CSS News 37, Autumn/ Winter 2009. Editorial

Anthony Woollard

Apologies once again for the long delay in issuing this edition. Your Committee has been busy! And for once I have nothing but good news to report.

I referred in the last edition to our plans to combine our AGM on 6 February 2010 with a joint conference with Inclusive Church. This has really taken off, and now also involves LGCM, Changing Attitude, and the transgender group The Sibyls, as well as local partners in Birmingham Diocese. All CSCS members should have received a flyer for the event. It is being publicized very widely and enrolments are flowing in. Please contact Daphne Cook (daphnecook@btinternet.com) if you still need further information.

“Sexuality and Human Flourishing” may not be quite as catchy a title as the original “Consuming Passions”, but it is the one preferred locally as making it clear what the conference is about. You will note that the speakers include Alison Webster who was in on CSCS, and its predecessor ISCS, at the very beginning and who will be a particularly welcome contributor. But there will be many others involved, some of them locally based but widely known such as Nicola Slee.

For some time your Committee has been struggling to facilitate a network of the many groups operating in the general area of faith and sexuality. The steering group for this conference has already shown itself to be such a network in embryo. But some  dimensions are still under-represented.
• First, because of the genesis of this conference through Inclusive Church, the group has something of an Anglican bias (though the Metropolitan Community Churches are also involved). CSCS has always prided itself on its ecumenical nature. Maybe therefore it is particularly important that our non-Anglican members are well represented on 6 February. This conference is emphatically not only for Anglicans, still less only for Anglicans in Birmingham and adjacent dioceses. Those involved in relevant organizations in other Churches might well want to put up a marker to be involved in whatever work emerges from the conference.
• Second, there is a very proper emphasis in the conference and its steering group on sexual/gender identity and spirituality, on which themes CSCS has always majored. But there is a wide range of concerns amongst Christians on issues such as prostitution, trafficking and abuse which also play crucial parts in the debate about sexuality and faith. Group discussions at the conference will be structured around a range of themes and interests, and one of these is provisionally called “Acceptable Sex?” under which heading such matters as the use and implications of pornography and maybe prostitution could well be addressed. For those with particular concerns in these more shadowy areas of sexuality and faith, there will thus be an opportunity to express those concerns and maybe look at ways in which we could take them forward together.

I do urge you, therefore, to sign up for this conference. It may appear to have a rather local focus – and the venue is not as easy to get to as some of our previous ones have been (though full advice is provided on bus routes and so on, and we may be able to give practical help with transport from the mainline stations). But it is precisely what CSCS, in partnership with others, ought to be doing. And as well as perhaps offering a template for similar conferences elsewhere, it provides a venue and space for our AGM – on which more below. Those of us involved in the planning have become genuinely excited. We want you all to share that.

This, however, is not the only matter on which we have been busy. Our facilitation of dialogue with, and between, theological educators continues to make good progress. We met them again at the end of September and had a most fruitful discussion about areas of
concern. A further meeting is planned for early in the New Year. This seems rather unlikely to bear concrete fruit such as a how-to-do-it handbook (how to educate ordinands in issues of sexuality, I mean), but even if such a thing could be envisaged it would surely be less valuable than the highly ecumenical networking which we have been able to encourage. Theological educators, perhaps most of all from some of the more conservative or polarized denominations, feel the need to talk, and we are helping them to do that. This is no small thing in itself, but in encouraging and critiquing the work going on in colleges (much of it actually very good) it can bring much wider benefits to our Churches.

So CSCS really does have a lot to do. But do we have a future as an organization?

The responses to our questionnaires over the summer were a little ambiguous. Only a small proportion of the membership responded, and these nearly all seemed resigned to merger with another organization – though there was much less unanimity as to which organization that might be. We are not yet being flooded with new offers of help. But we do now have two new committee members – Heather Barfoot and Colin Hart – to add to Michael Moran who joined us at the 2009 AGM. That is more new blood than we have had in a decade. It means that, when we hold our AGM over lunch at the 6 February conference (don’t miss it!), there will probably not be a motion to wind CSCS up, but a very positive report on the past year and a look forward to the year ahead, and a fairly full slate for the 2010-2011 Committee – though there is always room for more, so once again please consider whether you can serve in this way.

We may, however, be evolving yet again into a rather different organization. One of our original reasons for existence – the promotion and circulation of the journal Theology and Sexuality – has a slightly uncertain future, with the title being sold on yet again to another publisher (Equinox) and the need to negotiate for long-term retention of the favourable price of the journal to those CSCS members who wish to avail themselves of it. As gender and sexuality studies within the context of academic theology have taken on a life of their own, CSCS has found itself progressively moving away from the academic front line, though we are still able in various ways to give support to individuals who operate there. Facilitating networking at various levels – sometimes with an academic dimension, as with the theological educators, but perhaps more often personal, existential and in part local as with the Birmingham conference – seems to be the direction in which we are being led.

We can all remember the general who once said:

My right flank is shattered.
My left flank is collapsing.
The situation is desperate……
And I am advancing.

Even a few months ago your Committee would have echoed those words – especially the first three lines. Now, the last line alone says it all.

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