Category Archives: Newsletter articles

Service to celebrate 25th Anniversary of Jane Fraser’s ordination

Upton on Severn, June 22nd 2014

Sermon by the Rt Revd John Gladwin 

So Ruth went down to the threshing floor and did just what her mother-in-law had instructed her. When Boaz had eaten and drunk, and he was in a contented mood, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came stealthily and uncovered his feet and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and there, lying at his feet, was a woman.

Continue reading Service to celebrate 25th Anniversary of Jane Fraser’s ordination

CSCS News, Autumn 2014: Editorial & Contents Guide

Editorial

Anthony Woollard

Shortly after CSCS’ highly successful Embodied Ministry conference at Cuddesdon in July, our sister organisation Modern Church (www.modernchurch.org.uk) held its own conference on Liberal Spirituality.  Unsurprisingly, there was some read-across – certainly in the dramatis personae, with Martyn Percy facilitating both conferences, Emma Percy making a most significant contribution to both (including, at the latter, a memorable talk on breastfeeding as a model of spirituality and ministry), and yet more wise words from Carla Grosch-Miller.  But for me one of the less expected links was the showing of an unusual Swedish film called As it is in Heaven.  It showed how an ailing professional musician took a backwoods church choir to international fame, at the cost of his own life.  There were quite a few (not very explicit) sexual awakenings in the film, including that of a pastor and his wife who came to be confronted by the role of Law in their own lives and the need to rediscover Love.  But it was the moment of the conductor’s death which moved me greatly; as he lay stricken by his fatal heart attack, having just impregnated the girl who loved him, he listened to his choir bringing an international audience to their feet – and died with a smile on his face. Continue reading CSCS News, Autumn 2014: Editorial & Contents Guide

Spartacus: Modelling Rebellion in the Church

The Very Revd Prof Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford

The film, Spartacus (1960; directed by Stanley Kubrick) needs little introduction.  Starring Kirk Douglas as the rebellious slave, it is based on a historical novel by Howard Fast – and inspired by the real life of a Thracian slave who led the revolt in the Third Servile War of 73-71 BCE.  A small band of former gladiators and slaves, perhaps no more than eighty in number, and led by Spartacus, grew to an army of around 125,000, to challenge the might of the Roman Empire.  Kubrick’s film starred Laurence Olivier as the Roman general-politician, Marcus Licinius Crassus.  Peter Ustinov won an Academy Award for best supporting actor as Batiatus, a slave trader.  Jean Simmonds and Tony Curtis also starred. The film won four Oscars.

Continue reading Spartacus: Modelling Rebellion in the Church

Not so much an earthquake, more an ice-breaking!

The 14th Extraordinary Synod of Roman Catholic Bishops – October 2014

Martin Pendergast

The 14th Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on Marriage & Family proved to be a barometer of climate-change in the Roman Catholic Church with more ice-breaking than earthquake tremors. It had started with a questionnaire circulated to garner Catholic opinion from around the world on broad family issues. Unthinkable in the immediately preceding papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the pastoral needs of same-sex couples, along with those of children in such families, figured in the Synod’s Working Document setting the agenda for this recent meeting. Continue reading Not so much an earthquake, more an ice-breaking!

Dr. Jack Dominian MBE, 25 August 1929-11 August 2014

Martin Pendergast

An overview of Dr. Jack Dominian’s lifetime’s work, showing how experience of people’s real life problems challenged the very foundations of Catholic teaching on sexuality and marriage, was published in 1995. Jack Dominian – Lay Prophet? by Jock Dalrymple, traced how Dominian’s radical work on marriage confronted official teaching and illuminated people’s lives. At Jack’s funeral in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, 28 August 2014, it was proposed that any future editions should now have the question-mark removed! Continue reading Dr. Jack Dominian MBE, 25 August 1929-11 August 2014

The Sexual Revolution Reaches the Catholic Church

Terry Weldon

When Pope Francis released his papal document “Evangellii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel)” in November 2013, it was enthusiastically received for its sound, humane and profoundly Christian take on so many issues facing the modern world. One notable feature was the complete absence of any reference to gay marriage or homosexuality, and little comment on the broader topic of human sexuality in all its forms. This seems surprising: one of the first challenges facing the Church to be identified by the Pope’s advisory group of eight cardinals, was the challenges facing marriage and family in the modern world – and Catholic bishops in many countries have been closely identified with fierce opposition to gay marriage, and its supposed threat to the family.

