Monday, February 22, 2021

First Expressions “important insights”

To date, there have been four academic reviews (that I’m aware of) of my First Expressions: Innovation and the mission of God book. (To date on the blog, I’ve highlighted the 4 academic reviews — here in Ecclesial Futures; here in Practical Theology; here in Ecclesiology and a here in Scottish Episcopal Institute Journal).

Now I’ve become aware of a more industry-focused review from Church Missionary Society. As a missionary society, they produce a Summer reading catalogue and in 2020 readers are encouraged to read First Expressions: Innovation and the mission of God because it offers “important insights for the future of Pioneer and Fresh Expressions movements, gained from extensive research … excited, connected, curious.”

It’s so encouraging to have this type of feedback from an international missionary society, especially one that is focused on mission both local and global, and in such creative ways.

Posted by steve at 09:11 PM

Saturday, February 13, 2021

First Expressions “contribute to the vitality of a broader ecclesial communion” book review # 4

A really interesting review of my book, First Expressions: innovation and the mission of God has been published in the latest issue of the Ecclesial Futures journal. The review is written by Dustin Benac, who at the time of reviewing, was Postdoctoral Associate at Duke University Divinity School, but is now Visiting Assistant Professor of Practical Theology at Baylor University.

The review is over six pages, and works by comparing First Expressions: innovation and the mission of God with Church Planting in Post-Christian Soil: Theology and Practice and How Change Comes to Your Church: A Guidebook for Church Innovations. This creative comparison by Benac results in a synthesis of insights, including the value of change for church, the necessity of approaching church using interdisciplinary frameworks and the need to nurture an imaginative ecclesial wisdom.

In terms of academic reviews of First Expressions: innovation and the mission of God, this is the first review to pick up on my use of haiku. At over 95,000 words, my book needed some “soundbites” and so I tried to clarify each chapter not by writing more prose but by utilising the 5-7-5 syllable structure of the haiku. Hence Benac’s review describes my writing as “equal parts a descriptive and imaginative inquiry … Taylor displays the “gift of poetic imagination” … that ecclesial innovation requires.”

The review by Benac also affirms the unique contribution that my work is making to practical theology, noting that my “longitudinal design advances ecclesiological inquiry, providing a template for future studies of change within communities of faith.” The review also appreciates how researching ecclesial innovation can “contribute to the vitality of a broader ecclesial communion.”

So thanks Dustin for reading and reviewing, in such an affirming and creative way.

The full review is in Ecclesial Futures Volume 1, Issue 2 (December, 2020), 118-123. Benac’s review is the 4th academic review of First Expressions: innovation and the mission of God (that I’m aware of). A 3rd review occurs in Practical Theology, the international journal of the British and Irish Association of Practical Theology. The two other academic reviews are in Ecclesiology and a Scottish Episcopal Institute Journal.

Posted by steve at 03:06 PM

Friday, February 05, 2021

Serving the world: weaving a diaconal missiology in times of unravelling

It was a privilege to provide this week a 90 minute lecture – Serving the world: weaving a diaconal missiology in times of unravelling – to Uniting Church Deacons as part of the ordination training. It was online, me in Aotearoa engaging with participants from 4 different states in Australia.

In order to help with engagement, particularly touch and memory, prior to the lecture, participants had been invited to bring some

  • some wool in a colour that appeals
  • some knitting needles
  • a darning needle

The input had the following structure

Part 1 – Knitted dishcloths and the call to ministry
UCA Service of Induction of a Deacon
John 1:47-8, Psalm 139:13, 15, Jeremiah 1:5

For personal reflection on the call to ministry – who were you under the fig tree? What true colours will you bring to ministry? What gifts, talents, experiences might God be weaving?

Part 2 – Weaving the call: the shape of diaconal missiology

A cluster of character methodology. Since deacon as a title is only used once in the New Testament, I considered a number of characters who acted in diaconal ways.

