In the last few decades, Christian development has grown so rapidly in some quarters it is almost synonymous with mission. Earlier this year Dr. Todd Johnson led a residency study on religion and development in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Dr. Johnson was assisted by CGCM student associate Eva Pascal. The residency study is part of the World Christianity Doctor of Ministry program through the Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.
The team of teachers and D.Min. students spent an intense and rewarding two weeks visiting over 20 non-governmental and faith-based organizations in various parts of northern Thailand. These NGOs and FBOs were selected for the range of scale, religious affiliations, and the variety of social, political and environmental issues they addressed. They also included large scale international organizations like ADRA, and local projects like Hope Home, a small house for disabled children. Many of the organizations focused on the challenges facing minority people (called Hill-Tribes) in the areas of education, sexual exploitation, health care, and land rights. Students were able to see first-hand not only some of the central challenges in the region, but how organizations have stepped up to address them, and how faith-based organizations work to integrate mission into their work. The residency was such an overall success that another residency in Thailand on religion and development is in the works for the next residency cohort.
Despite distress about mainline decline and the rise of the “Nones”, church planting in North America is booming. According Warren Bird and Ed Stetzer, these new church starts are even outpacing closures. This presentation will discuss the patterns in mission and spirituality among new churches started in Seattle, Washington since 2001. As the largest city in a region distinctive for its weak religious institutions and a preponderance of “Nones”—Seattle is near the front of national “post-Christian” trends. As such, missiologists and practioners interested in the North American context can learn much from the forms of ecclesial mission and spirituality taking root in Seattle soil. Analysis of surveys from more than half of the 100+ new Seattle churches has revealed four dominant patterns in spirituality, eight salient mission priorities, five key identity features, and four paradigmatic combinations of these which serve to lay out the diverse field and invite missiological imagination.
CGCM Student associate Christopher B. James presented these findings at the annual meeting of the American Society of Missiology in St. Paul, Minnesota. His presentation was titled “Patterns in Mission and Spirituality Among New Churches in Seattle” and highlights some of the early findings of his dissertation research.
You can learn more about his research by reading “Ecclesial Pioneers in the Pacific Northwest“, published online via Christ & Cascadia, a new online journal for practical and theological engagement with Cascadian culture and ministry. You can also explore his research site (www.newseattlechurches.com) which features a map of new churches and follow the project on Twitter (www.twitter.com/newSEAchurches).
Christopher B. James is a PhD Candidate in Practical Theology at Boston University School of Theology with training from Fuller Theological Seminary, Wheaton College, and the Renovaré Institute. You can connect with Christopher and explore his work via Academia, www.jesusdust.com, and @chrisbjames.
A major study project on changes in gender and caste social distinctions among the Indian diaspora Christian communities in the United States will be sponsored by Center for Global Christianity & Mission. The project will compare what has happened in the United States with ethnic and religious identity negotiations in India. The study has been facilitated by a Collaborative International Research Grant under the American Academy of Religion’s International Connections Committee.
This study emerged from the realization that the Christians of India are an important element in the resurgence of Christianity in the Southern hemisphere as well as in the emergent immigrant Christianity in the North. Indians constitute one of the fastest growing Christian groups in the United States, and Indian Church communities in North America provide interesting and significant transnational linkages across the North-South divide from which much can be learned. Hence, a comparative study of the community in the United States and India will provide resources for comparison with the Christian experience of other immigrant groups and minority communities, such as Latino/as and African Americans.
It is generally agreed that Christian communities in India, mirroring their dominant religio-social milieu, have traditionally been hierarchical/patriarchal in character. Women and Dalits (the “Untouchables”) have been marginated and denied access to positions and roles of status and power. At the same time, it seems obvious that there is a blurring of such gender and caste/class distinctions in the North American society to which Indian Church communities have migrated. Accordingly, the principle question to be considered in this study is: Is there evidence that the migrant Indian Church communities are appropriating norms and values in North American society that have the potential of driving the creation of more egalitarian social and faith communities in India and in diaspora?
Two conferences will be organized on the research question – one in Chennai, India during summer this year and the second in Boston, MA in Fall. These conferences are expected to bring together around twenty five scholars each who are familiar with studies on Indian Christian diaspora. From their diverse perspectives, the participants will consider the following questions: (1). Will the Diaspora Church become the Local church? (2). The role of Gender and Caste in the Making of the Congregation; (3). Ecumenical Inclusivity vs. Ethnic exclusivity in the church.
Dr. Jesudas M. Athyal (Visiting Researcher at the CGCM, Boston University School of Theology) will be the Principal Investigator of the project. He will also organize the conference in Boston. Dr. Joshua Kalapati (Professor of Philosophy, Madras Christian College, India) and Dr. Athyal will together organize the conference in Chennai. They will also collaborate to distill the results of the two conferences to provide a response to the main research question.
The information gathered at this project about gender and caste is expected to contribute to wider discussions of gender and religion and the role of caste in South Asian religions.
Jesudas M. Athyal
(Visiting Researcher, Center for Global Christianity and Mission)
Dr. Elizabeth Parsons, Lecturer in Religion and Development and a Resident Scholar with the CGCM, taught an exciting course this spring on the intersection of mission and development. The course, called Enacting Mission Through NGO and FBO Work, covered a variety of issues related to work in non-governmental, non-profit, and faith-based organizations. In the first part of the course, students gained a footing on the history and current functioning of NGOs and FBOs. Thereafter, they not only engaged critically with values and assumptions embedded in the business of development and NGO related work, they also learned practical skills important for the vocation, from money matters to navigating the rough waters of cross-cultural interactions.
