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

2018 NZ 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!

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.

Next time…
We’ll look at some denominational data.

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.

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

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.

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.


It was great to present yesterday at Otago Theology’s Trajectories conference.
My paper explored the following (at pace, and with an engaged group of participants):

See-Judge-Act scripture reading: what does a model born in Europe and fruitful in Latin America and Africa have to offer Aotearoa?

The See-Judge-Act process of reading Scripture together in a small group originated in the European Catholic worker-priest movement in the 1930s and 1940s. This model of scripture engagement later thrived in the Latin American context, amongst people dissatisfied with Western biblical scholarship and its lack of emphasis on the poor and oppressed. It has also been fruitfully employed in African nations. The author adapted See-Judge-Act for use in a university student congregation in Dunedin.

As a bible study model, See-Judge-Act offers a way of both inviting reflection on one’s context and experiences in the light of scripture, and of encouraging action towards transformation. This means of exploring the scriptures brings the lived experiences of the participants into conversation with the context that the group finds itself in, as well as with the actual text of the bible passage.

This paper explores the origins and potential of this bible study model, outlining its significance in various contexts. It then invites participants to briefly experience See-Judge-Act: following a process of sharing stories of the week past, reading a selected passage, reflecting on standardised questions about the text, and moving to consider the implications of the text for life. Once experienced, we discuss the strengths and weaknesses of See-Judge-Act before concluding by exploring its potential value for churches in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Our doing becomes us…

This article recently went up online on Practical Theology.
If you can access journal articles for free through your institution, you can find it here:
If you’d otherwise need to pay, there is a link at the bottom of the abstract that you can use to access it for free.

Actor, Andrew Garfield ‘fell in love with Jesusʼ as he engaged in Ignatian spiritual practices in preparation for playing Father Rodrigues in the movie, Silence (directed by Martin Scorsese, Paramount Pictures, 2016). While the importance of spiritual practices for faith formation is well recognised, spiritual practices are generally associated with developing spiritual maturity rather than with such pre-conversion engagement. This paper considers Garfieldʼs account of meeting Jesus alongside the lived experiences of other recent converts who similarly engaged in spiritual practices before their conversions to Christianity. It argues that understanding the Christian faith as performative helps explain how Christian faith is formed and made real through such embodied acts of ritualised practice.

Access the article for free here:

Praying from Mark 1:29-45

We’re in the book of Mark this year, at Student Soul. Last night, Tom was preaching from Mark 1:29-45. He’d given me the framework for his sermon…

Doesn’t thrive in the hype
Involves determined pursuit of prayer
Is soaked with compassion.

I wrote a responsive prayer that we prayed together (room divided into left/right – each line in the stanza read by left/right/all)

We are invited to transformation
To be transformed
To help transform.

Not hyped
Not drawing attention to ourselves
Not as if we had all the answers

But offering ourselves
In all our humanity
In our strength and in our weakness

We are invited to transformation
To be transformed
To help transform.

We are reminded to pray
To withdraw from what needs to be done
To be refreshed and restored by God

We do not do it alone
We cannot do it alone
We are dependent upon God

We are invited to transformation
To be transformed
To help transform.

We long to be like Jesus…
Soaked with compassion, choosing to act
Caring, healing, transforming

Transform us
Transform our world
Show us our part in that

We are invited to transformation
To be transformed
To help transform.

But before we prayed the prayer, I invited everyone to write on a blue post-it something in our world that needs transforming; and on a pink post-it, something in themselves that needs transforming.

We placed those on a large window, in the shape of the cross that we could see, outside, through that window.

We then prayed the responsive prayer together.

The final stage was returning to the window to take someone else’s post-its and praying in small groups for the things written on them.

All up, the service was great. Worshipful, challenging, encouraging, inspiring.






It’s a pretty warm one here in Dunedin
(by Dunediny standards, at least – a good deal cooler than the Aussie experience!)

I’m listening to the music and splashing (and beer can opening) of the guys from the flat below my office:
they have wisely taken up residence in a paddling pool.

As I listen, I’m reminded of Psalm 1.

We’ve sung it a couple of times over the past few weeks at Student Soul.
Happy are those … [whose] delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.

There is something about being REALLY HOT that brings this passage to life. As I fill my water bottle again, I pray that in all of life I will be refreshed and sustained by all the wisdom of God. And I pray that for you too!

… and, also, The Long View

All that I said about only needing to see far enough ahead is true.
But also, there is this…
There is a need to have a long view: not necessarily of the path, but of the destination.

To have that sense of where-we-are-headed.
Not exactly where, perhaps, but to have some idea.

We talked about this at Student Soul’s Lunch and a Thought last year:

Having a long view might help us endure difficult seasons, or challenging experiences –
where those seasons and challenges are necessary or inevitable.

Keeping the end-goal of a fulfilling job can help with the grind of assignments and the anxiety of professional placements.

In part, it is about the “Why?” of what we are doing.
Keeping a greater purpose in mind.
The long view.

Seeing far enough ahead

I enjoyed a walk around the Sutton Salt Lake on Sunday.

We’d done an airport drop off and decided to keep heading west, to Middlemarch.
After lunch and a wander of the street/s, we stopped off at the salt lake.

We had visited once before.
As I led the way (a little briskly due to the promise of rain – both in the sky and forecast),
I remembered the sensation from our last visit:
of not knowing where I was going to end up.
The landscape appeared flat, yet there are also moments when you seem to be approaching a crest.
Surely, the lake will appear at some stage.

Also, looking ahead, it wasn’t always obvious where the path was.
But, if I kept looking into the shorter distance, there was always a clear way through the next part
– and that clarity was consistently present before me as I kept walking.

Life can be a bit like that, right?

We can have a sense of what our destination is,
and see a little part of the way forward,
but we don’t need to be able to see the whole track.
And that is OK. Normal.

I could have stood, debilitated, scanning the horizon, trying to see where the distant path was.
But there was no need.
All I needed to do was to follow the trail before me.
The rest was revealed as it needed to be.

The lake eventually appeared.
Was appreciated. Briskly (that potential rain, again).
The sounds of a family playing in and near the water.

And a continuation of the trail that led me back to the car.

It worked for a walk.
Why? Because there was somewhere I was going (or at least, I had a sense that there was a recommended destination ahead: in truth, the first time I visited, I had little idea of what that destination would look like).
There was a path that led me there.
I followed it.

It seems it might work for life too.
We have an idea of where we are going.
We take steps to get there, trusting that the path before us will continue to be revealed.

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