Who was Jesus?  New study guide

“Walk the Jesus Walk” by John Simmonds is the first in a series of study guides co-published by Progressive Christianity Network…...

The book covers six sessions.
The aim is to give encouragement and hope to those who seek a credible Christian faith for the twenty first century.
‘Walk the Jesus Walk’ is ideally suited for groups of people, such as a teenagers group or a new enquirers group who would appreciate a straightforward way of learning about Jesus of Nazareth and be inspired to follow in his way.

Note from the author: My conviction is that the real Jesus has been taken away from us, so that we rarely catch a glimpse of the charismatic teacher and prophet who lived in Palestine about two thousand years ago. The Jesus Christ of the Church often bears little resemblance to its founder. Is it possible to discover Jesus as he was before the Church got its hands on him? Maybe it’s impossible, but one has to try.

Walk the Jesus Walk is available for £2.95 + 55p post and packaging at http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk/index.php/shop/

If you prefer to order this book by post, send a cheque for £3.50 to PCN Britain, 26 High Street, Newnham, Gloucestershire, GL14 1BB.
Discount can be offered on bulk orders. Further enquiries from togetherinhope.editor@gmail.com .

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New Year prayer

John Churcher, chair of PCN Britain writes, “On behalf of the Management Committee I wish all members a very happy and peaceful New Year! …...

As we set ourselves upon our journey into this New Year, let us recognise the Spirit and Source of Life travelling with us and abiding within our deepest self.

Let us begin this New Year by committing ourselves to living ever more deeply and Sacredly as we offer respect, mercy, dignity and compassion to all.

Let us begin this New Year remembering that we can experience forgiveness for our trespasses against others in as much as we forgive others for their trespasses against us.

Let us begin this New Year with innocent hearts and clear consciences, facing every present moment with courage and hope.

Let us daily commit ourselves to fulfilling the Sacred purposes of our lives under the One God of All.

Amen.

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Chair’s December update

Included in this update, the latest news from the PCN Britain committee and some new resources available through this website...

Monday December 6th 2010

Letter from the Chair

Although a fuller report will appear in the December Newsletter, here is a brief overview of the main outcomes of the Residential Management Committee Meeting that was held on 20th – 21st November 2010 at the Guy Chester House, Muswell Hill.

  1. Our new honorary secretary, Ian McAllister, will review PCN Britain’s policies to ensure they are in line with good practice for charities. Acting on his recommendation, it was decided that the minutes of all committee meetings would be published online, starting with this meeting.
  2. A new policy on the financial underwriting of regional events organised by local PCN Britain Groups was confirmed. The Management Committee is seeking a member willing to give us advice over public liability insurance. This could be someone with a legal or an insurance background. Please contact me if you might be able to help, john.churcher@pcnbritain.org.uk.
  3. Although there will be a shortfall of income against expenditure this year, the Committee has kept the subscriptions for next year at £15 (reduced), £30 (full) and £45 (donor). This is for the 6th year in a row. Membership renewals for 2011 are due in January. The Management Committee is to dedicate its May 2011 meeting to a review of the budget.
  4. It was agreed that the September Marcus Borg Conference in Edinburgh was a great success. The CD recordings of that event are nearly sold out and another 50 are on order.
  5. Dominic Crossan has accepted an invitation to be the keynote speaker at a PCN Britain conference in September or October 2011.
  6. Regional conferences are being encouraged and the West Midlands PCN Britain interfaith conference “Reclaiming a Radical Faith for the 21st Century: an exploration together” has now been rescheduled for January 22nd, (see below).
  7. A new committee member, Sonya Brown, is preparing PCN Britain’s presence at Greenbelt 2011 where we are aiming to link with other organisations in the progressive fold.
  8. Sonya is also leading a new PCN Britain subcommittee on engaging with younger people.
  9. Angela Smith is leading on a new liturgy subcommittee.
  10. The next St Deiniol’s residential will be on the 18th – 20th November, 2011. The speaker is still to be confirmed.
  11. Looking further ahead we are discussing with our progressive Christianity partners the staging of a major joint national conference in 2012.
  12. The first two of the new study guides, produced in conjunction with our progressive Christian partners, will be available for purchase before Christmas. The titles are “Walk the Jesus Walk” and “Jesus Then and Now”. Both are by John Simmonds and will cost £2.95 each. Details will be in the December Newsletter and on the PCN Britain web site, http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk.
  13. Feedback from the Group Convenors’ gatherings this autumn was positive. Ideas for group activities were pooled and a report is to be published and feedback sent to each group. The Management Committee thanks all group convenors for their on-going work
  14. The AGM will be on May 7th. The London venue is to be confirmed.