However, the reason for this omission is clear. Right in the opening paragraphs of the document, Francis explains up front that he has not attempted to cover everything of importance, because some things “require further study”.  It has become clear in the months since, how seriously the Pope and his advisors are taking this imperative for further study into matters of marriage, family, and human sexuality.  The study now under way is seen in several forms, most notably a global consultation on marriage and the family; a re-examination of the theology and history (especially of divorce, and communion for those who have remarried); and the experience in some countries, of gay marriage and civil unions.

 A month before the publication of “Evangelii Gaudium”, the Vatican announced the summoning of an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, on the specific theme of marriage and the family. Almost immediately, there followed the announcement of a preparatory global consultation on the subject, specifically including laity as well as bishops and clergy. Similar preparatory consultations with the bishops before a synod are common, but this was the first time ever that this was designed to be done involving the Church as a whole.

Exploring the Views of the Faithful

With the bishops’ total lack of experience in genuine consultation or of any kind of opinion survey research, the actual implementation of this consultation was shambolic, but nevertheless valuable.

 In spite of the difficulties in implementation, Catholics responded in large numbers and with enthusiasm to the invitation to respond. Results have now been collated by national bishops’ conferences, and reports submitted to the Vatican – where in turn, a global report is being prepared, for circulation to the bishops to study in preparation for the Synod. For the most part, we do not yet know what these results are, but there are exceptions. Summary results have been made public for some countries of Europe and for Japan, and for some individual dioceses elsewhere. The results, indicating a wh4ide gulf between formal Vatican teaching on sex and marriage, and actual belief and practice of ordinary Catholics, will make sobering reading for those attempting to hold the traditional line. Just like other people, it turns out, Catholics in Europe and  Japan are having sex without waiting for marriage, practise contraception, do not agree with the absolute ban on communion for those who have remarried after divorce, and are disturbed by the Church’s intransigent hostility to people in same-sex relationships.

 We do not have results of the consultation from other continents, where attitudes can be assumed to be more conservative, but we do have complementary information from a professional opinion survey done at about the same time, in twelve of the world’s largest Catholic countries.  Even in Congo and Uganda, the most conservative of all, only about half of respondents agree with Church teaching on contraception. Across Latin America, fewer than a third of Catholics `agree with Catholic Church policy that says: “An individual who has divorced and remarried outside of the Catholic Church, is living in sin which prevents them from receiving Communion”?`

 Studying History and Theology

In addition to consulting Catholic opinion, preparations for the Synod have included other forms of study, notably on the question of pastoral responses to those who have remarried after divorce. Among the bishops themselves, this is already a contentious issue. German bishops have already announced proposals for easier access to communion for those who have remarried, and have been heavily criticized by some colleagues for this decision. This will be one of the primary topics for deliberation at the Synod. An important introduction to this subject was the theme of a major address by Cardinal Walter Kasper to the February consistory of cardinals.

Kasper will be one of the co-presidents of the Synod, and on that account alone this should be taken seriously. In addition, Pope Francis expressed his warm support for its content, adding weight to its importance. In a two hour address Cardinal Kasper reflected widely on the value and importance of family and its problems, concluding with some thoughts on divorce and remarriage. In this final passage, he presented information from the thinking and practice of the early Church, to suggest that while the Church is compelled by Jesus’ own words to hold that marriage vows cannot be dissolved, there are paths to a more compassionate, pastorally sensitive response than the absolute ban on communion. This is because, alongside Jesus’ clear teaching that divorce is unacceptable, the early Church (before Augustine), also accepted Jesus’ equally clear teaching that all sins may be forgiven.

