Tag Archives: Theological educators

“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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Prepared for Reality? The slow-moving world of theological education

Alison Webster

 I had a rather startling conversation the other day with a friend of mine – an academic theologian who teaches ordinands as well as ‘ordinary students’. He said to me that the curriculum they teach has altered hardly at all in the last twenty years.

As a social justice adviser in the Church of England, I guess at some level I knew this. If I had a tenner for every conversation I’ve had about how to address important social issues in theological education that went as follows, I’d be a rich woman:

Me (to anyone in charge of any kind of theological education – ordination training, CMD/CME, IME): “It seems really important that those in training for ministry should have some grounding in (insert any social issue: domestic abuse, mental health, community development, gender, sexuality, physical disability, learning disability, rural contexts, urban contexts and poverty, social care, ageing, etc), so that they are equipped to deal with practical and pastoral issues that are likely to arise in the parishes in which they serve/will be serving.”

Theological educator: “Yes, I agree with you, but what you have to realise is that the curriculum is already very intense and overcrowded with essential things like Biblical studies, church history and homiletics. We simply don’t have the space for other things. And even if we did, we can’t simply open up the curriculum to a shopping list of enthusiasms that various individuals lobby us about”.

Me: “So how will your students learn about these issues that will certainly be real for them in ministry?”

Theological educator: “Well, the best we can do is to put on specialist and optional theme weeks that students can opt into. Or they learn ‘on the job’ once in active ministry.”

This is how it was when I worked for the Institute for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality (forerunner of CSCS) in the early to mid 1990s, and apparently it is the same now. Anglican colleagues of mine organise, or help to deliver, theme weeks on issues such as rural ministry, the spiritual care of older people; pastoral studies (which can include sessions on, for instance, domestic abuse and disability) and gender/sexuality. But as far as I know, there is as yet no curriculum which takes the simple yet revolutionary step of organising the curriculum around human reality, bringing the resources of scripture and church history into play to inform and stimulate appropriate responses to the challenges that face real people, with real needs and gifts, in real communities.

I well remember being asked to help resource a theme week at an ecumenical theological college back in the 90s. The briefing I had in advance was rather farcical – along the lines of, “If you tackle the issue of marriage, and sex outside marriage, please bear in mind the fact that our former Principal was dismissed because he left his wife for another woman…Oh, and if you really must address homosexuality, then please be aware that we had an infamous case here 10 years ago where two women declared they were in love with one another, and both of them left without being able to get a job with their respective denominations. Oh, and I nearly forgot, your co-presenter is a closet gay priest, so be sensitive to the fact that he will be studiously trying to avoid being asked difficult questions, or discussion of any issues that get too close to the bone”. And so it went on. Apparently any discussion of relationships and sexuality had to pussy-foot around any and every difficult internal issue, when each of these issues was only ‘difficult’ because the institution itself and the denominations it served, were totally unable to talk sensibly and openly and the vagaries of human sexuality. It was a bit like being asked to coach a sports team to perform well in a sport where the rules were secret, and changeable only by those in charge.

Needless to say, I ignored all the restrictions suggested to me. I took care to establish ground rules at the beginning that, as far as possible, made the learning environment a ‘safe space’ in which the students could really explore issues, and challenge one another, knowing that whatever they said in that environment would not be used against them in the future. I recall having some excellent and enlightening discussions with the students, who found it refreshing to discuss together their thoughts, feelings, anxieties, concerns and (surprise surprise) joys, about human relationships. And reflecting on themselves as sexual beings in ministry was a new departure for them. It was a pity that this learning environment was, for them, for a few days only, and exceptional. How much better would it have been if their whole curriculum had been founded on such honest and open exchanges?

When it comes to theological education about gender and sexuality, there are important theo-political issues at stake. Official church responses to the Equal Marriage Bill remind us, yet again, of how ‘complementarity’ is set forth as a veritable doctrine of the faith: men and women are created to be ‘different’, and it is in the formation of heterosexual couples that human beings become ‘whole’. This, in its entirety, IS the basis of official church responses to all issues pertaining to gender and sexuality. How can good education take place with such paucity of thought at the church’s theological heart?

The tragedy of the CoE’s approach to equal marriage is that it exposes how that institution has insulated itself from developments in other intellectual disciplines over the last thirty years or so. It’s getting on for 25 years since I wrote my book Found Wanting, in which, when reflecting on the lives of women who came into conflict with the church’s teachings on sexuality (either because they were single, divorced, sexually abused by men, or lesbian or bisexual), I coined the phrase, ‘the curse of complementarity’, as this idea seemed to be the foundation of all forms of oppression experienced by women.

