News

News Update from PCN Management Committee

As promised, here is the Management Committee report to the membership following a very full 24-hour residential committee meeting on 16th/17th January.  At the bottom of the letter you will also find notices regarding two significant PCN events this year.

As a response to the developing work and growing membership of PCN-Britain the Management Committee proposes new guidelines for conducting its business in committee. In an attempt to be less agenda-bound and bureaucratic it proposes to delegate more of its research activities and to make greater use of task groups, where appropriate. This will involve a wider circle of members who are willing to offer specific expertise to short term tasks but who do not have the time available to be part of the Management Committee itself. In this way small ‘expert’ advisory groups will be invited to discuss and recommend strategies etc for consideration and decision-making by the Management Committee.

The Constitutional requirement is that the Management Committee, as Trustees of PCN-Britain, remains the decision-making body and therefore research and task groups would report to it either directly or via the officers. Examples of areas in which this proposal can be developed include:

• Strategies to involve more young people in the work and membership of PCN-Britain [NB: two offers of help were received by the Chair prior to the residential].
• As a result of changes in the membership of the Management Committee there is a need for advice on governance issues, hopefully from a member or members of PCN-Britain with relevant experience.

With this increasing workload it was also agreed to make further changes to the work of the Management Committee.  Changes will include an additional face-to-face meeting so that, in future, there will be 6 full Management Committee meetings per year, split equally between north and south. Urgent business to be conducted between the main meetings will be undertaken by the officers [Chair, Deputy Chair, Secretary, and Treasurer]. These Officer Meetings will be minuted and reported to the next full Management Committee meeting.

Although conducting Committee business by email is tempting, it was agreed that this should be avoided as much as possible. It was also agreed that all future Management Committee meetings should begin with a short time of “open space” rather than to go straight into a very full business agenda. As far as Governance issues were concerned the Management Committee agreed:

• Following their resignations from the Management Committee, members expressed thanks to Hugh Dawes and Jill Sandham for all the work they had done in establishing and leading the development of PCN-Britain. It also noted the recent resignation of the Treasurer, Duncan Craig and again expressed its thanks for the major contribution that Duncan had made to the development of the financial systems of PCN-Britain.
• At the elections held at the annual residential meeting, members of the Management Committee re-elected John Churcher as Chair. Mary McMahon was elected as Deputy Chair and John Hetherington as Secretary and Webmaster.
• Two co-options were confirmed, that of Sue O’Hare from Wales and Terence Cooper from East Anglia, both developing regions of PCN-Britain. Additionally Terence was elected as Treasurer and he will bring additional expertise to the role.

Other decisions included the adoption of a new policy on confidentiality. There was also consideration given to the increasing workload of the Assistant Secretary / Administrator and it was agreed that this should be reviewed by the Treasurer and Chair who will both report back to March Management Committee meeting.  The Publications Project, in collaboration with partner organisations under the ‘Together in Hope’ logo will continue with a new series of booklets with first working titles: Children and faith; Myths and Story-telling; Discipleship; Christmas; Prayer/Spirituality; Ethics; Interfaith. The plan is to produce 3 or 4 publications in 2010.

The Management Committee was delighted to be informed that 1100 people had attended the PCN-Britain / Jack Spong 2009 tour of UK. Partly as a result of Jack’s tour PCN-Britain membership has recently grown by around 60.

The proposed changes to the operational work of the Management Committee are being made to ensure that continued growth can be successfully accommodated and that members receive increasing levels of support via the Newsletter; local, regional and national events, for example Marcus Borg in Edinburgh in September, and a list of speakers likely to be interested in addressing Regional Conferences will be produced; a group convenors’ conference in the autumn; presence with partner organisations at major festivals such as Greenbelt and working towards a collaborative major convention of Progressive Christians. We will also purchase 2-3 copies of all the Living the Questions titles for loan to local groups.

