An Open Letter to Roman Catholic Bishops from Hans Kung

This open letter is reproduced by kind permission of Hans Kung himself.  His words are a rallying call for those within the Roman Catholic…...

VENERABLE BISHOPS,
Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, and I were the youngest theologians at the Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965. Now we are the oldest and the only ones still fully active. I have always understood my theological work as a service to the Roman Catholic Church. For this reason, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the election of Pope Benedict XVI, I am making this appeal to you in an open letter. In doing so, I am motivated by my profound concern for our church, which now finds itself in the worst credibility crisis since the Reformation. Please excuse the form of an open letter; unfortunately, I have no other way of reaching you.

I deeply appreciated that the pope invited me, his outspoken critic, to meet for a friendly, four-hour-long conversation shortly after he took office. This awakened in me the hope that my former colleague at Tubingen University might find his way to promote an ongoing renewal of the church and an ecumenical rapprochement in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.

Unfortunately, my hopes and those of so many engaged Catholic men and women have not been fulfilled. And in my subsequent correspondence with the pope, I have pointed this out to him many times. Without a doubt, he conscientiously performs his everyday duties as pope, and he has given us three helpful encyclicals on faith, hope and charity. But when it comes to facing the major challenges of our times, his pontificate has increasingly passed up more opportunities than it has taken:

Missed is the opportunity for rapprochement with the Protestant churches: Instead, they have been denied the status of churches in the proper sense of the term and, for that reason, their ministries are not recognized and intercommunion is not possible.

Missed is the opportunity for the long-term reconciliation with the Jews: Instead the pope has reintroduced into the liturgy a preconciliar prayer for the enlightenment of the Jews, he has taken notoriously anti-Semitic and schismatic bishops back into communion with the church, and he is actively promoting the beatification of Pope Pius XII, who has been accused of not offering sufficient protections to Jews in Nazi Germany.

The fact is, Benedict sees in Judaism only the historic root of Christianity; he does not take it seriously as an ongoing religious community offering its own path to salvation. The recent comparison of the current criticism faced by the pope with anti-Semitic hate campaigns – made by Rev Raniero Cantalamessa during an official Good Friday service at the Vatican – has stirred up a storm of indignation among Jews around the world.

Missed is the opportunity for a dialogue with Muslims in an atmosphere of mutual trust: Instead, in his ill-advised but symptomatic 2006 Regensburg lecture, Benedict caricatured Islam as a religion of violence and inhumanity and thus evoked enduring Muslim mistrust.

Missed is the opportunity for reconciliation with the colonised indigenous peoples of Latin America: Instead, the pope asserted in all seriousness that they had been ‘longing’ for the religion of their European conquerors.

Missed is the opportunity to help the people of Africa by allowing the use of birth control to fight overpopulation and condoms to fight the spread of HIV.

Missed is the opportunity to make peace with modern science by clearly affirming the theory of evolution and accepting stem-cell research.

Missed is the opportunity to make the spirit of the Second Vatican Council the compass for the whole Catholic Church, including the Vatican itself, and thus to promote the needed reforms in the church.

This last point, respected bishops, is the most serious of all. Time and again, this pope has added qualifications to the conciliar texts and interpreted them against the spirit of the council fathers. Time and again, he has taken an express stand against the Ecumenical Council, which according to canon law represents the highest authority in the Catholic Church:

He has taken the bishops of the traditionalist Pius X Society back into the church without any preconditions – bishops who were illegally consecrated outside the Catholic Church and who reject central points of the Second Vatican Council (including liturgical reform, freedom of religion and the rapprochement with Judaism).

He promotes the medieval Tridentine Mass by all possible means and occasionally celebrates the Eucharist in Latin with his back to the congregation.

He refuses to put into effect the rapprochement with the Anglican Church, which was laid out in official ecumenical documents by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, and has attempted instead to lure married Anglican clergy into the Roman Catholic Church by freeing them from the very rule of celibacy that has forced tens of thousands of Roman Catholic priests out of office.

He has actively reinforced the anti-conciliar forces in the church by appointing reactionary officials to key offices in the Curia (including the secretariat of state, and positions in the liturgical commission) while appointing reactionary bishops around the world.

Pope Benedict XVI seems to be increasingly cut off from the vast majority of church members who pay less and less heed to Rome and, at best, identify themselves only with their local parish and bishop.

