Why beliefs are best kept provisional

Why beliefs are best kept provisional

Ian Gregory, a retired Congregational minister, reminds us of a lesson taught by William James in his famous book, The Varieties of Religious Experience.

New ways of thinking about God are as common now as when theological storms broke over the Church 60 or so years ago. That was when John Robinson, Bishop of Woolwich, stirred controversy with his ‘Honest to God’ in 1963. Later the Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, asked further awkward questions for traditional believers. More recently the former Bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Holloway, joined the heretical fray, resigning in disillusion over some traditional beliefs.

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The Slaughter of the Innocents

The Slaughter of the Innocents

Dave Coaker, editor of PCN Britain's quarterly, Progressive Voices, shared this Christmas message in the magazine's December 2015 issue.

The over-excited anticipation of Christmas has taken a sombre turn this year as it began in the wake of the horror of the events in Paris. The twinkling of lights, carols, seasonal songs, bright wrapping paper, Santas, and stable scenes, all feel out of place in the aftermath with the rolling news that tells of gun fights, explosions, and aerial bombing in distant lands.

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The Lord’s Prayer in cinemas

The Lord’s Prayer in cinemas

This is the text of a letter from the chair of PCN Britain, Adrian Alker, which was printed in the Guardian today and in the Church Times last week.

Sir

The

Church of England’s director of communications is bewildered at the refusal of leading cinema chains to screen a film version of the Lords Prayer, saying that the “multi -generational cultural event offered by the release of Star Wars” was too good an opportunity to miss. A week after “Star Wars :The Force Awakens” is first screened, Christians celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, a man who opposed the normalcy of the Roman Empire’s practice of making war to bring peace at the expense of justice.

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Prayer – the practice of the presence of God

Prayer – the practice of the presence of God

Ray Eveleigh, a retired clergyman who leads a progressive Christian group near Driffield, makes a plea for us to find a way to pray which escapes the boundaries of a theology we can't believe in.

I have several good books on ‘How to Improve Your Snooker’. I have others on piano technique and jazz improvisation which I have read with great enthusiasm. However, what they have in common is the insistence on regular practice. This is time consuming and it requires a high level of commitment and discipline which, alas, I lack. The same thing can be said of Prayer – the practice of the presence of God. To love means to spend time in the other’s presence. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that he needs to spend two hours in prayer each day otherwise he fails to cope with the demands of his ministry. I knew a lady once – she was my sister’s mother-in-law and a devout Roman Catholic – who said that she went to early Mass every morning, otherwise she would not be able to cope with her family of seven children.

So, what is this thing called ‘prayer’?

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Women in the spread of Christianity

Women in the spread of Christianity

Harry Houldsworth examines what he considers to be the forgotten role played by women in the growth of Christianity

In my family I didn’t have siblings, but my female cousins, my mother, aunts and grandparents, were all independent thinkers, not afraid to offer their own opinions; they could match menfolk in any discussion. It is commonly believed that in ages past women rarely had this opportunity to influence debate. The authors of Genesis, for example, could only visualise God as male, and the woman as a helper to man: she was seen as an after-thought, made from a spare rib. It follows that much of the Bible was written by men who, largely, thought in this way.

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The Fear of God

The Fear of God

Richard Holdsworth argues that being possessed with a fear of God is not a state to be inculcated in our young. And he finds support for his view that at least some Biblical passages on the subject have been misinterpreted.

Scene: a post-WW2 British classroom in rural Yorkshire: The teacher backhands a schoolboy’s ear with his ring finger.

Holdsworth (indignantly), “Ouch, sir! That hurt!”

Teacher (chuckling), “It was meant to, lad!”

At school and at home kids were frequently, legally and expertly whacked across the head or summarily slapped, judicially caned and otherwise callously abused in attempts to instil in us, “the fear of God”. Paradoxically those pitiless assaults resulted not in my conformity but in rebellion against unfair authority and a life-long commitment to social justice.

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An Australian Abroad

An Australian Abroad

Theologian Val Webb reflects on her UK tour of PCN groups earlier this year. She warns the progressive movement against developing a new orthodoxy and to be respectful of those taking their first steps into progressive thinking.

In April this year, I completed another “grand tour” of progressive groups in the UK. Maurice and I drove 2,800 miles, enjoying both the natural beauty of the countryside and the warmth of local hospitality. Of the ten places visited in twelve days (Stirling, Glasgow, Stockport, Sheffield, Albrighton, Tavistock, Truro, Newbury, Leicester and Welwyn Garden City), only two (Stockport and Sheffield) were groups I visited on my 2013 tour. I am forever impressed at the number of PCN groups across the UK and of the national organization that pulls them together with its website and events.

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Believing and Transforming

Believing and Transforming

Howard Grace writes about a gathering of 70 people from various faiths and backgrounds who met last May to discuss personal transformation, guided by the question, ‘How Do I Overcome?’

To set the scene we heard from several panellists. The first was Jo Berry whose father, Sir Antony Berry MP, was killed when the IRA blew up the Brighton Grand Hotel, during the Conservative party conference, thirty years ago. She has since been through a profound personal journey and works as a peacemaker with Pat Magee, the IRA man who planted the bomb. Her insights were particularly poignant in the week following Prince Charles shaking hands with Gerry Adams.

