Tag Archives: Anthony Woollard

Editorial (Autumn 2012)

Anthony Woollard

It may seem strange that, when equal marriage, women bishops, and a renewal of the abortion debate are all on the public agenda, this editorial begins with domestic issues such as the CSCS website.  But we do have a new website, with a new address, thanks to the labours of Terry Weldon.    Since Terry has this year been elected to the Committee, we have a duty to our membership under charity law to record that the Committee has decided to pay him for this work, out of a donation given by a member, specifically for the purpose of website update, before the last AGM.

This is the culmination of a long history during which our website suffered, first from the illness of our former webmaster Phil Gardner – though many of the results of his work have contributed greatly to what we now offer – and then from a malware attack.  Recovering the situation has taken a great deal of work, which continues.  The new address http://www.christianityandsexuality.org is not yet public, and we need members to access it in due course (work will be ongoing for some weeks yet) and tell us what they think, before it is opened up to web searchers in general.

The website is key to our work for at least three reasons.

  • First, we need it to attract new members.
  • Second, it should form a point of reference for existing members about all aspects of our work.
  • Third, and perhaps not least, it is an outreach tool – offering to many who may never become members a source of information, comfort and challenge, in their personal pilgrimages and also in pastoral and academic work.

It is really important for us to get feedback on how far these purposes are fulfilled.  The subject-matter of our interests is right at the heart of the life of the Churches and the spirituality of their members, yet it is not easy to communicate this when there are so many other voices, conservative and liberal, addressing similar issues.  So please take a little time to give us that feedback.  Particularly we would welcome any views on the sort of “resources” to which we should draw visitors’ attention; at present this mainly comprises a rather outdated booklist, without classification or commentary, and we would warmly welcome suggestions for additions, deletions and other improvements.

But there is more to be said about our current activities.  CSCS is a little like Shakespeare’s “old mole”.  We work in the earth (though not always very fast) and only occasionally do the fruits of this work pop up above the surface.  One such occasion is our annual conference, which often attracts speakers of the greatest interest on topics of enormous importance, but, alas, rarely an audience of a worthy size.  Our most successful conferences have been those where we have worked with partners, such as the joint conference with Modern Church some six years ago, and, more recently, the local conference in Birmingham jointly with LGCM, Changing Attitude and others.  We have agreed with the transgender Christian organisation The Sibyls to hold a joint conference probably on 16 February 2013, and have invited several contributors from the transgender and related communities including Tina Beardsley.  Issues around gender identity and variance are coming to be of increasing importance in church life, both pastorally and theologically (see the recent work by Susannah Cornwall on intersex, which is also reflected in the work of Adrian Thatcher whose latest book is reviewed below – and Susannah will be with us at our conference too).   Such a conference should therefore be timely, and of interest well beyond the membership of the two organisations.  Perhaps readers know of clergy or other pastoral workers who would benefit from a day on the topic?  Who knows, it might even be relevant to bishops – if only because the idea of a spectrum of gender identities blows out of the water many of the arguments advanced in the women bishops debate.  More details of our February conference will be available over the winter.

 Our work with theological educators is also continuing, and we hope it will in due course also bear fruit in one or more conferences of a wider nature, and certainly in making available via the website some of the growing volume of resources on theological education and formation in the area of sexuality and gender.  If the clergy are not properly equipped in these areas, it is unlikely that the Churches as a whole will be.  Too often, such equipping is ad hoc.  The Church of England in particular has spent the past half-century or more wrestling with issues around the nature of marriage, from contraception, through divorce and remarriage – a particularly long and painful saga – to facing up to the fact of widespread cohabitation amongst couples who seek to be married in church (and others).  This has forced clergy and those who train and form them to ask questions about the very nature of (hetero)sexual relationships, probably not very systematically and with varying degrees of success.  Is the result a coherent theology of sexuality, or an uneasy linkage of old shibboleths and new pastoral realities?  Can it yet be said that those who lead our churches – who are human beings with as many sexual hang-ups as the rest of us – address any of these questions with real theological integrity?  If not, then there is still work to be done.