I know that many of you are pained by this situation. In his anti-conciliar policy, the pope receives the full support of the Roman Curia. The Curia does its best to stifle criticism in the episcopate and in the church as a whole and to discredit critics with all the means at its disposal. With a return to pomp and spectacle catching the attention of the media, the reactionary forces in Rome have attempted to present us with a strong church fronted by an absolutistic ‘Vicar of Christ’ who combines the church’s legislative, executive and judicial powers in his hands alone. But Benedict’s policy of restoration has failed. All of his spectacular appearances, demonstrative journeys and public statements have failed to influence the opinions of most Catholics on controversial issues. This is especially true regarding matters of sexual morality. Even the papal youth meetings, attended above all by conservative-charismatic groups, have failed to hold back the steady drain of those leaving the church or to attract more vocations to the priesthood.

You in particular, as bishops, have reason for deep sorrow: Tens of thousands of priests have resigned their office since the Second Vatican Council, for the most part because of the celibacy rule. Vocations to the priesthood, but also to religious orders, sisterhoods and lay brotherhoods are down – not just quantitatively but qualitatively. Resignation and frustration are spreading rapidly among both the clergy and the active laity. Many feel that they have been left in the lurch with their personal needs, and many are in deep distress over the state of the church. In many of your dioceses, it is the same story: increasingly empty churches, empty seminaries and empty rectories. In many countries, due to the lack of priests, more and more parishes are being merged, often against the will of their members, into ever larger ‘pastoral units,’ in which the few surviving pastors are completely overtaxed. This is church reform in pretense rather than fact!

And now, on top of these many crises comes a scandal crying out to heaven – the revelation of the clerical abuse of thousands of children and adolescents, first in the United States, then in Ireland and now in Germany and other countries. And to make matters worse, the handling of these cases has given rise to an unprecedented leadership crisis and a collapse of trust in church leadership.

There is no denying the fact that the worldwide system of covering up cases of sexual crimes committed by clerics was engineered by the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Cardinal Ratzinger (1981-2005). During the reign of Pope John Paul II, that congregation had already taken charge of all such cases under oath of strictest silence. Ratzinger himself, on May 18th, 2001, sent a solemn document to all the bishops dealing with severe crimes ( ‘epistula de delictis gravioribus’ ), in which cases of abuse were sealed under the ‘secretum pontificium’ , the violation of which could entail grave ecclesiastical penalties. With good reason, therefore, many people have expected a personal mea culpa on the part of the former prefect and current pope. Instead, the pope passed up the opportunity afforded by Holy Week: On Easter Sunday, he had his innocence proclaimed ‘urbi et orbi’ by the dean of the College of Cardinals.

The consequences of all these scandals for the reputation of the Catholic Church are disastrous. Important church leaders have already admitted this. Numerous innocent and committed pastors and educators are suffering under the stigma of suspicion now blanketing the church. You, reverend bishops, must face up to the question: What will happen to our church and to your diocese in the future? It is not my intention to sketch out a new program of church reform. That I have done often enough both before and after the council. Instead, I want only to lay before you six proposals that I am convinced are supported by millions of Catholics who have no voice in the current situation.

1. Do not keep silent: By keeping silent in the face of so many serious grievances, you taint yourselves with guilt. When you feel that certain laws, directives and measures are counterproductive, you should say this in public. Send Rome not professions of your devotion, but rather calls for reform!

2. Set about reform: Too many in the church and in the episcopate complain about Rome, but do nothing themselves. When people no longer attend church in a diocese, when the ministry bears little fruit, when the public is kept in ignorance about the needs of the world, when ecumenical co-operation is reduced to a minimum, then the blame cannot simply be shoved off on Rome. Whether bishop, priest, layman or laywoman – everyone can do something for the renewal of the church within his own sphere of influence, be it large or small. Many of the great achievements that have occurred in the individual parishes and in the church at large owe their origin to the initiative of an individual or a small group. As bishops, you should support such initiatives and, especially given the present situation, you should respond to the just complaints of the faithful.

3. Act in a collegial way: After heated debate and against the persistent opposition of the Curia, the Second Vatican Council decreed the collegiality of the pope and the bishops. It did so in the sense of the Acts of the Apostles, in which Peter did not act alone without the college of the apostles. In the post-conciliar era, however, the pope and the Curia have ignored this decree. Just two years after the council, Pope Paul VI issued his encyclical defending the controversial celibacy law without the slightest consultation of the bishops. Since then, papal politics and the papal magisterium have continued to act in the old, uncollegial fashion. Even in liturgical matters, the pope rules as an autocrat over and against the bishops. He is happy to surround himself with them as long as they are nothing more than stage extras with neither voices nor voting rights. This is why, venerable bishops, you should not act for yourselves alone, but rather in the community of the other bishops, of the priests and of the men and women who make up the church.

