Thursday, October 18, 2007

Emerging Christian Communities

To help myself think through that sticky aspect of the sociology of religion known as typologising the life out of your research subjects, I thought I'd post about the various communities from which participants come.

So far, interview participants have come from a range of communities. Here are the links to the web presences of some of them, along with their own self-descriptions:

fEAST, Hackney
"We seek to be a Christian community that provides the opportunity to learn, be inspired and nourished in an atmosphere of intimacy and vulnerability. We also seek to be a space for creative worship, where everyone can talk freely and a place where people receive support for their daily lives. We want to be encouraged to be active in our community and beyond, being committed to the principles of justice and peace. We don't want to forget the need to be made uncomfortable by the gospel of Jesus."

Vineyard, Sutton
"Our mission is to help people live life to the full. We seek to be a truly welcoming and dynamic Christian community where people can connect with God, with others, and with opportunities to make a difference in our world.You can think of Vineyard Church as a group of people "doing life together"."

The Garden, Brighton
"We think of ourselves as a project, an ermerging community based in Brighton, Sussex, who are seeking to work out how to live passionately in response to 'the other' in a way that embraces the artistic, the intellectual and the practical and which challenges us to take seriously matters of justice, compassion and the planet. At the moment most (not all) of us have some sort of Christian history but we aspire to create space, beyond propositional statements of belief, for those with any faith or none who feel this may work for them."

Industrial Mission Association, UK
"The Industrial Mission Association is an organisation for lay and ordained people who want to be involved in, or to deepen their understanding of, the relationship between the Christian faith and the economic order. Membership is open to all men and women who, on the basis of the Christian faith, are committed to instituting economic change and helping the Church to respond to the needs of urban industrial society."

Visions, York
"It's hard to describe Visions in one sentence! A church for people who don't like church. A place that feels like home where we can talk about and experience the love of Jesus Christ. A place where you can be yourself, with all your doubts, fears and messiness and people will accept you anyway. But we're also a bunch of Christians interested in deepening our faith journey through discovering and using our talents in the visual arts, dance music, and technology."

Dream Network, North West England
"DREAM is a network of groups who are on a spiritual journey towards Jesus. We welcome anyone who wants to travel with us."

Foundation, Bristol
"Foundation is a Bristol emerging church / alternative worship group. We are a registered Anglican “Fresh Expression”. Our goal is to bring the experience of Christian community into a healthy relationship with contemporary culture."

Search, Basinstoke
"Search is a place for those who want to encounter worship in a different way - a way that engages the senses and the mind. It is also a place where we will hopefully encounter God and build a sense of community with other searchers."

MayBe, Oxford
"a community following in the way of Jesus for a better world now. Grace, space, wonder, grit, resistance, laughter, presence. Community, exploration, creativity, simplicity, engagement, play, Christ."

Vaux, Vauxhall
"Vaux was a community of artists and city-lovers who sought to explore the Christian faith through the media that came naturally to their hands. Using collages of film, dance, sound, installation, liturgy and image, Vaux formatted monthly 'services' at 310 Kennington Lane, Vauxhall. After a break of about a year we're meeting again. Just to gather, re-juvinate and re-ignite, with no pressure or pre-conceptions. We'll see what happens..."

Ikon, Belfast
"iconic, apocalyptic, heretical, emerging, failing. Inhabiting a space on the outer edges of religious life, we are a Belfast-based collective who offer anarchic experiments in transformance art. Challenging the distinction between theist and atheist, faith and no faith our main gathering employs a cocktail of live music, visual imagery, soundscapes, theatre, ritual and reflection in an attempt to open up the possibility of a theodramatic event."

BarNone, Cardiff
"For the last few years Bar None has been a safe space for people to explore what they believe and what the bible says, a place for people to test the validity of the Christian faith. Pubs are often the most relaxed environments – literally public space – around that we are starting to build a regular crowd of people interested in discussing faith and life. For us it’s just about doing the important stuff of church but in a pub. Some of us are Christians who struggle with doubts and the diversity of opinion within the church what’s ‘truth’. Some of us aren’t sure what we believe and are trying to work it out as we go along."

24/7 Prayer Movement, UK
"24-7 Prayer exists to transform the world through movements and communities of Christ-centred, Mission-minded Prayer."

Spirited Exchanges, UK
"Is your spiritual or faith journey leading you into uncharted territory? Spirited Exchanges is a network offering support and encouragement to people who are experiencing faith and its struggles at the edges of or beyond Church."

Sanctuary, Birmingham
"Sanctuary a safe place for British Asians or anyone interested in exploring eastern and western spiritualities in Christ. It is a place of space, peace, meditation, food, and friendship. Everyone is accepted as they are, just as God loves and accepts them, and Sanctuary is a place where they can experience that love and grace in community."

Journey MCC, Birmingham
"spirituality without religion. Journey is made up of many different people; our only common goal is to create a space where we are able to explore, discuss, experience, worship and listen. We recognise that we are all pilgrims on a search for meaning and need to find ways to share our thoughts and our experiences-if not always our agreement. We’re not interested in orthodoxy….. we’re interested in authenticity."

