People are more than pyramids and we can be here and here

There has been a post doing the rounds on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and it gets pretty much to the heart of things with the two base needs circled “we are here” and the higher needs circled with “not here”. It sparked a number of questions in my mind about many of the conversations I had been having about the future of church post and resonated deeply with why it had taken so long for my brain to kick in and being to be able to reflect on the current situation and start posting. When I used to teach practical theology and mission I would often use Maslow. One the key pieces of research around Maslow wasn’t just about how hard it was to progress up the pyramid until the base needs were met but also how if you experience a signifiant period or trauma where those base needs are not met (for example living in childhood poverty, or with and abusive parent etc) that this has a long term impact on your ability to actualise in the higher needs even if future you are secure in the more base ones. So whilst the Beyond Broadcast post addressed participation in the liturgy I want to unpack participation in more of the social action type responses. Whilst this may sound dualistic I hope you will see as this post unfolds its not.

People are much more complicated than a simple pyramid and I want to suggest that how we respond to the basic needs also has an impact on the higher needs. I was reflecting on some local conversations where despite the church having had a good presence in meeting peoples base needs (food banks etc) people did not engage in further higher pyramid space conversation and this made people wonder if churches had overestimated in how well the church was really connected to the community. At practical level (if you apply Maslow) this isn’t surprising as it is a basic needs first in a time of difficulty. However perhaps part of the reason for further engagement is in the consumer driven culture and context and HOW the church is seeking to meet these base needs. When reconsider that people are more complicated than pyramids and when we work WITH people to address the basic needs ( think ABCD) rather than doing so as a service provider we are also creating the space for those higher needs to. Part of why I like this approach is that there is no such thing as missional structures just missional people. Missional people understand the breadth of mission and that our future is wrapped up with those around. There has already been much talk of churches gearing up their mission plans with extra foodbanks, debt advice, and undoubtedly this will be key BUT disappointedly too much of this discussion has been as a start point of a pyramid that must be met so we can then sell the gospel or self actualisation. Perhaps part of what we have learnt in this time and in their questions of the “new normal” is that people are more than pyramids, and can actually be in more than one space at one time. Indeed part of what people will need (as well as the practical help) will be to work through the emotional and psychological impact of the situation. So perhaps part of how we need to respond practically is the same as we the issues raised in Beyond Broadcast, and we need to be co-creating our practical responses with people in more wholistic and joined up way. Doing so may well help us and those around us not only cope with the trauma we have seen over the past few months to our base needs (physical and safety) but may also help us work through together any longer term issues caused by this trauma. So if you are are asking questions of your mission strategy maybe the most important place to start is now in building connections with others beyond your usual circles, and inviting the community or work out with you how we support one another after this, and to make sure you invite those first people through the doors to the foodbank or what ever to join in with the process.

Beyond Broadcast services to scratch the corona itch

Firstly I want to say clearly THANKYOU to the church leaders who have courageously tried to keep serving their communities throughout this time, through moving content on line etc (as well the practical acts of service such as food banks etc). Many of whom find technology difficult and unnatural, you are doing a great job and this post isn’t criticising what you are doing but I am trying reflect on the context we are now in and how else we might respond. I also do NOT want this come across that Im saying in any way that corona has been positive in giving us a massive opportunity for evangelism that we need to capitalise on, but I am asking like we should always be asking how can the church speak and act faithfully in the context and culture we find ourselves in.

In this post I want to specifically explore how we might respond to the the fact that several churches are observing increased numbers of people dropping into services being held on line, and how we might engage more fully with these “new” people* by unpacking a little the notion of “broadcast”. I want to think about the place and importance of participation in learning and use Mark Searle’s and Friere’s work to raise questions about broadcast liturgy and why simply moving services on line might be missing some opportunities to engage these “new” people.

Often the increase in new people engaging with services on line is seen in churches with strong community engagement before and during corona, although it seems that there is some evidence that these initial numbers are starting to wane. One of the things happening throughout the last few months has been a recovery of the importance of local as people serve their neighbours, stay home, walk locally etc. For many people, churches online services have provided some space to help people connect beyond their immediate neighbour but remain rooted in the local. They might know of the minister, or have an echo of a memory of the church in the town or area and so tune in online. One minister commented how many people from the wider village had joined in easter services as they valued the simple opportunity to gather in a sense of community.

