Worship and Social Engagement in Urban Aboriginal-led Australian Pentecostal Congregations

(Re)imagining Identity in the Spirit


Worship and Social Engagement in Urban Aboriginal-led Australian Pentecostal Congregations: (Re)imagining Identity in the Spirit provides an ethnographic account of three Australian Pentecostal congregations with Aboriginal senior leadership. Within this Pentecostalism, Dreaming realities and identities must be brought together with the Christian gospel. Yet current political and economic relationships with the Australian state complicate the possibilities of interactions between culture and Spirit. The result is a matrix or network of these churches stretching across Australia, with Black Australian Pentecostals resisting and accommodating the state through the construction of new and ancient identities. This work occurs most notably in context of the worship ritual, which functions through ritual interaction chains to energise the various social engagement programs these congregations sustain.

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Biographical Note

Tanya Riches, Ph.D (2017), Fuller Theological Seminary, is Senior Lecturer at Hillsong College, and researches at the Centre for Disability Studies, affiliate of The University of Sydney. She has published various articles and co-edited The Hillsong Movement Examined (Palgrave, 2017)

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations

Part 1

Prelude: A Short Political History of Australia
Introduction to the Research
 1 Religion-as-Practiced
 2 Introduction to Australian National Identit(ies) Today
 3 Malcolm Calley and the Bundjalung Pentecostals
 4 Australian Pentecostal Religiosity
 5 Disciplinary Location
 6 Overview of the Research
1 Learning to Yarn
 1.1 Researching Colonized Peoples
 1.2 My Location: Stumbling Towards Songlines
 1.3 Agency and Freedom: The Right to Choose Christianity
 1.4 Participation as a Value of International Development Research
 1.5 “Yarning”
 1.6 The Affective Encounter in Yarning
 1.7 Concluding the Yarns
2 A “Corroboree” of Literature
 2.1 Dialoguing with the Anthropological Resources
 2.2 Dialoguing with Development Resources
 2.3 Dialoguing with Theological Resources
 2.4 The Intersections: Pentecostalism, Poverty, and Development
 2.5 Concluding The Dancing Circle
3 Methodology
 3.1 Theoretical Foundations: IRCT
 3.2 Theoretical Foundations: An Appreciative Lens
 3.3 The Research Questions and Propositions/Hypothesis
 3.4 Method: Ethnographic Research
 3.5 Method: Interviews
 3.6 Data Analysis: Interviews
 3.7 Research Assumptions and Delimiters
 3.8 Conclusions

Part 2: Research Findings

4 The Aboriginal Pentecostal Network
 4.1 The Significance of Oral History
 4.2 Denominational Affiliation
 4.3 The Three Congregations and Their Leaders
 4.4 Finding 1: The Urban Australian Pentecostal Network
 4.5 IRCT and Historical Themes
 4.6 Conclusions
5 “There’s a Christian Welcome here”: Worship Practices
 5.1 Analyzing a Congregation as an Interaction Ritual Chain
 5.2 Participant Attitudes Towards Self Determination and Culture
 5.3 Finding 2: Welcome or Inclusion, and Yarning
 5.4 IRCT and Cultural Strategies in Worship Practice
 5.5 Ganggalah Cultural Strategy
 5.6 POTS Cultural Strategy
 5.7 Eagle Rock Cultural Strategy
 5.8 Conclusions on Worship Practices
6 Narrating the Self and the Collective
 6.1 Finding 3a: Affective Spirit Encounter Transforms the Self
 6.2 Finding 3b: Finding Symbols from Group Narrative
 6.3 IRCT and Forming Narrative Theologies
 6.4 Conclusions
7 Individual Well-being and Worship
 7.1 Finding 4: Worship Improves Self-Reported Well-being
 7.2 IRCT and Individual Well-being
 7.3 Conclusions regarding Individual Outcomes
8 Social Engagement Practices
 8.1 Finding 5: Social Engagement Programs
 8.2 Participant Attitudes towards Evangelism and Social Justice
 8.3 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Connections
 8.4 Finding 6: Missional Strategies for Social Engagement Programs
 8.5 IRCT and Social Engagement
 8.6 Conclusions on Social Engagement Practices
9 Linking Worship and Social Engagement
 9.1 Linking Worship and Social Engagement Practices
 9.2 Congregations as Interaction Ritual Chains
 9.3 Conclusions about Social Engagement

Part 3

10 Reflecting on Interaction Ritual Chain Theory
 10.1 Reflecting upon IRCT
 10.2 Organizational Leaders as Symbols
 10.3 Congregations as Interaction Ritual Chains
 10.4 Limitations on the Research
 10.5 Conclusion
11 Final Conclusions
 11.1 Summary of the Research and Findings
 11.2 Conclusions
 11.3 Contributions of this Study
 11.4 Recommendations to Researchers
 11.5 Concluding the Research
Appendix A Interview Questions
Appendix B Key Church Leader Questions
Appendix C Experience of the Spirit



Those practicing Pentecostalism or studying indigenous Oceania will be fascinated to read of these congregations with Aboriginal leadership couples and who negotiate the relationship between the Dreaming and Christianity.

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