The idea that women are ‘equal but different’ is given the lie in most strands of Christian thought, in that it is part of men’s role (conveniently for them) to be those who define the roles of men and women. Women’s role is to be submissive, and do what we’re told – an idea so deep rooted that it came back to the fore in some of the arguments about the role of women as Bishops.

If the church, or the theologians that are supposed to inform it, had not actively put their hands of their ears for the last three decades, and remained resistant to developments in gender studies, post-colonial studies, queer theory, etc, they may have developed tools to engage with the new philosophical world that now informs our social context. Apart from inventing ‘radical orthodoxy’ as a way of dealing with truth claims from different disciplines (the theological response which just says, ‘we have the primal form of revealed truth; all other forms of truth are subservient to it and derivative of it, therefore we don’t really need to listen to them), how different might the church’s response have been to the Equal Marriage Bill? How different might our theological education be, and how much better prepared for reality might generations of minsters in training have been?

Alison currently works as the Social Responsibility Adviser for the Diocese of Oxford. She ran the Institute for the Study of Christianity and Sexuality from 1990 to 1994, and co-founded the international journal, Theology and Sexuality

Celebrating our Sexuality: Preparing future Church Leaders for Pastoral Care

Brendan Callaghan SJ

  1.  Jesuit, Catholic priest & (NHS clinical) psychologist by training

  2.  main mission has been teaching Psychology of Religion @ Heythrop (1980- 2010)

  3.  also involved with formation of Jesuits ordinands

  4.  at request of Jesuit Centre of Spirituality at Loyola Hall outside Liverpool, developed workshops in area of sexuality

    1. o originally for spiritual directors and retreat givers

    2. o then used extensively with ordinands

    3.  and with those already in ministry

  5.  more recently been involved with Safeguarding/Child Protection work on behalf of the British Jesuit Province

How to help people grow?

  1.  trying to steer course between

    1. o “French” approach (“…l’humanité, c’est quoi?”)

    2. o “USA” approach (“…and how was it for you, then?”)

  2.   some approach which doesn’t simply discuss abstract principles, but which doesn’t demand inappropriate self-disclosure

  3.  looking for a way of opening-up discussion around issues of sex and sexuality

    1. o mostly in a setting where celibate living is expected (and committed to by vow)

  4.  not an easy task

    1. o lots of vulnerabilities involved

    2. o no “track history” of such discussions

Actual practice in workshops is a mixture:

  1.  some didactic input

    1. o overall schemas of psychosexual development (c.f. extract)

    2.  drawing on different psychological perspectives

    3. o input on contemporary understandings of sexual orientation

    4. o and usually some input on abusive sexual behaviours and their consequences

  1.  work with imaginary-first-person-stories (c.f. sample)

    1. o not a “scenario” about which to talk

    2.  but an individual to whom to respond:

    3.  “what would I say to X if they told me their story?”

    4. o produces a slightly but usefully different dynamic

  2.  stories read individually, then discussed in small groups, then plenary

  3.  part of introduction is making explicit the possibility that some of a story might be my story

    1. o I have the possibility of exploring and discussing aspects of my story without going further in self-disclosure than I am ready for.

Some Reflections

  1.  my experience (with ordinands at least) is very specific

    1. o all RC ordinands are men, and committed to celibacy

    2. o women religious also have formal commitments to celibacy

  2.  cultural questions are to the point:

    1. o different national cultures

    2.  and different “subcultures” (churches/congregations/religious orders)

    3.  have very different assumptions about what can and cannot be spoken of.

  3.  crucial area of ministerial formation

    1. o lack of growth can produce individuals

    2.  who are dangerously repressed, out of touch with their own sexuality

    3.  and vulnerable to acting-out in inappropriate ways

    4.  who are too immature and anxious to be of service to others

    5.  either in areas concerning sexual issues or in any form of ministry which requires them to engage with another beyond the superficial

    6. o continuing growth can produce individuals

    7.  not only aware of “their own fallibility and limitations”

    8.  but reasonably comfortable with their own sexuality

    9. o and so able to help others be comfortable raising sexual issues

    10.  a valuable gift in ministry – and for “ministerial educators” 

PSYCHOSEXUAL MATURING: adapted from Ferder & Heagle, Your Sexual Self, Notre Dame, 1992

A) ADOLESCENCE:

Phase 1 – Sexual fantasising:

- Rehearsal for relationships

- Male-Female differences in sexual fantasising

- The ethical issue

Phase 2 – Psychosexual preoccupation:

- Physical Changes and Personal Appearance

- Peers and Social Pressure

- Subcultures

- Personal Identity

Phase 3 – Relational Exploration:

- Falling in Love

- Normal Narcissism

- Levels of Physical Expression

B) PSYCHOSEXUAL MUTUALITY:

- Accurate self-knowledge

- Empathy

- Interpersonal Sensitivity

- Trust

- Equality

- Capacity for Self-Disclosure

- Spontaneity

C) ONGOING INTEGRATION:

LEVEL ONE: Basic characteristics of psychosexual maturity

  1.  Deepening personal awareness and good self-knowledge

  2.  Body comfort and a sense of being at home in our skin

  3.  The capacity for intimacy, incarnated in sustained and consistent involvement in close personal relationships characterised by

    1. a. honesty and trust

    2. b. fidelity

    3. c. awareness and openness about one’s expectations

    4. d. self-disclosure that is appropriate to the level of the relationship

    5. e. open communication of feelings

    6. f. physical expressiveness that fits with the level of commitment and closeness in the relationship

    7. g. avoidance of control, manipulation, and abuse

  4.  Faithfulness to primary commitments

  5.  Adequate knowledge of sexual anatomy and physiology, as well as current information on sexual issues and concerns

  6.  Comfort using sexual words and talking about sexual realities in appropriate settings

  7.  Not ‘overspiritualizing’ sexual realities or engaging in emotional/psychic denial in relationship to them

  8.  Ability to make appropriate decisions and commitments involving sexuality

  9.  Taking responsibility for one’s sexual expressions and behaviour

  10.  Awareness of past hurts or traumas around sexuality and the willingness to take steps towards healing

LEVEL TWO: Signs of deepening psychosexual integration

  1.  A growing congruence between our personal behaviour and our public, social commitments; a sense of integrity about our lives

  2.  The ability to name and articulate our sexual story in an appropriate setting, and to understand how it has influenced our lives and relationships

  3.  A psychic and emotional balance between our sexual life and other aspects of living; neither being preoccupied with sexuality nor denying its place in our life

  4.  Growing integration between the human and the holy, between our sexual energy and our spirituality

  5.  An attitude of compassion rather than self-righteousness in relation to other peoples’ sexual behaviour

  6.  A deepening sense of generativity, i.e. the experiential knowledge that our presence to and with other people is life-giving and nurturing

  7.  Inclusivity in our relationships, without diminishing the depth of our primary commitments.

TOM’S STORY:

(Tom is a Roman Catholic priest, ordained after promising lifelong celibacy)

I’ve been a priest for twenty years now: I don’t suppose I am a very good one, but I know that I am a lot better priest as a result of my relationship with Sheila than I would be otherwise. We are not very unusual, Sheila and I, you know: we know of at least two other priests who have lovers in my own diocese alone. You wouldn’t know – you wouldn’t be able to guess, I mean. It’s all very discreet: none of this over-the-top american stuff here. But we are lovers: we weren’t for a long time, because we both took, and continue to take, the matter of priestly celibacy pretty seriously, but it slowly became obvious that we both wanted to sleep with each other, and that our relationship had reached a point of commitment where this made sense; well, more than ‘made sense’, more ‘was inevitable and natural’.

How do I fit this in with being a priest? Well, I’m certainly a better priest than I was, if you measure this in terms of compassion and openness to others. And you don’t have to take my word for it: a number of people who have known me in the various parishes where I have worked say just that, quite without knowing what has made the difference. I took on celibacy as part of a package: I knew God wanted me to be a priest, and I knew in seminary that I was not going to find it easy to live celibate, but I was sure that if God wanted me as a priest, then he would help me live as a priest: and he has! Sheila and I meet up regularly: my housekeeper at the presbytery is very amused by the devotion I show to the weekly clergy golf match, but she has never worked out how long I spend on the course and how long with Sheila at my own house outside the town. It’s one day of domesticity, really: apart from our holidays, which we take together most times, it’s the only time we get with each other. But it’s enough, though we are looking forward to eventually retiring and moving in together.

I know our relationship isn’t within the rules of celibacy, but they’ve long been honoured as much in the breach as in the observance, and I know what I am capable of, and what I am not capable of: I cannot live without an active intimate relationship, and nor can Sheila. No-one gets hurt by our relationship, because it only involves the two of us. In fact, lots of people gain, because of the beneficial effect it has on my priesthood and ministry. I look around at some of the old bachelors in the diocese, and I find myself thinking that they would be much the better off – as priests as well as human beings – if they had a lover. And I look at the men whose live-in housekeepers are more than just that – and there are certainly a few such arrangements in every diocese -and I think, “what’s so different about Sheila’s and my arrangement?”