Those of us who do not belong to the LGBT community owe that community a considerable debt in developing Christian thinking about sexuality and gender in general.  This newsletter includes the sermon given at this year’s Pride service, which as will be clear is of much wider application.  (It is reported that at least one anti-Pride protester has been converted as a result of this year’s attendance.)  Such contributions from other groups, irrespective of the sexual and gender identities represented in them, are always welcome in this newsletter.  One such group is Modern Church, who sponsored the latest book by Adrian Thatcher which is reviewed below (and simultaneously in Modern Church’s own newsletter – so apologies to any who read it twice!)  But there are many other smaller groups and events in which members are involved, and we need to have more news from those.

Any voluntary society – particularly a very small one like CSCS – is only as good and as useful as its members.  We know there have been times when continuing membership has not been an obvious option for everyone.  We apologise to anyone who was affected by the recent brief blip in our charitable status, due to a series of accidents leading to a late Annual Return to the Charity Commission; this may have affected one or two people’s subscription payments.  Please bear with us.  It should be obvious from the above that we continue to do valuable work; but we depend on you.  And we are still looking for new Committee members, and, not least, a new editor for this newsletter.

Ecumenical World Pride Service, Bloomsbury Baptist Church, London, 7 July 2012Sermon by The Revd. Dr. Ruth Gouldbourne, Co-Minister, Bloomsbury Baptist Church

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Making Sense of Sex’, Reviewed by Jane Fraser

 

Jim Cotter, The Service of my Love (Book review)

Anthony Woollard

Jim Cotter, The Service of my Love, Cairns Publications 2009. ISBN 978 1 870652 45 2 Hardback, 114pp. £10.00.

This book arrived just as this edition of the Newsletter was about to go to press. In the time available, I am not sure that I can do it justice. But three facts speak for themselves. First, that it comes from Jim Cotter. Second, that it is about the celebration and blessing of civil partnerships – described as “a pastoral and liturgical handbook” and including a number of relevant liturgical forms as well as much wise pastoral thinking. And, third, that it has had to be privately sponsored and in effect privately published.

The saga of private sponsorship is itself worthy of mention. Jim approached a number of people and organizations looking for help. Even amongst organizations which were broadly supportive, not all felt able to sign up. Most of the signatories are individuals and a number of couples, both straight and gay. They include our own Martin Pendergast and his partner as well as myself and some other members of CSCS. Most of those who read the list are likely to recognise some names – and to be profoundly encouraged by their number and variety. If I may be permitted a very personal observation, I saw one name there of a woman in whom I was once rather interested; the fact that she now has a same-sex partner makes me realize that there may well have been nothing personal in her
negative response to my advances, and after 25 years that in itself is something of a revelation.

The liturgical material itself is what we have come to expect from this author: a rich and imaginative use of words – though perhaps at times a few too many of them. It is always good to follow Jim Cotter’s thought patterns, whether in prose or in poetry/liturgy, because they lead one constantly back to a re-evaluation of the body and sexuality, and of friendship and love. But to undergo one of his very rich liturgies without due pause for reflection would be rather like bolting a whole Christmas pudding. That aside, there are resources here which could be used, not just for the blessing of same-sex partnerships at different stages in their life-cycles, but also for use in worship and prayer more generally amongst those (no doubt including most of my readers) who share Jim’s underlying values.

The tragedy, of course, as the prose commentary points out, is that the likelihood of any tailor-made liturgies to bless same-sex relationships being authorized any time soon is remote. The theology behind this is teased out a little (perhaps just teased might be a better word!) and the inconsistencies made clear. As one good priest once said to me,“I’ll bless anyone or anything if it stands still long enough”, and it must seem exceedingly odd to outsiders that the Church has in the past (albeit maybe less readily nowadays) blessed nuclear submarines, manifestations of human fear, yet is unable to bless manifestations of human love. More work needs to be done on what “blessing” really means; Jim only starts this.

Finally, a marketing criticism! The book claims to be available via the Cairns website (www.cottercairns.co.uk). But when I checked the site it was not yet listed as an available publication! I hope it is by now, because there could, and should, be a heavy demand for it.

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CSCS News, Spring 2008: EDITORIAL

Anthony Woollard

EDITORIAL

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.