The development of the website is a major commitment. Its resources will include progressive liturgy/hymns and recommended books (with member reviews where possible).  The new “Starting a Local Group” leaflet will be available on-line along with a download of a longer guide to launching a group.  The new Group Convenors’ Resource is already up and running on the PCN Web Forum pages. An additional development will be the launch of our own Facebook site.

Thank you for your continued interest in and support of the work of PCN-Britain. These really are exciting times of growth for our partner organisations and for us. Do let us have your comments on these proposals and any offers of help/expertise/speaking offers, etc so that the work can continue to develop and progress for the benefit of us all.

Best wishes
The Management Committee

Notice of two PCN Events

Being Christian in the 21st Century

In September, PCN-Britain will host a weekend conference in Edinburgh led by the well known theologian Marcus Borg.  Perhaps, more than any other writer, Marcus Borg, has become the mouthpiece of progressive Christian thought.  His books include Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, The God We Never Knew and The Heart of Christianity.  This is a chance to hear at length the gentle, well argued presentations for which Borg is already well known, through the Living the Questions DVDs.  The conference weekend is Friday 10th – Sunday 12th September.  Book early as tickets are going quickly, especially for the Friday evening, for which numbers are limited.  The conference and booking details are to be found at http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk/index.php/events/detail/being_christian_in_the_21st_century/

Jesus of Nazareth in 2010

This year’s PCN weekend residential workshop at St Deiniol’s, in May, is led by Professor David Catchpole, well known for books such as The Quest for Q, Resurrection People and Jesus People.  We will look at the historical affirmations about Jesus in the Christian creeds, and try to fill in some of the space left where those creeds say nothing at all.  And with an eye to the question of whether Jesus can be viewed as the founder of Christianity, we shall ask whether the religion of the carpenter’s son was truly that of Paul, the Roman tentmaker, and vice versa.  The weekend is 21st – 23rd May.  More details and the booking form can be found at http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk/index.php/events/detail/jesus_of_nazareth_in_2010/

Update by PCN Chair, John Churcher

Here is a shortened version of the December update which was emailed to PCN members before Christmas

PCN-Britain has achieved much since its inception, and there is much more that can and will be achieved in the future. These are exciting times to be developing this work locally and nationally. The Management Committee is here to serve the membership and as part of its work, members of the MC will be meeting at a 24 hour residential in January. The first day will be an open agenda to review the roles of Management Committee officers and to discuss ways in which the work load and role specifications can be developed to meet the changing needs of this growing membership organisation. There is a wealth of expertise within the wider membership that should be used much more in developing the local and national work of PCN-Britain. The Management Committee’s task is to find ways of unlocking that talent. Changes are inevitable. Co-options onto the Management Committee will need to be made. There may need to be amendments to the constitution, and if so, these will be brought to the next AGM.

All organisations change or die. There is no standing still anymore. PCN-Britain has achieved much in these years of establishing its place in the progressive network of similar organisations in Britain. Now we need to look to the next stage of development. Whereas many Christian organisations and Churches are moving into strategies of survival at least PCN-Britain is looking to cope with the fresh challenges of growth!  Blessings, John Churcher

ON this website: 

In the Events section -

PCN Britain is delighted to welcome back to the UK Marcus Borg, author of the bestselling Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, The God We Never Knew, The Heart of Christianity and many other publications.  He will be leading a PCN weekend in Edinburgh on 10th – 12th September 2010.  To find out more and download a booking form visit http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk/index.php/events/detail/being_christian_in_the_21st_century/ 

In the News section -

“We are not fallen sinners, we are incomplete human beings”, said Jack Spong during his recent PCN tour of the UK.  For a selection of quotes from the tour visit http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk/index.php/news/post/what_spong_had_to_say/

From the PCN Forum

Progressive Spirituality, posted 2nd December by PCN committee member, John Hetherington

“My most recent interest has been exploring how to see God in all faiths and spiritual paths. But this of course stretches the more rationalist ‘liberal’ to the limit, and can be a source of tension, for we all journey at different paces”.

