanded my longitudinal research to study Fresh Expressions as an organizational “first expression”, interviewing leaders like Rowan William, Steven Croft and Andrew Roberts, seeking to understand how a denomination might innovate in mission.

Why research? The research was shaped by my own story. I planted a first expression. Four years after I moved to another leadership role, I heard that first expression was preparing to die. This prompted my longitudinal research.

Through my research, I was challenged by a New Testament wisdom. None of the churches that the apostle Paul planted remain alive today. In Philippians, Paul writes to the very first expression of church in Europe. He names a pioneer that nearly died. Ephaphroditus is to be regarded as valuable. This is a Christian theology of risk, in which birth and death are affirmed.

I was blessed by the grassroots wisdom of local communities. Mobility, leadership transitions and the strength of wider relationships all impact on longevity. What was astonishing was the flexibility by which these first expressions explored new structures of leadership, clarified their identities in the midst of change and creatively drew on spiritual resources.

I was inspired by the organizational wisdom of denominations. In history, churches have innovated with structures. To help understand Fresh Expressions, I examined other mission structures developed in the United Kingdom, monastic patterns, early Methodism and the modern mission agency. I throw in wild cards of contemporary structures like NGOs and incubators. Innovation in mission often includes innovation in organizational shapes.

I was stretched by gender wisdom. The denominational leaders I interviewed were all men. This prompted an imaginative thought experiment. If Elizabeth was an archbishop and Mary was birthing an organization about to be named Fresh Expressions, what might be the shape of their strategic plan?

Innovation in mission is an activity of God. It embodies the word of Jesus: Unless a seed falls, there is no life. Julian was wise. In each small thing, there is value. The birth and death of first expressions invite a radical rethink of mission and ministry. A layered approach to ecclesiology, a church that is neither gathered and parish nor independent and networked, emerges. Innovation is the ants in the pants of Christianity. It keeps the body moving, not for the sake of growth but for the sake of birth and death, which are central to Christianity and thus to being church. Such is the gift of “first expressions”.

***

Order First Expressions via the SCM website before 31st December 2019, and you’ll benefit from a launch discount.

Steve Taylor is Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership and author of First Expressions: Innovation and the mission of God, Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration and The Out of Bounds Church?. He enjoys nature and is learning to knit.

Posted by steve at 07:52 AM

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Innovation ecclesiologies and the expanding of World Christianity

280719_irst Expressions FINAL CORRECT copy Paper proposal – taking my new book into an academic context – ANZATS 2020 – World Christianity and Diaspora Theology stream.

Title: Innovation ecclesiologies and the expanding of World Christianity

Global Christianity assumes a gospel that expands throughout the world, from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. Yet notions of expansion have trajectories, ethics and hoped for eschatologies that require missiological examination.

Ecclesiological expansion is probed through dialogue with research into fresh expressions in the UK (Taylor, First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God 2019), which found that half of fresh expressions had died within ten years of birth. Longitudinal analysis of other new forms of church literature – by Riddell (Threshold of the Future: Reforming the Church in the Post-Christian West, 1998), Frost and Hirsch (The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21 Century Church, 2003) – reveal similar percentages. Yet Together Towards Life (2012) affirmed the value of fresh expressions as new forms of contextual mission in the global North.

A pragmatic ecclesiology values numbers. If fresh expressions die, are they of value in theorising the expanding of world Christianity? A pastoral ecclesiology values people. What are the pastoral implications if half of newly planted diaspora churches die in new cultural contexts?

This paper responds to these challenges by developing an innovation ecclesiology. An initial globalizing trajectory is followed as Christianity first expands into Europe. The innovative role of Lydia as a church planter in Philippi is read in relation to Mary as a first apostle, commissioned amid the eschatology of death and the trajectory of resurrection. This resonates with Epaphroditus, who despite nearly dying for the gospel, is regarded as valuable (Philippians 2:29). Such an innovation ecclesiology, in which dying is woven into rising, values expansion while providing ethical resources for the pastoral care of those who innovate in world Christianity.

Posted by steve at 06:27 PM

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

making matters: with a downunder #Kiwiangels hashtag

A piece I wrote last month for SPANZ, the denominational magazine of the Presbyterian Church. It is a popularisation of my craftivism research, with a downunder challenge.