As you can see, the committee continues to be active in working to support the growing network, its groups and its members. Thank you all for your continued involvement.

I wish you all a blessed Christmas and a happy New Year.

John Churcher

From the Website

Interfaith Conference

The interfaith conference organised by the West Midlands group (see above) brings together liberal voices from the three Abrahamic faiths. The speakers are Salma Yaqoob, a Muslim who leads the ‘Respect Party’ and Dr Margaret Jacobi, who is Rabbi at the Birmingham Progressive Synagogue. The chair is Richard Tetlow, formerly vicar of Ladywood and now on the PCN committee. The conference takes place on Saturday 22nd January starting 1pm.

http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk/index.php/events/detail/reclaiming_a_radical_faith_for_the_21st_century_an_exploration_together/

PCN Britain Welcome Poster

PCN Britain has produced a new “Welcome to a Progressive Church” poster for display by churches which are open to progressive Christianity. The poster is available in A4 size for downloading from the web.

http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk/index.php/resources/detail/welcome_to_a_progressive_church_poster/ . Hard copies in A4 and larger sizes may be purchased from the PCN office. Please contact Andy Vivian for prices, andy.vivian@pcnbritain.org.uk .

PCN Britain Group Questionnaire

The PCN Group Census which, was sent out in September, received a response from only a third of groups. We’ve held it open in the hope to getting more. If your group has not completed it, copies are available on line.

http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk/index.php/resources/detail/pcn_britain_group_census_2010/

Spong’s visit to Glasgow

Bishop Jack Spong is to visit Glasgow during the first weekend of June 2011. He will be speaking at Cairns church in Milngavie on Thursday 2nd June and then at Orchardhill Church in Giffnock over Friday 3rd and Saturday 4th, ending with a sermon there on Sunday 5th June. Booking details for the Orchardhill part of the visit are now on line.

http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk/index.php/events/detail/a_new_christianity_for_a_new_world/

Membership Renewal

To renew your membership there will be a form going out with the December Newsletter. The form can also be downloaded from the website.

http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk/resources/Affiliation_Form_2011.pdf

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Free e-seminar series

The Advent of Evolutionary Christianity...

Are you frustrated with how the mainstream media portray the science and religion issue? It’s as if the only two games in town were science-rejecting creationism and faith-rejecting atheism. But for the millions of us in the middle who see no conflict between faith and reason, heart and head, Jesus and Darwin, we know that’s a false choice. Religious faith and practice can be positively strengthened by what God is revealing through science!
This is a Michael Dowd initiative. Michael will be ‘working’ as the host and sounding board for the next two months, beginning 4th December 2010. The series will interview leading speakers [many well known to PCN Britain members] considered to be at the leading edge of a new spirituality. Broadcasts can either be heard ‘live’ and on audio links after the event.
To register go to http://evolutionarychristianity.com/

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Chair’s Remembrance Sunday blog

John Churcher uses the occasion of Remembrance Sunday to distill a few ideas on what survives after death....

Remembrance Sunday 2010

In preparation for Remembrance Sunday I have been spending a long while contemplating what Remembrance, life and death are all about.

For many church attending Christians there seems to be an emphasis upon this life being a preparation for life beyond the grave. There is also for many a holding to the system of belief that states that to ensure eternity in the presence of God one needs to make a specific confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Redeemer of both self and the world. For some of these Christians the wonderful word pictures of the Book of Revelation are taken literally. There will be perfect happiness where we will all be reunited with loved ones and live in the eternal city of gold, as pure as transparent glass, and pearls and precious jewels. We will constantly praise the Lamb upon the Throne, and so on.

But what happens to all those whom we remember today [and also last Thursday at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month] who gave their all, paying the ultimate price in the service of humankind, and yet who never made a dogmatic confession of faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour?