  • God is weaving ahead of us, like Philip (Acts 6:1-2, Acts 8:5-8, Acts 8:26-38)
  • God is weaving fresh expressions, like Dorcas (Acts 9:36-38)
  • God is weaving resources, like Joana/Junia (Luke 8:1-4;24:1, 10; Romans 16:7)

For personal reflection on the call to ministry – how might these characters inform your practice of diaconal mission?

Part 3 – Resourcing and resilience (darning and knitting needles)

In order to explore spiritual resources for times of resilience, I showed an animation by Lou Baker, not of weaving, but of unravelling.

I offered a chapter from First Expressions to reflect on spirituality when communities experience unravelling. I then reflected on my own recent experiences of unravelling, offering 7 practices in a spirituality of resilience.

For personal reflection on the call to ministry – what has sustained you in times of unravelling?

For me …

  • Attend to your body
  • Add “season” specific practices
  • Attend to the big picture
  • Nurture blessing
  • Practice gratitude
  • Rituals of transition
  • New practices

I really enjoyed putting the session together, weaving my experience and missiology from recent years together. The work on spirituality of unravelling really struck a chord with participants and the levels of sharing were very deep.

Key resources:

Willie Jennings, Acts: A Theological Commentary on the Bible

Esther Rutter, This Golden Fleece: A Journey Through Britain’s Knitted History

Stanley H. Skreslet, Picturing Christian Witness: New Testament Images of Disciples in Mission

Steve Taylor, First Expressions: innovation and the mission of God

Steve Taylor, Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration

William Willimon, Acts

Posted by steve at 03:28 PM

Friday, December 11, 2020

celebrating First Expressions with my graduating department

celebrating The Theology Department at Otago University have a lovely tradition, an annual end of year celebration of books written by Faculty and former post-graduates. Since I was a PhD post-graduate student of Theology at Otago back in the day, I was invited (back!) to celebrate First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God, the book I had published late in December, 2019. Here is my “celebration” speech, trying to link the book with the PhD research.

First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God is the 2nd book to emerge from my PhD research. I graduated with my PhD from Otago in 2004. As I finished my PhD, I wanted to make the research accessible to the wider church. So I wrote The Out of Bounds Church?: Learning to Create a Community of Faith in a Culture of Change. This was published by Zondervan, USA in 2005 and translated into Korean in 2008. I’ve even been to visit a new church plant in Korea named “Out of Bounds Church” in honour of the book!

There was a large chunk of empirical research – ethnography, interviews, focus groups – I had to drop out of my PhD thesis. Because it was already too big. So I was keen to find a way to do something with that PhD research. So I sought ethics approval and did a longitudinal study. This involved returning 10 years later to the church’s I’d researched in my PhD.

I found that half of the new forms of church were no longer meeting as gathered communities. Which raised ecclesiology questions. Does it matter if innovation doesn’t endure? How might Easter – dying and rising –shape our ecclesiology?

During that 10 year period, the wider denominations – Church of England and Methodists in the UK – had affirmed these new forms of church. They had developed structures like Fresh Expressions to partner with them. So that raised another set of ecclesiology questions – How do organisations discern what is of God and what isn’t? How do churches as organisations best partner with grassroots innovation?

So I interviewed denominational leaders –Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and Stephen Cottrell who’s now the Archbishop of York.

Then I found a publisher – SCM. They have been great to work with.

According to Ecclesiology and international ecumenical journal – First Expressions is a “radical re-conceptualization of the marks of the Church” (more here).

According to the Scottish Episcopal Journal, First Expressions offers “in-depth theological hermeneutic, firmly grounded in Scripture and ecclesiology” (more here).

According to Rowan Williams, who emailed in January, saying he was – “impressed with the theological analysis .. [First Expressions is] an important book.”

Thanks to the University of Otago, who provided PhD scholarships and post-graduate conference funding. Thanks to the Theology Department for celebrating books emerging from PhD research. Thanks to any of you who might want to review it for Anglican Taonga or Methodist Touchstone!