Kiwiangels

Photo by Kayli Taylor

Making matters

God is a master maker, according to Proverbs 8:30. God delights in making, both at creation and among the human race. The chapter begins with the Maker calling in the streets, offering wisdom not inside the temple, but at the crossroads of life, not in the stillness of liturgy but the bustle of the city gates (1-3). The wisdom on offer is fit for daily purpose – words that lead to life offered at the door of every house (34-5).

Making mattered to theologians of the early Church, who wove relationships between God as maker and discipleship as God’s children. Maximus the Confessor called Christian life a game played by children before God. In Acts, Dorcas created a fresh expression of church with the poor through mending and Lydia worked with fine purple cloth, while Paul, Priscilla and Aquila sustained their mission through the making of tents.

The place of making in mission intrigues me. So in recent months, I have researched Christmas Angels, a local church outreach that began in the north of England in 2014. The idea is simple: make hand-knitted angels, attach a tag, and leave for others to find.

Why make? Mystery in mission, was the answer, according to founders, Methodist church ministers, Rob Wylie and David Wynd, whom I interviewed last month in Durham, England. Seeing a felted angel made by Lou Davis (a wonderfully talented pioneer Methodist church leader) a lightbulb went off for Rob and David: “People walk the same route to work every single day. Let’s see what happens when they see something they don’t normally see. What they make of the message will be up to them. An angel turns up and what might change?”

Christianity, like Christmas, has, over the years, become increasingly wrapped in tinsel. What might happen if making, in the simplicity of a hand-made angel, was what mattered at Christmas?

What happened? Well, it seems that local English churches adore making things. What began in 2014 with a few churches near Rob and David, was quickly taken up by churches all over Britain. In 2017, over 60,000 angels, each lovingly tagged, were yarn bombed throughout England. In the dark of winter down country roads and up high streets, outside train stations and opposite local schools, hand-made knitted angels just turned up.

I was curious. What did the neighbours make of the making? Were yarnbombed angels a nuisance? I turned to social media as part of my research. Each knitted angel came with a hashtag (search online for “#XmasAngel”) and I found the neighbours responding (tweeting) online. Words like “lovely” and “thanks” kept being repeated. For one person, the angels meant people were “thinking of us here”. For another it was an experience of “divine intervention”. A mother was moved to tears as she watched her children place their newly found angel atop the Christmas tree. Of the 1,100 responses (tweets), not one was negative. The making of knitted angels brought communities together, made visible the church and materialised joy and surprise in the experience of being found by an angel.

It all makes sense of the angels in the Christmas story. They were outdoors. They were making faith visible, not with their hands, but their voices with songs of peace and love for all humankind.

It also makes sense of the making in Proverbs 8. Making matters and mission needs to be “out and about” up streets and at the crossroads. Making matters as the Church becomes playful, turning “purl one and knit two together” into unspoken acts of public mission.

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?

Steve Taylor

Posted by steve at 09:14 PM

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

Friday, September 20, 2019

Craftivism imaged: my paper in art

After my paper on Craftivism as mission at Ecclesiology and Ethnography, I was introduced to this piece of art.

Unknown-13

It is a Salvador Dali lithograph, owned by Durham University, which sits in the St Johns College dining room. It is titled “Illustration of the Bible, Jeremiah 1:5. Before I formed you in the womb I knew.” The suggestion was that this art piece “imaged” my research paper. I love the depiction of a woman weaving and perhaps God being imaged in relation to feminine images of womb and craft.” My “shot” is not a great picture, given the glare of glass and a sun and a crowded room.

Posted by steve at 09:32 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

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

first day back from sabbatical

Yesterday was my first day back from sabbatical. The day began in Glasgow and ended in Durham and involved four meetings, two in Edinburgh, followed by two in Durham.

First in Edinburgh, a conversation with Dr Carol Marples, who recently gained her PhD for research into creativity in worship, emerging from Carol’s training as an artist and work with congregations. We talked together about ways that she is seeking to cultivate collaboration in creative making in congregations, including developing short courses.

Next in Edinburgh, a conversation with Dr Alexander Chow, Lecturer in Theology and World Christianity at Edinburgh University. I was particularly interested in his use of wikipedia, requiring students to complete assessment that includes writing articles for wikipedia. It strikes me as a great example of making research useful.

Unknown-9

Then onto/back to Durham. The presentations I am offering here in the UK during this trip involves research on the church in the United Kingdom, in particular the impact of Christmas knitted angels. So I contacted folk who began the project and asked if they were interested in hearing about my research.

