Tag Archives: Sex education

“Embodied Ministry” Theological Educators Conference

Rev Jane Fraser has described her journey as a female Anglican priest, in an article in CSCS News (Winter 2013), titled “Reflections on a ‘ministry in sex employment“. She explains that this rather odd description of her work arose when a parishioner either misheard or misunderstood the explanation of the term MSE (Minister in secular employment).  Nevertheless, she uses the term advisedly, because her secular work is indeed, indirectly, involved with “sex employment”: in sex education, especially among sex workers. While this is secular employment, it is also and at the same time, a valuable form of Christian ministry.

This is valuable work, but in addition to the importance of ministry for those involved in sex work, there is also an urgent need for the converse: “sex work”, in the form of sexuality education, for those employed in ministry, and in theological education of all kinds. The revelations of clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, and later in several other institutions, has brought home to many people the absence or grossly inadequate extent of sexual education in the training of priests, ministers and pastors, across denominational lines. Yet it is often to our pastors, untrained in the complexities of human sexuality, that we may turn for guidance on sexual ethics, or when our sexual lives and relationships become tangled and confused.

It is for this reason that CSCS some years ago launched a “Theological Educators Project”, with the aim of providing support and resources to all those involved in sexuality education for those involved in ministry. This year, the project steps up a gear, with a two day conference at Rippon College, Oxfordshire, on the subject, under the title “Embodied Ministry: Gender, Sexuality and Formation

EmbodiedMinistry flier

Here follows the provisional programme information. More detailed planning is coming along well, and over the next few days we will publish fuller information on the speakers, workshop facilitators, and their topics, together with a call for short papers.

Provisional Programme Information 

Target Audience

Theological educators, those with denominational responsibilities in education, training, and on-going ministerial formation, students, denominational policy-makers.

Objective

The conference will attempt to respond to what appears to be a fault-line, in and across a range of denominations, regarding training and formation in the areas of gender and sexuality.

Aims

Through a combination of plenary presentations, panel discussion, experiential and reflective workshops:

  • To enable open learning, and reflection on the importance of growth in human and sexual maturity, so as to promote effective, inclusive, and non-judgmental pastoral practice.
  • To identify relevant and appropriate academic and human development resources as tools in this journey.
  • To equip those in formational communities to respond to issues of gender and sexuality.

Areas of Focus

  • Gender, sexuality & the pastoral encounter.
  • Sexual maturity and gender identity and awareness in ministry.
  • Integration of gender, sexuality, faith & spirituality.

Speakers / Facilitators (will include)

  • Christina Beardsley – Changing Attitude, England / Sibyls
  • Brendan Callaghan – Campion Hall, Oxford
  • Susannah Cornwall – University of Exeter
  • Sharon Ferguson – Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement / MCC North London
  • Carla Grosch-Miller – URC minister and theological educator
  • Rachel Mann – St Nicholas Burnage, Manchester
  • Martin Pendergast – Centre for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality / Soho Masses
  • Nicola Slee – Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham
  • Adrian Thatcher – University of Exeter

Topics (will include)

  • Integrating sexuality, gender and spirituality
  • Spirituality in the gendered and sexual “broken middle”
  • Themes from Redeeming Gender
  • Negotiating gender transition in formational communities
  • Fifty Shades of Grace: practicing sexual and spiritual integration
  • Intersex, formation and pastoral care
  • Honouring gender fluidity in liturgy and worship
  • Ministry with the families of LGBT people
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Reflections on a ‘ministry in sex employment’

 I use this description of my Christian ministry advisedly, despite it arising from a parishioner’s mishearing (or misunderstanding?) of the term MSE (or Ministry in Secular Employment in the Church of England). It has, also, a provocative element – the suggestion that, as a priest, I might be employed in one of the world’s oldest professions. The reality is that I am a sex educator, a qualified social worker and experienced counsellor engaged in training and consultancy on sex and relationships education (SRE), specialising in the needs of people with disabilities, and creating and distributing resources to support this work. As a priest, this is, and always has been, the main focus of my ministry.

