Forming collaborative learning communities for discipleship and mission: a theological action research project involving the University of Roehampton, the Susanna Wesley Foundation and the Methodist Church.
Project report by Sue Miller
This theological action research project has been looking at the way collaborative, community learning is being experienced in the Methodist Church in Britain. Sponsored by the Susanna Wesley Foundation and carried out in partnership with researchers at University of Roehampton, the project has explored various sites of learning within British Methodism, using participative qualitative research methods, and methods of reflecting on data developed in theological action research (see here). In particular the research seeks to understand the experiences on the ground of how people learn and hand on their faith, how we grow in that faith, and how such growth as a disciple – a learner – is best enabled. Attending to the realities of community, learning, church and mission in real and focused contexts, and bringing together theological traditions and theological thought with the practices of these learning communities, is the hallmark of this project.
We last reported on what was originally going to be a two-year project in a post in December 2016. It is now September 2021. Given the energy and enthusiasm for the work and its ongoing impact, the grant was renewed in 2018. Much has been explored, uncovered and learnt during that period, despite the interruptions and complications presented by the pandemic! Research has been carried out in eight different communities within the Methodist Church. We began with two congregations and have since expanded to include two training institutions, a regional learning network, an organisation supporting learning ecumenically, a learning circuit, and the Church’s new local preachers’ and worship leaders’ training programme. One of our researchers, James Butler, has had a paper published in ‘Practical Theology’ – ‘The Long and Winding Road of Faith’ (open access version here) and a book is being planned based on the research.
Various themes have emerged, among them, interesting theological questions around agency, and the relationships between human work and God’s work in learning. There are also interesting dynamics to be explored in how people learn. It has been quite striking that courses and resources do not appear to be used in their intended form. Additionally, although they seem to be the primary way in which churches and organisations look to encourage learning, they do not appear to be the primary way people learn. Probably the most constant theme is the importance of deep conversation. Participants have regularly highlighted open conversations as being a key place where they have learnt – as is evident from the flyer you can view or download below.
In the spirit of our findings, we want to continue the conversation – and the flyer is an invitation. We won’t leave it so long this time to keep you posted on any developments!