Anthony Woollard

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CSCS News 33, Autumn 2007: Editorial

Anthomy Woollard

Some of you may have been wondering about the silence of CSCS over the past six months or more. The reason is that the Committee has been doing some hard thinking. Despite an encouraging AGM reported in the last edition, it has become clear that CSCS cannot carry on without new blood – and no new blood has so far been forthcoming. Your Committee remain in good heart and committed to our objectives, but have all too little time or energy to promote them as separate activities along with all their other involvements in the field. We have some possible plans for 2008 – of which more below – but, unless that new blood is generated by those plans or otherwise, have come to the conclusion that CSCS as such may have only one more year of life.

We have been in existence, first as ISCS – an educational charity associated with LGCM – and then as the independent CSCS, for over fifteen years. This period has coincided with an increasingly lively, and all too often polarised, debate about Christian and sexuality. Inevitably the debate has focused mostly on specific issues such as gay clergy. The battle to accept women and their insights amongst Church leadership has in truth been largely won, though there remain some pretty sizeable pockets of resistance even in those Churches which have accepted them (let alone the huge blind spots in the Roman and Orthodox Churches). The parallel battle for the acceptance of gay, lesbian bisexual and transgendered people and their insights is very far from over in almost every denomination.

All too rarely do the protagonists acknowledge the underlying issues. It is true that some of these, such as the nature of Biblical authority, are very basic indeed and themselves a major battleground. Others, however, relating to the nature of sex and sexuality as such within the Christian tradition, seem to have had scarcely any attention. Perhaps at that latter level, also, we have won more battles than we recognise. The Churches’ past image of almost pure negativity and fear of sex seems now to belong to another era, and attitudes to cohabitation and divorce, for example, are a good deal more generous and less dogmatic than they were even twenty or thirty years ago.

Members of CSCS who are active in Christian writing and speaking, from Jack Dominian to Jo Ind, must be thanked for much of that. But is there not still a huge educational task to be undertaken?

Our Chair’s film review, below, illustrates one complex of issues which has nothing to do with homosexuality but touches on profound ethical and spiritual questions too easily swept under the carpet.

The book review, which refers to our member David Brown’s work on sexual surrogate therapy, is another clear case. As it happened, I was re-reading Just Good Friends by Liz Stuart (our former Chair) when I received this. Liz, like Jo Ind, supports the postmodern argument that sexual activities have no fixed meaning but only that meaning which is mutually accepted between the participants. Our view of sexual surrogacy may well depend on how far we can accept that philosophical position. As some of us found a few years back in debate with Bishop John Gladwin (now one of our Patrons), an unreservedly postmodern approach to sexuality may be theologically difficult for many Christians, even liberal ones. But where, outside CSCS, are such discussions taking place? It is true that they occasionally emerge in reports of the Church of England General Synod and the equivalent bodies of other denominations – but usually only by implication, and increasingly in a framework which is conservative and afraid to stray outside the narrow confines of “the plain meaning of Scripture” (as if there were any such thing).

The pages of this Newsletter have often contained accounts of how new ideas, and evidence from the natural and social sciences and from experience – not least the contributions of CSCS and its members – have been hijacked by narrow traditionalism. There would seem still to be an urgent need for the liberal/radical dimensions of the sexuality debate, as such, to be given voice in Christian circles. If one batters one’s head against a wall long enough, perhaps one might make a dent in the wall, assuming that the head can stand the battering.

From the outset CSCS had to struggle, in this context, with exactly what its role was and how it should be pursued. In the early days, when we benefited so much from the paid executive contribution of Alison Webster, much emphasis was placed on academic work. That helped to support the rise, under Liz Stuart’s leadership, of the journal Theology and Sexuality, which has now thoroughly come of age and has little direct connection with us, though it has remained a welcome and economical way for CSCS members to keep in touch with academic thinking. The impact of that academic work cannot easily be measured, and one cannot help suspecting sometimes that it is a little limited outside the circles of the academy, at least in the UK. That may be unfair. Perhaps its influence, and that of CSCS generally, on our Anglican episcopal members – Peter Selby and more recently John Gladwin – has had some modest significance, though it has certainly not saved that Church from its agonising about sexual issues. Perhaps something of the same is true with our range of contacts in the Roman Catholic Church and in some other denominations. But the fruits of the academic work are not all that immediately evident. And attempts to develop and disseminate more popular educational material on behalf of CSCS were sadly less successful than the promotion of the journal.

