Numinous programme

Jump to navigation Jump to search

In this programme, we are aiming to collect stories and provide tools for mapping how people make sense of their experiences and their relationships to the world through their participation within, or connection to, religious belief, sense of spirituality, communities of faith and/or communities of spiritual practice.

Target participation

Religious, spiritual, and indigenous communities play a critical role in shaping meaning, identity, & belonging for people around the world within particular social, cultural, theological and geographic contexts. Sacred songs, stories, structures, practices, rituals and ceremonies encode knowledge and provide frameworks for making sense of, and acting in, the world.

Religious and/or spiritual communities encompass ontologies (ways of being), epistemologies (ways of knowing), and praxis (ways of acting), that influence sense-making. What people believe to be true about themselves, others, their contexts, the world and the unknown also influences what they fear, what they hope for, and what future they imagine — along with what they should do to prevent — or enable — that imagining.

Specific to Western Christianity

Why is this of importance to many Christian Denominations in the West? The numbers of people attending churches is declining in many Western Christian denominations. When faced with this existential crisis they are increasing their focus on their mission and growth. The Church of England has created the Strategic Development Fund which "supports major change projects which lead to a significant difference in dioceses’ mission and financial strength." this link is relevant However, this is also requiring the different denominations to consider what is fruitful growth and richer ways of evaluating this than counting 'bums on seats'.

What is also important is that many churches in the West are being confronted by and waking up to the reality of their colonialist roots, and the wave of "success" that has often been attributed to Christendom models of church, the assumption related to the church's centralized, and authoritative status in culture and society. While many faith leaders and their systems are aware of these dynamics, they are also challenged to find new ways forward that are not so clearly dependent upon such established, linear, top-down means for ordering their life. Church Growth Theory as the dominant way forward for local churches in the 21st Century is being challenged in many ways. Once such instance of this is Church Planting in the Secular West: Learning from the European Experience by Stefan Paas (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016, p. 113ff) where the author critically examines and explores the question, "Is Growth the Purpose of Mission?"

What this contextual occasion invites Christian denominations in the West to consider are alternative ways forward as local churches that can more intentionally move through this emergent transitional pattern. It is a pattern more reminiscent of discovering ecclesial identity as centrally connected to their neighborhoods, and communities as a significant, public location of renewal as opposed to the more isolated and privatized, siloed and closed-systems approach of the past.

This shift is helping to reveal two specific areas of entanglement. The first is that it is helping local churches to disentangle their ecclesial identity as one differentiated from God's 'Kingdom' presence and movement in the world. That is to say, the church is not the Kingdom of God. The second area being revealed, and practiced, involves an ecclesial identity and purpose that are entangled and aligned to the broader communities within which they are situated.

Faith communities and their leaders will need a variety of lenses to navigate these emerging, ecological networks. The Numinous programme offers unique ways to access, and attend to this emergent process.

Public projects

Parables as meaning making

"A parable is a succinct, didactic story, in prose or verse, that illustrates one or more instructive lessons or principles. It differs from a fable in that fables employ animals, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature as characters, whereas parables have human characters.[1] A parable is a type of metaphorical analogy.[2]"

Many parables have become part of common parlance and are still helping people to interpret life many years after they were originally told.

This Numinous project will present a series of parables from different world faiths with a view to revealing how they are even now shaping how we interpret the world around us and how to live alongside each other in society.

The varieties of religious experience

Globally, 80 percent of people identify as belonging to a religious or spiritual community, including traditional religions, folk religions, indigenous cultural systems, wisdom traditions, and other spiritual practices (Pew Forum, 2012).

Stories of the numinous & the making of meaning

How do people make sense of sacred or powerful experiences that involve a glimpse something powerfully Other?

To see the world in a numinous light, or to feel a numinous presence is to encounter a presence that is both terrifying, majestic, and fascinating at the same time — a sense of some alien, powerful and Holy Other who is wholly other, not human, and not the self, yet real.

The concept of the numinous in this sense is attributed to Rudolf Otto (1860-1937). Otto was a German Lutheran theologian and scholar of world religions who was himself fascinated by this sense of something powerful, nonhuman, yet real that could not be described in terms of emotion or science. Otto explained the numinous as a “non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self.” Thomas Berry wrote this in 1975 for the 30th anniversary of the United Nations: "Our present crisis must itself be seen as a numinous moment in human affairs inspiring both awe and terror. All basic transformation moments possess a certain numinous, sacred quality such as the dawn and dusk, seasonal change throughout the year, and the moments of passage in human life, from birth through maturity. So too moments of great historical change are numinous moments and must be seen as such.”1

Participation projects

These are established projects which you can either join or replicate

Adapting Ministry in Complex Times Project

This project seeks to create a co-learning community within the Anglican Church Southern Queensland (ACSQ). It is hosted by St John's Cathedral and is part of the Resource Church initiative. The project is focused on:

  1. building shared capabilities between clergy and laity for working in complexity
  2. addressing current issues of concern in the life of faith communities
  3. practical application through implementing and monitoring innovative initiatives

The participating groups will be supported by learning modules (face-to-face or virtual), mentoring and coaching and specialised sessions that will explore the related theology and resources within the Christian tradition.

The results will be monitored through SenseMaker® and there will be a Reflection Journal.

Anticipated Additional Benefits will be that the complexity-based frameworks and tools ('complex methods' or 'emergent technologies'), will be shared with the wider Church; mechanisms and processes can be established that identify barriers and enabling conditions to further systemic change.

There will be opportunities to network, build relationships and share our learnings, and learn from other Churches, as we seek to respond to shared challenges and serve our communities.

The partnership for the project are St John's Cathedral, the Cynefin® Centre Australia and Complexability Pty Ltd.

This project will commence in Brisbane in April 2021. It will be available in virtual form for other communities from July 2021. For further information please contact Viv Read -

Spiritual and religious leaders

Summary Main article: Spiritual and religious leaders

As this project seeks to understand experiences that support resilience among spiritual and religious leaders. One national Protestant church organization has created a project to explore what experiences matter for empowering ordained leaders across gender identities and ethnic/racial backgrounds.

Climate change

Kickstarter projects

These projects have a minimum number of participants to trigger their initiation and may run as cohorts


Current thinking

  1. The meaning of parables in the modern world
  2. Liberation theology revisited