So a meeting with Dr Christine Dutton, who as Methodist minister encouraged her congregations’ involvement. I have also drawn on her research into knitting as missional practice and together we talked about ways we might conduct further research together, given her strengths and expertise.

Finally, a meeting with David Wynd and Rob Wylie, who had seen some creativity from the gifted Lou Davis, a Methodist pioneer minister and encouraged the Christmas knitted angels project. I interviewed them about their hopes and dreams for the project. Then I gave them a summary of what I had discovered from my research into how folk had experienced receiving an angel. Then we talked about the possibility of a Christmas angels downunder experiment, testing to see how knitted angels upside down – in summer – might work.

So ended the first day back from sabbatical. Rich, full of meetings and hopeful of next step possibilities in research and mission in the church. Today, Tuesday, is my second day back from sabbatical. It involves a morning meeting about another possible collaborative research project and then the Ecclesiology and Ethnography 2019 conference which begins with lunch. Equally full, although thankfully with less travel.

Posted by steve at 09:50 PM

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Dave Dobbyn dropped into class (again) singing Nau Mai Rā (Welcome Home)

Dave Dobbyn dropped into my Listening in Mission class again this week. I am teaching a Listening in Mission (intern) cohort. There are 4 sessions over 2 months:

Mission as gift, call and promise
Being present and listening in neighbourhood/context
Cultivating congregational spaces for conversation and shared practices of missional attentiveness
Discerning and understanding local narratives

These four online Listening in Mission sessions support an action-learning project in which folk gather a group and work with them in listening in their local communities. So the online experience provides support, encouragement and resources. We offer this online support in mission to ordinands training for ministry. We also offer it separately as life-learning for the wider church – a taster Thursday 29 August and first class Thursday 26 September.

listeninginmission2019

Last week, Dave dropped into Mission as gift, call and promise to sing “Waiting for a voice,” from his 2016 Harmony House album. It worked really well – providing a different way of engaging, offering a change of pace.

So Dave dropped in again this week to Being present and listening in neighbourhood/context to sing Welcome Home. First in English, Welcome Home

Second in te reo, Nau Mai Rā (Welcome Home).

It is inspiring to see an older Pakeha man learning a second language. That in itself is an example of listening in mission, stepping as vulnerable into new spaces.

There were also really helpful links to be made from Nau Mai Rā (Welcome Home) as a song to the theme of the class. Reflecting on welcome, as guest and host, the grace of being able to “offer my hand” and how the Jesus story might resource the challenge of “maybe we’ll find a new way.” The ways that the notion of home and hospitality work in different ways

  • to belong – “woman with her hands trembling, and she sings with the mountains memory”
  • to enfold – “see I made a space for you here”
  • to extend – ‘I offer my hand … I bid you welcome”

Now the pressure comes on for the next class. What song from the Dobbyn catalogue might Cultivating congregational spaces for conversation or Discerning and understanding local narratives?

Posted by steve at 06:08 PM

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

practically practicing kindness in times of scarcity

I was asked to provide some spiritual input into a gathering of denominational Ministry Educators last week. KCML was invited to be present given a warm appreciation for the knowledge and insight we are currently providing in areas of mission and innovation. The input I offered was at the end, as folk began to travel to the airport and homeward.

I begin with an ending. When I finish, I will offer thankyou cards as a takeway. They will be here on the table.

I’ve been on Outside Study leave for three months earlier this year. I had some aims. I wanted to finish a book on mission and innovation for SCM press. I wanted to present research on life-long learning at a teaching and learning conference and complete a journal article in mission crossing cultures and spend time in indigenous contexts and I wanted to walk daily.

Alongside planned outputs, I also wanted to be open to surprise, the unexpected encounters. I found this in a book by Janet Martin Soskice called the The Kindness of God: Metaphor, Gender, and Religious Language. Through a set of unexpected research moments, I find myself reading, then re-reading, about the kindness of God. It was an image that stuck with me.

  • How does God relate to me? In what ways do I value and experience God as kind?
  • How do I relate to others? What does it mean for me to extend kindness?

In the Hebrew, the word for kindness is hesed. It’s a mix of God as faithful and god ask kindness. It appears in the book of Ruth, in 1:8, “May the Lord deal kindly with you.”

What is interesting is that Ruth 1 is all about scarcity.