Latterly, under the chairmanship first of Andrew Yip and most recently of Jane Fraser, the emphasis has been more on the practical, with Committee members drawn mainly from those who are engaged in what might be described as pastoral work with the casualties of the Churches’ sexual confusion. (Questions about sexuality in a postmodern age are not just academic, they are profoundly pastoral, as the “surrogacy” issue demonstrates.) At the same time, other groups, both existing ones such as the Modern Churchpeople’s Union and new ones like Inclusive Church, have deepened their concern for those casualties, and made it more intellectually and pastorally respectable to take a liberal Christian stance on sexuality as well as other matters. The CSCS participation (together with the Student Christian Movement) in the MCU’s 2006 conference “A Passion for Justice” on sexual issues was surely the high point in our recent history; but the conference was essentially MCU-driven, and, because of that, attracted far greater numbers than we have ever commanded even in our early days.

Is there still, then, a place for CSCS, alongside the groups promoting Christian liberalism and inclusivity generally on the one hand and the more focused campaigning groups like LGCM on the other? Some of us still feel that there ought to be such a place. Many people, both gay and straight struggle with sexual/spiritual issues which may have little directly to do either with Christian liberalism generally or with the specific topics of current Church debates. The film and book reviews in this Newsletter illustrate that. And surely these are areas where CSCS is needed to contribute a liberal Christian voice.

But it is all very well for us to believe that. As any economist will tell you, a need which is not translated into effective demand might as well not exist. And there has been little effective demand for our work. We get only a very few requests to speak, or otherwise contribute to debate, on behalf of CSCS as such. The world of theological education has shown no interest whatever in our approaches. We have lost quite a few members over the years – often, it would seem, because of their increasing commitments elsewhere in the same or similar fields – and there is a bare trickle of new ones. Do we fall between too many stools? Are we too academic or even precious for some not academic enough for others? Are we too broad in our approach to help the struggling gay priest, too narrow for the anti-fundamentalist campaigner? Is there, in fact, a real middle ground left, within which our objectives are meaningful?

Many of our continuing members, it is true, are contributing significantly to those objectives in other arenas. The material from ICASA gives one example, and the final contribution to this Newsletter gives another, taking up the story of Henry Mayor’s attempts to engage the Church of Uganda in dialogue about gay issues which we featured in a previous edition.

We may hope that such members have valued our support over the years. Yet they make few demands on us – and even fewer offers of help. Appeals for new Committee members, in particular, have fallen on deaf ears.

Perhaps we have deluded ourselves about the need – or perhaps it is being met by others in better ways. In either case, it would be pointless arrogance and a waste of energy to try to keep the show on the road just for the sake of it.

Yet we do not intend to go quietly. We plan, in 2008, to undertake a major dialogue with as many as possible of the other bodies concerned with issues of faith, sexuality and justice, to see how their efforts can best be co-ordinated. We hope that this dialogue will begin with our Annual Conference and AGM on 9 February in central London, when Christina Rees, a well-known Anglican campaigner principally in the field of women’s ministry (and member of CSCS), will be our keynote speaker The letter from our Chair, below, sets out those plans in more detail.

Out of that dialogue may spring something quite new. There could, after all, be a continuing role for CSCS, though that will only be possible with new blood, since the Chair and Treasurer are in any event stepping down in 2009. Or we may find that some other body, or confederation of bodies, could most appropriately be entrusted with our mission.
We therefore look to you, the membership, for three things.

First, to attend the Annual Conference and AGM, of which further details will be available shortly. Second, to let us have details of organisations with which we should be in dialogue – and your views on the way ahead. Last but not least, to consider once again, thoughtfully and prayerfully, just how much you value CSCS, and whether you are prepared to back your convictions by serving on the Committee. It really is up to you now.