Read the whole post: http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk/index.php/forums/viewthread/10/ and find out how to visit John’s new blog.

Setting Jesus Free

This is the title of a new book by John Churcher, chair of PCN Britain.  Here is a review received from Rev Jairo Majia, a retired Episcopal Priest living in California.

The book Setting Jesus Free, by the Rev. John Churcher, is an extraordinary book. When I first contacted the author regarding the book, he wrote to me “you may have read much of the book previously as it is really an adaptation of my sermons.” Not exactly; the book - besides its fundamental subject - is full of anecdotes, personal and others, and historical references, which often get lost in sermons.

I don’t know how many books about Jesus and his doctrine I have read, but this one certainly is at the top, and has the best explanation I have read of the real meaning of the message of Jesus. Setting Jesus Free helped me to better understand Jesus, his message and his mission.

In a conversational tone with the reader, the author offers a concrete and pragmatic insight in the ‘Way of Jesus’; his convincing comments reflect on all areas of life: from the individual and the family, to international politics. Reading this book was not just learning but enjoyable; it is a book full of new insights and interest.

Due to the frankness of the author you understand the goal of the author from the first pages:

I can fully understand why many ministers leave the Christian Church, even having become Christian agnostics or even atheists as they find that the well of traditional theology is drying up in this post-Enlightenment, post-evangelical, post-Christian and perhaps post-atheist society that so much of the ‘first world’ and ‘new world’ seem to be living in (page 6).

We are at the crossroads. Either we continue down this dry, dusty and increasingly barren road into the desert from which there is no return, or we find the substance of the New Reformation (page 6).

The Empty Tomb, whatever that was, is not just something from the past but it is to be lived and experienced today and every day… the important thing is that “The Lord is here! His Spirit is with us!” (page 16)

Like it or not, we are either at the forefront of a new reformation of the Christian Church, or we are in the midst of its death throes” (page 139).

As the Christian Church faces an uncertain future I am convinced that we who are members of it need to think afresh about how to live; the death of creeds and doctrines; the impact of history remembered, history interpreted and history developed into theology… whatever ‘God’ is deserves better than that (page 181).

The first chapter, “The Beginning,” is about the “miraculous” conception and birth of Jesus; it is an extensive exposition of all the events related in the gospels, with clarifying details and considerations. I used it for my meditation during Advent, and read it twice. Then, the author goes through all Jesus’ parables with wise comments and applications; the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector is particularly good. He, the author, finds meaning in the most insignificant actions or brief words of Jesus. He proves that the gospels were written as Midrash, and that as Midrash must be interpreted; and shows clearly how each gospel writer is amplifying the preceding writer with parallel remembrances from the Hebrew Bible.

When the author comes to the details of the resurrection of Jesus as related in the gospels, he makes clear the point that the four different reports cannot all be true because they contradict each other. As he says, this is the best proof against those affirming the inerrancy of the Bible. He concludes that, regardless of what resurrection means, Jesus is still alive; and, because of that, the gospel was propagated so rapidly and extensively. This was the miracle of Jesus alive, of those who love one another. He shows how a world inspired by the ‘Way of Jesus’ would make the difference!

There is an extensive and useful bibliography; although, I missed several authors, in particular Hans Kung, one of the greatest pioneers of the reform of the Church.

This is a splendid book that I recommend.

Jairo Mejia
Retired Episcopal Priest

What Spong had to say

Bishop John Shelby Spong recently completed a speaking tour of the UK organised by PCN Britain.  His subject was the title of his latest book, Eternal Life.  Here is a selection of quotes from his talks selected by PCN’s Admin Assistant, Andy Vivian

Spong took a Darwinian approach to his subject.  The evolution of a self-conscious mind brought with it the fear of death and of our vulnerability.  This shaped the way religion developed:

“Human beings are chronically anxious people…  The human image of God is created by man’s anxiety.”