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The Parable of the Walled Garden

The Parable of the Walled Garden

PCN member Harry Houldsworth finds that the retelling of joke heard many years ago provides a interesting lesson about the nature of Scriptural truth.

About twenty-five years ago, there was an in-joke being told among senior members of the Anglican clergy in Nottingham. The joke was told to me by a friend who was training to enter the Ministry.

David died and went to heaven, where he was met by St Peter and given a guided tour. On the tour they passed a walled garden. Being a builder, David stopped to admire the brickwork, but his attention was drawn to singing heard coming from within the garden. St Peter nodded. “They are Charismatics.” He paused, before whispering: “They think they are the only people here.”

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Rehabilitating Thomas

Rehabilitating Thomas

Val Webb, author of In Defence of Doubt, is currently on a tour of the UK. Here she finds a motive which might explain why John's Gospel leaves the apostle Thomas' reputation so discredited.

I have always felt sorry for Thomas. Next to Judas, he drew the worst press for asking to see the evidence. Peter denied and deserted Jesus and became head of the church. Thomas, on the other hand, acted with integrity and earned a negative label - doubting Thomas.

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Transfiguration and the ballot box

Transfiguration and the ballot box

John Churcher sheds light on the story of the transfiguration of Jesus as an example of Jewish midrash. It means that Jesus is the new Moses. And it provides a lesson as we go to cast our votes in May.

First, we need to remember that this story, (Mark 9: 2-9) was not written for Gentile minds such as ours. We need to try to read this passage as written by Jewish writers to the mainly Jewish readers and listeners in the synagogues at the time of writing - I emphasize, Jewish writers for mainly Jewish listeners and readers.

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The rush to church at Christmas

The rush to church at Christmas

Having spent his ministry in Lincolnshire parishes, Neil Russell shares a few thoughts why the swollen congregations at Christmas soon fade away.

Christmas should lead us into the very heart of the Christian faith. We clergy get quite excited at the number of people attending our services and see those people as seekers after the truth. We live in hope that at least some of them will become regular Sunday worshippers, but once work and the daily routine resume, and the decorations are put back in the attic, church once again becomes irrelevant to the majority of those worshippers.

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Gretta Vosper interviewed on radio

Before leading a non-theist liturgy in the chapel of Somerville College, Oxford, Gretta Vosper spoke to Charles Nove, presenter of Radio Oxford's Sunday morning Faith Show, about her beliefs.

Gretta Vosper is a Canadian minister and writer who led two conferences in the UK in September 2014. She explained how her church, West Hill United Church in Toronto, no longer uses the words and narratives of traditional Christianity. She says it’s time for the church to step beyond religious doctrine. She calls for churches to be theologically barrier-free communities in which individual, communal and global well-being are the primary goals. In this perspective, belief in a god does not play a central role.

Reactions from the conference floor 2

Reactions from the conference floor 2

The Canadian minister and theologian, Gretta Vosper, came to the UK in September 2014 at the invitation of PCN Britain and the Sea of Faith Network. She was accompanied by her husband, hymn writer, Scott Kearns. Her church, West Hill United Church in Toronto, has dropped reference to God from its hymns and liturgy. The world they celebrate is the natural world; the values they make sacred are human values. How did this go down with PCN members? Andy Vivian has been getting some reactions and giving his own.

John McKechnie is a PCN member from Edinburgh. He has visited Gretta Vosper’s church at West Hill in Toronto, but wasn’t able to attend her UK conferences. After the Oxford conference he wrote to ask me for feedback on the event. This is what I wrote to him
























































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Reactions from the conference floor 1

Reactions from the conference floor 1

Gretta Vosper, the Canadian minister and writer, presented two conferences in the UK during September 2014. She argued for the side-lining of belief in God from its central role in church life and, with her song writer husband Scott Kearns, showed what a non-theist liturgy could be like. Norman Pope was one of those in the audience at Oxford over the weekend of 26th - 28th September. He writes:

Gretta Vosper, who is pastor of West Hill United Church in Toronto, spoke with great clarity and verve. She described how, during her first period of theological training, she very greatly enjoyed the exploration of progressive (left-hemisphere) Christian scholarship. But not yet ready to be a minister she spent ten varied and sometimes very difficult years experiencing life’s vicissitudes.

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I have not lost faith!

I have not lost faith!

Gretta Vosper, who describes herself as an atheist minister, rejects the view that she has lost her faith.

​This article is by Becky Garrison and appears on the FaithStreet website where you can read the full interview. Gretta Vosper will be speaking at events in London and Oxford later this month.

Gretta Vosper describes herself as both a minister and an atheist. That may sound like an oxymoron to some, but her work and witness offer a model that speaks to those who no longer believe in the orthodox Christian concept of “God” but still seek the community present in church cultures.

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Evangelism, but not as we know it.

Evangelism, but not as we know it.

Theologian Peter Rollins recommends you try the 'Evangelism Project'. Instead of seeking to evangelise other people, he recommends that our churches should invite other communities to evangelise us. This is his idea of the 'Great Commission'.

The Evangelism Project is one of a number of what I call ‘de-centering practices’. And they’re de-centering practices because they’re designed to get us to open up to other ideas, other perspectives; to enter into self-critique.

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