What has happened to all those for whom prayers have been said, such as, “Let us remember before God and commend to his safe keeping all those who have died for their country in war… we remember all who fought and died in the service of humankind.” And what is the eternal outcome of all the Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and Jews who fought for justice and peace and died in that service of humanity? What’s more, where have all those who were the enemy, Christians included, gone to spend their eternity?

Do we make the unconditional love that is God conditional upon the prayer of repentance and confession of faith in Jesus? Do we exclude those Christians who fought on the other side? Do we condemn all those of another religious experience to an eternity in hell fire? If that is what the dogma of the Church continues to maintain [or in some cases clearly states] then I want no more to do with that kind of Church. It seems to me that this kind of barrier creating dogma is damaging to the Church, damaging to the cause and spirit of Jesus, and damaging to the psychological and theological well being of Christian and non-Christian alike.

But as far as I am concerned, it arises from a false understanding of the nature of God. Any barrier creating ‘God’ is the figment of humankind’s quest to be the chosen people. It is tribal. It defines who can be in and who has to be out. It has no place within the developing spirituality that I experience beginning to influence the great religious traditions of the world.

In Christian funeral services there is a recognition that it is from dust that we come and to dust that we return. I have no problem with that, but it does not answer the ultimate question of what happens to us all upon our moment of physical death. There are those who argue that we are all made from stardust and to stardust we return. That gives the eternal element in that we were eternal stardust before we were born and we will return to eternal stardust forever after we die. This offers some logic to those seeking a way around the dogma and could include all people regardless of their religious labels. But it does not convince me entirely.

However, what if Christians could look into the courtyard where some Muslims and Hindus sit? What may we find to help us gather a new progressive insight into life, death and eternity? Perhaps we would rethink who the real ‘me’ happens to be? What if the real ‘me’ is not the body and its ego with a soul / Divine Presence within? What if the real ‘me’ is God, or the Eternal Spirit, or the Ground of All Being, or the Core Essence – or whatever descriptors we use to explain our individual and corporate experiences of God? Could that not mean that we are all sacred beings, we are all ‘God’ from eternity before and into eternity beyond this earthly life?

If the real me is the soul / the Divine presence and the body is its temporary clothing then the physical body is just like a coat on one’s back and the mind is like the hat sitting upon the head. They are both discarded when their usefulness is finished. In a similar way so the body and the mind [the ego etc] are both discarded by the soul [by the indwelling God] when they have finished their useful life. But the soul / the Divine Presence, the real ‘me’ continues forever because God continues from everlasting to everlasting. The real ‘me’ is part of the living eternity here and now.

And what place does Jesus have in all this? For me, as a follower of the Jesus Way, it means that he no longer needs to be the barrier that separates Christian from non-Christian. It means that Jesus no longer needs to be experienced as the substitution for my sins on the cross. It means that God no longer needs to be seen as the Cosmic Child abuser. The teaching and life style of Jesus form my Gateway into fuller knowledge and a greater experience of the Sacred within.

It also changes the purpose of my life from a preparation for life beyond in some celestial city of harmony and peace, into living in that celestial city of harmony and peace in the dirt and grime of life in the ever present. American poet, Richard Shelquist says, “The true purpose of your life is to be an instrument of the Divine Presence, bringing love, harmony and beauty into every situation in every moment. Life is a journey, not a destination, and all that truly matters is how one takes each step of the journey. If you take each step in harmony with the wondrous Divine Presence, then you are fulfilling your life’s purpose regardless of the situation.”

This echoes well with progressive Christian thinking and experience. It also places all those who died in war in the service of humankind as they fought for justice and peace, into the eternal life that all of us share: Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, atheist, agnostic and so on. I personally do not think that war is the way to peace – peace is the only way, but that is matter for discussion on another occasion. Suffice it for now for me to conclude that the real ‘me’ is not my body and mind communicating with the God out there through my soul. I am increasingly experiencing that the real ‘me’ is the soul, the indwelling God calling me and leading me into ever more sacred experiences. My body and mind are but clothing for the action of the indwelling God in the ever present.