What will be relevant for the bishops considering the entire range of sexual doctrines at the Synod, should be Kasper’s example in looking back at history, as well as his emphasis on pastoral sensitivity alongside doctrinal rules. Such an investigation of the history of sexual doctrines, should prompt a reappraisal of the current horror of cohabitation before marriage, and also a new look at the value of committed same–sex relationships.  Greater pastoral sensitivity to those remarried after divorce should similarly offer guidelines for greater sensitivity to same–sex couples, and the steadily increasing number who have formalized their relationships in marriage.

Experience of Gay Marriage and Civil Unions

For years, many bishops have been conspicuous in their political struggles to oppose legal provisions on gay marriage and gay adoption, but as marriage and family equality have spread inexorably across three continents (with more to come), it’s been obvious that this has influenced some notable changes in thinking. Early in the movement for legal recognition of same–sex relationships, opposition was to civil unions as well as to full marriage, but we now have an expanding list of senior cardinals and bishops who have acknowledged the value of civil unions. In some cases, this has been purely tactical, accepting these as a lesser evil than giving the name “marriage”, but in others, there has been explicit recognition of their intrinsic value.

Part of the impulse to this re-evaluation has been the actual experience of those countries and states which have introduced either marriage or civil unions. Civil unions have now been available in Denmark and later elsewhere since 1989, and full gay marriage in the Netherlands since 2002. Experience has contradicted the bishops’ dire warnings of great harm to marriage and society that (they believed) would ensue. Instead, the evidence has been in the other direction, of some clear benefits to same–sex couples and their children, to respect for the institution of marriage, and to other social benefits.

The political struggles have also forced both sides to clearly examine and articulate their arguments, in public debates, in legislative hearings, and in courts of law.  Over and over, the arguments presented by the opponents of gay marriage / civil unions have been found to be based on poor foundations.

That this is prompting serious study in the Catholic Church has been spelled out by Pope Francis himself, who was recently reported in a newspaper interview as having implied indirectly, the possibility of church support for  civil unions – and in private conversation with Cardinal Dolan, said that the Church needed to study the matter further.

How will the bishops respond?

Right from the start, neither the Synod nor the consultation have been presented as an occasion to change in any way the doctrines on marriage, family, or sexual practice, but simply as one to reconsider more appropriate pastoral responses. Responses by some bishops to the consultation results have already shown that they see the problem purely in the simplistic terms of more effective teaching of the existing doctrine and rules, with no recognition at all that perhaps it is the rules themselves that are flawed. Others, and most particularly the national bishops’ conferences of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and Japan, have acknowledged that the problem is profound, and must be addressed at a much more fundamental level.

The response to Cardinal Kasper’s thoughts on divorce also show a clear divide. Pope Francis and others have praised it, but some more conservative cardinals are digging in the heels in resistance. One source claims that a majority of cardinals are in disagreement, and Cardinal Mueller, head of the CDF, has been engaged for months in a very public dispute with the German bishops on the subject of Communion for the divorced and remarried.  Cardinal Burke has gone public with his opinion that Kasper’s address contained many “egregious errors” – but Cardinal Kasper very obviously has the ear and support of the Pope, and Burke equally obviously does not.

It’s far too early to speculate on what the bishops of the Synod will conclude, but one thing should now be beyond dispute: a process of careful study of these issues has only just begun.  The two previous Popes had a predisposition to deal with those who even appeared to be dissenting from the traditional line by silencing them, but Francis is encouraging free and frank debate.  The process began with the announcement of the Synod and the consultation, but will continue. The bishops now have the results of their own national surveys to consider and digest. Those who are to attend the Synod will be given a report on the global findings, as well as other material, to ponder. The Synod itself has a full two weeks of deliberations – and that will still not end it. Initial conclusions will then be taken back, for further consideration and consultation during 2015, in preparation for a second Synod which will include not only bishops, but also a selection of lay people, who will have a very different perspective on marriage and family based on real world experience.