In a few months’ time I shall celebrate 25 years in this role – and all within the same benefice in the Diocese of Worcester. I thank God that each of the three bishops under whom I have served has been supportive, while being fully aware that my role might be seen as controversial.

Why is the juxtaposition of God and sexuality deemed controversial? Our sexuality lies at the very core of our identity and understanding of who we are – as does our faith in God who created us and affirmed out humanity in the Incarnation.

 Twenty-five years ago I had my doubts that the church would affirm my vocation – not because of my role as an ‘out-Christian’ in my place of work (Brook Advisory Centres, an organisation offering sex advice and services for young people) but because my husband was not a Christian. However, there was an acceptance that I was already being called upon to give a Christian interpretation of the work undertaken by that organisation when some other Christians were vocal in their denial of its compatibility with Christian belief. When I went to be interviewed by the Principal of the School for Ministry for my training for ordination, he was the first to raise the possibility that some might view my work as being incompatible with the Christian faith as, indeed, being a Roman soldier was viewed by the early churches because of the army’s veneration of the gods.

 There has been a huge element of trust involved throughout these 25 years, both on the part of the church in my diocese and on my part, too. At the time of my ordination there was no ministerial template for me to choose from or follow. However hard I looked, I could not find another MSE in this area of work. I had to trust that if this calling was authentic, then the way would become apparent. And, indeed, it did.

 The ‘vicar’ who spoke openly and professionally about sexual issues became widely known through the training work undertaken with teachers, youth workers and health professionals and through the authorship of numerous sex education resources. I became, with Martin Pendergast, one of the Faith Advisors to the Department of Health’s Teenage Pregnancy Advisory Panel. Within the Diocese I was part of a group looking at the theological and pastoral issues surrounding the establishment of a Child Protection policy for our churches and training those with contact with children and vulnerable adults. There were even occasions when I was called upon to support adult victims of clergy abuse where a woman, a priest and someone with sexual counselling skills was called for. I served for a term on General Synod when issues of sexuality and gender were on the agenda – the role of gay and lesbian clergy, and women bishops were to be debated, among other topics related to human sexuality.

 More recently, I have acted as convenor for an initiative of CSCS – the Theological Educators Group. This is an inter-denominational group of theologians in positions of responsibility for educating future church leaders and with a real concern that teaching and spiritual formation should prepare ordinands for the range of sexuality issues that they are likely to face in their ministry. After nearly three years of sharing experience and knowledge, this project is to come to fruition in July 2014 at the two day conference at Ripon College, Cuddesdon entitled ‘Embodied Ministry: Gender, Sexuality and Formation’.

I’m often reminded of the story of Elijah hiding in a cave when fleeing from the wrath of Jezebel (1 Kings:19) when he hears God asking him, “Why are you here?” Elijah’s answer, “Because of my great zeal for the Lord” would not go down too well with many of those with whom I work although it lies at the heart of what I do. For me, as with Elijah, God is often to be found, not in the earthquake or fire but in a “faint murmuring sound”. My presence is sometimes symbolic – affirming the church’s concern for issues of human sexuality. On other occasions I represent access to the ministry of the church to the vast numbers of believers who are not, or not yet, members of a church. This is of particular importance for those who feel themselves excluded from the church because of their sexuality or the nature of a close personal relationship. A colleague who is known and trusted and who speaks openly and with compassion about sexual matters can feel like a breath of fresh air to such troubled souls. This ‘go-between’ role has been evident, too, in my efforts to explain to the church the reality of the secular world I’m engaged in. Of course, it also works the other way when, inevitably, I’m challenged about church teaching and practice on sex and gender issues.