4. Unconditional obedience is owed to God alone: Although at your episcopal consecration you had to take an oath of unconditional obedience to the pope, you know that unconditional obedience can never be paid to any human authority; it is due to God alone. For this reason, you should not feel impeded by your oath to speak the truth about the current crisis facing the church, your diocese and your country. Your model should be the apostle Paul, who dared to oppose Peter ‘to his face since he was manifestly in the wrong’! ( Galatians 2:11 ). Pressuring the Roman authorities in the spirit of Christian fraternity can be permissible and even necessary when they fail to live up to the spirit of the Gospel and its mission. The use of the vernacular in the liturgy, the changes in the regulations governing mixed marriages, the affirmation of tolerance, democracy and human rights, the opening up of an ecumenical approach, and the many other reforms of Vatican II were only achieved because of tenacious pressure from below.

5. Work for regional solutions: The Vatican has frequently turned a deaf ear to the well-founded demands of the episcopate, the priests and the laity. This is all the more reason for seeking wise regional solutions. As you are well aware, the rule of celibacy, which was inherited from the Middle Ages, represents a particularly delicate problem. In the context of today’s clerical abuse scandal, the practice has been increasingly called into question. Against the expressed will of Rome, a change would appear hardly possible; yet this is no reason for passive resignation. When a priest, after mature consideration, wishes to marry, there is no reason why he must automatically resign his office when his bishop and his parish choose to stand behind him. Individual episcopal conferences could take the lead with regional solutions. It would be better, however, to seek a solution for the whole church, therefore:

6. Call for a council: Just as the achievement of liturgical reform, religious freedom, ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue required an ecumenical council, so now a council is needed to solve the dramatically escalating problems calling for reform. In the century before the Reformation, the Council of Constance decreed that councils should be held every five years. Yet the Roman Curia successfully managed to circumvent this ruling. There is no question that the Curia, fearing a limitation of its power, would do everything in its power to prevent a council coming together in the present situation. Thus it is up to you to push through the calling of a council or at least a representative assembly of bishops.

With the church in deep crisis, this is my appeal to you, venerable bishops: Put to use the episcopal authority that was reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council. In this urgent situation, the eyes of the world turn to you. Innumerable people have lost their trust in the Catholic Church. Only by openly and honestly reckoning with these problems and resolutely carrying out needed reforms can their trust be regained. With all due respect, I beg you to do your part – together with your fellow bishops as far as possible, but also alone if necessary – in apostolic ‘fearlessness’ ( Acts 4:29, 31 ). Give your faithful signs of hope and encouragement and give our church a perspective for the future.

With warm greetings in the community of the Christian faith,

Yours, Hans Küng
© 2010 Hans Kung

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Speaker for this year’s AGM

The AGM has been brought forward to July this year.  Here are details of the venue and the speaker....

This year’s AGM is at St Columba’s church in Priory Street, York,  on Saturday 17th July.  The guest speaker will be Dave Tomlinson, vicar of St Luke’s church, Holloway, London.  He is the author of Re-enchanting Christianity and describes himself as a passionate seeker after truth and wisdom, and an avid explorer of theology, spirituality and life in general

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Latest News Update

PCN News Update April 2010 • Letter from the Chair and Committee • From the PCN Website...

This is a report to members of PCN-Britain concerning the discussions and decisions of the Management Committee in York on March 20th

Having expressed the wish to involve more members in PCN’s development, we were pleased to learn that two have expressed interest in being part of a young persons’ task group and a third has volunteered to help with governance advice. 

The Committee reiterated its view that PCN local groups should be free from central direction.  It will maintain the long-standing relationship between itself and the local groups as one of encouragement, support and enabling.  The extensive coverage of group activities, as detailed in the latest Newsletter, was welcomed enthusiastically.  The Committee will seek the opinions of Group Convenors concerning resources they have found useful so that a resource list can be collated and made available to the Network. 

