CSCS struggles on – for the moment – and still has work to do. That was the conclusion of our AGM this February.
Most of this edition is taken up with the various minutes and reports of that AGM. As usual, it was a rather select group which gathered at St Anne’s Church, Soho, to carry out our annual business and to hear Christina Rees urge us to carry on. There were ideas in plenty, but who will help us put them into effect?
Christina in her keynote address gave us much food for thought. She endorsed the view that there is simply no other organisation which is doing what CSCS is attempting to do, and that there is a continued need to ensure that the fundamental issues of Christianity and sexuality are debated and the Churches’ thought thereby developed. In particular she urged us not to give up on our contacts with theological educators. Members will recall that our recent attempt to interest theological colleges and networks in our activities, through a mailing of this Newsletter, appeared to fall on stony ground. But Christina gave instances of initiatives within the colleges, possibly influenced by that attempt, in which ordinands and the newly ordained had taken up issues of sexuality as a personal vocation. Members at the AGM felt that we should be initiating direct dialogue with leading theological educators and perhaps developing materials which could be used in initial or continuing ministerial education. This would be in addition to – or perhaps even prior to – our Chair’s
proposals to build a network of organisations concerned with faith, sexuality and justice.
Shortly before the AGM, we had messages from some of our leading supporters who were unable to be present. Taken alongside Christina’s encouragement, they make interesting reading. All of them took the same line – the work is vital. One instanced a discussion which took place in a local Changing Attitude meeting regarding the nature of sexual commitment, which a diverse group felt unable to tackle and found a source of embarrassment. The Churches need people and materials to facilitate such discussions, which can raise extremely sensitive issues. The traditional Christian position on lifelong monogamy, on which many of us were reared, is very different from the mores of many contemporary subcultures – yet both that position and those mores are evolving, and this can be painful and confusing. The issue of what sexual commitment means in contemporary society, and how in practice faith can inform that commitment, is one relevant to gay and straight alike. And the debates about women’s ministry have made all too clear that confusion still reigns in the Churches about how women and men should respond to one another within both an authentic sexual context and an authentic spirituality. In these areas, all of us need help, and all of us need to help each other.
And, of course, to an extent we do. Christina herself, though best known as a campaigner on the specific issues of women’s ministry, has written helpfully and honestly in her little book The Divine Embrace about the deeper issues of sexuality and spirituality. Other campaigners who have worked with us, such as Jean Mayland and Colin Coward, have shared their own insights in ways which have enriched all of us who have come into contact with them. If these contributions are mostly at the level of vision and inspiration, rather than practicality, they are none the worse for that. We need vision and inspiration.
Yet for the most part, when it comes to the nitty-gritty expression of work and witness within the Churches, these people have felt obliged to prioritise specific issues rather than to focus on the work of CSCS. At a time when the Anglican Communion (at least) is torn apart on the gay issue and still struggling over women bishops – and when, as we understand, the campaign for married priests within the Roman Catholic Church may be gaining new impetus – that may seem a very rational choice. And we were reminded at the AGM that even the major single-issue organisations, such as LGCM, can have difficulty finding trustees and activists. It is most understandable that those who feel called to work in these areas should give them priority, particularly with Lambeth 2008 coming up. Yet there must surely be others – and not least people in other denominations – who can see the longer-term need for the work CSCS is trying to do?
If not, then your Committee will simply do what it can over the next year.
Meanwhile, we are actively following up the idea of further contact with theological educators. After a lot of discussion about the ideas expressed at the AGM, we feel that this should be the priority, and that the broader idea of a network and conference of all organisations in our field should wait until we have seen what such a network and conference might contribute to the educational effort. We are most grateful to Christina for having steered us so firmly in this direction, and hope to report progress in the next issue!
Apart from AGM-related material, this issue includes a book review by Martin Pendergast, and also – by kind permission of The Tablet – an article by Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP which goes to the very heart of our theological endeavour. Many will feel grateful that that article, from the heart of the Roman Catholic Church, widens the theological debate and relates it to other matters dear to many of our hearts. Perhaps some will feel that Fr Timothy still gives sexual activity a theological significance which is more “essentialist” than that put forward for example by Jo Ind in Memories of Bliss – and may be even further removed from the assumptions behind the work of David Brown which we featured in our last issue. There is room here for a debate on these pages, as long as CSCS and this Newsletter continue to exist. So send us your thoughts!
But please do not assume that our continuing activity means that CSCS can be taken for granted. So far as we can see at present, from next February we will have no Chair, no Secretary and no Treasurer, and therefore cannot carry on. Your Committee continue to hope and pray that new supporters will come forward. If not, then despite the encouragement of Christina and others CSCS will simply have to bow out, in the faith that the mantle of our work will be assumed by other organisations.