“Flattery of God and reverse flattery (denigrating ourselves) for the purpose of manipulating God is what we’ve done in worship.”

Denigrating ourselves, says Spong, makes us more likely to oppress others – Jews, coloureds, women, homosexuals have all been targeted by Christianity.

He is particularly scornful of the image of God which lies behind this.

“God becomes a child abuser and punishes his own son and as a result you and I become a guilt laden people.  Guilt is the currency that keeps the church going… Guilt based gratitude never produces wholeness”.

Spong denies being an atheist:

“I am not saying that God does not exist”

So what does Spong believe about God?  His vision is mystical, using non-human allegories:

“The Ground of Life coming into our consciousness”.

“Maybe God is the experience in all things… the life that flows through the universe…

“Maybe God is that quality of love that calls us to go beyond our survival mentality, freeing us to love wastefully”. 

And what does Spong believe about Jesus:

“In Jesus we see a freedom from fear about people who are different, a freedom from the survival mentality…  Jesus loved beyond the boundaries of self-survival.”

“God - the source of love, the source of life – becomes a new way of seeing Jesus: as portraying a human so whole and full that all of God could be expressed through him.”

This leads Spong to a new vision of humanity:

“We are not fallen sinners, we are incomplete human beings”

“You don’t need to be born again, you need to grow up.”

“The Holy Spirit didn’t make us religious, it made us human.”

“If we see God as the source of love, the source of life, then we have a new way of seeing Jesus – as portraying a human so whole and full that all of God could be expressed through him.”

Returning to the theme of evolution, Spong says that Jesus shows us what humanity can achieve:

“Unity with God – to let God live in us and through us.”

“Our mission is not to convert people but to transform people; to be all that they can be, to love wastefully and to live fully.”

“You can be part of who God is and he becomes part of what you are… You come into being”

 

November Update from PCN Chair, John Churcher

PCN has welcomed many new members in the last few weeks.  Many have discovered PCN through publicity for our recent Jack Spong speaking tour.  Here John Churcher, the PCN chair, reflects on the tour and also offers a way of supporting the cause of women bishops.

My initial reflections on Jack Spong’s tour are that we have had another feast! Jack continues to be an excellent communicator and a beacon of hope for many of us in the progressive movement. From the Chair I wish to publicly thank all who were involved in organising the tour and the ‘on the ground’ local venue organisers: but especially thanks to Jill Sandham and Hugh Dawes for all their work that has made this tour both possible and successful. There will be more comments and photographs in the coming weeks on both the website and also in the next Newsletter.

There are continuing teething problems with the Group Convenors’ pages on the website – apologies for this but we are doing everything possible to overcome the access problems as quickly as we can. As for the website Forum – it is being used but it could play a far greater role in communication and discussion for members and friends of PCN-Britain. It is not difficult to use and I encourage you to get involved and to share ideas and explorations of progressive Christianity.

The PCN secretary, Jill Sandham, has alerted us to an online petition concerning women bishops. As some of you may be aware, a letter to all women clergy has been sent out by the National Association of Diocesan Advisers in Women’s Ministry (read contents in the women clergy section of the petition website below), which is gathering a large number of signatures.  Many Church of England lay people and male clergy have expressed a wish to have a similar letter that they could sign up to and these are available using the appropriate links below.  Please sign up and share them with your own networks and as many people as you can.
For women clergy at       http://www.gopetition.co.uk/online/31823.html
For men clergy at           http://www.gopetition.co.uk/online/31836.html
For the laity at             http://www.gopetition.co.uk/online/31837.html
Having begun this short occasional news update with Jack Spong I will finish it with one of the outcomes of his tour: many additional people have become members of PCN-Britain! It is obvious that the more paid up members we have then the more we will be able to do to resource the membership and to be an increasingly effective progressive Christianity voice and presence in Britain. Thank you to you all for your continued support and involvement in the work – in my opinion the progressive voice is more important and necessary now than it has ever been.          John Churcher

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