Blog

This is a spot where I share some thoughts about life, spirituality, mission and ministry. Thanks for stopping by!

Wellbeing and older people

I’ve just sent someone an article that I wrote a number of years ago about older people in the church.

It encourages taking a holistic approach to what it means to be human; looks at the sorts of resourcing a local church can provide to older people; affirms the need for places of connection; and recognises the need for all people to have ways that they can offer themselves and their gifts for a wider purpose.

https://unsplash.com/photos/MMhazsT2wtM
image by @tatizanon

Interested? You can download it here

2018 Community Demographics

One of the things that I do in my not-working-for-Uni time, is provide demographics based on the Census data to local churches. It’s something I have done since forever (er, since the 1986 data was released as Supermap2 in the early 1990s).

It has taken a bit longer than usual, but I’ve now got the NZ 2018 Census data ready to be made into data on your local community.

Why do this? Because I believe it’s important for churches to be engaged and embedded in their local communities. And part of that, is understanding who makes up that community. I reckon that God was and is into local communities – God sent Jesus, after all. That was pretty local.

If you’re interested, there is a sample profile that you can download here. (Page 1 is below). Details on how to order are here.

Today (26 February) marks twelve months since the first person suffering from covid-19 arrived in New Zealand. As I re-read the media release from the 28 February 2020 (the date the case was confirmed), I was struck again by how well New Zealand has, from the outset, handled this pandemic.

This time last year, isolation was already possible and required: a negative pressure room in the hospital was used for the patient: a woman in her 60s, and her family members were placed in isolation. Contact tracing was underway and close contacts were being tested. The messaging from the Ministry of Health was reassuring; from the headline, notifying of a “single case” to the final sentence advertising the free 24/7 covid-19 Healthline number. Medical staff were using protective equipment, and district health boards across the country had “been preparing” for this.

In addition, however, the “high degree of uncertainty” was noted: this was a “rapidly evolving” situation. It was uncharted territory. While there were principles, protocols and plans to draw on, the actual path was unknown.

The need to work together as a team was named and affirmed: “Keeping individuals, families and our communities safe and healthy in the current global environment requires a team effort and that’s what we’re seeing across New Zealand.”

Of course, none of these systems were perfect. All required (and continue to require) iterative change as more is known about the disease, as case numbers rose, as things began to return to a new sort of normal, and as cases continue to crop up.

Twelve months on, it is appropriate to pause and be glad of how we’ve traveled this past year. It’s also appropriate to pause and remember the 2369 people in New Zealand who have suffered from covid-19, and the 26 people who have died, along with their friends and families who continue to mourn their loss.  It is appropriate to think of all those who have worked so hard to help us as a nation to come through as well as we have.

This twelve-month marker is a good opportunity to look back over the past year and see what we have learnt and can be learning. I’m sure I’m not alone in doing so! Many will be considering this remarkable period from various perspectives. Me, I’m thinking primarily about how churches responded to the pandemic.

As I have been trawling church websites, and listening to church leaders, to church services and to international discussions over the past year, my particular question has been around how churches are working to support human wellbeing. How have they engaged in pastoral care? In what ways have they been involved in their wider communities? What has been the shape of worship, when gathering in person was not possible.  What changes that were made during lockdown have been retained once restrictions have been lifted? I’m curious about what has changed and what motivated those changes, what has remained the same or returned to normal, and what the future might look like. I have the privilege of 5 months set aside to focus primarily on these questions.

To date, I have primarily explored the worship services offered during lockdowns and afterwards. In writing this, I am drawing on analysis of those services, and the data from an online questionnaire completed by nearly 100 church leaders in New Zealand and Australia. It is early days in terms of my analysis and writing, but here are some things that I have observed so far. (I’ve opted not to point to the wider literature here.)

Some churches were ready to go online, some were not, but generally they “went” regardless.

  • Many online services on the 29th of March began with words along the lines of “this is not as anyone would have expected.” Watching the earliest services, one gets a sense of the leaders’ discomfort at being on screen; their shock at the unfolding situation; hope, trust and eager anticipation that they could still be the church despite distance; and a strong desire to do their very best, while aware that today’s best had room for improvement.
  • Some churches were able to build on existing innovations. For instance, one was already live streaming their services, but realised that there was much more that they could be doing with the technology.  
  • That leader also perceived that they had also been prepared spiritually, noting that during 2019 they had explored the theme of exile, considering how they would remain connected to God in the midst of great loss.
  • There were various reasons why some churches did not offer online services. Some did not have the technology or skills required to do so. Others reported that their congregations did not want to meet online. Some had members without internet access, or without the knowledge or ability to access online services. In some cases, that was perceived to be true of all members. One leader reported that their leadership, “wanted our ‘scattered’ worship to be accessible to all members, including the 25% who did not have internet access and were probably the most vulnerable and isolated group” and so they instead provided printed worship resources via email or into letterboxes.  Another leader reported, “We decided to let each person go to God for guidance.”

