“Boldly going where no-one has gone before”
By Rev Lindsay Cullen, Assembly National Consultant
At 10am on Friday 29 January, three Uniting Church Ministers got together (via Zoom) for a discussion. Now perhaps this doesn’t seem overly remarkable, but then this wasn’t any old discussion. This was the inaugural recording of a new podcast — Star Trek Voyager: A Theological Journey.
I was joined by Revs Will Nicholas of St David’s Newtown Uniting Church in Victoria and Elizabeth Raine of Tuggeranong Uniting Church in the ACT to talk about the theological, ethical and philosophical aspects of each and every episode of the TV show Star Trek Voyager — 5 down, 167 to go!
The thing I love about our new podcast is that it combines two specific forms of innovation which are important to me. Firstly, it is about engaging with the media and themes of popular culture. And secondly, it’s using a relatively new communication channel, podcasts, of which I have been a voracious consumer over the past decade.
A growing number of Uniting Church people are engaging with wider audiences through Podcasts (see below) and an increasing number of Uniting Churches are podcasting their services or messages. These audio episodes are ideal to fill the hours of commuting, driving or flying that many of us do.
Engaging with popular culture has always been a staple of youthworkers, but in recent decades an increasing number of missionally-minded people have recognised that this is a crucial aspect of Christian engagement and witness.
Back in the days when we gathered together in offices, what were the topics of the discussions around the lunchrooms and coffee stations?
Often it was about how you rated the final season of Game of Thrones, what you thought of the latest episode of Fleabag, or whether you appreciated the ending of Avengers: Endgame. But people don’t just talk about their tastes. Discussing TV shows, comics, books and movies becomes a way to engage with hopes, fears, grief, ethical questions and the whole gamut of human life experience.
If I look at my bookshelves they are littered with titles like Useless Beauty: Ecclesiastes through the Lens of Contemporary Film, Catching Light: Looking for God in the movies, Reel Spirituality, Silver Screen, Sacred Story, A Matrix of Meanings or even What would Buffy do? And it’s not just Christians recognising this path to discussing important human experiences and beliefs. I have two books of sociology engaging with the online game World of Warcraft as well as books of ethics, psychology and philosophy engaging with Batman, Superman, Star Trek and many other pop culture icons.
Another missional project with which I am involved is Sci-Fi Church Sydney. This is a gathering of people enabling Christians, or others of faith or of no faith, who find Science Fiction to be something which stimulates their thinking, their dreams and their philosophy, to come together and share in informal, participatory church services, dinners or other gatherings, to discuss, share our excitement and even sometimes to dress up in costume.
The trick of course is knowing what popular culture to engage with, or what new media to explore. I think authenticity is the key here. If you don’t watch Sex Education on Netflix then don’t try to use that as a jumping off point! Find the places where you can genuinely express your own enthusiasms and share how those books, shows or games which are your passion intersect with your faith and your desire to walk in the way of Jesus. And don’t start a podcast if you’re not someone who appreciates that medium.
In the end, as I often say, our calling is not to ‘share our faith’ like it’s something objective at arms’ length from us and that we can hand to someone else. Our calling is to share ourselves as people of faith, with all our interests, tastes and even fandoms. And I love hearing stories of people doing just that in innovative and original ways!