Our Work for 2022
Artwork by Shelley Knoll-Miller in Manna Matters Nov 22. Website: shelleyknollmiller.com
2022 was an important year of consolidation for the ministry of Manna Gum, but much of the work of the year was iceberg-shaped – below the surface. The year began with a special appeal as we sought to grow our income to support Jacob Garrett’s position long-term. This was very much a “suck it and see” proposition: we had no idea whether it would work, but we were blown away by the response. By the end of the year, we felt confident enough to add another half-day to Jacob’s paid work. Manna Gum has been operating within “the economy of God” for the last fourteen years, and I am still mystified and humbled by the quiet circulation of abundance within the community of God’s people.
As well as an increased financial capacity to release more work for Manna Gum, my own work benefited from a significantly expanded capacity after recovering from delibitating back problems in 2021 (see my account in Manna Matters Aug 2021). Most of this enlarged capacity was sunk into trying to complete my Ph.D thesis, and I am pleased to report that, at the time of writing, it is now in the final stages of production. This really has been iceberg work: it is an investment that will yield fruit for many years to come.
Now, as we come into 2023, it feels like Manna Gum is entering a new phase in which there will be some expansion of activities, but also an expansion in the ideas and themes being discussed. Watch this space ...
Approach to fundraising and finances
Reflecting on the encouraging response to our Special Appeal last year, it is worth saying something about how Manna Gum approaches fundraising, which might strike some as a little naff. While I cannot disown a certain inherent naffness, Manna Gum’s fundraising has also been consciously understated and unsexy.
From the outset, we were determined that whether this ministry stand or fall, it would do so by an alternative economy. We did not want to take part in the “competition of sorrows” of the not-for-profit world, or fall into the trap of having to present ourselves as “effective” and “having an impact”, bombarding you with claims of how worthy and/or needy we are. I do not think that Manna Gum deserves support more than the many important works bringing support to the poor and hurting. If this ministry, which is nothing more nor less than a message, is to survive, it must come from a surplus. The stories of the feedings in the wilderness underline that the kingdom of God is characterised by just such an unlooked for and unhoped for surplus, one that cannot be measured by crunching the data.
Manna Gum’s fundraising model is essentially the old-fashioned method of raising support for missionaries, one suporter at a time. Because Manna Gum is a message, we have avoided seeking any institutional funding, as becoming dependent on such donors can subtly influence what gets said and what does not get said. Likewise (to the dismay of some) we have avoided trying to monetise our product or to sell our services. Commercial exchange has an important place in the life of human societies; however, one of the defining characteristics of our capitalist age is that monetary exchange is increasingly becoming the medium by which all of life is mediated. We desperately need spaces in society, and especially within the church, that operate to a different logic than that of the marketplace.
All that said, I invite you to give some consideration to our annual appeal, whether you might back this work by becoming a monthly supporter or just making a once-off donation. And we can trust together that Christ’s Spirit working through the diverse parts of his Body will prosper the great work that he calls forward.
With the imminent conclusion of my Ph.D thesis (inshalla), it is also worth reflecting briefly on another element of Manna Gum’s ministry which we haven’t talked about much. One of the things Manna Gum supporters are enabling is what I sometimes think of as “folk scholarship”. The process of undertaking a thesis, with all the disciplines and rigours of the academic world, has been immensely useful for me, and I can even confess to enjoying it. It has sharpened my ideas and broadened my perspective, and this will benefit Manna Gum’s work for years to come. However, the world of formal academia is also beset by many limitations, some due to the internal forms and expectations of academic disciplines themselves, and many due to the cost-basis and managerial model of contemporary academic institutions. This leads to the tragedy of so much good thinking being isolated from the practical work which might benefit from it.
One of the things Manna Gum seeks to do is underake Christian scholarship that is not bound by the limitations of formal academia. We do this by trying to translate some of the best stuff from the academic world into language and forms t digestible by ordinary folk, and also by undertaking our own substantive thinking and research. I suspect that the church in Australia, beset by contraction and financial crises, will increasingly be in need of this sort of folk scholarship: that is, real learning that does not necessarily tick the boxes for a tertiary qualification or HECS funding.
|The Scaly Mentor: an artwork by Phoebe Garrett from Manna Matters Nov ‘22. Proverbs (30:24-28) names the lizard as one of four small creatures who are “exceedingly wise”, and from whom we should learn ...|
Manna Matters and MannaCast
In November, we published the 4oth edition of Manna Matters, a small milestone for the flagship of Manna Gum’s communications. In 2022 we expanded Manna Matters to twenty pages, and included a new column, “Manna Musings”, where we hope to encourage reflections from younger voices. We have also taken steps to try to incorporate more artwork within the publication: simplicity and beauty should be natural bedfellows. All of this goes to confirm our belief in the value of Manna Matters as a publication, hence our ongoing campaign to encourage people to move from email to hard copy. Not only are you much more likely to read it when it arrives in your letterbox, all the research confirms that you read more deeply off paper, and with higher levels comprehension and retention, than off a screen. (This is also why we don’t use hyperlinks in the web version of articles: hyperlinks destroy reflective reading function.) Plus, the printed edition is more attractive. I know this seems counter-intuitive to some, given our emphasis on minimising impact on the earth, but it is actually consistent with our deeper emphasis on wholesome materiality. (We use only 100% recycled paper and envelopes.) If you are reading this on a screen now, consider signing up for the hard copy - just send me an email with your address (email@example.com).
The podcast is also shaping up to be an increasingly important arrow in the Manna Gum quiver – the most recent one was on Catholic Social Teaching. We are still trying to bed down the regularity of these, aiming for roughly one a month in 2023. If you have any issues or themes you would like us to cover in the podcast, please get in touch.
Speaking and teaching
Last year was a bit quieter for speaking and teaching. The highlight was definitely two weeks in WA speaking at nights run by Amos Australia and Tearfund, and providing input into Perth’s long-running urban mission exposure week, AMUC. Another highlight was attending, and presenting a paper at, the International Association of Mission Studies Conference in Sydney in July. This gathering was a remarkable representation of the breadth and diversity of global Christianity and a good reminder that there is so much going on beyond our parochial concerns.
If you would like Manna Gum to speak at your church, please make contact. In 2023, Jacob will be working on developing resources for youth groups, so please let us know if you have any interest on that front too.
Coming up in 2023
We are hoping that 2023 will be a year for some new things. Some of those things on the agenda are:
§ A new website! The current website has been going since 2009 running on the same nineteenth century open source software.
§ The development of Manna Gum resources for youth and exploring ways of engaging a youth audience.
§ Beginning work on a new book project: “Turning the Tables: Following Jesus in a world of money, markets and commerce”.
§ Re-start some face-to-face practical learning experiences.
§ Conduct some webinars, beginning with a presentation of Jonathan’s thesis, “Christian Witness in the Midst of Capitalism”.
As mentioned earlier, the response to our Special Appeal in 2022 was incredibly encouraging. The surplus for 2022 almost matches the shortfall for 2021 (approx. $10k). The great challenge now will be to sustain a higher level of income to match our higher costs. In the last couple of years, Manna Gum has expanded its wages bill from 3 days to 4.5 days per week – small bikkies for most organisations, but a big step for us. Please give your consideration to the annual appeal.
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