  • physical scarcity – times of famine and the absence of food
  • cultural scarcity – moving from Israel to Moab means a crossing cultures into new language and new patterns
  • relational scarcity – moving to another community, then losing husbands means a scarcity of relationships
  • generational scarcity – losing husbands means, in that culture, the end of that family line, the line of Elimilech.

And in the middle of scarcity, there is this understanding of God as kind.

Times of scarcity can produce  other responses. There can be competition for limited resources, a hoarding of what is precious, grief at the loss of what was, fear of having no future.

Yet in Ruth 1, God is kind. This shapes how we might relate to God – as kind – and how we might relate to others – with kindness.

We live in a time of scarcity. There is physical scarcity, as the Presbyterian church declines. There is cultural scarcity as new migrants and new cultures appear in our communities. There is generational scarcity, as we see our children and youth leave our churches.  It is easy to respond by competing, by hoarding, by being afraid.

Yet in times of scarcity, God is kind and this shapes how I relate to God and how I relate to others.

kindness

So in the last few months, I’ve wondered what practically it means for me – in this time and place of scarcity – to be kind? For me, it has involved hand-written thankyou cards. It is so rare to receive a letter these days. It is so easy in the church to be critical and impatient. So I have started to send random hand-written thankyou cards – to people I see in action, to people at a distance, or in a committee that I work in – in which I use words to express kindness for what they do.

As we leave, as we return to contexts of scarcity, you might want to join me. Take a card. As you sit on airplane, why not write a handwritten thankyou card. Express in actions that Hebrew word hesed and the ways of the God of Ruth – a God of kindness.

Photo by Sandrachile on Unsplash

Posted by steve at 06:04 PM

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Craftivism as a missiology of making abstract for Ecclesiology and Ethnography Conference 2019

I’m hoping to be in the north of England for a few weeks in September. I have 2 weeks of sabbatical I need to take. I am hoping to link that with being able to participate in the Ecclesiology and Ethnography Conference 2019 at Durham. I’ve just submitted a paper proposal. This proposal is a development of the paper I’ve had accepted for ANZATS in Auckland in July 2019, as a result of some of the data analysis I’ve done during my sabbatical.

Unknown-10

Where #christmasangels tread: Craftivism as a missiology of making

The church is formed by witness. A contemporary ecclesial embodiment of witness is craftivism, which combines craft and activism. One example is the Christmas angels project, in which local churches are encouraged to knit Christmas Angels and yarnbomb their surrounding neighbourhoods. This paper examines this embodiment of craftivism as a fresh expression of mission.

Given that Christmas angels were labelled with a twitter hashtag, technology was utilised to access the tweets as empirical data in order to analyse the experiences of those who received this particular form of Christian witness. Over 1,100 “#christmasangel” tweets were extracted and examined. Geographic mapping suggests that Christmas angels have taken flight over England. Content analysis reveals a dominant theme of a found theology, in which angels are experienced as surprising gift. Consistent with the themes of Advent, this embodiment of craftivism was received with joy, experienced as place-based and understood in the context of love and community connection.

A Christology of making will be developed, reading the layers of participative making in dialogue with David Kelsey’s theological anthropology. The research has relevance, first, exploring the use of twitter in empirical ecclesial research; second, offering a practical theology of making; third, challenging missiology in ‘making’ a domestic turn.

Let’s see what happens. In the meantime, back to learning to knit :)

Posted by steve at 07:12 PM

Thursday, April 18, 2019

craftivist research: coding round 1

So I am coding.  As introduced earlier this week, I have 1100 individual tweets; 22 pages of data.  These have been printed on A3 sheets, leaving me with margins to scrawl notes as I go.

Unknown-12 Over 3 afternoons this week, when I need a break from writing on the First Expressions book project, I have laid out the highlighters – orange, yellow, green, pink.  I have added the pens – red and black – and a pencil.  Potentially 7 different categories. 

I have then simply read each tweet, word by word, looking for themes.  When I think there is a theme I write it down on a blank A3 sheet of paper. Then whenever I see that theme in the data, I use that colour highlighter.  For example, pink is warm comments – words like lovely.  I mindmap related words. Cute is similar to lovely, as is beautiful, so I add that to the related words and in pink I underline lovely/cute/beautiful whenever they appear.