In real life church services are usually delivered in “broadcast” mode, whilst some may argue that the liturgical responses, singing or shared readings etc are participatory, I would tend to disagree. Yes to an extent there is participation but questions abound about how participatory this really is particularly if you have understanding of participation rooted in in youth and community development and I doubt many church services would get beyond rung 3 of Harts Ladder . Whilst in established congregations there maybe a higher degree of active real participation (rung 4 or 5) as people might understand what they are saying and have enough relationship with the minister to do some shaping, the reality is, so much of the liturgy is fixed. Indeed some would argue that nowadays liturgy is no longer constructed by the people for the people but maybe more rooted in notions of power performance, provision, possession and control (buts a whole different blog series). Where the church is great at co-creating liturgical space with people and encouraging real participation are major life events such as funerals, weddings, and births, and this will be explored more in a follow up post.

However what we are in the midst of is a major life event. I was walking with my daughter and she said how in years to come people will be studying this period in history lessons and how weird is it that we are living in that now. So how do we speak into the changed context we find ourselves in, the massive cultural rupture going? Specifically one way that rupture is manifesting itself is the questioning of normal. If recent surveys are to be believed the fact that only 9% of people want to return to normal, we must ask how might these online church services help people serve this desire to do life differently? Indeed perhaps one outworking of this desire to live differently afterwards is why we are seeing the increase of people either connecting locally and/or dropping into church services or surfing and finding different services in different areas(1). The response by many clergy to move services online has been great but like real life these are still very much in broadcast mode. Yes there will be positive feedback from church members but where the services reach has trebled or more in places who is this Broadcast serving and how is it supporting these “new” people, many of whom will have little or no faith reference point, navigate this major life event? Furthermore how might discipleship and growth be given space and animated for these new people at this time.

Conscientization is an educational process Freire developed and dialogue and praxis is at its heart, conscientization helps people move from action to reflection, from a reflection on action to a new action. The process calls into the critical consciousness, the words and concepts used, often exploring these through peoples experiences, feelings, and enabling people to distance themselves and so learn to think more critically about things that they have previously taken for granted. Frieres insights are key at the moment as so many people are questioning the dehumanization of the existing systems, embracing the possibility of change and seeking a new normal.

The church might have been late to the online party, but for many people the online world is participative, you ask locally in groups for people to recommend builders etc and people offer different perspectives. We may think “likes, thumbs up and comments” are vacuous but often they are used discerningly, people trust online reviews, talk about the news they see etc. In many ways in the online space is already a critical particpatory space so if we can somehow embrace Frieres process and commitment to ongoing critical praxis and weave that into the church services offered on line, then we might be scratching where people are itching. One natural outworking of this critical process, that many will find threatening is that if we are going to embrace conscientization is that the service itself and liturgy must also become the object of critical reflection. Indeed so this will in itself go a long way to help people begin to understand the liturgy and faith being expressed and navigate a way forward.

For those of you in Cumbria, when I keep banging on about the importance of co-creation in developing emerging church communities, it is Frieres notions of conscientization that I am often drawing on.

Searle explores the liturgy of the Church as a public undertaking for the common good, and how in many ways it calls and exposes the myths that we are sold BUT that only works within a context of understanding, and where space is given to unpack what is going on. So we need to move from broadcasting services to inviting people into dialogue about the liturgy being presented, and even move beyond this and co-create new liturgies applicable to the current context which could be immensely powerful. Imagine for a moment a vicar uses a village facebook group to dialogue about what people are going though and invites people to write poems, draw, etc and builds a Sunday service around this co-created with the pub landlord, who knows a lot of what people are feeling because they have been hearing peoples experiences when out delivering food as they shifted from pub grub to takeaways during lockdown. In our Mountain Pilgrims fresh expression for several weeks I asked in different online communities “what does being lost in the hills teach you about how to cope with being in lockdown?” The answers and dialogue ranged from the simple to the profound, and informed our first virtual Mountain Pilgrims service “attended” by many new people who had commented in the community groups where the question was posed. So whilst the church argues about if eucharist can be done on line among themselves are we missing the chance to build a new understanding of communion WITH the new people dropping into our services and in the process disciple ourselves and them into new ways of being, meeting the 93% of people who don’t want to return to “normal” where they’re at!