Churches and church leaders made iterative changes to their ministries as the weeks passed: for example, improving or streamlining the way that they offered their online worship and offering new online gatherings, and regular reflections or prayer times.

  • One church leader was initially concerned about privacy (and they noted, laughing, “not sure how it was going to go”) and on the first week recorded selected reflections from their sermon, rather than the full Zoom service. In subsequent weeks, they recorded the entire service, and protected the privacy of other participants by being the only face on screen.
  • Other churches sought to increase ways that people could participate: “We eventually got the technology together to allow people to be involved.”

Finding ways to participate was frequently seen by leaders as important, indeed a priority. Many approaches were taken.

  • Prayer needs were shared in the chat or comment functions
  • Responsive prayers were led by families in their homes, allowing multiple faces and voices to be heard and seen
  • Digital prayer and praise walls were created
  • Photos of regular attenders were shown before or during the service
  • One leader reported: “Well we’ve just had our zoom church service we did it live there were people there with their mics on and so the responses had other voices; the prayers had other voices the readings, and even the singing, and it was fabulous.”
  • Some leaders reported that meeting online increased participation – more people were involved than would have been in previous in-person worship.
  • One noted the “most common comment they received weekly [was an appreciation that] they were able to see the service and participate.”

Covid-19 offered a unique context of solidarity in that ministers, worship leaders and preachers were in the same situation as their congregations. They were preaching and speaking into their own challenging reality as much as they were speaking to others. As they did so, there was evidence that they offered preaching and worship that was both centred on God, and designed to bring hope, courage and peace to the listener.

For churches that drew on them, the lectionary texts provided a ready means for this to occur. On March 29, for example, the Old Testament text from Ezekiel 37:1-14 provided a rich metaphor of wilderness days, disorientation, a “dusty sense of hopelessness” and a longing to return to love and to God and to how things should be. The need for a new orientation was noted, along with a realisation that the new normal to which we might return will hopefully be different from the way that way things have been in the past.

In this, we see also how the language of change was used positively: covid-19 was causing a pivot that was welcomed by many, from churches of various denominations and sizes.

  • One leader noted that this was a time of “societal disorientation” and spoke of the need to trust that a time of “new orientation” will come. They paraphrased journalist, Rod Oram, as saying of the airline industry: “They won’t fight the tide. The airline business will come back, but it won’t be the same.” The underlying message here seemed to be that the same was true of the Church: it will return, but it can be (or, perhaps, needs to be) different.
  • One church, already offering online services before covid-19, seized the opportunity to improve their systems and platforms.
  • Another noted their hope that the church and nation would “find new and different ways of being church and of being community and of being country.”

Ministers worked hard to ensure their congregations’ pastoral, practical and spiritual needs were met: one part time leader reported that they “worked at least twice the amount of usual and is pretty tired.” Many sought to reassure their congregation that they were not alone. In many congregations, pastoral care was shared as new networks including prayer and care chains were established or revitalised. One noted, “the world was flooded with messages of uncertainty and turmoil, so it was important for us to bring reassurance to as many people as possible regardless of their recent connection or disconnection to God and church.” In some cases, such as this, care extended beyond the church, including as community ministries were adapted, and new initiatives established.

Technology was embraced and initiatives such as daily devotions or chats offered online during lockdown. Small groups met over Zoom for social and spiritual purposes. The potential reach was far beyond the church’s usual geographical bounds, extending internationally in some cases

Some churches returned to old practices and forms as quickly as they were permitted to (or earlier), which others embraced the ongoing changes and continue to adapt and innovate.

Evident in the media release reporting the first case were preparedness; words of reassurance; a naming of the need for values of communality and solidarity to be at the fore; recognition that this was an unfolding situation and that there was ongoing need for iterative change. To greater and lesser extents, these same characteristics are present in the data on how churches responded to COVID-19.

While no one, pre- covid-19 would have expected there would be an immediate move to online church services, there was still some sense of spiritual and practical preparedness in the data from churches and ministers. This was evident in the speed with which churches were able to begin offering online worship and ministry, however messily, and in the way that they were able to draw on past spiritual and practical resources. It was, arguably, also evident in the appropriateness of the lectionary text, drawn on by churches all over the world, on what was (for most nations) the first week when services could not be held in person.

Reassurance abounded: both in words spoken in sermons and worship and in faithful online presence. It was a reassurance that found expression in communal life and in solidarity.

While churches can seem allergic to change, the covid-19 lockdowns demonstrated that many (perhaps most) can change, and quickly when the situation requires it. Many churches continued to adapt their practices, and some continue to do so. Perhaps covid-19 has also demonstrated to the church that we don’t need to be certain that the changes made will be perfect: rather iterative improvements and adaptations can be made.