 I’ve seen many changes over this period, not least in the growing acceptance of women priests in the Church of England. Women were first ordained as deacons the year before my ordination and, five years later, we were ordained as priests. The validity of this (still not accepted by some) should be affirmed in the current legislation before General Synod on the consecration of women as bishops. We have still a way to go on the full acceptance of LGBT clergy but an increasing number are registering their relationships in civil partnerships. I hope and pray that another, future generation of ministers in sex employment will take forward the need for the church to engage in a more active and pragmatic way in the social and sexual education of young people – and not just those within our churches.

Jane Fraser

 The Revd Canon Jane Fraser is a Minister in Secular Employment and Dean of NSMs and MSEs in the Diocese of Worcester

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Teenage Pregnancy and the Christian churches – some practical suggestions for action

Pat Dickin

This paper proposes possible practical lines of action that could address the most pressing needs that require initial and immediate attention from the Christian Churches in order to start formulating an active response to the extremely high rate of teenage pregnancy in the UK.

There is a need for further training for youth workers and children’s workers. A cursory glance through training manuals for youth workers and Youth Ministers yields a surprising result: sexuality and teenage parenthood are not addressed in any form, perhaps supporting the misleading perception that teenage pregnancies will not happen if they are not spoken about. It is imperative that churches and training institutions train their workers to be more aware and prepared for the reality of teenage pregnancy, by gaining more information of the government and social services available in their local area; enquiring as to the nature of the rights and entitlements teenage parents have, finding out about counselling services in their area, and on making a decision (through the Diocese or church leadership) as to the education that will be imparted to the youngsters from the church. This “education” will entail dialogue and at times challenging the ‘official education’ of the denomination and taking a stance that might be acceptable to everyone at the start of the programme.

Make use of existing information and courses offered by charities in schools. There are some – although not numerous – charities that have already taken steps to address these issues. These charities and organisations have already collected relevant information and are well versed in the practical options available. Christian organisations could invite speakers (from organizations such as Care, or Options) to come to their premises to give talks to the leaders and ministers in the church, to inform the church’s own education but also to open new channels for teenagers to be able to talk openly about the pressures they are experiencing and explore, together with the church leadership and their parents, possible ways to respond, react and educate non-Christian teenagers with an informed Christian message.

Offer a breadth of Christian responses to pre-marital sex. As the analysis of the historical development of attitudes towards sexual relationships has shown, it is difficult to identify one single attitude towards sex as being the only and righteous approach. Because all these methods have reached secular society through higher education and research, the church is now in a position to choose which approach can be consistently taught.

The churches are in a unique position to offer other alternatives especially those relying on pastoral care, such as in-house relationships (“buddy system”) that would allow teenagers who found themselves in this situation to be able to talk with several trustworthy people within their community and in a safe environment.

To facilitate spaces and opportunities for parents to talk openly with their children about relationships and sexuality. These could take the shape of open days attended by parents and their children in which conferences, work-shops and discussion boards could open a dialogue across generations on relationships, sex, precautions, appropriate self-awareness and self-confidence, etc. Some people who were interviewed find this approach difficult to endorse, however SEU identified the need for conversation to be opened up between parents and teenagers. Lloyd & Lyth (2003) in their report about a one-off drama production and accompanying work-shops in a school in North Yorkshire identify, among other interesting points, that “although a high proportion of children felt that sex was not openly talked about between parents and their children, over 70 percent would have liked to talk to their parents.”

Kiddy (2002), after addressing the difficulty in making Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) in schools appealing and relevant to young boys and men, suggests that “community-based SRE can offer a viable alternative and should bring together parents, young people, faith groups and the wider community to address the issues of teenage pregnancy and sexual health”. This is one of the few mentions in secular writings of the possible involvement of faith communities in tackling the issue of unwanted teenage pregnancies, and it is done in the context of facilitating spaces for communication. The church and its community are in a unique position to offer a safe place for parents to come with their teenage children and learn together; this opportunity opens the door within the parent-child relationship to discuss a difficult topic from a common starting point. Taking up and building on these opportunities provides the church with an inimitable opportunity to extend its teaching and mission to families and teenagers; networking with other institutions in the secular world to provide the health education required, or simply providing parents with a moral and faith-full starting point to talk about the pressures their teenagers are facing from their peers.

