Report for 2019
Whereas 2018 was quite a difficult year, 2019 was a year that offered significant encouragement. An important part of that was the reception accorded my new book (see below), but more than that is the sense that after a decade of operation, this funny, obscure little ministry is beginning to build some profile and momentum. I like to think that has something to do with our commitment to grapple with reality via the light that is shed from the gospel. No doubt, however, it also has a lot to do with the fact that the issues Manna Gum discusses – faith, economy, ecology – have become more and more pressing and there is great need for hope and clarity of sight. The harvest is indeed ripe, but the labourers are few.
Manna Matters Newsletter
This continues to be Manna Gum’s flagship for communicating its message and comes out three times a year, sent free-of-charge to almost 700 people. It is a modest little publication, but feedback continues to testify that it offers something important that is largely missing in the Christian world: an ongoing reflection on the theological, analytical and practical challenges of living out Christian faith and witness in the context of a crazy and destructive global economy.
In 2019, Manna Matters expanded from a 12 page publication to 16 pages. This is simply because there is so much that needs discussion. Topics covered included climate change, poverty, neighbourhood mission, waste, economic coooperation, conflict minerals, and a number of stories of ordinary people who undertake impressive things.
February saw the publication of Coming Home: Discipleship, Ecology and Everyday Economics with Morning Star Publications. This book had a long gestation period, having its origins in the Household Covenant Bible studies that Manna Gum ran back in the early days. The experience of those studies taught me that the process of exploring how the Bible can speak into our practice of household economy was very meaningful and rewarding, but it often needed more information and framing than could be squeezed into those studies. Hence the realisation that a book was needed. Like so many things, it took longer than I would have liked, but is probably better for the delay.
The reception for Coming Home has been highly encouraging, with strong sales from the beginning (compared with my previous book, that is, not compared with Harry Potter). This was no doubt helped along substantially by its shortlisting for the Australian Christian Book of the Year Award (it didn’t win). If you don’t have a copy, you can buy it through the Manna Gum website.
A Different Way Exposure Week
In November, we held our A Different Way Exposure week, which we run every alternate year. This is the second time we have held the week in Long Gully, Bendigo, hosted by the Seeds Community. The life of the Seeds Community is a major dimension of the week, grounding the ideas being discussed in practice and experience, not to mention the contributions of Seeds members in running sessions, cooking meals and accommodating participants! This year, half the participants for the week came from interstate.
Speaking and teaching
Perhaps not surprisingly, a key theme of Jonathan’s speaking in 2019 was around caring for creation. Perhaps the most notable of these was a joint Interserve/A Rocha event, “Kingdom Gardeners”, held at Syndal Baptist Church in June which attracted a lot of interest. A video of Jonathan’s talk can be found on the Manna Gum website. Another highlight was speaking on the ecological wisdom of the Biblical creation stories at a secular Earth Ethics conferences in November. Other speaking and teaching included:
- “Faith in a time of ecological crisis”, May, The Old Church on the Hill, Bendigo
- A two-day field trip from Whitley College’s NEXT 2 class, July
- “Ethics at the supermarket”, Collins St Baptist Chruch, July
- “Caring for creation”, Essendon Baptist Church, August
- “Christian witness in a consumer culture”, Public lecture, Whitley College, August (video on the website)
- “The ecology of the Gospel”, TEAR training weekend, September
- “Economics and discipleship”, lecture for Morling College’s Plunge class, October
- “The church as an ‘earth-centred’ economic community?”, Earth Ethics Conference, November
In July, Manna Gum began a Facebook page. This decision was taken not without some serious reservations about participating in a form of media that is having some worrying impacts upon society and culture. So far, the experience has been pretty positive, although no one would accuse us of being effective social media influencers. It has allowed Manna Gum to be introduced to some people who were beyond our circles, which is what we hoped. The facebook address is @mannaeconomy.
Bubbling away below the surface is Jonathan’s part-time Ph.D project, “Christian Witness in the Midst of Capitalism”. Although a bit different to Manna Gum’s other work (which focuses on popular education), this project is very much integral to our long-term direction. Besides the hoped-for final product, a substantial published book on capitalism, the process is already feeding much fruit of learning and reflection into Manna Gum’s other work, as well as opening up new networks and audiences. In 2019, progress was a little slower than hoped, due to the number of speaking and teaching commitments. Thesis work will be a much bigger focus in this coming year and the next.
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