Related to this is the planning of a proposed Group Convenors’ Gathering later this year providing a chance for informal exchanges and so that the Management Committee can continue to listen to Group Convenors.  The Vice Chair will be seeking the advice of Group Convenors on how to organise the gathering.  Responses will be discussed at the next Management Committee meeting to be held on May 1st.  All copies of the current PCN leaflet have now been used and it was agreed that its replacement would be redesigned and made available to Group Convenors and others as soon as possible.

For various reasons, including the change to our financial year, and as agreed at the last AGM, this year’s AGM will be brought forward to Saturday July 17th.  The venue for the meeting has yet to be confirmed but it will be in the north of England, probably York.  Notice of the AGM will be placed in the June Newsletter as well as being sent individually to each member.  Now is the time for members to consider offering themselves for election to the Management Committee or to the more informal task groups.

There is an on-going review of PCN-Britain’s Honorary Advisers/members.  Attention was drawn to the memorial service being held at Cheltenham’s URC church for the late Fred Kaan, a PCN-Britain Honorary Adviser.  The Secretary will represent PCN-Britain in company with members of the Gloucestershire Group.

The Admin. Assistant gave his report in which he referred to the current list of local groups: 39 established, 3 launching and 11 places with an interest in starting one.  It was noted that one group, North Somerset, has dropped its PCN affiliation.  (If you live in the Bristol area and would like to start a group, please get in touch).  Membership renewals currently show that of last year’s 431 members, 244 have already renewed.  Five have died or resigned.  So far this year there have been 49 new members, which compares very favourably with 57 for the whole of last year.  Due to the demands of our increasing membership, development of the website and email services, servicing the Officers and Management Committee members etc, it has become obvious that the Admin. Assistant’s workload has increased considerably since appointment.  It was therefore agreed to increase the number of hours for which the Admin. Assistant is paid from 11 to 15 hours per week.

The new joint publication project, a follow up to the very successful ‘Together in Hope’, is progressing.  There will be a series of study guides in which the text will be written by ordinary people rather than personalities.  Each study guide will be thirty pages long and divided into several short chapters.  The lead authors for the first few books have been appointed.  They would like to hear from PCN members interested in writing a chapter or even a few paragraphs.  For more information see below

National and regional events were also discussed, including Marcus Borg’s visit to Edinburgh in September and other possible speakers during 2011. The possibility of a 2011 Progressive Christianity major convention involving a number of partners was also discussed.  It was agreed that PCN-Britain should “get its feet wet” this year by taking a stand at Greenbelt. 

On the matter of finance, the Treasurer gave the Management Committee the final accounts for 2009, prepared by his predecessor.  Current management accounts were also presented, showing a healthy balance as a result of both the income from the Spong tour and the increase in membership. 

Discussion of communication issues covered a range of topics including another excellent Newsletter as well as the potential of social media to reach a new generation. This resulted in the agreement that the new webmaster should develop a PCN-Britain presence on Facebook. 

Dates for future Management Committee meetings
May 1st: London, St James Piccadilly.
July 17th: Alongside the AGM in York, guest speaker Dave Tomlinson, author of Re-enchanting Christianity.
September 25th: London

Best wishes
John Churcher

From the PCN Website

The Pagan Christ by Tom Harper

PCN’s honorary secretary, John Hetherington, has written an interesting review of this book which appears in our web forum.  John is attracted by the way Tom Harper, rather than trying to de-mythologise the gospels, sets out to re-mythologise them.  The subtitle of the book is “Recovering the lost light”. 

http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk/index.php/forums/viewthread/24/

 

 

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New PCN group in East Anglia

Tuesday 9th March sees the first meeting of PCN’s new group in Woodbridge....

The new group has been set up with Julie Mansfield as the convener.  She writes: “We would love you to join us as we search for answers, explore spirituality and try to engage with issues which seem to be relevant to the world today.”  Details of the time and place for the meeting can be found at http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk/index.php/locations/groups/woodbridge/

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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…...

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/

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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.

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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…...

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

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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…...

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”

 

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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…...

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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In Celebration of Fred Kaan

Anthea Kaan spoke about her late husband to those gathered for the Bishop Spong Day Conference organised by PCN-Britain on October 24th 2009. …...

“I am grateful for this opportunity on behalf of myself, Fred’s three children, Martin, Peter and Alison and my two daughters Rachel and Joanna and the rest of the family to thank all the loving wonderful friends around the world who have supported myself and Fred, including our lovely Dutch Alzheimer’s nurse Ons Epskamp and the caring, sensitive staff from Yanwath Care Home through these last difficult months. I can only say Alzheimer’s is the cruellest of diseases to destroy memory and personality. The real Fred died some time ago. Others can speak better than I can about Fred, his work, his hymn writing, his passionate belief in working to make peace.