Now if all religions could grasp that as an insight into the nature of God and ‘us’, what a different world we would live in. And although it is right to remember the dead who died in war [both civilian and military] the day could come when there will be no more need for war or terrorism. The celestial city would indeed have come in all its glory into the everyday experiences of all people here and now. Open the door and glimpse the way in which the new reformation of religious experience is beginning to happen. Open the door and see the future of spirituality and all the benefits that it offers to humankind. It is the sisterhood and brotherhood of all people being soul / the eternal presence of God within and beyond each one of us. And Jesus, as a brother and exemplar of all that is possible, is no less real and no less my eternal Gateway into that experience. Do not give up hope. The future is here if we could only let ourselves experience it.


© John Churcher. 2010. All rights reserved.

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Marcus Borg available on PCN CDs

Following his recent appearence at the PCN Britain conference in Edinburgh, Marcus Borg’s talks and sermon have been produced as a four…...

Disc 1: What’s Christianity all about, (Friday evening’s talk) + the Sunday sermon 77 min
Disc 2: Speaking Christian - Redeeming Christian Language 72 min
Disc 3: Beyond Literalism 63 min
Disc 4: Beyond Convention - Participating in God’s Passion for Transformation 79 min
To buy the CD set please visit our online shop at http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk/index.php/shop/
Notes to accompany these discs are available from the resources section of this website at http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk/index.php/resources/category/C15/

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Chair’s Update Oct 2010

Chair, John Churcher, with news of PCN Britain’s activities...

1st October 2010

Here are the main points from the meeting of the Management Committee / Trustees held at St James’s Piccadilly on 25th September. Nine Management Committee / Trustee members were present with two apologies. The Admin Assistant was also present.

The Minutes of the previous meeting [July 17th 2010] were accepted and signed. Matters Arising included progress on the Joint Publication Project [more details to follow when the first publication date is confirmed]; Greenbelt had been a successful first presence and plans are now under way for an even greater presence in 2011, hopefully with other progressive Christian groups, [Sonya Brown one of our new committee members is leading on this, sonya.brown@pcnbritain.org.uk ]; the appointment of the new DVD librarian, Jess Lee from Ruislip, noting that already 6 loan requests for various titles had been received. jess.lee@pcnbritain.org.uk

In relation to the new DVD library it was noted that one of our original copies of Living the Questions, borrowed well over a year ago, is missing. If you have it, please return it to the PCN office in Newnham as soon as possible as there is a waiting list! [26 High Street, Newnham, GL14 1BB]

Feedback on the Marcus Borg weekend in Edinburgh [10th -12th September 2010] was positive and those attending agreed that it had been very successful. A number of points were noted to help planners of future events to learn from the experience.

Arrangements for the Group Convenor Gatherings were confirmed [October 9th, Windermere; October 16th, Nottingham; October 30th, London]. All Group Convenors have been invited. These meetings will help identity local group needs and ways in which the Management Committee can further facilitate and support development work in the groups and regions. If any Group Convenors have not received details, please check your SPAM folders and if still no delivery then please contact Mary McMahon mary.mcmahon@pcnbritain.org.uk or me.

St Deiniol’s Residential in 2011 is proving to be difficult to arrange as our preferred dates are not available. Further details will be provided once a date, speaker, or even alternative venues have been agreed. A number of potential residential members have expressed a wish for an alternative venue ‘down south’ and it might be possible to consider two such residentials in 2011, each drawing 25 people. Watch this space… Other possible speakers and national / regional conferences were also discussed, and again more details will be available as soon as we have confirmation of events, etc. Plans are underway to work with other partner organisations to deliver a major joint conference with a top headline speaker during 2012.

Recently we have been operating without a Secretary but an offer from a member has led to a co-option to fill the role. More details will be available in the near future. Constitutionally it was necessary to elect the Officers at this, the first meeting after the AGM. Now that both the membership and the number of groups have been growing rapidly over recent months, and ‘new and younger blood’ has been voted / co-opted onto the Management Committee / Trustees, I think that the time has come for effective succession planning. In this context, but not wanting to twist voting arms[!] I announced to the Management Committee that I think it important that after 3 years in the Chair a new Chair should be appointed following the 2011 AGM. With this in mind the Management Committee voted me to continue for my third and final year as Chair. Also, Mary McMahon was re-elected as Vice Chair and Terence Cooper as Treasurer. On behalf of the officers I thank the Management Committee and wider membership for the support and confidence placed in us. We will continue to serve the membership to the best of our abilities.

