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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‘Don’t be Christ-like. It’s evil’

‘Don’t be Christ-like. It’s evil’

says George Elerick, who will be speaking at a PCN conference in November. He believes that exhortations to be Christ-like are symptomatic of a misanthropic and manipulating attitude towards humanity.

“Christ-like” sounds like a holier than thou bumper sticker that should never be found on any vehicle. What does this phrase invoke? Ideologically speaking, I mean. Well, prior to someone being this ethereal ‘Christ-like’ agent, they are, in a sense, nothing. Nothing without Christ. Yet. Christ separates himself from his followers many times. At one point, he even claims that their potential will exceed his own. That there is no template. Hence, why when he leaves, Christ doesn’t leave them a Bible. Or any book of instruction after that.

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Gretta Vosper - a distinctive voice

Gretta Vosper - a distinctive voice

Michael Wright considers the writings of Gretta Vosper whose UK visit takes place in September with events in London and Oxford. Tickets available.

What Gretta Vosper will bring to her presentations in London and Oxford in September are, in her own words, “a challenge to us all to make a paradigm shift in our thinking about our religious faith and practice.” This shift has three elements: an intellectual challenge, a practical challenge, and a spiritual challenge.

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“Real Bible Study”: On Seeing the Wood for the Trees

“Real Bible Study”: On Seeing the Wood for the Trees

David Ireson recounts a lecture given by Jeffrey John, Dean of St. Albans. It was part of the Heritage Lecture series held at St Michael's, Dinham, Exeter and took place on April 2nd.

As the saying goes we look down into a well 2,000 years deep, and at the bottom see our own reflection; every age creates its own interpretation of the Bible. This problem was addressed by Jeffrey John with an outstanding lecture. He urged our making the effort to read the documents and books as the first Christians did. This, he said, can only help enrich and deepen faith and understanding.

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Church trials over gay marriage

Church trials over gay marriage

Keith Day of the United Methodist Church in North America writes about its battles over gay marriage

Church trials are not uncommon in The United Methodist Church. I once served on a jury of a church trial. In many instances, clergypersons are charged with some kind of moral lapse: adultery, dishonesty and the like. But the news accounts today are highlighting a growing trend of clergy trials where the defendant has made a decision to preside at a same-sex union, something prohibited by our Book of Discipline.

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The Wall - Solidarity with those in Bethlehem

The Wall - Solidarity with those in Bethlehem

Ana and Tod Gobledale give their thoughts on The Wall, an art installation, eight metres high, which appeared in the courtyard of St James', Piccadilly, over Christmas and the New Year.

Boxing Day in London…Christmas lights garland through the Piccadilly Arcade. Our happy conversation and light footsteps are arrested by an unusual sight in the courtyard of St James’ Church. An 8 metre high replica of the Bethlehem wall completely blocks the the view of St James’, a Grade 1 listed building. We learn that it is part of St James’ Bethlehem Unwrapped festival and it is designed to reflect what has happened to the holy sites in Bethlehem.

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A Conference Notebook - Swanwick November 2013

A Conference Notebook - Swanwick November 2013

Brian Wilson was one of over 150 people to attend this joint conference with Modern Church at the Hayes Centre, Swanwick, marking the 50th anniversary of John Robinson's book, Honest to God. This is his personal catalogue of 31 quotes he took away from the conference.

The conference was called Being Honest to God and each of the five speakers was given a different area to be honest about.

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The meaning of Christmas

The meaning of Christmas

Michael Wright explains how the Christmas stories are still relevant to him, even though he no longer believes it happened like that.

We have long loved the Christmas stories – depicted in our carols and on our Christmas cards. They are lovely - childhood experiences that have entranced us for a life-time. What do we make of them today – for now we know that these romantic stories are beautiful fictions? They are not true stories: but many people believe they contain important truths.

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Why faith and doubt are not opposites

Why faith and doubt are not opposites

"In Defence of Doubt" was the title of Dr Val Webb's 2013 tour of the UK. It is also the title of her best known book. In this excerpt from one of her talks she rejects the idea that faith and doubt are opposites.

Part of the problem is that, traditionally, doubt has been promoted in hymns and sermons as the opposite of faith or belief. St. Francis’ popular prayer says, where there is sorrow, bring joy; where there is doubt, faith. Hymns about “driving the dark night of doubt away” reinforced this dichotomy. Yet the opposite of faith is to be without faith. The opposite of belief is unbelief. Neither equate with doubt.

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The most hated book in the Bible

The most hated book in the Bible

While agreeing that the progressive religious community is right to dissent from passages in Leviticus, Rabbi Maurice Harris make the case that there's 'a lot of baby in that bathwater' - a great deal of insight that enriches a progressive, pluralistic, humane, and loving approach to religion.

Among progressive Jews and Christians, Leviticus is often treated like a dirty word. With its animal sacrifices and purity rituals, its skin diseases and genital discharges, Leviticus manages to alienate and even offend liberal Christians and Jews alike.

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Why I am thankful for feminist theology

Why I am thankful for feminist theology

Australian theologian, Val Webb, recently completed a tour of the UK. The talks she gave can now be read, in an expanded version, in the Resources section of this website. In this excerpt she outlines the importance to her of feminist theology.

Feminist theology played an important part in my evolution. When I was first introduced to feminist theology at an academic level, it suddenly dawned on me that many of my childhood doubts about Christianity came from being a girl raised in the fifties and sixties.

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What is Nelson Mandela’s heroic quality?

What is Nelson Mandela’s heroic quality?

Former PCN Trustee, Alison Morley, makes a link between Mandela, Tolstoy, Ghandi and other twentieth century heroes; their understanding that the world can be changed if we change ourselves

‘I sometimes believe that through me Creation intended to give the world the example of a mediocre man in the true sense of the term’ (Mandela:Conversations with Myself’, page 7).

This is a mediocre man who proved that there can be the highest honour and integrity in the human being. A man who is embarrassed when caught in the act of braking prison rules (passing letters) in front of a young prison guard who he knows will turn a blind eye because of the respect that has grow up between them. Mandela is hurt and embarrassed because in some pure and fundamental way he has betrayed this young guards trust and put him in the position of having to fail in his job. He has diminished himself and created a barrier between them. (Conversations with Myself page 193). This is a subtlety of feeling and a development of conscience that few of us will ever attain but when we read it or see it we know that this is the truth of who we could be.

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The changing meaning of sin

The changing meaning of sin

Richard Holdsworth looks at how the meaning of the word 'sin' changed when transferred from the Judaic tradition to Christianity.

While listening to a sermon in which the priest listed a selection of sins, I realised with dismay that they reflected behavioural indicators of my childhood abuse. I had learned about emotional abuse while training to become a child abuse investigator. In horror I realised that the first abuse I should investigate was my own.

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What does it mean that Christ died for our sins?

What does it mean that Christ died for our sins?

Andrew Parker argues that the metaphor of being 'saved from sins', used by St Paul and St John was taken too literally by the Medieval church and in the process the political reality of Jesus' message was lost.

Since the Middle Ages and the rise of conservative-revisionism within the Catholic Church the traditional answer to this question has always been that Jesus died for our sins to make atonement for them. However, in recent years liberal scholarship has rightly pointed out that this is just a spurious conservative gloss not found in the texts for the very good reason that, however you understand the idea of atonement (and any number of ways have been tried) it invariably reduces the texts themselves to nonsense. This is all very well but it still leaves us with the question as to what Paul meant in I Corinthians 15.3:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures ...

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