 In the background of the discussions on marriage, family and sexuality, will be Pope Francis’ repeated reminders of the importance of the sensus fidelium: the principle that in matters of doctrine, the validity of any teaching rests on its reception by the Church as a whole.  As they confront the overwhelming evidence that large parts of the Church’s sexual doctrines simply do not have the support of the Church as a whole, the bishops will be forced to find a way to reconcile this with that principle.

 The Synod was emphatically not called to alter in any way any part of Catholic doctrine on marriage or sex, but actions often have unintended consequences. It must be at least possible that this two year process of further study and consultation will result in the admission that perhaps some elements of teaching do after all, need to be changed. The poet Philip Larkin wrote that “sex began in nineteen sixty three”. Fifty years later, in 2013, the Catholic Church may have finally caught up, and begun to engage responsibly with the sexual revolution.

ANYTHING BUT PASTORAL!

CSCS Response to C of E Bishops Valentine’s Day Statement:

CSCS calls on pro same-sex marriage Bishops to speak out

 The Centre for the Study of Christianity (CSCS) supports, unequivocally, the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013 which enables same-sex couples to celebrate equal civil marriage with effect, in England and Wales, from 29 March 2014. CSCS rejoices with sisters and brothers in Liberal and Reformed Judaism, the Society of Friends, and Unitarian Free Christian Churches who have opted-in, to enable such marriages to be celebrated on their premises. CSCS also recognises that amongst people of faith and none, diverse theological and ideological positions might be held regarding same-sex marriage.

Following its Annual Conference, Redefining Marriage?, held in Birmingham on 15 February 2014, CSCS expresses serious concern at the possible impact of Church of England House of Bishops so-called ‘Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage’. This, and the letter from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, appear to pre-empt the process of facilitated conversation, listening and reflection, called for by the Pilling Report and referred to in the 27 January 2014 Statement from the College of Bishops. The House of Bishops latest statement sets down answers, even before many of the questions have been asked.

Any true pastoral process in the LGBT context should begin with a listening to, and analysis of, the lived experience of people of faith, particularly its LGBT members, their parents, spouses, and families. It should then proceed to reflect on this in the light of developing, and not fixed, understandings of scripture, tradition, and reason. The latter should not rely on un-reformed views of natural law but, discerning the signs of the times, encompass the insights of contemporary thinkers in the fields of gender, sexuality, anthropology and other human sciences. The House of Bishops’ Statement, and indeed the Pilling Report, show little evidence of such engagement.

The Bishops’ Statement, if taken as authoritative even for the time being, could lead to pastoral chaos, as well as unwarranted intrusion into the lives and consciences of Church of England laity and clergy. We call upon those Bishops of the Church of England who have hitherto expressed support for same-sex marriage to come out and clearly state whether the House of Bishops Statement of the 15 February 2014 is issued in their name and with their support. If it is not we urge them to disassociate themselves from the Statement, declining to implement its proposed policies and procedures in their Dioceses.

The Distorted Christian Tradition of Marriage

As the prospect of gay marriage is once again in the news in some American states, American Catholic Bishops are once again railing against the supposed dangers inherent in marriage equality. I am not going to review the flaws in their arguments, or their outlandish claims.  There is one recent statement, though, that cannot be allowed to pass without the strongest objection.   In one cardinal’s words, “We are followers of Jesus Christ, so our message must be what he proclaimed”.

Really? So why then does that cardinal – and leaders in other Churches who take a similar line – not pay closer attention to what Jesus actually said and demonstrated on the subject?

The “official” Catholic understanding of marriage has nothing at all to do with anything taught or demonstrated by Jesus Christ, in words or example. He said nothing at all about marriage, except that it could not be ended in divorce, and nothing at all against same – sex relationships.  Instead, he clearly did much to show by his actions his inclusion of all.