The last part of the course engaged future contexts, opportunities, and challenges for NGO and FBO service and leadership in the 21st century. To help with these questions, Dr. Parsons organized a panel for the class, with the support of the CGCM, and invited the STH community to attend. Panelists were chosen for their connections with STH, for their own spiritual and ethical commitment to service work, and to show how theological education would be helpful for a range of service vocations. The panelists included STH alum Rob Gordon, Executive Director of United Way of Kennebec Valley; John Lindamood, Director of Resident Services in the Cambridge Housing Authority, who holds an M.Div. from Harvard and has made presentations at STH in the past; and Paula Kline, Executive Director of the Montreal City Mission, who oversees an organization that is a contextual partner of STH.
The panel, “Enacting Mission Through Non-Profit and Faith-Based Service Work in Unpredictable Times,” took place on April 11, 2014. Dr. Parsons introduced the class and each guest spoke of the paths that brought them to non-profit work, addressed how they integrate spiritual formation and commitment into their vocation, and in the question and answer sessions that followed, shared practical ideas about how to get into non-profit work, and what kind of skills are important.
Theological and pastoral education as laying the foundation for work in social justice and instilling compassionate values, working in partnership, and fundraising tips were just some of the key themes that emerged from the panel and discussion. The STH will look forward to future teaching and discussion on the intersection of mission and development.
The 2014 Costas Consultation on March 28 focused on Christians in the Middle East, and attracted many students, faculty, and interested lay people from diverse traditions associated with the Boston Theological Institute (BTI) of ten theological institutions in the greater Boston area. The consultation included a panel of student papers, the viewing and discussion of a film about Christians in Iraq, “Displaced in their Homeland,” and two key speakers. Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou, Harvard University researcher, and former Vice-Chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, gave a lecture identifying and challenging five key myths about Christians in the Middle East (the myths of pluralism in the Ottoman Empire, the Middle East as the “Muslim World,” Christians as foreign invaders, Ecumenical Solidarity, and Israel as a protector state for Christians) that when taken together, perpetuate the oppression and persecution of Christian communities in the region. The keynote address was giving by Bishop Elias Toumeh, Antiochian Orthodox Bishop of Pyrgou. Bishop Toumeh gave a heartfelt address on the struggle of Christians in Syria, and the importance of sacrificial leadership; the Bishop also looked at the positive opportunities that Christians have to minister in a time of conflict, such as serving as hostage negotiators. You may read a fuller account of the Bishop Toumeh’s address in an article by the The Pilot, “Syrian Bishop Finds in Solidarity Boston.”
Many CGCM associates participated in the event; student Daryl Ireland was a key coordinator of the Consultation. Another student, Gina Zurlo, presented one of the student papers centered on a demographic perspective of Christianity in the Middle East. Gina has shared her presentation with us here (costas middle east). The Consultation was an important opportunity, not only to educate the community about ancient Christians in the region and their plight for survival and religious freedom, but also to hear from people living in areas of conflict, and the forging of ecumenical support across nations and traditions.
Michele Sigg, PhD student and Project Manager for the Dictionary of African Christian Biography, has recently published an article entitled “Carrying Living Water for the Healing of God’s People: Women Leaders in the Fifohazana Revival and the Reformed Church in Madagascar,” in the journal Studies in World Christianity, Volume 20 (April 2014), pp. 19-38. Well done Michele! You can read the abstract below, and link to the article here.
Abstract: For over one hundred years the Fifohazana Revival has played a key role in the spread of Christianity in Madagascar. The Fifohazana is an indigenous Christian movement that seeks to serve Malagasy society through the preaching of the Gospel and a holistic ministry of healing in community.
This article summarises the findings of a study that explored the role of women leaders as holistic healers in the Fifohazana revival movement and the Reformed Church (FJKM) in Madagascar. Based on interviews with four women ministering in the Fifohazana or the Reformed Church, including a rising leader in the revival movement, this study highlights the importance of women leaders as radical disciples and subversive apostles in the Fifohazana revival movement and in the Reformed Church. As such, these women have been instrumental in bringing renewal into the church through the work of the Holy Spirit in the holistic healing ministry of the Fifohazana.
Dr. Jesudas Athyal, a Visiting Researcher at the CCGM, has been elected vice-president of the New England-Maritimes region of the American Academy of Religion. He is the Editor of the recently completed Religion in Southeast Asia: An Encyclopedia, and Associate Editor, Oxford Encyclopedia of South Asian Christianity (2 volumes), on the 2000 years of Christianity in South Asia that was published in 2011.
Doctoral student Christopher James has recently reviewed a book on the intersection of ecclesiology and anthropology, Perspectives on Ecclesiology and Ethnography, edited by Pete Ward. Check out the review in Missiology: An International Review 42 (1), January 2014, 92-93.
Gina Bellofatto, student affiliate of the CGCM, and Dr. Todd Johnson’s described, “Key Findings of Christianity in Its Global Context, 1970–2020.” The article appeared in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research and is available for free to online subscribers.
Doctoral student Gina Zurlo has recently given several papers and lectures at social science conferences. In August, she presented a paper at the American Sociological Association annual meeting in New York City, titled, “Christian Sociology in Transition: The Institute of Social and Religious Research,” which discussed an early phase of American sociology and its intersections with the social gospel and ecumenical movements in the early 20th century. She also gave a paper at the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion annual meeting in Boston on the development and use of demographic databases.