In case you were beginning to think that CSCS Annual Conferences were deliberately planned to coincide with Government Consultations, I need to state very clearly that there is absolutely no collusion between CSCS and the Government Equalities Office, nor its partner Departments concerned with marriage and civil partnerships. It just proves that, small as we are, we always have our finger on the pulse! Two years ago our AGM was held only 2 days after the launch of the Government’s Consultation on Equal Civil Marriage. Last year we found ourselves in the middle of the Committee Stage of the ensuing Same-Sex Marriage Bill. This year, our AGM Conference takes place in the midst of the Consultation on the future of Civil Partnerships and the early stages of implementing the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. I urge you to respond to this latest Consultation, as well as to look at the recent Government response on Shared Building Regulations in the context of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. There are clearly practical issues in both these documents for those us on the ground to consider. I for one am unhappy at the strongly hinted attempt in the Civil Partnerships Consultation to force the civilly-partnered into the status of marriage, doing away with civil partnerships. For me, this is a conscience issue, since my view of marriage is informed theologically by the traditional Catholic view that the sacrament of marriage symbolises the union of Christ (masculine) with his Church (feminine). This essentially heterosexual paradigm is not something as a gay man I can relate to and so, in conscience, decline and conscientiously dissent.
The sacramentality of my civil partnership where we have ministered this sacrament to each other – again, traditional Catholic sacramental theology – is a civil and religious expression of the biblical vision that ‘it is not good for people to be alone’ and reflects the oft-buried, historical witness of same-sex unions, equally sacramental but distinct from the marital state. The document repeatedly refers to `ideological objections’ to marriage, not least in its comments on those opposite-sex couples who seek civil partnerships. I feel there is a certain tone of denigration in the document’s references to this. I would say that in my personal desire NOT to enter into marriage, I am exercising my right to freedom of thought, conscience, and belief in maintaining my civil partner status, not taking an ideological stance.
Once again this year’s Conference theme is as pertinent as ever – who shall speak, if we don’t?
This not only highlights the need for an ecumenical network such as CSCS to be able to contribute to these debates, but also to situate the issues within a wider context which reflects a broader discussion of concerns around human sexuality and gender identity. Across denominations, we see shifts in theological understanding and pastoral practice, from the Church of England Pilling Report to the Vatican’s ground-breaking survey of Roman Catholics on marriage and family issues, including LGB if not yet T issues, via URC & Methodist debates and decisions. Meanwhile, our friends in the Quakers, UnitarianChristianFreeChurches, Liberal and Reformed Judaism are ready to celebrate same-sex marriages.
We are, however, a dwindling and ageing band of disciples. I have come to the belief that organisations such as those which many of us support, including CSCS, are acquiring antique value. New technologies and their social communications instruments enable people gathered around particular interests, not least younger generations, to interact, far quicker, more directly, and with less administrative and bureaucratic burdens and costs. Membership in all sorts of groups and organisations, including many church congregations, tends to adopt an increasingly passive role, of being ‘done to’, rather than taking responsive, proactive action.
That said, each of you can still promote CSCS’s vision through all the other means you have available: Is our up-dated the CSCS membership leaflet in your local church leaflet-rack or information-table? If not, why not? Do you think of asking CSCS for Newsletter copies and leaflets when you attend other conferences or meetings. Does your website – personal, church or other organisation – link to CSCS?
Given the difficulties we have in CSCS in coaxing members to engage with the organisation more actively, whether through attendance at meetings, comments in the Newsletter, subscribing to Theology & Sexuality, engagement with the website, or offering their experience and skills at Committee level, we must face serious decisions regarding our future. For how long can we remain a viable independent network? Should we embark on a search to find new forms of partnership, or, who knows, even an ‘equal marriage’ of like-with-like groups.
I wish to apologise that family illness as well as a family bereavement, not least dealing with the aftermaths, has meant that since August, I have not been my usual ‘hands-on’ self in CSCS matters. I wish to thank, on your behalf, all my colleagues on the CSCS Committee for their support, as well as for their willingness to engage so selflessly in the tasks before us. We have met as a Committee three times over the past year, having to cancel a proposed end-of-year-meeting due to my bereavement and being abroad.
I know I speak for all Committee members, as well as those involved in our Theological Educators project, when I express our regret at the resignation of Rosie Martin. As transgender and intersex issues come more and more to the fore, it is vital that we embody this experience in the CSWCS Committee. I really do wish to urge CSCS members to consider if they could offer their experience as Committee members. I indicated last year that I would not stand as Chair beyond 2014-15. The challenge is there!
I particularly wish to thank Colin Hart, our Treasurer, for keeping not only our finances in good order, but also taking on the role of Membership Secretary. It has made sense to combine these roles, not least to avoid unnecessary duplication and confusion in coordinating membership subscriptions and subsequent renewals. We all deeply regret Colin’s resignation from the Committee, but recognise the pastoral burdens he has had to take on in very difficult local circumstances. We are therefore in urgent need of a new Treasurer. Future arrangements for combining the Treasurer’s role with that of Membership is something which can be left to the Committee to decide, depending on our ability to recruit a new Treasurer.
