Durham Conference September 2018 – what did you miss?

Durham Conference September 2018 – what did you miss?

Ecclesiology and Ethnography Conference 2018 – a Personal Account

For some years now, Durham has been hosting several scholars in the network of Ecclesiology and Ethnography (EE). The annual conference brings both junior and senior researchers interested in the intersection of ethnography and theology. At each event, they showcase diverse ongoing projects and findings in the area of Church matters. This year, September 11-13, St. John’s College of Durham University hosted the largest EE conference of this caliber.

The event kicked off with Nicolas M. Healy’s “An Inductive Ecclesiology: Pneumatological Tension;” in which he demonstrated how a third form of an ethnographically informed ecclesiology can complement traditional and critical forms of ecclesiology with a sense of humility and groundedness. This was followed by Marten van der Meulen’s “The challenge of embedding ecclesial Innovation…” His paper stressed a pivotal point: “We are discovering anew what church is in the process of redefining it.” Both presentations were aptly linked to each other in the ideas and themes they avowed and espoused. Interestingly, the whole conference seem to centre on how several research endeavours are complementing traditional and critical forms of ecclesiology there by making the church anew and redefining it.

For instance, Paul S. Fiddes paper of an ethnography of St. Aldates in Oxford depicted a hybridised form of worship for younger adults that had elements of charismatic intercessions, characteristics of evangelical praise songs and Anglican Eucharistic prayers. Since the worship was for young people, such practice may not be surprising for its innovation. What it surely reveals is that young people are surely participating in a wave of ecclesial praxis that is redefining church. Talking about young people, on the second full day of the conference, Ruth Perrin demonstrated the faith trajectories of emerging Adults in Britain. Perring is of the opinion that young people do not necessarily need more information from Churches since they have an abundance. What they need is support (and Tools) to process their information. This idea was corroborated by Erin F. Moniz whose seminar paper focused on the need to recognize discipleship opportunities in the online presence of emerging young adults. Another plenary session paper by Tanya Riches described the evolution of Hilsong’s Church self-identity by tracking changes in song writing, album covers, marketing strategies and the universal influence of the songs among young (adult) churchgoers.

Nevertheless, it was not just about emerging adults. There was also a thread line of transformation, reconciliation and liberation nexus running through other presentations. Seminar session papers from Koos Tamminga and Benjamin Aldous respectively explored how disability inclusion re-forms church members in the Netherlands and how a community’s response to the murder of a church leader transformed a meal for the homeless into a Eucharistic experience in South Africa. In addition, Elina Hankela opined and demonstrated through her plenary paper that ethnography can be a means of teaching theologies that are liberating. Following that was Pete Ward’s argument for theological ethnography in an age where the Church is going through an affective gravitational pull.

Interestingly, the EE conference had its own affective gravitational pull on Wednesday night when professors and scholars sang and played folk songs. If you have been to previous EE conferences, you will know that this music making has become a tradition of its own. A tradition that in of itself feels liberating after a full conference day.

Aside from the scholarly engagement at the wonderful English mealtimes, junior scholars had a short consultation with senior colleagues at the just concluded event. This was a new element in the conference tradition. It will go a long way to integrate junior scholars into the network of theology and ethnography and keep the conversation of how we can use ethnography in creative ways when it comes to ecclesiological matters. Indeed not only are we able to find transformative ways of sharing research findings, by doing theological ethnography, we participate in redefining (perhaps, liberating) the Church. As an African proverb says, it is ridiculous for hunters to argue about the skin of the lion when they have not killed it, so it is ridiculous to argue and talk about church matters without participating in its agenda through ethnography.

Chigemezi-Nnadozie Wogu, MTS – VU, Amsterdam


Dates for next year: 17-19 September 2019

Conference Organising Group

Prof. Pete Ward, Durham University, NLA University College, Bergen and MF The Norwegian School of Theology, Dr Knut Tveitereid, NLA University College, Bergen, Avril Baigent, PhD student, Durham University.

Conference Advisory Group

Prof. Paul Fiddes, Oxford University, Prof. John Swinton, University of Aberdeen, Dr Tone Kaufman, MF The Norwegian School of Theology.