Anthony Woollard

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CSCS NEWS 29 Spring 2006: Editorial

Anthony Woollard

Fundamental to our sexuality is the orgasmic experience: the petit mort, a kind of death, a loss of the Self in the Other or a fusion of Self and Other. Many would say that something a little like this is also at the heart of the religious experience. In both cases the concept can be and often is misused, as a means of exploitation or a flight from responsibility. But its place cannot be denied. “He (she) must increase, and I must decrease” is a challenge at the heart of both faith and sexuality.

For that reason, it might be expected that Christian organisations would be happy to accept diminution and demise when their work was done. Alas, it is not always so. But one of the topics at our Annual General Meeting was whether CSCS has now fulfilled its mission and should quietly leave the ground to others.

It will be clear from the discussion reported below in the Minutes of that meeting that we are by no means sure that our mission is yet redundant. And much in the Annual Conference that preceded the AGM appeared to confirm that CSCS, or something very like it, is still direly needed.

The theme this year was “The Sexuality Debate in Ecumenical Perspective”. It was presented in dialogue between one of our Patrons, John Gladwin, Anglican Bishop of Chelmsford; our Matron, Roberta Rominger of the United Reformed Church; and (in the unavoidable absence of our Methodist Patron David Gamble) John Simmonds, a Methodist minister from Leek in Staffordshire. All their presentations are summarised below. The Roman Catholic Church was noticeably absent from the platform though not from the floor.

John Gladwin has contributed to our thinking in the past, most recently indeed in the last issue of this newsletter. On this occasion, to my slight personal surprise, he decided to start from Anglican formularies rather than from the postmodern thinking which has characterised his previous inputs. He demonstrated that the Anglican tradition, whilst exalting the normativeness of marriage, has been by no means unaware of wider debates on sexuality or inflexible in its responses to them. It was good for us that he did start from tradition, for many of us perhaps find it too easy to start from experience. Yet I could not help feeling that, if and insofar as this was where my Church started from, it might be missing out on some contemporary perspectives. Where, apart from a few luminaries like Adrian Thatcher (and from a different perspective Jim Cotter), is the Anglican theology of sexuality which is truly for today?

The other two contributors, though more experiential in approach, also started from the positions in their own churches, and that was a salutary experience. Anglicans, and for that matter Roman Catholics, tend to be so obsessed with their internal debates – mainly on gay clergy – that they imagine such issues in other churches are all over bar the shouting. Rather, it seems, amongst both URC and Methodists, they have been largely swept under the carpet. Yes, there are some openly gay clergy, and there are congregations which affirm a generous approach to issues of sexuality generally; but there is also considerable reluctance to grapple openly with the issues, and some very substantial pockets of conservative resistance. The Methodist Church’s remarkable Resolution Six from their 1993 Conference, which John Simmonds quotes, is rather better, one might think, than some Lambeth Conference statements or those emanating from the Vatican (at least under the previous regime) – yet it is by no means universally honoured. Individual congregations can and do reject gay ministerial candidates, and those seeking higher office have been blocked. There is some evidence of a willingness, for example in the Methodist women’s organisation (particularly the Autumn 2005 edition of its journal Magnet), to debate the fundamental issues about the nature of sexuality and its relationship with faith, in a way which might not be possible in some other churches; but this is highly controversial. In both churches there is still a fear of “frightening the horses”, and probably a majority who oppose both the conservative and the liberal positions and wish the issues would go away. There has been real progress in both, perhaps especially within Methodism (due to its historic emphasis on experience?), but very little evidence that the debate has been fully embedded and that church members in generally would endorse the openness which is at the heart of CSCS’ mission statement. As John Simmonds put it, few local churches have yet come out of the closet.

So, are we still needed? As will be clear from the Minutes, the jury is out. Our effective survival will depend on our ability to hold existing members, and gain new ones, through the new subscription structure which allows for a fairly nominal subscription from those who do not wish to receive our learned journal. That in turn may depend on the impact of our joint summer conference with the Modern Churchpeople’s Union and the Student Christian Movement – there are still a few places left! – and of our updated website, which ALL members are asked to look at and comment on to the Chair.

In fact the future of CSCS now depends on YOUR response as never before.

 

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