But I can speak about Fred as a passionate husband, a loving father and grandfather, a man who loved travel, a man with a great concern for using simple good language and not abstruse, meaningless, religious, old–fashioned words and a man with a good sense of humour. Also a man who could always relate well to children and as increasingly the Alzheimer’s took over his thought processes a man who made a point of engaging with children when we were sitting on a plane, or a bus, or a train and during endless hospital visits would stoop and bend down and share a smile with a small child we might pass in a corridor.

During the Nazi Occupation of Holland the Scouts were banned, but after the war they started up again. One evening The Scoutmaster came in with his Baden Powell hat and asked all the scouts to pull out a name because scouts in England wanted to be pen-friends. Fred pulled out the name of Peter Hayward who received his first letter on Christmas Day 1946. He invited Fred to come and stay with him and his family and Fred discovered the Congregational Church, liked their democracy and after reading theology in the Netherlands came to read theology at Western College in Bristol.

Speaking of his passion for language he said he had to write simple English when he felt the need to write a hymn to illustrate a sermon, because he couldn’t find anything appropriate in the hymn-book and his understanding of the English language and its colloquialisms was still slightly limited when he first came to England. Vivian Buddle – a colleague of his when he was training at Western College in Bristol told me he came into the common room one day to find Fred poring over a book of English phrases saying he couldn’t anywhere find the meaning of ‘Blow you Jack’ whereupon Vivian told him it meant to ‘get stuffed’.

Before retiring to the Lake District we were living in Birmingham. Fred had already retired before me and I knew I was about to retire from the inner-city practice, where I was working and knew we could not possibly afford to keep our Birmingham home and the Lake District bungalow we had inherited from my parents. I was secretly longing to go to the Lakes, but had already discovered that having been born in the Netherlands Fred did not have a good head for heights and probably would want to stay in Birmingham. One day he said to me ‘Why don’t we retire to the Lake District whereupon I said ‘But you are doing it for my sake which isn’t fair. Fred then said ‘You enjoy climbing mountains. What makes you think I can’t enjoy looking at mountains’! And so we came and Fred loved it here and said it was one of the best decisions he had ever made.

I would sometimes on a lovely day go out and have a climb on my own. When I got back Fred would always ask me how I had got on. I often choose to go to a quieter mountain and would say on returning ‘I haven’t seen a soul all day’ to which Fred would ask me ‘What does a soul look like?’

I don’t know what a soul looks like either. Fred always felt that life was in the here and now and I do not believe in life after death, but all I can say is that whatever soul means I hope a bit of Fred’s soul can live on in you, as it does in me, remaining a precious part of me.

In Fred’s words:

Pray that at the end of living
of philosphies and creeds,
God will find his people busy
Planting trees and sewing seeds.

It has been good to share this day in London with you all and to hear Jack again. Fred felt so at one with all that PCN stands for and aspires to.”
Anthea Kaan
24.10.09

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Fred Kaan, hymn writer and PCN adviser, dies

PCN mourns the loss of a much respected adviser...

It is with great sadness that PCN marks the passing of a longstanding and much valued member of the Network.  Fred Kaan was probably best known as the writer of some of the finest contemporary progressive hymnody in English; something he began when he just couldn’t find the hymns he needed in the existing books. Social justice is central to them, and to his understanding of the gospel. Born in Holland, his adolescence coincided with the Nazi occupation of that country, and internationalism was another theme close to his heart. In a varied career he worked in Geneva as General Secretary for the Alliance of Reformed Churches, in Plymouth and in Swindon. In the 1990s he was Secretary of the Churches’ Human Rights Forum.  He was a very early member of PCN Britain and served us as one of three honorary advisers.  His wife Anthea spoke elequently about her husband at the recent Jack Spong day conference at St James’s Piccadilly, and gave us the photograph below, taken by Mark Howard.  (click download button)

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Together in Hope book published

Published by a partnership of organisations, in which Adrian Alker for PCN – Britain took the lead....

http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk/assets/uploads/files/Together-in-Hope.jpg ‘Together in Hope – Proclaiming God’s Justice Living God’s Love’, a new book published by a partnership of organisations, in which Adrian Alker for PCN – Britain took the lead.  A landscape of hope for open-minded engagement with the Christian Church today. Buy it from our Shop.

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