This is a first read. I’m trying to get a feel for the data, to notice trends and seek patterns.  There will be themes that will need to be merged, or themes that will probably appear on a subsequent read. I realise that my data set is corrupted. the hashtag Xmasangel has pulled in other data. This is fine, I can cull the database before I read again.

As I go, I make notes of impressions. This will need to be verified, by numbers, by assembling quotes. But I am getting a feel for the data.

There will be a second read and perhaps a third round. I have the data as a master, so will photocopy off another A3 sheet and using the codes I already have, I will start again from the top and read through.

This is intuitive. I am wanting to be able to stand in front of a group of peers and be able to say – these are the main themes in this data – and here is the evidence to explain and support these main themes.

My initial impressions – in no particular order – are as follows,

  •  the overwhelming sense of joy and positivity generated by Christmas Angels. In the 1,100 tweets, there is only one that might be read as negative. The word “lovely” and “thanks” were dominant
  • the place-based nature of this community engagement. Invariably tweets named locations. These could be towns, streets, park benches, homes, train stations etc. There is a strong sense of connection with place being evoked by the angels. The angelic goodwill is not being heard in Bethlehem but in local communities and closes, streets and high streets shops, in contemporary England.
  • the layers of participation, both for senders and receivers. Senders source materials, make, tag, box, commission, deliver and tweet. Receivers find, carry, display, home and tweet. Indeed it could be argued that there is a making of angels as senders and a making of homes as receivers. Making is an essential part of this mission and in making, connections are deepened and meaning is being made.
  • the way the project built connections, particularly within households and between church and community.

These four themes are articulated in one tweet: “What a lovely idea. Daughter found this for me now taking pride of place on tree.”  There is the positivity of response (“lovely”), the place-based nature  (on tree), the layers of making (participation by the receiver of finding, homing, tweeting) and the building of connections (between daughter and parent).

I’m in a really happy place doing this. I love being curious about the world, in particular about mission and how fresh expressions of mission are received. I’m also curious about the domestic and gendered, the place of making in knowing, what is and is not communicated in craft and tactility.

And a reminder: of the craftivism Christmas angels research project (full outline here).

Background: I am interested in fresh expressions of Christian witness. One recent fresh expression I’ve become aware of is Christmas angels. It is a form of How to Be a Craftivist: The Art of Gentle Protest, in which angels are knitted and gifted among communities. I spoke on craftivism at the Transitional Cathedral last year as part of their Prophets in the Cathedral series. I am interested in how these angels are received (to read my conference abstract – Craftivism as a missiology of making – go here). It is one thing to ask people why they get involved in a fresh expression project like this. But how do those who find an angel make meaning?

To address this question presented some research challenges. I live in another country, it is not currently Christmas and I don’t want to look like a stalker, chasing people who find Christmas angels to ask for an interview. Helen Kara’s Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide has been a great resource, encouraging me to think creatively about research.

Research method: To address this question, I am experimenting with analysing social media. Each angel was sent out with a hashtag #Xmasangels. This meant that people who received the angels could interact and in ways that are in the public domain. This provides a way to analyse recipent response – How people responded to the angels? What meanings did they make? With help from a colleague, I have extracted over 1,1000 #Xmasangel hashtag tweets. I am now conducting thematic analysis. This will be brought into dialogue with the literature, particularly a theology of making and the place of domesticity and craft in contemporary cultures.

Outcomes? Action-reflection on mission action, research-informed teaching (at KCML and as I am invited by churches to talk about fresh expressions of mission), presentation of data at academic conferences, writing for industry (Candour, Spanz) and an academic journal, possible engagement with Christmas angel organisors.

Posted by steve at 05:31 PM

Monday, April 15, 2019

craftivism research: recipient responses

I’m around the halfway mark of the sabbatical. After 6 weeks, I’ve completed some major tasks

  • 10,000 word journal article on mission submitted
  • 6,000 word journal article on life-long learning submitted
  • article to SPANZ completed
  • article to Candour after Christchurch mosque murders on Spirit in trauma completed
  • Sydney Learning and Teaching conference presentation completed (feedback here)

Plus I have completed around 22,000 new words on the First Expressions book project. I’m around 7,000 words ahead of schedule and I’m moving into the editing stage. So I need to adjust the shape of my sabbatical.

It’s time for a more playful task alongside the editing tasks and as a way of celebrating after the completing tasks. I will continue to write on the First Expressions book project in the morning but I’m picking up a more creative project in the afternoons.