Photo by Matthieu Joannon on Unsplash

Posted by steve at 05:32 PM

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

help the entrepreneurs in ministry articulate vision and direction – First Expressions book review # 2

Another review of First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God, this time by Eleanor Charman in the Scottish Episcopal Institute Journal 4, 3,(Autumn 2020), 91–93.

Rev Eleanor Charman is a priest at St Peter and the Holy Rood Episcopal Church and the first full-time curate ordained in Caithness since 1746 (According to here). So Eleanor is a bit of a pioneer herself!

After a fair review of the 4 parts of the book (and a much more positive engagement with my feminist methodologies and metaphors of innovation than the review of First Expressions in Ecclesiology), Charman concludes:

Taylor’s book reveals the myriad of complex dynamics that weave through communities as they seek to establish themselves … [Taylor] has systematically researched various aspects of the communities, through interviews and extensive reading. Taylor provides an in-depth theological hermeneutic, firmly grounded in Scripture and ecclesiology … the reader will have a better and more informed understanding of the nature of pioneering. This in turn may help the entrepreneurs in ministry articulate vision and direction with their gathered communities as they seek to establish new first expressions.

The Scottish Episcopal Institute Journal aims to be a vehicle for debate on current issues in the Anglican Communion and beyond. It invites dialogue on what it means to think as an Episcopalian in Scotland in the twenty-first century and aims to be a catalyst for prayer and theological reflection at the heart of the Scottish Episcopal Church. So it’s a really interesting context in which to have my work read in relation to helping “entrepreneurs in ministry articulate vision and direction.”

Thanks Eleanor Charman. Thanks SCM for publishing and for working hard at reviews.

Posted by steve at 10:47 AM

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

radical re-conceptualization of the marks of the Church – First Expressions book review

There is a review of my book First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God in the latest edition of Ecclesiology 16, 3 (2020), 429-431 by York St John (UK) theologian, John Williams. Ecclesiology is an international, ecumenical and fully peer-reviewed theological journal. The main focus of the journal is on the mission, ministry and unity of the Church. So it’s great to have the book reviewed in that context.

There are lots of affirmations by the reviewer. My book is”substantial” (429) and I’m at my best when engaging in “critical theological and practical reflection on his empirical research” (429). While First Expressions: Innovation and the Mission of God is considered “particularly useful for those involved in Fresh Expressions” (429) it also deemed to provide a “stimulating contribution to the conversation right across the ecclesial spectrum” (431).

There are some critical questions. My methodology is overtheorized (although better to be overtheorised than under, particularly when it comes to new areas of ecclesial research) and my fourfold typology for ‘innovation’ is confusing (need to be clearer that I am working with metaphors, which by nature require different ways of thinking).

So a mirror on my strengths as a thinker (theological and practical reflection on empirical research) and weaknesses as a writer (over-theorised). And some helpful pointers for further research and writing, for which I am grateful.

And an opinion – that I am offering something distinctly original – “an alternative paradigm for ecclesiology” (431). Across 20 centuries of Christian thought, what I am proposing is a “radical re-conceptualization of the ‘classical marks of the Church” (430), an ecclesiology distinct from paradigms of the church enshrined in historical continuity, hierarchical structure or ecumenical agreement. So that is very high praise – for my book and for Fresh Expressions/emerging church.

Posted by steve at 10:50 AM

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

Saturday, November 30, 2019

The missio dei embodied in local community ministry in Scotland

IMG_7973 Leading a Listening in Mission class a few weeks ago, with highlighters in hand, working with a case study, some things clicked and a conference abstract – with a colleague – for the International Association for Mission Studies, Sydney July 2020 (IAMS) emerged.

The missio dei embodied in local community ministry in Scotland
Mark Johnston and Steve Taylor

This paper examines the use of missio Dei in a local community context. It outlines a missology of discerning that provides a way to interpret the birthing of the Blue Horizon Youth Charity in South Aberdeen, Scotland.

