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Intrepid explorers delve into contemporary theology

By Katherine Armon

An informal study group at a Masterton Church formed to examine contemporary understandings of Jesus has evolved into a group of theological explorers, who are investigating progressive Christian thought.

The group, called XploratioNZ, had its birth in the local St Lukes Union Parish. It now sits outside the church and attracts an ecumenical and interfaith group of people keen to study, discuss and worship in new ways.

XploratioNZ began life in 2002 as ‘Explorations’, an initiative of Presbyterian minister and Victoria University religious studies lecturer Rev Dr Jim Veitch and St Lukes minister Rev John Currie. Some 40 people met weekly for theological discussions, often focused on Jim’s work with the Jesus Seminar, an international group of scholars who seek to establish an historical understanding of Jesus Christ.

In 2006 the group decided to establish a more formal arrangement. A constitution was drawn up and the name changed to XploratioNZ.

Today the ‘xplorers’ meet regularly on Sunday evenings and also holds social events at other times throughout the year.

Daphne Pratt is XploratioNZ secretary and she says that the group benefits from its diverse membership. They include Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans, Catholics, Baha’is, and some who would not claim any particular denominational allegiance.

“When Jim and the late John Currie began the group, they were testing the waters to see what the demand would be to get together to discuss the findings of modern theologians and a more progressive style of Christianity,” says Daphne.

XploratioNZ does not follow traditional forms of worship but creates an exciting and lively atmosphere with an open forum for discussion and praise.

“We don’t do formal worship on a regular basis. In fact, one of the questions always in the background is what form worship should take, in the light of progressive theological thinking. Barrie Allom is an ex Anglican vicar, who says he's post-Christian. He is taking a leading role in developing our programme for this year.

“Barrie has led us several times in worship experiences, and they are very well received. We were addressed by Quakers, who finished their presentation with worship Quaker-style,” Daphne says.

Barrie says XploratioNZ has pursued a variety of themes using both local and imported resource people. The occasional worship services use themes and formats that are liturgically inclusive and encourage participation.

“I have gained much from being a member, including new friendships in a wider milieu. I am now involved with the committee in the work of setting up and even running some parts of the weekly programme,” Barrie says.

“I tried to do some of this 15 years ago in my own church but I didn’t succeed. Perhaps it was premature but now I am experiencing what I was looking for in this open and inquiring group.

“Currently we are involved in a detailed viewing and discussion of the Lloyd Geering documentary, ‘The Last Western Heretic’. I expect that will end on the note of human responsibility for the fabric of the world in which we live.

“This may lead us into dialogue with conservationists and environmentalists. We want to know what drives them in their work and how it relates to spirituality and religion,” Barrie says.

XploratioNZ is led by a small elected committee under the leadership of St Luke’s current presbyter. Rev Geraldine Coats. Geraldine says when XploratioNZ was formalised it was also formally separated from St Lukes.

“We felt that it would be more attractive to those who did not want to be associated with a church or feel that they could not belong because they were neither Methodist nor Presbyterian. St. Lukes still continues to support the ‘centre’ through personnel and the use of its buildings.

“I was glad to accept the position of presbyter at St Lukes. It offered me a place to explore my faith in an open and free atmosphere. We have been very blessed to have had people like John Currie and Jim Veitch who set us on the amazing journey of discovering what faith means for us both personally and as a church in the 21st century.”