As more local and regional groups undertake the planning and delivery of their own conferences a revised policy for underwriting events organised by PCN Britain groups was agreed. Details of this new policy will be made available to Group Convenors in the near future.

The Treasurer’s financial update stated that nine months into the year income was £800 below expenditure. This reflects the growth in support activities [e.g. the new enlarged DVD library] and the Treasurer said that as there are more standing orders to come the balance should improve. At present there are sufficient reserves to cover this shortfall.

There is a list available on the website of churches that are happy to be known as ‘progressive’. It was agreed to review this list and to encourage members to discuss new listings with the leaders of their own churches, if appropriate. Approval was also given to a new PCN Britain “welcome” poster for progressive churches and this will be available soon for download from our website. It was also noted that the new advertising leaflet has been well received and copies are available for local group and church distribution. Please contact Andy Vivian. andy.vivian@pcnbritain.org.uk

It was also agreed to continue plans to improve the current website. To this end we are forming a small sub-committee and we would welcome the participation of members who have some experience in this field. Please contact Andy Vivian or me if you can help.

Finally, one of our new committee members, Angela Smith, is to become PCN’s collector and publisher of progressive liturgy. She will be assisted by a small sub-committee. The aim is to learn what is being used by progressive congregations and to share it through the website and other outlets. So please contact Angela if this is an area where you can contribute. angela.smith@pcnbritain.org.uk .

Future Management Committee / Trustee Meetings are planned as follows:
November 20/21st: Guy Chester House, Muswell Hill, London [the annual Management Committee / Trustees 24 hour residential]
January 8th: St Columba’s York
March 5th: London St James’s Piccadilly
May 7th: AGM and committee in London.
July 9th: Provisionally in Leicester
Sept 17th: St Columba’s, York

If you have any comments, suggestions or questions please send them to our admin assistant, Andy Vivian, for forwarding to the relevant committee members. Thank you for both your continued support of PCN Britain and your enthusiasm for progressive Christianity!

John Churcher john.churcher@pcnbritain.org.uk

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Spiritual Lessons for Children

“New Curriculum Resource Changes How We Think About God”.  PCN Britain reproduces here a press release from our sister organisation…...

The Center for Progressive Christianity and ProgressiveChristianity.org, is changing the face of progressive Christianity with new groundbreaking children’s curriculum, A Joyful Path. Created for use in congregations, small groups, or individual families, it is ideal for those who are looking for spiritual lessons that are free from dogma and creed. The language is inclusive, inter-spiritual, and intelligent. Sensitively written and beautifully illustrated, this curriculum focuses on behavior before belief, creating and practicing a spiritual path, and knowing one’s true self. It celebrates children’s naturally joy-filled life, and draws upon their compassion, as well as their own innate wisdom.

First released at the Common Dreams Conference, in Melbourne, Australia, this set of lesson plans is generating a great deal of excitement among progressive Christians all over the world, as well as others who are looking for a fresh perspective on spiritual lessons. It offers a way of life that centers on the teachings of Jesus, but also celebrates and respects the teachings of other wisdom paths. The curriculum encourages children to listen and respect all people, to think of the all the world as our family, to celebrate and care for the earth, and to see God within each person.

It differs from traditional church curriculum in many ways. The curriculum avoids speaking at children, telling them what to believe or how to behave. Rather, it creates a space for children to learn on their own. It is fun and interactive, full of activities, games, and ideas to use children’s own experiences to help them discover each truth for themselves. While it uses the Bible as inspiration, it is not bible centered, nor does it refer to God as something outside of us or as a powerful deity with human like qualities. Based upon our most current understanding of the universe and science, and drawing upon a plethora of wisdom teachings, each lesson or affirmation encourages children to use their energy in positive ways and to see themselves as interconnected to all.

Parents, educators, churches, and communities can all benefit from a children’s curriculum that is both spiritually progressive and relevant in today’s world. For more information, contact Deshna at Deshna@tcpc.org or go to ProgressiveChristianity.org.