Our paper works with the assumption that the missio Dei is axiomatic for a missional ecclesiology. In John 5:29, the Son can only do what the Father does. In Luke 10:1-11, a naming of the Kingdom occurs after acts of healing, suggesting a contextual particularity. Hence listening and discernment in local contexts are essential to mission.

The missio Dei is theorised by applying three frames – neighbourhood listening, diagnosing local narratives and discerning God and the gospel – to a case study of the development of a local community ministry. Listening involves activating presence and seeking immersive relationships of curiosity and proximity. Diagnosing occurs through visual tools, utilising metaphors of icebergs and bridges. Diagnosing enables discerning, evident as documents describing the ethos, beliefs, values and practices of Blue Horizon are critically examined with hindsight. A continuity between listening, diagnosing and discerning is developed, suggesting that for community ministry today, doing what the Father does requires action-reflection on community ministry, pays attention to vulnerable voices in the community, works ecumenically and partners with non-church actors in ways that are inclusive while affirming gospel values.

This research provides tools and outlines practices for the local church, interpreted missiologically. Missiology is returned to the local church as the missio Dei is embodied in local community mission.

Posted by steve at 01:25 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.

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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).

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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, March 04, 2019

structuring outside study leave

When the Presbyterian Church formed KCML in 2006, the goals for the College included research. KCML is to be responsive to trends and training needs and to foster and facilitate high quality research into these needs and trends. It makes sense, in a time of rapid change, to create capacity for action-reflection on ministry and mission. Such reflection, especially if it is to be high quality, takes time and so to embody the tasks assigned by the church, KCML Faculty are allocated outside study leave, 15 weeks every 3 years.

I was due October 2018, but delayed mine – what with other Faculty already on study leave and to ensure teaching over Spring and Summer block courses. However as of today, I have 13 weeks to engage in high quality research. Over the last few weekends, I’ve been setting up an office at home, making a writing space, printing the various chapter drafts to date and bringing home books I might need.

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Given a need and a trend within the church involves new forms of church, the focus of much of my research will be on sustainability and innovation. In order to make sure the research is accessible to the church, I have signed a book contract with SCM Press. The provisional title is First Expressions: emerging movements in mission and the contracted publisher is SCM. It will bring my action over 25 years – planting a fresh expression, leading a church that planted fresh expressions, developing a “have-a-go” pioneering qualification at UCLT, developing New Mission Seedlings here at KCML, into conversation with theory on mission and innovation. In order to keep it give it a wider “action” frame than my own experiences, it will draw on my longitudinal research on new forms of church ten years on in the United Kingdom. I’m particularly interested in what we learn from those who try/play/experiment and how we theorise the tension between durability in cultures of continuity and fail fast in cultures of discontinuity.

Connecting with SCM was a delightfully random part of last year. I had been keen to pitch them the book project but had lacked the time to polish up a proposal. However, when the editor heard I was going to be in Scotland last year, doing a bit of teaching for the Church of Scotland, he asked to connect. I said that actually, well, I had been wondering about showing them a book proposal and if I gave it a quick polish, could I send it before we met … and the rest is history. It feels so good going into a sabbatical with a specific project, with 10 distinct chapters already in draft form, with chapter summaries of each to give me focus.

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To help me write, I need structure. I also know it is not healthy for me to write all day. So I have allocated other activities to break up my days. So each day is divided into five parts.

  • create – two golden hours of writing – picking up on the research around the value of 2 golden hours
  • make – some tactile engagement with the wider world, in particular craft and the Bible
  • complete – to help motivate during a major project, there are a range of smaller, almost complete projects – rejected journal articles from last year to try in another journal, a couple of spoken lectures to turn into a publication
  • deepen – reading and research, including in the wonderful Hocken, which I find a wonderful re-creative space
  • connect – time to attend to email, rock up to random lectures, blog, administer

I’ve even made time sheets to help me keep track of progress.

Finally, there are the carrots. If I meet the mid-May deadline, I hope to have a few weeks to hikoi with Te Aka Puaho and the whanau of Wiremu Tamehana communities or perhaps go walkabout to visit Aunty Denise Champion in Port Augusta, Australia, and complete with her a joint journal article we began a few years ago.