Mark Searle goes on to argue that this possibility of critical liturgy might also help us begin to realize the degree to which liturgy has been used as an ideological tool in the past. (see Vision: The Scholarly Contributions of Mark Searle to Liturgical Renewal) and indeed the style of Jesus teaching, which was largely ‘nondirective’ and subverted people’s worldviews and ideologies by inviting them into new ways of viewing the world through signs and parables, that they critically engaged with. Jesus raised questions, named things and told stories that enabled people to see the truth about the world and their lives within it, exposing the oppressive systems that people had internalized for what they were. Are our online services with increased numbers like the crowds that gathered around Jesus and if so how might we animate these spaces? Searle was arguing back in the 1990s before the online world really took off that it was this sort of critical approach that the Church should seek to follow and I wonder if at this time and in this context it is even more important to make space for critical dialogue about what is happening in the liturgy of services both as they are offered and in discussion space afterwards. We need to rise to the challenge of getting to know who is listening in, beyond the usual congregation which will be hard as people will like to lurk and not comment as they check you out. Perhaps the first step towards this is to resist the power to simply provide, process or perform (2) or broadcast on line, and instead to act locally with one to two others in local on line groups to discover the questions people are really asking and shape our services around this. Maybe this will even unlock new possibilities and ways of being church now and beyond the lockdown. It may sound challenging but clergy are brilliant at co-creating during the major life events of funerals, weddings and births often with the families they don’t know to develop thin spaces where heaven and earth are very close and I am sure they can do likewise in this major life event for the new people tuning in.

* the jury is still out on how many of these new people might be friends and family of the minister, dechurched, or genuinely new people.
(1) I am also aware there is massive inequality in access to online due to poverty and for a variety of other reasons and so in some cases services broadcast eg by phone is an important aspect. Likewise what we do offer needs to be as accessible as possible.
(2)See John V Taylor on the the three Ps.

Is the normal we once knew worth returning to? – 10 Hyperglocal tips for a different future after lockdown

I’m fascinated by the ramping up of the magnificent marketing machine preparing the way for a return to consumerism. Yes I’m looking forward to the freedom post lockdown but if we come out of the situation unchanged I think we need to ask some pretty big questions of our own humanity. It’s great that so many people are considering whether the normal they once knew is worth returning to. There have been a few memes floating around and they are asking the same question in different ways and Russell Brand pretty much hits the nail here.

However what I want to suggest are 10 Hyperglocal tips towards a different future.

Glocal was a term mainly coined in business terms around how to be a global brand that rolls out local variations to suit a local market. Think Macdonalds offering different burgers in different cultures. Later the term was taken up by environmental activists exploring how to address climate change by thinking of the global climate crisis and acting locally. What I mean by Hyperglocal is about both the small elements of activism we can do locally but also share globally through social media networks etc so the first tip is just that:

1. Be Hyperglobal – share your thoughts and small acts of resistance to the normal, that once was, with the wider world. Whether you are a poet, a pray-er, a philosopher, a carer, a doctor, or a nurse, and let’s be honest, the voices of nurses and bus drivers questioning the lack of PPE and dying as a result of their jobs, are some of the most heart wrenching stuff we will ever hear.

2. Be Courageous – call out the bad normal that once was. I love that Captain Tom Moore has raised over £10,000000 for the NHS and I’m not criticising him, but why the hell does the NHS have to be supported by additional charity, not to mention that we have been underfunding the NHS and undervaluing key workers for decades.

3. Be Aware – Take time to respond to the feelings you are having about questioning the normal that once was. Pause and reflect and throw those questions and angst out into the ether of social media, you might be surprised who responds and how this can equip you to move forwards.

4. Be Attentive – Notice the small things. People have talked about hearing the birds in Wuhan or seeing the mountain goats in Llandudno, notice this stuff in your locality and use it to resource your resolve when bombarded by busy-ness on the return to “normal” either by noticing those small things that continue, or their absence when they get squeezed out.