Nor does the modern Church understanding of marriage match that of Paul, who recommended celibacy for those who could cope with it, but for those who could not, recommended marriage as a remedy for lust – not for procreation. Nor is there anything in Paul’s letters that would have been understood as an unequivocal condemnation of homoerotic sexuality by his Greek and Roman audiences, for whom such relationships were commonplace and seen as entirely natural.   It is true that there are some ambiguous hints at a natural Jewish unease with the homoerotic, and it is also true that some of the later letters attributed to Paul proclaim a higher doctrine of marriage.  But the good ol’ proper confetti-and-all virgin-on-the-wedding-night 100%-hetero image of marriage proclaimed by the Catholic Bishops and other conservatives has no foundation whatever in Scripture.

Nor does the bishops’ understanding of marriage agree with that of the earliest Church fathers, many of whom, following Paul, recommended celibacy – even in marriage. Tertullian, for instance, who was himself married, warned his readers that those who marry and want to produce children are being thoughtless. .At about the same time Origen, who was also married, castrated himself to remove sexual temptations.

Nor is the distortion in the modern Christian understanding of marriage limited to the imagined necessary link between marriage and procreation. It also extends to the ceremony itself, where marriage is so often confused with the wedding. For most of Christian and Jewish history, in contrast, these were two completely separate concepts, symbolically marked by a betrothal, public or private, well before the wedding (often years before). This betrothal could be public, often in childhood with arranged marriages, or if later, it could be private – with the commencement of cohabitation. In such cases, the concept of cohabitation before marriage was self- contradictory: the marriage was seen as commencing with the onset of a sexual relationship in a shared household. The public celebration in the wedding followed later, possibly with the onset of pregnancy or even after childbirth.

This conflation of marriage and the wedding has had some disastrous side-effects on modern marriage, with far too much attention paid to planning the wedding as a grand and memorable party, and not nearly enough on the solemn commitment of the marriage. The result, as Mark Jordan notes in “Blessing Same-Sex Unions”, in most modern weddings, the chief presider over “traditional” church weddings is no longer the priest or minister, but the wedding planner, closely followed by the photographer, the caterer and the florist.

In opposing gay marriage and same-sex relationships, the American Catholic bishops and their followers are emphatically NOT following the example or proclamation of Jesus Christ, as they falsely claim, but Vatican ideology, as developed from what Joseph Ratzinger once described as the “distorting tradition” in Christian history, which should be strongly resisted and exposed for what it is.

Terry Weldon

Enhanced by Zemanta

Women Bishops for Wales, Ireland, South India, South Africa – Female Cardinals in Rome?

As we wait patiently for the Church of England finally to conclude its slow progress to the ordination of women bishops, there has been progress, elsewhere. The Church of Wales has voted by unexpectedly large margins to approve women bishops, the Church of Ireland which had previously approved women bishops in principle, sprang a surprise by announcing the first woman bishop for the British Isles, and almost unnoticed by the press, the Church of South India similarly announced its first woman bishop.  In South Africa, their 2013 synod was attended by their first two female bishops. An ever bigger surprise could just be in store from the Roman Catholic Church. In the wake of Pope Francis’ remarkable interview with the Jesuit publication Civita Cattolica, there was speculation in some Spanish and Italian papers that he could be preparing to include women not as priests, or as bishops, but as cardinals.

Such a move would be extraordinary, but is not entirely implausible. Commentary at El País and at Il Messaggero, available in English translation at Iglesia Descalza, notes that there is an inherent contradiction between Francis’ acceptance of the current Catholic orthodoxy that women cannot be ordained priests, and his equally clear acceptance that the Church is impoverished if we do not make adequate provision for full inclusion of women in the life of the Church.  This could be resolved symbolically, by including women as cardinals. Procedurally, this could be achieved in one of two ways, with relatively minor adjustments to current rules of discipline – not doctrine.