I can adjust the schedule as I go, or if I fall behind. But it is a start, a way of enabling me to step through the gift that is the space to be responsive to trends and training needs and to foster and facilitate high quality research into these needs and trends.

Posted by steve at 01:54 PM

Friday, January 25, 2019

the burning bush and cultural transmission

Today I spoke at the Otago Museum, giving a conference paper (abstract here) at the Held in Trust: Curiosity of Things symposium. My “thing” was the burning bush (an image central to Presbyterian church identity) as it has been crafted and crossed cultures from Hemispheres to Aotearoa New Zealand.

IMG_7018 My talk drew on some different pieces of my thinking/talking/researching over the last few years

  • block course intern teaching on the Bible in Presbyterian identity (in June 2017)
  • introducing New Zealand Presbyterians to Scottish Presbyterians (in June 2018)
  • keynote at Connect18 on burning bush as basis for a Presbyterian theology of mission (in July 2018)
  • guest speaker at Knox Church AGM (in October 2018)

It was rewarding to take previous work already presented in a range of contexts and find ways to weave it together and offer it in an academic context. It was great to take the rich resources of the Presbyterian Research Centre into a museum setting and to have their support (shout out) during my presentation.

In developing the paper and thinking about the transmission of identity as belief across cultures, a key conversation partner was Webb Keane, Christian Moderns (The Anthropology of Christianity). Here is my final section:

Anthropologist Webb Keane studied transmission of Christianity in Indonesia – over 100 years from Dutch colonisation to post-independence. As part of his research, he did an object study of a Sumbanese house as a paradigm of cultural ordering. He argued that when text is detached from objects, new aspects of the object come to the fore. The result can be “different representational economies” and different modes of objectifying” (Christian Moderns, 269).

Which seems to be is what is happening with the burning bush. The Presbyterians brought words: many words in the Books of order and Westminister Confessions. They also brought a symbol. An object – a thing – which could be re-presented; as craft and taken across cultures in the complexity of communication. As text and object are detached, new aspects come to the fore and multiple “representational economies” come to play.

This highlights the essential role of local agency in global exchange. In the glowing vine of Te Aka Puaho and the stained glass windows of St Johns Papatoetoe, a Scottish symbol has been re-framed. It is being interpreted through different Biblical narratives – Christological for Te Aka Puaho, creation-centred Moana voyages at St Johns Papatoetoe. Burning bushes can be frangipani: Sinai wilderness can be oceans in which “I am is revealed.”

Local agency opens the doors for objects to be become subverting symbols. Imaginations can be re-narrated and fresh currents in theological production become possible.”

Thanks to the conference organisers for having me, to the Presbyterian Archives and staff for being so helpful and to Otago Museum and University of Otago Centre for Colonial Research for being such generous hosts.

Posted by steve at 12:15 PM

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Craftivism in (Transitional) Cathedral Extra

In September last year, I was asked to speak at the Transitional (Anglican) Cathedral in Christchurch. It was a 30 minute talk as part of Prophets in the Cathedral, a combined event run by the Diocesan Education Office and the Cathedral. I was delighted to be asked and I really enjoyed putting something new together. I wanted to look a fresh expressions of mission and in ways that a Cathedral congregation might find new possibilities and in ways consistent with their Anglican understandings of mission.

To my delight, the Dean was so enthusiastic about what I said that he that he emailed afterward asking if a summary of my talk could be used in the Cathedral Extra, the quarterly magazine, which goes to supporters all over Christchurch. It was quite an integrating (weaving) experience for me to knit (pun intended) reading and ideas together from various places in the last 5 years.

What I wrote appeared late in November. I got the back page and all!

craftivism

 

Craft-ivism is as simple as the joining of two words: Craft + activism. It is a form of activism, centred on domestic craft (Greer, Knitting for Good!: A Guide to Creating Personal, Social, and Political Change Stitch by Stitch, 2008). It tends to utilise needlework, including yarn-bombing and cross-stitch and value collective empowerment and creative expression. It has been linked with elements of anti-capitalism, environmentalism and solidarity.