There is much more that could be said! Watch this space and keep up via

Twitter @kiwilynnetaylor

Facebook @drlynnetaylor and @kiwilynne

If you haven’t already completed the questionnaire, you can do so here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2020C-19NZWM

I watched and loosely transcribed my first complete online service yesterday. This morning I’ve started coding it.

I LOVE coding things, especially this early stage when the data is fresh and you’re not certain what will emerge.

I’m seeing familiar elements of worship, carefully crafted. Participation, both on screen and at home. Opportunities to connect, during and after worship. Naming of human situation, alongside reminders of God’s presence, not (i realise as I write this) much about God’s character. Embodied actions invited. A comment recognising that the future will be different than the past… (is the minister foreshadowing that church will be different in the future??)

Lovely, rich data!

I’m only up to page 2, and haven’t actually checked I’ve covered all the preliminary codes I identified from the literature.

Watch this space!

Research Leave 2021

I’m “off” on Research Leave in a week’s time. I’ve been granted 5 months leave from teaching and regular admin responsibilities, in order to advance some research and writing projects. It’s exciting!

I get to spend most of my Research Leave in a beautiful University city, staying in a house with views of the harbour. My family will be with me, I’ve got fully equipped offices at both home and at the university, library access, the use of a bike, car and camping gear. I’ll arrive without needing to pack or unpack, and there’s no jetlag! Yeah, I’m staying home in Dunedin 🙂

There will be adventures, fun, learning, reading, writing and primary research.

No need to pack! #reallyhere

Watch this space for updates, or follow me on Facebook: @kiwilynne (personal updates) @drlynnetaylor (research updates) and on Twitter @kiwilynnetaylor

Lit tea light candles

Steve Taylor,
Principal, Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership;
Senior Lecturer, Flinders University

Lynne Taylor,
Jack Somerville Lecturer in Pastoral Theology, University of Otago.

(Some comments on our Presentation at APTO, 4 December 2020)

Christians act. Christians act in prayer, witness and justice.

Practical theology understands such actions as embodying lived theologies: theology lies behind and within them.

For John Swinton and Harriet Mowat (Practical Theology and Qualitative Research (London: SCM, 2006), 5):

Practical Theology is critical, theological reflection on the practices of the Church as they interact with the practices of the world, with a view to ensuring and enabling faithful participation in God’s redemptive practices in, to and for the world.

Working with this definition, we examined how churches prayed in gathered worship on the Sunday after the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings. What were the practices of the church at that time? How did they faithfully participate in God’s redemptive practices?

Some 153 churches responded to our paper. In this paper we analyse this data with a focus on healing.

A feature of the way churches prayed was their use of the Psalms, particularly psalms of lament. There was also evidence of other responses that were psalm-like, even if they did not draw overtly on the Psalms.

Following Ellen Davis (Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament (Lanham, MD: Rowmand and Littlefield, 2001), we argue that this use of the Psalms and psalm like actions was a move towards healing. It was a first step which was a truth telling through an uncovering of the wounds.

Churches named (uncovered) multiple wounds.

One was the wounds experienced by primary victims and their families. Another was a wound to Aotearoa’s self-perception as a nation. A third wound was that of a culpability, recognising the potential for evil in all of us.

In the data we saw a lived theology that named wounds as a first step in journeys of healing and was part of a multiple commitments to remember, find compassion and express solidarity.

2018 NZ religion census data

The NZ Census data was released today, and the religious affiliation data makes sobering reading.
As expected, the number and proportion of people with no religion has overtaken the number and proportion of Christians. Massively.
Just 36.99% of New Zealanders state an affiliation with a Christian religion.
48.19% state that they have no religious affiliation.
A quirky 6.66% objected to state.
Other religions:
Buddhist 1.12%
Hindu 2.63%
Islam 1.31%
Jewish 0.11%
Maori religions 1.33%
New age etc 0.42%
Other 1.94%
I’ve started to do some comparative work with previous years’ data, plus denominational breakdowns (and match ups).
More tomorrow.

2018 Census Data #2

The long awaiting national census data was released yesterday, and there is much to digest.
As expected, the number and proportion of people with no religion has overtaken the number and proportion of Christians. Massively.

However, as we seek to make sense of the implications, there are a few things to be aware of.

Number of Christians
Interestingly, the number of people affiliated with Christianity declined by only 6.5% from 1,858,980 in 2013 to 1,738,638 in 2018. The number of people affiliated with Maori religions, including Ratana and Ringatū, increased by 18.3% from 52,947 in 2013 to 62,638 in 2018. Taking both these categories together, the decline in numbers was just under 6%.