I originally contacted communities which I had identified as "emerging churches" through internet searches and empirical research by other researchers, but a call for participants was (very kindly) placed on Jason Clark's blog (along with a sexy picture!) and this generated a more diverse response from those involved in engaging with contemporary culture. The rich group of people who are now involved in this project is wonderful, but it's tough to start thinking about typologies for the communities from which they come. You can see, for example from Foundation's description of themselves as an 'emerging church / altnerative worship group' and 'Anglican fresh expression', that I've got some work to do - and that these distinctions don't seem to be problematic in practice! I've got several types to choose from / several boxes to force things into, including:

emerging church
fresh expression of church
alternative worship
inherited/traditional church

I need to work on how I'm defining these labels, in order to work out which communities to put where, and whether I can create a spectrum which reflects the diversity going on rather than reinforcing any existing binaries. Helen Cameron, for example, differentiates between emerging church and fresh expressions by classifying the former as mission to the de-churched and the later as mission to the un-churched. But Ian Mobsby classifies emerging church as a sub-group of fresh expressions, alongside inherited church fresh expressions. So, I'm working on my own thoughts about these different types of Christian community.

In the meantime... some thoughts on the recent direction that self-definition among the emerging church took. While definition and classification remain dirty words among emerging Christian communities, there have always been attempts to do just that. There was a flurry of definitions around 2005, produced by both those involved and those not - and I need only to point you to a few posts by TSK for you to find some others. However, over the summer this year a method of definition emerged through the textual and visual definition of buzz words in response to criticism from the Pyromaniacs team - see here, here, here, here, and here! The more I think about it, this deserves it's own post. I'll be back.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Religion, Spirituality and Gay Sexuality

Spurred on by a supervision session yesterday, I'm still trying to turn my Masters thesis into a journal article, possibly for Theology & Sexuality, or maybe something more sociology of religion focused. So far, however, cutting the 27,000 word dissertation down to something manageable between 6,000-8,000 is proving hard. At the moment, it's 11,700 and - as usual when you're trying to cut down on words - it's got everything I want in it! It's entitled, "Queering the Subjectivization Thesis: Self and Selflessness among Lesbian Christans" and here's the abstract:

This article explores Heelas and Woodhead’s subjectivization thesis in the context of non-heterosexual religiosity. Heelas and Woodhead (2005) contend that a current sociological trend in the UK religious landscape, which places individual subjectivities and spiritualities above anonymization and conformity within traditional religious institutions, is a sign of changing notions of selfhood. This is a shift from a ‘life-as’ subordinated self to a ‘subjective-life’ ‘self-in-relation.’ This article questions the notion that these forms of selfhood are necessarily mutually exclusive, and uses the self-understandings of a small, localised group of British lesbian Christians to argue that it is possible to achieve integration, rather than continually oscillating between the two poles without mediation. These women simultaneously retain their sense of self and remain within a religion which encourages selflessness. This existence is supported by their choice of worshipping community, the Metropolitan Community Church, and their constructions of the Christian religion.

The research for my MA in Women and Religion, specialising in LGBT Theology, was conducted in 2005, so I'm going to go to the British Sociological Association's Study of Religion Group's study day in November to get involved with the more recent research in the field. Hosted by UWE's Unit for the Study of Religion and Spirituality, the Religion, Spirituality and Gay Sexuality study day has a good line-up, though Andrew Yip (Nottingham Trent), whose research featured heavily in my dissertation, sadly isn't on the provisional programme. I've met Kristen Aune (Derby University) and Marta Trzebiatowska (Exeter University > Aberdeen University) several times and love both their work. Also of interest to me will be Alex Toft (Nottingham Trent)'s paper, "Bisexual Christians: The Lived Experiences of a Marginalised Community." Aside from Andrew Yip, most of the work among LGBT Christians several years ago was US-based, so I'm looking forward to hearing about what's going on now.

The themes I explored in my MA dissertation, particularly the grey areas between Heelas and Woodhead's supposedly mutually exclusive poles of 'life-as' and 'subjective-life,' have relevance for many emerging Christian communities, who also exist in the ground between religion and spirituality, traditionalism and individualism. I'll bring out these themes more in the course of starting to draw my PhD thesis together. At the moment, though, I just have several interesting spider diagrams (!) and a stack of tapes to transcribe.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Blogs and New Text Values

I've just finished (what I hope will be!) the final draft of a chapter that will be published in a book entitled, Reading Spiritualities and, having just regained Internet access after moving house, I thought I'd try to whet some appetites! I blogged briefly about this before here.

The book is being edited by my PhD supervisor, Dr Deborah F. Sawyer, and another PhD student of hers, Dawn Llewellyn, and came out of a conference they organised in 2006, Women Reading Spiritualities. Although I gave a paper based on my Masters research among LGBT Christians, I've written something more directly related to my PhD thesis for inclusion in this volume.

My chapter is called, "The Desire for Interactivity and the Emerging Texts of the Blogosphere" and looks at blogging among emerging Christian communities in order to reflect on the nature of blogs as texts. The chapter argues that the desire for interactivity, identified by feminist literary theorist Lynn Pearce in all reading practices, can be most clearly seen in the reading practices surrounding blogging, as this often results in textual interactions which are articulated in the comments section or in a reader's own blog. There are several values associated with text by postmodern literary theorists which can also be seen in the blogosphere. However, I reflect on the nature of authorship and authority in the blogosphere, and make some arguments regarding a disparity between these "new text values" and text in the blogosphere. I hope someone will find it an interesting read!