For those who like practical examples, it is the knitting of Christmas angels. In the UK, in 2014, some 2870 Christmas angels were knitted and left in public places, with a message of Christian love. By 2016, this had risen to 45,930 (http://www.christmasangel.net). Domestic craft had become a way of spreading good news in public places.

In 2008 four women in a small Methodist Church in the middle of a housing estate near Liverpool, met to knit prayer shawls for the bereaved and those in hospital. Then they moved to blankets for the local women’s refuge, followed by hats for shoebox appeals overseas. Everything they knitted, they would lay hands and pray for those who would receive the finished items. Three years later, by 2011, that initial group of four women had grown to sixty, meeting weekly to knit and pray, many with no previous church connection. Many of these women were calling Knit Natter their church. The story of Knit and Natter is a fresh expression is analysed by Christine Dutton in Ecclesial Practices 1(1), 31 – 50).

These are contemporary stories. Yet craft-ivism is deeply rooted in the Christian tradition. In Acts 9, Dorcas crafts clothes for widows, an activity that mirrors the diaconal activity of Acts 6. Her craft-ivism builds a community of widow’s who have found a strong, clear and articulate voice, able to show a visiting Peter what the Gospel looks like in their community.

The Anglican church has five faces of mission and there are elements of all five faces in the work of Dorcas:

  • in nurture and teaching of people – and nurture is what Tabitha is offering to the widows; while teaching is there in the sharing of craft across generations
  • in loving service – and the robes and clothes offered to widows are a wonderful example of practical ministry
  • in proclaiming the gospel – demonstrating Christian community to Peter
  • in transforming society – given that in New Testament times, widows were poor and lacked protection, yet finding in Tabitha an advocate
  • in caring for creation – seen in the role of upcycling as garments are fashioned and re-fashioned

This example from the New Testament suggests that craft-ivism is rooted in Christian history.

Turning, to the Old Testament, God is a craft-ivist in Proverbs 22:2; “the Lord is the maker.” Drawing on the Old Testament wisdom literature, theologians like Paul Fiddes (Seeing the World and Knowing God: Hebrew Wisdom and Christian Doctrine in a Late-Modern Context)and David Kelsey (Eccentric Existence: A Theological Anthropology (2-Volume Set)), argue that to be fully human involves being like God

  • practicing delight (crafting)
  • practicing wonder (making)
  • practicing perseverance (a discipline known to all crafters and makers)

Craft-ivism is thus a human participation with God the maker.  What is significant about Proverbs 22 is that God’s craft-ivism is then located in the context of justice and mutuality.  We see this in verse 9 – “Those who are generous are blessed; for they share their bread with the poor.” Hence Proverbs 22 provides a way to think Christianly about prophetic craft-ivism.

Posted by steve at 09:49 PM

Friday, October 12, 2018

First expressions book contract

Another happy Steve moment.

signingbook

I’ve recently signed a book contract with SCM Press, for a book on sustainability and innovation. The provisional title is First Expressions: emerging movements in mission. It will be drawing on my longitudinal research on new forms of church ten years on. I’m particularly interested in what we learn from those who try/play/experiment and how we theorise the tension between durability in cultures of continuity and fail fast in cultures of discontinuity.

I’ve had the empirical data for a while and the UK trip in June included the opportunity to connect with SCM editor, David Shervington who reached out on twitter and then graciously accommodated my lateness as the British Library refused me entry because my suitcase was too large.  A book proposal and 2 draft chapters, some back and forth and SCM said yes a few weeks ago.

I never imagined writing one book, yet alone three, so I’m pretty pleased.  I’m due for some sabbatical time February through May 2019, so the timing is perfect, with the full manuscript due to SCM in May.  In the meantime, I have a few other deadlines to complete (ducking to hide from Jione Havea and Christine Woods).

Posted by steve at 11:24 AM

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