Marg Gilling fulfilled her brief from the Futures Group of the Methodist Church, to map and identify small faith groups and communities in New Zealand, in a unique fashion. She drew the information she had gleaned from a great variety of sources together through the medium of letters. Each letter is written in a chatty, informal style, and individually, tells the story of each of the communities researched. While such a study could well have evolved as a clinical research project, Gilling has invested a great deal of time and energy into capturing the 'essence' of each group. By identifying and interacting with the spirituality undergirding each community Gilling has brought a delightful freshness to a thought provoking study in a concise 95 pages! The study maps the journeying of a great variety of small faith groups and communities, how and why many of them came to be established; what rules and regulations they operate out of; the nature of the groups and the reasons for their existence. Along with the wealth of information about the groups, a variety of graphs assist the reader to understand the journeying of the groups and communities under research.
The research has focussed primarily upon Anglo-Saxon women's groups and communities. In Gilling's words, the letters tell only a fragment of what is happening and that is apparent by the lack of research in the areas of both youth and men's groups, although Gilling does say that she found it difficult to identify specific men's group in order to include them in the research. The lack of research in these areas, coupled with the lack of analysis of the research tends to leave the research somewhat in limbo, although it is not clear if the brief called for specific analysis.
The biggest surprise of the research lies, not in the number of small faith communities and groups which are dotted throughout Aotearoa New Zealand nor in the amount of antipathy toward the mainline churches, but in the very broad theological spectrum the various communities represent. Any assumption that alternative faith communities are specific to one theological understanding has been dispelled by the research. It is now very evident that the groups researched represent the full range of theological interpretation.
Where Do We Find Our Meaning? is aptly titled and is a pertinent question for today's faith communities, groups and churches. It presents a challenge to the traditional understanding of spirituality and gives Aotearoa New Zealand an indepth and valuable insight into 'this land's people' and successfully removes the pseudo interpretation borrowed from the Northern hemisphere by way of explanation.
Sherri J Wienberg