The more likely and more significant approach would be by admitting women as deacons. This would not be in conflict with any principle derived from the Bible, as defenders of the male priesthood claim that women priests would be, and there is abundant Biblical and historical evidence that women deacons were active in the early Christian communities. There are some Catholics who argue that their role was different to that of modern deacons, but even Pope Benedict acknowledged that the possibility of female deacons existed. Others believe that the necessary changes to church regulations could be implemented quite quickly. This would send a powerful initial signal of greater inclusion for women, and practice is likely to be taken up by substantial numbers of women religious and lay women. The really intriguing thing, is that it also opens up a path to women as cardinals. This is because although the usual career path to cardinals’ red hats is as priest, to bishop, archbishop and then cardinal, this is not the only one available. It is claimed technically, the minimum requirement for eligibility is no more than ordination as a deacon.

The other possible route to women cardinals, would be to revert to earlier practice, in which even the diaconate was not an essential precondition – there have in the past been laymen appointed as cardinals. If lay men, why not lay women? This too, could be achieved with a relatively simple change to the rules, but by affecting only those individuals so named, and not the much greater number admitted as deacons, would be more purely symbolic in value, and so both less useful, and less likely.

Some of the commentary along these lines has suggested, based on personal acquaintance with Pope Francis,that he is already thinking along these lines. Since this possibility was first mooted in the press, there has been feverish speculation that he could even name the first female cardinal in his first consistory, in February 2014. Such a move, certainly in the short term, would surprise me, and his in fact been flatly dismissed by the papal spokesman, Fr Lombardi. He did however agree that technically and legally, the possibility exists, and did not rule it out for future.This dramatic change will not come as early as next year, but there are good reasons for thinking that tor women, as for gays and lesbians, and for those who are divorced and remarried, under Francis, this is no longer the hostile church that it was under Benedict XVI and John Paul II. For inclusion of all, the tectonic plates of the church have shifted.

We see this most directly in the simple fact that this is being discussed at all. Under the previous two popes, there was a simple claim that women’s ordination was not possible, could not even be discussed, and that was an end of it. Benedict even dismissed Bishop Morrison of Australia, simply for suggesting that we should consider women’s ordination. .Francis has instead acknowledged that there are dangers in this kind of authoritarianism and certainty, that there must be dialogue with the whole church, reverting to the language of Vatican II of the church as “the people of God” and declaring unambiguously that we need to develop a new theology of women that ensure them a rightful place in the church, that we can hear their voices.

Others would respond that there is no need for a “new” theology of women, that outside the ivory towers of the Vatican, a substantial, credible theology of women already exists. What is needed, is simply that the present all-male establishment take proper note. The genie is out of the bottle, and will not return. We know that a substantial proportion of Catholics support married clergy, and want at least to discuss seriously how to create greater inclusion for women, as priests or otherwise. The voices that under Benedict and John Paul were cowed into silence, will hold their tongues no longer. Encouraged by Francis’ call for dialogue, we should now expect to hear a great deal more thoughtful commentary, and proposals, on a stronger place for Catholic women.  Up to now, the Catholic Church has lagged far behind other denominations in this respect, but at last it is at least beginning to catch up.

It may be wishful thinking to hope for women cardinals (or even deacons) any time soon, but it is no longer entirely fanciful to look ahead to some future date when a pope, opening a general council of the church (in Sao Paolo? or Manila?) may be accompanied by her wife.

Terry Weldon

Enhanced by Zemanta

Reflections on a ‘ministry in sex employment’

 I use this description of my Christian ministry advisedly, despite it arising from a parishioner’s mishearing (or misunderstanding?) of the term MSE (or Ministry in Secular Employment in the Church of England). It has, also, a provocative element – the suggestion that, as a priest, I might be employed in one of the world’s oldest professions. The reality is that I am a sex educator, a qualified social worker and experienced counsellor engaged in training and consultancy on sex and relationships education (SRE), specialising in the needs of people with disabilities, and creating and distributing resources to support this work. As a priest, this is, and always has been, the main focus of my ministry.

In a few months’ time I shall celebrate 25 years in this role – and all within the same benefice in the Diocese of Worcester. I thank God that each of the three bishops under whom I have served has been supportive, while being fully aware that my role might be seen as controversial.

Why is the juxtaposition of God and sexuality deemed controversial? Our sexuality lies at the very core of our identity and understanding of who we are – as does our faith in God who created us and affirmed out humanity in the Incarnation.