Due to my own personal circumstances since the Summer, I must also apologise for not being able to adequately pursue the Charity Commission over its administrative blunders and its website difficulties, with the disappearance into the ether of our recent submitted reports, which led to us not being able to receive Gift Aid. Anyone who has followed media coverage of Charity Commission doings over the last year will be aware of the structural mess in which it seems to find itself. As well as the introduction of a range of new regulations, this clearly has knock-on effects for small charities such as CSCS and those seeking new charitable status. As Colin notes in his Treasurer’s Report, this is urgent to pursue, and I ask, once again for your forbearance as I aim to complete this task shortly.
Anthony Woollard seemingly conjures regular editions of CSCS News almost out of nothing. We have discussed how we might manage an editor’s succession process since Anthony would dearly love to hand over the reins. If there are members with the skills required for Newsletter editing, we would like to hear from you. Again, please feel free to take extra copies of the CSCS Newsletter, present and past issues, where there is much useful material. It may well be that, as with a number of other groups, we shall have to focus our future attention on internet communications, rather than mailing paper copies, hence the need to ensure we have e-mail addresses of all those in our membership who have them.
There are others who act behind the scenes: Jane Fraser serves us as Minutes Secretary as well as continuing to be a driving force in the Theological Educators’ Project. We congratulate Jane on the up-coming 25thAnniversary of her ecclesiastical sex-worker ministry as Deacon and Priest in Uptonon-Severn, and nationally. Beyond the CSCS Committee, Andrew Yip has continued to be responsible for Newsletter mailings to members, backed up by Jane Fraser, and not least our printers for their efficient turn-around of Newsletter production, after Heather Barfoot has carried out her proofreading. Terry Weldon has managed to turn round our previous moribund CSCS website, and he will update us on that briefly.
Sadly, our Soho venue for CSCS Committee became unavailable after last year’s January meeting, as the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, whom we thought would not be sympathetic to our aims, took over both Church and Rectory. We have however been able to use other Catholic premises for our 2013 Committee meetings in May and July. We are also grateful to the Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham, Campion Hall, Oxford, and Ripon College Cuddesdon for hosting meetings of the Theological Educators’ Project. As always we are grateful for the support of our Matron and Patrons, and glad that Bishop John Gladwin agreed to chair part of today’s programme. Last but not least, I thank our faithful members for their continuing support and generosity.
Beyond our Newsletter publication, our main activity has been the Theological Educators’ Project, exploring how issues of human sexuality are being dealt with in the recruitment of people for ordained and lay ministry across a range of denominations, their academic training and the support offered during such formation, as well as the level of on-going support in the growth of sexually healthy and mature pastoral ministers. We have met approximately twice of three times a year. The wider group includes Anglican, Methodist, MetropolitanCommunityChurch, Roman Catholic, and United Reformed Church members, many of whom hold particular responsibility for training and academic input in both denominational and ecumenical schemes. This has taken on new energy as we gear up for what we hope will be an exciting, major conference in July 2014, at Cuddesdon. We hope to gather key people across the denominations, responsible for all forms of ministerial training and development. We have received an initial positive response from a grant-making Trust to support this venture and I await final confirmation of the grant. Thanks to Terry Weldon, we now have a Theological Educators’ Resources page on the new website. Although commenting on the Church of England’s Common Awards theological education process, we have heard nothing further from Church House.
We continue to be frustrated by both the unheralded arrivals of new publishers as well as the infrequent appearance of the journal, Theology & Sexuality, and continue to badger both the editors and publishers about this. Indeed, this year we found the Editor contacting us for information he couldn’t lay hands on elsewhere! Jane Fraser will speak to this shortly.
I hope that CSCS members will play a part in the Cutting Edge Consortium’s 4th National Conference in April 2014, information on which is available today. We continue to enjoy contact with groups such as Changing Attitude, Inclusive Church, LGCM, Modern Church, and always look for opportunities to work together on matters of common interest. We are also a member of the National Children’s Bureau Sex Education Forum. Your Chair has co-signed a number of letters to the national press and government departments on the need for sex and relationships education to be a mandatory part of the National Curriculum.
So, like the current inundations, sex and gender, marriage and family issues show little sign of abating. No doubt there will still be storms ahead, but it is CSCS’s role to be part of this particular cutting edge, offering informed, reasoned reflection and evidence-based responses whether in the civil or religious arena. In any storm, the temptation is always to batten down the hatches, stay quietly calm, and hope that someone, somewhere, will take the prophetic role. Who will speak, if we don’t? As such, I commend to you the work of CSCS during 2013-2014.
Martin Pendergast, Chairperson – CSCS, 15 February 2014