Question wording

It is also important to note that the wording of the Religion question changed dramatically from 2013 to 2018. In 2013, there was a tick box of options, replaced in 2018 by on open-ended question, inviting a thorough response (“Give as much detail as you need to name your religion, eg Presbyterian, Ratana …”). For Christians, the new wording was a perhaps difficult. The question, “What is your religion?” would, for many, be answered, “Christian” rather than specifying a particular denomination, but the examples provided presumed that a denominational affiliation was required. This change in wording is likely to account for some of the drop in denominational affiliation, and the concurrent increase in those who stated they were Christians, without necessarily further defining a specific denomination (the number of those who responded “Christian” was up 42%, from 216,177 in 2013 307,926 in 2018). (More on this next time.)

Everyone responded
Another key difference in 2018 was there were no reported “no responses”. When you consider that nearly 350,000 people did not respond to the question in 2013, this is a major point of difference that needs to be factored into interpretation and analysis. I need to check for sure whether it was compulsory to answer the question in the online form, but if that was the case, as I presume it was, this would likely increase the number of people selecting the “No religion” or “Object to state” boxes (and perhaps account for some of the 4,000 “Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster” affiliates!) Alternative data sources, including previous census data were used to fill gaps. (Again, I am not clear if that was just for paper-based forms, or if it was also necessary/possible on online completions.)

Data quality
Statistics NZ rated the religious affiliation variable data as high quality. Some 8% of responses were sourced from responses to the 2013 Census. While some of those respondents may have changed their religious affiliation, I reckon this is pretty accurate data. Although the pastafarian affiliation may be a little high!

So…
Proportion of Christians is definitely way down.
Actual numbers of Christians has also dropped, but less dramatically.
In 2013, 350,000 people skipped the question. Not the case in 2018. I suspect that is makes the difference between the 2013 and 2018 data larger than it would have been if people had been required to state in 2013, when they would have ticked the “object” or “no religion” box, rather than choosing one of the religious affiliations.

Abstract proposal in response to a call for papers on spirituality and mental health:

FOUR WALLS, FOUR DOMAINS AND FIVE WAYS:
EXPLORING TRANSCENDENCE AND WAIRUA IN MENTAL HEALTH AND WELLBEING
Despite the significance and acceptance of Mason Durie’s “Te Whare Tapa Whā” model of health, the Mental Health Foundation’s “Five ways to wellbeing” material contains no explicit reference to spirituality/wairua, thus seemingly neglecting taha wairua. While some note potential connections, further exploration and nuancing in relation to the place of spirituality in the “Five ways” is required.

Fisher, Francis and Johnson’s “Spiritual Health via Four Domains of Spiritual Wellbeing” (SH4DI) model helpfully extends spirituality beyond an emphasis on the divine as the object of one’s spiritual focus. Alongside God, their model names self, community and environment as domains of spiritual wellbeing. A weakness of the SH4DI, however, is its potential to limit transcendence to one aspect of spirituality (relationship with God or Transcendent Other), rather than considering how transcendence relates to each of those domains.

This paper places “Te Whare Tapa Whā”, the SH4DI and “Five ways to wellbeing” in conversation. It considers how transcendence may be experienced in each of Fisher et al’s areas of spiritual wellbeing and focus (personal meaning, interpersonal connection, environmental concern/appreciation, and “religion”). This approach is then applied to the Mental Health Foundation’s “Five ways to wellbeing”, exploring how each might relate to transcendence. The paper concludes by returning to wairua, making explicit the potential relationship between each of the “Five ways” and spirituality.

I am … sensing Jesus (ANZATS 2019)


It was great to explore how we might adopt embodied, multisensory spiritual practices that help build towards faith and faithfulness… Drawing on Jesus’ “I am …” statements in John.

(Favourite feedback comment: “Thank you. That was delicious.”)

Here’s my abstract.
It is well recognised that engaging in spiritual practices can work to form people spiritually. Spiritual practices help to facilitate an awareness of God, providing a means by which to come to know God, oneself and the world. Recent scholarship also points to the specific importance of embodied spiritual practices: practices that are attentive to, or engage, the whole person.
This paper takes a multisensory approach to spiritual formation, seeking to develop embodied communal spiritual practices that draw on Jesus’ “I am” statements in John. Brief exegesis on selected statements is followed by a suggestion (and experience) of an embodied (and sensory) liturgical or spiritual practice that aims to spiritually grow the participant by embedding significance and meaning.
This endeavour has two key points of significance for missional theology. First, the increasing interest and involvement in spiritual practices by those outside the church presents Christians with both challenge and opportunity. Many people are interested in their spiritual growth. The church ought not to abdicate this opportunity to non-Christ-centred expressions of spirituality. Secondly, and relatedly, Christian spiritual practices have been shown not just to develop existing Christian faith, but also to help form faith where there was previously none. Therefore, spiritual practices that are connective for those who would not call themselves Christian can help to build an openness to God and God’s activity in their lives.