Chair’s Annual Report 2012-13

Martin Pendergast

I presented last year’s Annual Report on the work of CSCS only two days after the launch of the Government’s Consultation on Equal Civil Marriage. This Annual Report for 2012-2013 comes in the middle of the Committee Stage of the ensuing Same-Sex Marriage Bill. In recent weeks we have also seen the European Court of Human Rights judgement’s on cases involving conflicts around religion, diversity, and human rights. Very many of us were pleased that the Court rejected the appeals of those who were found to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered people in the course of their employment.

Once again, we see not only 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.

But there is still a long road to travel. In the context of today’s Conference theme on transgender and faith, I was appalled by the ignorance displayed by representatives of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales when they appeared before the House of Commons Committee earlier on 12 February. If I may quote from the Hansard Report:

Q 83 Kate Green:  May I ask you the same question I asked the representatives of the Church of England? If an opposite-sex couple marry in a Catholic church and subsequently one member of that couple undergoes gender reassignment, do they remain married in the eyes of the Catholic Church? Under this law, they will in the eyes of the law. 

Archbishop Peter Smith : They would in the Catholic Church as well. 

Q 84 Kate Green:  They would be a same-sex couple at that point. 

Archbishop Peter Smith : Well, perhaps legally. 

Q 85 Kate Green:  So you do not accept the reassignment of gender? 

Archbishop Peter Smith : I do not accept that we can change someone’s gender. There is a real difficulty when it comes to what is called gender dysphoria: somebody who is very inclined to think someone is opposite to what they are. 

And later:

Q 104 The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities (Mrs Helen Grant):  Archbishop Smith, in relation to the transgender provisions in the Bill and to pick up a point made earlier by the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston, you indicated that the person changing gender would be legally married but questioned whether it would be possible to do that. Can you tell me whether that person and that couple would still be treated as part of the Catholic community and welcomed with dignity and respect? 

Archbishop Peter Smith: They would certainly be part of the Catholic community, but we would not approve—the Church teaches clearly that you cannot change gender. I know that that is not the current mores out in secular society. As a priest or bishop, if somebody came along and said that they had changed their gender, I would have to say to them from the Church’s point of view, “You cannot get married.” 

The Chair:  But your point earlier was that you would none the less welcome them with respect and dignity. 

Archbishop Peter Smith: Absolutely. Always. 

This shows once again how pertinent today’s Conference is, and I particularly want to thank the Sibyls Group for being partners with us in planning today’s event.

I also 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 four times over the past year. 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 continues to make sense that these roles are combined, not least to avoid unnecessary duplication and confusion in coordinating membership subscriptions and subsequent renewals. You will notice that we have up-dated the CSCS membership leaflet – please take an extra copy, or copies, today to pass on to friends, or place in your church leaflet rack.

Here I must beg your forbearance for administrative blunders at the Charity Commission and its website, and the disappearance into the ether of our submitted report last year, which led to us not being able to receive Gift Aid. I am still engaged with officials trying to extricate ourselves from these difficulties, and I hope this matter will be resolved shortly.

I also want to thank Anthony Woollard for his steadfast editing of CSCS News. At our latest Committee Meeting we discussed how we might manage an editor’s succession process since Anthony would dearly love to hand over the reins of this particular horse, before he or it gets turned into a Burger or Bolognese. 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.

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. Beyond the 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 proof-reading. We were delighted that Terry Weldon agreed to join the Committee and take charge of a rather moribund CSCS website, so that we now have a site which is very much fit for purpose.

We are also grateful to the Rector of the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption & St. Gregory, Soho, in affording us hospitality for our Committee meetings, to the Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham, and Campion Hall, Oxford, for hosting meetings of the Theological Educators’ Project. Sadly, our Soho venue will become unavailable as the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham will be taking over both Church and Rectory. Somehow, I don’t think our concerns would be shared in that arrangement. 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.

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, Metropolitan Community Church, 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 exciting work proceeds, inevitably, at a slow and steady pace, as we seek to discern what appropriately useful outcomes might emerge from our conversations.

Thanks to Terry Weldon, we now have a Theological Educators’ Resources page on the new website. We are pursuing the idea of a residential conference event, probably later in 2014 to gather key people across the denominations, responsible for all forms of ministerial training and development. We have also commented on the Church of England’s Common Awards theological education process, but rather like certain other ‘listening exercises’, this seems a long drawn out affair with not much sign of any concrete outcome in the immediate future.

We continue to be frustrated by the infrequent appearance of the journal, Theology & Sexuality, and continue to badger both the editors and publishers about this.

CSCS members have continued to play a part in the Cutting Edge Consortium and not least its 3rd National Conference in April 2012. We continue to enjoy close 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 have also agreed to become a member of the National Children’s Bureau Sex Education Forum.

The debates around all aspects of human sexuality, gender identity and variation, show no sign of abating in all our churches. As long as this is so, there is a need for a network such as CSCS to play its part in responding critically, challenging constructively, and celebrating the rich diversity of all women, children and men, as the rich tapestry of human sexuality and gender created as part of God’s design, God’s work of art. As such, I commend to you the work of CSCS during 2012-2013.

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