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What’s the equivalent of the Red Flag Act within the church?

Philip Sudworth poses this question in a recent post on the PCN Britain discussion forum.  He raises the question in connection with a passage…...

New Wine – William Barclay’s Commentary on Matthew 9:16-17

“No-one, said Jesus, tries to put new wine into old wine-skins. To put this into modern terms: our minds must be elastic enough to receive and contain new ideas. The history of progress is the history of overcoming the prejudices of the shut mind. Every new idea has had to fight for its existence against the instinctive opposition of the human mind. The motor car, the railway train, the aeroplane were in the beginning regarded with suspicion. Simpson had to fight to introduce chloroform, and Lister had to struggle to introduce antiseptics into the work of the doctor and surgeon. Copernicus was compelled to retract his statement that the earth went round the sun, and not the sun round the earth. Even Jonas Hanway who brought the umbrella to this country had to suffer a barrage of missiles and insults when he first walked down the street with an umbrella.

“Within the church this resentment of the new is chronic, and the attempt to pour new things into old moulds is almost universal. We attempt to pour the activities of a modern congregation into an ancient church building that was never meant for them. We attempt to pour the truth of new discoveries into creeds which are based on Greek metaphysics. We attempt to pour modern instruction into outworn language which cannot express it. It may be that we would do well to remember that when any living thing stops growing, it starts dying. It may be that we need to pray that God would deliver us from the shut mind and give us the open mind.

“Viscount Samuel was born in 1870 and he begins his autobiography with a description of the London of his childhood. ‘We had no cars or buses or tube trains; there were no bicycles – except the high penny-farthings; there were no electric light or telephones; no cinemas or broadcasts.’ We are living in a changing and an expanding and a growing world. These verses are Jesus’ warning that the church dare not be the only institution which still lives in the past.”

Footnote
William Barclay wrote this commentary in 1956, over 50 years ago. Just think how much society, our awareness of the world around us, our use of technology and our knowledge of the vastness and complexity of the universe have all changed in the five decades since then - and how little the church has changed. In the early days of the car, a law was passed in 1865 that a man had to walk 55 metres in front of a car with a red flag and the speed restriction in towns was 2 mph. What’s the equivalent of the Red Flag Act within the church?

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Report from the 2010 AGM

PCN Britain’s AGM took place on Saturday 17th July.  In his latest letter the chair, John Churcher, highlights the main conclusions....

First of all an enormous thank you to those who managed to get to the AGM held in York on Saturday 17th July. The AGM, chaired by Mary McMahon [Vice Chair of PCN Britain], concluded successfully with two new members elected to the Committee, Angela Smith and Richard Tetlow; Terence Cooper’s co-option was confirmed into full membership of the committee; two members were re-elected for a further three years, Adrian Alker and Philip Goodwin. Since the meeting there has also been an offer from a younger member of PCN Britain to be considered for co-option onto the Committee. We can continue to look forward to the future with much enthusiasm.

Part of the business of the AGM was to consider an addition to the Constitution. Ian McAllister, a member who now advises the Management Committee [MC] on legal issues had commented prior to the meeting that the role of people asked by the MC to provide expert advice, etc. should be more clearly defined. Ian stated that, in the interests of openness and accountability, it is important for members to see how any advice that is recommended for implementation has been subject to a robust discussion by the committee and has been agreed by the committee. The AGM agreed the following addition to the Constitution:

“From time to time the committee may gain advice from suitably qualified and/or experienced individuals in areas where they feel they are insufficiently represented within the membership of the committee to provide such advice. Any recommendations emanating from such advice will be subject to committee approval before any implementation.”

Other business included the approval of the Minutes of the previous AGM held on 24th October 2009; the Annual Report and the Financial Statement [both 1st January to 31st December 2009]; and the re-appointment of Peter Stribblehill as our Independent Examiner. Members of the AGM also voted unanimously to send letters of greetings and thanks to Jill Sandham and Hugh Dawes for their vision, commitment and hard work involved in establishing and developing PCNBritain.