A plan of action is necessary. Although the results will not be seen for many years, not taking any action at all (that is, continuing in the same train of action as at the moment: doing nothing) will have predictable results: a failure to reduce the scale of teenage pregnancies, with the consequential detrimental value laid on the family core; social, attitudinal and behavioural issues with the children of teenage parents, who according to the statistics are more likely to be involved in criminal activities and perform badly academically. It is not the church on its own that will bring the changes about. The government is already taking steps calling on the educational and health systems to take action and responsibility. The church needs to step in, use the power of influence over those it can still influence, and exert a positive teaching experience. The church has the opportunity to fill the faith and moral vacuum that is gripping British society that leads many people to search for ethical answers in other faith practices. This means that foremost, Christians must openly speak about Christian beliefs: the value of relationships and community links and support, and the belief in marriage as the future of the family and the community.

The church holds a great richness in her history, a history that remains alive in the present and that her leaders can draw on with ease. The church, and all Christians alike, therefore, have a great responsibility to address this issue and facilitate change. The timely reminder put forth by Grenz on the validity of celibacy as an option young people should be encouraged to consider, rather than feeling forced into sexual relationships by their peers and the media, should be taken up by the Christian organizations with the greatest urgency, and serve as a foundation to the message that not all sexuality needs to find its expression in genital sexual relationships (i.e. intercourse).

The paper from which this article is taken attempts to address and frame a theological scaffolding that could inform and shape a response – much overdue – by the Christian Churches to the social reality of teenage pregnancy. I aver that the need for a change in the way the church and her ministers talk, preach and teach about teenage pregnancy is born purely out of the pastoral and ethical responsibility the Christian Churches carry as embodying the greatest commandment: “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22.37-40). This love needs to find a practical expression to vulnerable and lost young people with the greatest urgency.

The church places the burden of sin on one third of British teenagers, those who by their own admission are involved in sex at very young ages and outside of marriage – the only acceptable place for sex to take place according to the official teaching of the majority of Christian Churches. For one of every three teenagers, the church is a place where they do not feel welcome, indeed where they have no inclination to go, as the perceived message they will receive is one of condemnation, exclusion and imposed guilt. The Christian Church has the opportunity to change this around: this necessarily requires the church to self-examine her teachings and re-assess where and why guilt is being placed. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbour as much as ourselves (Matthew 22.39; Mark 12.31) and without judging them (Matthew 7.1-3; Luke 6.37). It is therefore the church’s responsibility to teach, preach and proclaim, by word and example, a Christ-centred non-judgemental message that encourages positive relationships with others (our ‘neighbours’) within an equal society. This can only be translated in opening up dialogues where conversations have ceased, affirming relationships instead of domination, encouraging a self-examination of the individual where each person is re-affirmed rather than condemned, and gifts, talents and positive attributes are seen as assets and not as flaws.

This is the concluding section to ‘Teenage Pregnancy and the Christian Church’ by Patricia Margarita Lenton de Dickin submitted for the Degree of MA in Theology for Christian Mission and Ministry, May 2008

References

  • Biblical quotes are taken from The new Oxford Annotated Bible, New Revised Standard Version, (Metzger & Murphy, eds), New York: Oxford University Press
  • Grenz, S.J. (1997) Sexual Ethics: An Evangelical Perspective, UK: Westminster / John Knox Press
  • Kiddy, M. (2002) ‘Teenage Pregnancy: whose problem’ in Nursing Times, Vol 98, Issue 04, (24 January 2002), UK.
  • Lloyd, K. &Lyth, N. (2003) ‘Evaluation of the use of drama in sex and relationship education’ in Nursing Times, Vol 99, Issue 47 (25 November 2003)
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