5. Question Language – In fact question most stuff that’s media and marketing related. Already the marketing machine has shifted its message to being “with” you at this time, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos saw his wealth grow by $24BILLION since the start of corona, whilst many of their workers fear for their health, and when the chancellor suggests we need to get the balance between health and the economy, what does that really mean, and what is your local response to all this? Yes we might question the long term economic sustainability if we are trying to return to the normal we once knew but remember that normal was a mirage, so we don’t have to play the same game any more. Research and support different economic possibilities, suppliers and use the questioning of language to help build some resistance to the lies we were once sold and will be re-ramped up as soon as lockdown ends. Indeed we are likely to see marketing messages about returning to “normal” as doing our bit to help economic recovery, when what we really need is a recovery package more like the 12 step programme to challenge our addiction.

6. Help others find a new vocabulary – keep reinforcing the message that the real key workers aren’t the business bosses. Start locally to do stuff that helps by giving the supermarket workers a thumbs up, gifting something to the refuse workers, etc and share your ideas and actions with others. Look for the positives of the lockdown (I know for some this will be easier than others depending in circumstances) and frame your language around this to explain and remind yourself of different possibilities.

7. Act yourself into new ways of being – Learn different ways of doing, behaving and belonging. Do-Be-Do, don’t rush back to the old ways but pause and reflect each time after picking up an old activity to ask if this is needed, helpful, healthy or simply a quick fix to the false normal. Take time to learn how to grow your own food, get an allotment, learn how to meditate, make that career change/move you have always wanted.

8. Live a different rhythm – many people are putting in different spaces into their day to help them cope with the lockdown, time to read, time to chat online with friends, experiment now with what works for you and join online groups or connect with friends to help you keep these up afterward.

9. Keep being Neighbourly and keep volunteering – If the lockdown has taught us anything it has been the rise of good community neighbourliness. From the practical support to simply chatting over fences. We too easily exist in social media echo chambers, but we rarely choose our neighbours, and so they are a great resource for hearing difference. Equally the massive response to the request for volunteers was great, and volunteering is a great way to open yourself up to newness and break out the bubbles you’re in.

10. Be still and Still Moving – many people will have to for a time at least return to jobs they no longer really want to be in. But can we cultivate a stillness deep in our being that will carry us through as we take the steps we need to change to the new normal we might be dreaming of.

We need to talk about the Adjacent Possible

I know many people are just trying to cope, just trying to get through, some are trying to keep the show on the road, and few are still trying to carry on regardless but in a different format. But in the midst of this the opportunity to speak to the Adjacent Possible (see Jonnys blog post on this for some background) is probably greater than ever before, but the voices seem lacking and particularly voices from the faith communities.

People struggle to imagine a future they can’t see, and you can’t think yourself into a new way of being. So the possibilities of the moment are immense. People are having to live differently and inhabit new ways of being. But who from the church and how is the church speaking into this? I have had some fascinating conversations by posting simple questions into different Facebook groups eg I posted in a couple of Mountain groups How do your experiences of being lost in the fells help you cope with being in lockdown? In fact I got such good feedback it inspired be to use Lost as theme for a virtual Mountain Pilgrims experience on Sunday.

So how can we speak to adjacent possible? We need the artists and poets and this where we have seen some signs of hope, such as the NHS You clap me now and Tim AKA Beat liturgist Exploring the future and we can all do our part through local action, groups and online. However I wonder in these “unprecedented” times what we are being too called beyond the acts of service and love that the church has been brilliant at responding with such as keeping the foodbanks open, connecting and collecting shopping etc. With so many millions of people on lockdown, if only one or two percent of those people re-evaluate their life choices and decide to live differently after lockdown the culture shift could be seismic; are being called to speak into this? Can we draw on the wisdom traditions, to help people see the adjacent possible that so many are reaching for and is so tantalisingly close, and how might we do so on the scale of these unprecedented times. Let’s mobilise to speak to the adjacent possible (my offering is below), let’s dialogue with new people beyond our social media bubbles but let’s take a few risks to connect at scale for example I would love to see a conversation between Russell Brand and Rev Kate Bottley or Rev Richard Coles. What would you suggest, what future do you want to see and who are you talking about this with?