The speaker following the AGM was Dave Tomlinson. Dave is the author of several books including ‘The Post-Evangelical’ and ‘Re-Enchanting Christianity’. Through the 1990s, he led ‘Holy Joes’, an alternative church that met in a pub in South London. Now he is the vicar of St Luke’s church in Holloway, North London. Dave gave us all a stimulating and challenging insight into the topic: “How Churches must Change or Die.” Two particular comments struck a chord with me: the first, “‘church’ should be a verb, not a noun”, and the second, “we need to change just to stand still!”

The AGM was followed by a MC meeting. Details of that meeting will be included in a future email update from me. Best wishes to you all.

John

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Letter from PCN chair, John churcher

Breathing new life into churches...

Letter from the Chair

As always, this E-Update from me is a personal reflection and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of other members of PCN Britain or of its Management Committee. It is intended to highlight concerns and / or experiences that I have in the hope that other progressive Christians will find issues of interest for further consideration and reflection.

For four weeks, from early May this year, I had the privilege of preaching, delivering seminars and promoting my book ‘Setting Jesus Free’ in Colorado, Michigan and Ontario. The initial two weeks were spent as the Theologian in Residence at the First United Methodist Church in Boulder. It was a time of great blessing for me. In my travels over the four weeks I met many wonderful people and visited a number of vibrant and hugely committed churches.

It was obvious to me that the dynamics of church life ‘over there’ and ‘over here’ are extremely different. In the USA ‘God’ remains an important part of the social as well as the religious life of communities and people are not put off by ‘God conversations’. Around 2/3rds of the US population still attend church regularly, whereas here in the UK it is between 2% and 10% depending upon which stats one uses. Church attendance in Canada is not that dissimilar to here, and progressive Christians often have a hard time on both sides of the Atlantic.

However, there are some trends in common on both sides of the Atlantic. For example, in USA there is now a perceivable trend towards a decline in church attendance, including amongst churches in the Bible Belts. Even mega-churches are no longer immune. For example, perhaps the best known, the Crystal Cathedral located in Garden Grove, California, has decided to lay off 50 staff owing to a recent decline in attendance and financial giving, along with selling off properties and reconsidering parts of its international television broadcasting service, etc.

Another common trend is the concern that regular church attendees in both USA and Canada share with us: the rapid decline in the involvement of the 20 - 40 year olds and therefore also amongst their children. Having said that, I also witnessed an enormous amount of time, personnel and resources dedicated to work with children and young people. Another emerging trend is for an increasing interest in spirituality without the confines of religion.

I have returned home with renewed enthusiasm for progressive spirituality in general and progressive Christianity in particular. We really do have a viable alternative to the type of contemporary ‘fresh expression’ that seeks to dress up the old with new suits of clothing. But with such enthusiasm comes the health warning: Stanislaw Lec, the Polish poet and aphorist, stated, “When smashing monuments, save the pedestals - they always come in handy.” Part of the raison d’être of PCN Britain is to support its members to stay in the Church – I hope that we still have the time to breathe new life into her.

Best wishes

John Churcher


From the PCN Website

A free day conference is on offer from PCN in York next month. It is lead by Dave Tomlinson, vicar of St Luke’s, Holloway. His theme is How Churches must Change or Die. Dave is author of The Post Evangelical and Re-Enchanting Christianity, as well as founder of Holy Joes in London. His first talk follows the PCN AGM which starts at 11am (10.30 refreshments and registration). The day ends around 3.15. http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk/index.php/events/detail/how_churches_must_change_or_die/

An important meeting is coming up for people living in the Glasgow area. The city has lacked a PCN group until now, though this has not been for lack of progressive Christians. Chris Vermeulen from Orchardhill parish church in Giffnock is organising an open meeting this Thursday for those interested in being part of a PCN group. Mary McMahon, PCN’s vice chair, will be among those speaking. For details see http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk/index.php/locations/groups/glasgow/

PCN chair, John Churcher is leading a day’s workshop based around the themes of his new book, “Setting Jesus Free”. This takes place on July 14th at St Mary’s church centre, Albrighton, which is ten miles west of Wolverhampton, cost: £5. http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk/index.php/events/detail/setting_jesus_free_and_us/

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Glasgow joins the PCN map

Orchardhill Parish Church in Giffnock is the venue for an inaugural meeting of a prospective PCN group in Glasgow.  Full details at http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk/index.php/locations/groups/glasgow/...