 Twenty-five years ago I had my doubts that the church would affirm my vocation – not because of my role as an ‘out-Christian’ in my place of work (Brook Advisory Centres, an organisation offering sex advice and services for young people) but because my husband was not a Christian. However, there was an acceptance that I was already being called upon to give a Christian interpretation of the work undertaken by that organisation when some other Christians were vocal in their denial of its compatibility with Christian belief. When I went to be interviewed by the Principal of the School for Ministry for my training for ordination, he was the first to raise the possibility that some might view my work as being incompatible with the Christian faith as, indeed, being a Roman soldier was viewed by the early churches because of the army’s veneration of the gods.

 There has been a huge element of trust involved throughout these 25 years, both on the part of the church in my diocese and on my part, too. At the time of my ordination there was no ministerial template for me to choose from or follow. However hard I looked, I could not find another MSE in this area of work. I had to trust that if this calling was authentic, then the way would become apparent. And, indeed, it did.

 The ‘vicar’ who spoke openly and professionally about sexual issues became widely known through the training work undertaken with teachers, youth workers and health professionals and through the authorship of numerous sex education resources. I became, with Martin Pendergast, one of the Faith Advisors to the Department of Health’s Teenage Pregnancy Advisory Panel. Within the Diocese I was part of a group looking at the theological and pastoral issues surrounding the establishment of a Child Protection policy for our churches and training those with contact with children and vulnerable adults. There were even occasions when I was called upon to support adult victims of clergy abuse where a woman, a priest and someone with sexual counselling skills was called for. I served for a term on General Synod when issues of sexuality and gender were on the agenda – the role of gay and lesbian clergy, and women bishops were to be debated, among other topics related to human sexuality.

 More recently, I have acted as convenor for an initiative of CSCS – the Theological Educators Group. This is an inter-denominational group of theologians in positions of responsibility for educating future church leaders and with a real concern that teaching and spiritual formation should prepare ordinands for the range of sexuality issues that they are likely to face in their ministry. After nearly three years of sharing experience and knowledge, this project is to come to fruition in July 2014 at the two day conference at Ripon College, Cuddesdon entitled ‘Embodied Ministry: Gender, Sexuality and Formation’.

I’m often reminded of the story of Elijah hiding in a cave when fleeing from the wrath of Jezebel (1 Kings:19) when he hears God asking him, “Why are you here?” Elijah’s answer, “Because of my great zeal for the Lord” would not go down too well with many of those with whom I work although it lies at the heart of what I do. For me, as with Elijah, God is often to be found, not in the earthquake or fire but in a “faint murmuring sound”. My presence is sometimes symbolic – affirming the church’s concern for issues of human sexuality. On other occasions I represent access to the ministry of the church to the vast numbers of believers who are not, or not yet, members of a church. This is of particular importance for those who feel themselves excluded from the church because of their sexuality or the nature of a close personal relationship. A colleague who is known and trusted and who speaks openly and with compassion about sexual matters can feel like a breath of fresh air to such troubled souls. This ‘go-between’ role has been evident, too, in my efforts to explain to the church the reality of the secular world I’m engaged in. Of course, it also works the other way when, inevitably, I’m challenged about church teaching and practice on sex and gender issues.

 I’ve seen many changes over this period, not least in the growing acceptance of women priests in the Church of England. Women were first ordained as deacons the year before my ordination and, five years later, we were ordained as priests. The validity of this (still not accepted by some) should be affirmed in the current legislation before General Synod on the consecration of women as bishops. We have still a way to go on the full acceptance of LGBT clergy but an increasing number are registering their relationships in civil partnerships. I hope and pray that another, future generation of ministers in sex employment will take forward the need for the church to engage in a more active and pragmatic way in the social and sexual education of young people – and not just those within our churches.

Jane Fraser

 The Revd Canon Jane Fraser is a Minister in Secular Employment and Dean of NSMs and MSEs in the Diocese of Worcester

Enhanced by Zemanta