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.
CSCS, as I have often reflected, is an ageing organisation. Sometimes we have wondered whether these bones can live, or whether we are a mere leftover from a past age (the somewhat delayed 1960s perhaps) doomed to crumble into the dust. As individuals, a number of us will be increasingly aware of our mortality, and wonder who if anyone will carry the torch when we depart this life.
That Swedish musician had been brutally bullied at school, perhaps because his aesthetic sensibility had little place in a remote farming village, and this was the source of his weak health. Yet it was to that same village that he had returned when forced to retire from the podium, and it was there that he faced down some of his still-unregenerate bullies, and other demons. Are not at least some of us committed to CSCS, ultimately and in some way, because of childhood wounds? Dysfunctional families (and all families are somewhat dysfunctional, as Philip Larkin reminds us), along with other aspects of our heredity and environment, have helped to shape us into a diversity of sexual beings, a fact which is at once our burden and our glory. In all sorts of ways, we return to the place from which we started, and face down our demons, and the demons in others and particularly in the Church. And the most we can hope for, in this life, is to die with smiles on our faces, having released others into creativity as the late Jack Dominian did (see obituary below). But CSCS is not dead yet!
The follow-up to our Embodied Ministry conference is likely to occupy much of our attention over the coming year and beyond. Materials from that conference are on our website and, in addition, this newsletter includes a highly relevant article by Martyn Percy. That article reminds us that life can only be understood backward but must be lived forward – and John Gladwin’s sermon, on the occasion of our own Jane Fraser’s 25th anniversary of ordination, is an excellent example of exactly that.
In the light of that, some of the committee held an away-day in late October to discuss the future of CSCS itself. A report will be in the next edition – and more to come.
Last but not least, in the “outside world”, we have seen some possible shifting in the tectonic plates of the Roman Church, with the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. Martin Pendergast’s report gives a well-informed view on the developments here – which could prove to be of relevance to us all. If Rome’s perception of sexuality shifts, in however nuanced a manner, that could have unpredictable effects in all the areas with which CSCS is concerned.
- Spartacus: Modelling Rebellion in the Church (Very Revd Prof Martyn Percy)
- Not so much an earthquake, more an ice-breaking! (Martin Pendergast)
- Service to celebrate 25thAnniversary of Jane Fraser’s ordination (Rt Revd John Gladwin )
- Dr. Jack Dominian MBE, 25 August 1929-11 August 2014 (Martin Pendergast)
- Annual Conference, AGM 2015