The convenor is Chris Vermeulen and he would like to hear from anyone who is interested in coming along. The inaugural meeting takes place at Orchardhill Parish Church, G46 6JR on Thursday 17th June at 8pm.
Email: chris.vermeulen@pcnbritain.org.uk Phone: 0141 638 3604

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Answering Hard Questions

Members of PCN need to be able to answer questions from various quarters.  Some come from those who are more traditional in their Christian…...

Chair’s Internet Letter
April 2010

Occupying the ‘Chair’ for over a year has led me into many interesting situations and conversations. Here are just three of the questions that have been sent to or asked of me. I include my responses so that members of PCN-Britain may be encouraged and supported when you also face such questions. The answers that I give are from my faith perspective, although I hope that they are in line with the 8 Points that guide PCN-Britain. It is also important to remind ourselves that PCN-Britain exists to resource and support local groups and people in their own faith pilgrimage and our place of uniting is around those 8 Points - not in declaring that this or that is the only way of seeing things.


Q: If Christianity is a human construct why should anyone trust the Church in general or PCN-Britain in particular?

A: In my understanding of the sacred, all Scriptures are human constructs attempting to explain the very real experiences of the sacred as the writers struggled with the Spirit to try to understand what the Spirit was doing in their own time and place. The Scriptures remain just words on a page until we, too, struggle with that same Spirit to interpret and to try to understand what the Spirit is saying to us and doing within and about us in our time and place. Sacred words and experiences are to lead us towards a fullness of humanity and an abundance of life for all people, not only to a set of creedal beliefs. ‘God’ is always more than anything that Church or even PCN-Britain can describe. If you do not want to trust the Church or PCN-Britain, explore and trust your own experiences with the sacred. I am reminded of words attributed to Gautama Siddharta, the founder of Buddhism: “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumoured by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

Q: Secretly I am both Pagan and Christian, but I tell no one as I fear being rejected by my Christian friends and Church. We are often reminded at Christmas that ‘a dog is not just for Christmas’. I care for all living things and especially for animals. Is it possible for animals to go to heaven with us?
A: As far as I am concerned heaven and hell are here and now. We pass this way once. For me there is no heaven beyond this life. Our calling as those who follow the Jesus Way is to live as fully and as humanly as possible in our time and place. It is to give ourselves away in service to others: to misquote a slogan from the past, to “live abundantly [but not materially] that others may abundantly live.” That is the message that I receive from my experiences with Jesus of Nazareth. If there is a ‘place’ beyond this life then that is a problem that God will have to solve for me! All life is precious, including animal life. Humans are a particular animal with the evolved self-conscious ability to remember the past and to predict the future [although we often do neither of these particularly well]. Can you be both a Pagan and a Christian? Usually the Church will say “no”. However, if the question is, “Can I be a Pagan and a follower of the Jesus Way?” then my answer is “Why not?” PCN-Britain has at least one Pagan follower of the Jesus Way in active membership, so why not another as well! The critical consideration is the validity of our 8 Points within the life of those who are members or those who seek membership.

Q: Why does PCN-Britain want me to change what I believe, especially when it appears to doubt the very Bible that claims to be God’s revelation to men and women?

A: Neither my ministry or that of PCN-Britain wants to persuade anyone that “we are right and everyone else is wrong.” The Progressive Christianity Network is here to support those who need it. As I understand it, whatever ‘God’ maybe, God is greater than all the Christian evangelicals, charismatics, liberals, progressives - along with Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, etc, put together. And there is room for many others! Many ‘progressive spirits’ across the religions remain in their faith communities suffering in silence and in fear of rejection. Others have been driven from the Churches and other faith communities by inflexible creeds and doctrines, and in many cases by unholy condemnation and accusations of back sliding, etc. In my experience of the sacred in Jesus, I wish to affirm all who genuinely serve humanity in the rightness of their sacred experiences for themselves. What I ask in return is the grace to allow me to both follow the leading of the sacred in my own life and to minister to people who also are following an open, loving and progressive spirituality.

There have been many other questions over this year but these three will suffice for now. If you have other answers that you would give to such questions, why not add them to the Forum? Thank you for your continuing support for the work of PCN-Britain.

John Churcher

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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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