Background: I am interested in fresh expressions of Christian witness. One recent fresh expression I’ve become aware of is Christmas angels. It is a form of How to Be a Craftivist: The Art of Gentle Protest, in which angels are knitted and gifted among communities. I spoke on craftivism at the Transitional Cathedral last year as part of their Prophets in the Cathedral series. I am interested in how these angels are received (to read my conference abstract – Craftivism as a missiology of making – go here). It is one thing to ask people why they get involved in a fresh expression project like this. But how do those who find an angel make meaning?

To address this question presented some research challenges. I live in another country, it is not currently Christmas and I don’t want to look like a stalker, chasing people who find Christmas angels to ask for an interview. Helen Kara’s Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide has been a great resource, encouraging me to think creatively about research.

Research method: To address this question, I am experimenting with analysing social media. Each angel was sent out with a hashtag #Xmasangels. This meant that people who received the angels could interact and in ways that are in the public domain. This provides a way to analyse recipent response – How people responded to the angels? What meanings did they make? With help from a colleague, I have extracted over 1,1000 #Xmasangel hashtag tweets. I am now conducting thematic analysis. This is fancy words for printing them out – all 22 pages – on A3 sheets of paper, finding highlighters and coloured pens and reading every tweet, looking for themes.

Unknown-10

Research methodology: As another part of the research, I am also learning to knit. I figure that it is one thing to engage #Xmasangels intellectually. It is quite another to engage by actually making Christmas angels. So I have started to learn to knit. I am keeping a diary of my experiences. It is fascinating to be learning to craft as I am researching craft – a tactile embodying of research. (For those who keep watch on how KCML staff spend their time, rest assured I am knitting after hours and not in work hours).

Unknown-9

What will be the outcomes? I think knowing how people respond to mission is important in guiding future mission action. It is the basis of practical theology and action-reflection modes of learning. I hope to include the results as I teach on mission at KCML and as I continue to be invited by churches to talk about fresh expressions of mission. I hope to present the data to at least one, ideally two academic conferences, as part of reflecting on mission. I hope to write up the results, so that those who don’t hear me talk can still engage with the data. This will include Candour, Spanz and an academic journal. I will also send the results to the Christmas angel organisors. They might want to engage with me and I’m happy to do that. I hope to learn to knit. Above all, I hope to continue to be curious about the world around me and especially fresh expressions of Christian witness.

Over the next few days, I will share my initial impressions of the first read (fancy word for colour coding with highlighters) of the data. While is it very early days, I am already struck by some fascinating recipient responses.

Posted by steve at 04:26 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

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The week day church as a hermeneutic of the gospel: an action research project integrating faith and work in a local church

A book chapter proposal for a proposed special journal edition on ‘Mission, Faith, Work and Economics.’ I wasn’t expecting to write this on sabbatical, but last week I found 900 words of notes and resources from a workshop I led last year.

The week day church as a hermeneutic of the gospel: an action research project integrating faith and work in a local church

A distinctive feature of Christian spirituality is the commitment to sacralise the secular. Martin Luther asserted that “household chores are more to be valued than all the works of monks and nuns” (Christian History: An Introduction, 2013, 169). John Paul II argued that the church must “form a spirituality of work which will help all people to come closer, through work, to God” (Laborem Excercens, 1981, 24). So how does a local church help participants integrate their faith and work?

This chapter will outline an action research project, that of my own participation in leading one local church in the integration of faith and work. Intentional actions wil be described, along with documentary analysis of liturgical innovation.

Three areas of ecclesial life will be examined. First, liturgy, including sermons, creative Eucharist, monthly work-place pastoral prayers and engagement with a secular festival (Labour Day). Second, small group practices of discernment and action-reflection. Third, mission structures, in the form of annual commissioning days and the development of mission collectives to encourage integration of faith and work.

The data will be examined in light of Lesslie Newbigin’s claim that the re-missioning of Western cultures requires the congregation to be a hermeneutic of the gospel, “men and women who believe it and live by it” (The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, 1989, 227). Newbigin develops this hermeneutic in six domains: of praise, truth, neighbourhood, engagement in public life, mutuality and hope (227-233). These domains provide a theoretical, and missiological, framework through which to examine the liturgy, group life and mission structures of a particular faith community.

The argument is that action-research in local church can sacralise the secular as it provides contextual resources that invigorate mission as faith-ful work witness.

Posted by steve at 09:38 PM