What of my prayer-life? That, too, has been helped by Sheila. We pray the office together when we meet, and when we are on holiday it is a regular feature of our day. But more than that, loving Sheila has taught me how to get outside my own preoccupations and self-concerns, and that really has changed me. I’m not a romantic – I never have been – but I know what moves me and how I grow, and my relationship with Sheila has brought me closer to the Lord.

Carla Grosch-Miller:

It was the beginning of the second day of a course titled Sex and ministry: ‘living with the urgent power of the erotic’1I hadn’t slept well. The first day had ended with a strong statement offered by a participant that sex only belonged in marriage and marriage was God-ordained between one man and one woman. No one had risen to articulate a different view.

I had laboured to make the space safe and open. The participants in this course held diverse theological viewpoints; I had hoped that we could teach each other as we explored the topic. One of the three ‘S’s’ that shapes my teaching is space that respects the sanctity of the individual. In the first session, after I introduce myself and my assumptions (which include that all four sources of theology are of value and that each of us will weight those sources differently), I ask the group to create Rules of the Road: guidelines to enable respectful and searching conversation among people with diverse viewpoints. This group had included in those Rules:

  • Be open to where others come from; open mind – open heart

  • Disagreement is with ideas; respect the idea-holder

I view my educator role as providing information and making the space for participants to engage it and each other. When a viewpoint is expressed particularly strongly, I expect (or may ask for) opposing viewpoints to emerge from other participants. At the end of the first day in this course, in response to the strong statement articulating the traditional view, that had not happened. As I tossed and turned that night, I wondered if, in my striving to make the space safe for all, I had leaned too far in one direction.

At breakfast the next day, another participant approached and asked if he could talk to me. He said I’m really angry about how the class ended yesterday. I’ve been angry all night. I felt like I was being told that I was not a Christian. ‘Can you say more?’ I asked. He then told me his story: a story of a young man active in church struggling with his sexuality who, when he had his first sexual experience with another man, was full of self-loathing. He became strident in his opposition to homosexuality, as insistent as others had been the day before that sex was for married heterosexual couples….until he couldn’t bear the dissonance between what his heart knew and what he wished he could live up to. He told his vicar about his struggle – who promptly removed him from all church responsibilities and let him know that there was no room in the church for him. He continued to wrestle issues of sex and faith until he came to accept who he was and discovered a renewed and deepened faith that in time blossomed into a vocation for ministry. I asked him if he would be willing simply to tell his story at the start of the day’s class, and he said yes.

I began day two recalling that there are four sources of theology – scripture, tradition, reason and experience – and that they each had value and they each had problems. Three quarters of the first day had been spent mining the Bible and tradition for sexual attitudes and assumptions, and the class had come to understand that biblical sexual ethics are quite different from what we call Christian family values today. We had looked at ancient Hebrew culture, where women were considered domestic and sexual property, fertile women needed to bear five live children to replace their generation, and most births ended in death before the child reached its first birthday. Concern for procreation, property rights, and purity laws that kept the Hebrew people distinct from their Promised Land neighbours had created a sexual ethic that included polygamy, concubinage, levirate marriage, rules allowing rape in war with distant enemies, and the requirement that a rapist marry his Hebrew victim. We noticed the New Testament’s relative lack of concern about sexual matters and how a central message of the gospels was that people’s relationship was no longer determined by following physical purity laws, but by purity of heart: loving God and neighbour as self. We traced the development of Christian sexual ethics, shaped by the revulsion of the body present in late antiquity and dualistic and misogynist thinking, hearing Tertullian describe women as ‘the devil’s gateway’ and Jerome say ‘Blessed is the man who dashes his genitals against a rock’We noted how the development of Christian sexual ethics was a journey that attempted to modulate a basically negative view of sex by first finding it acceptable for procreative purposes and later a good for the sake of the communion of husband and wife. We then took a detour into contemporary times and heard what Freud, Jung, Kinsey, Fisher and others had to say about sex and love, its psychological importance and its neurological components. After all of this, we began to write and post on the wall theological principles that would enable us to think theologically and pastorally about sex. It was then that the strong statement was made, just minutes before the end of the day.

Now it was day two. I said that at the conclusion of the previous day, we had heard a strong articulation of a scriptural and traditional view of the place of sex in human life, and asked if there were any other viewpoints, perhaps drawing on other sources of theology. The man who had approached me at breakfast raised his hand and gently and simply told his story.

The impact of the story was to transform the space, opening and warming it. Others thanked him for his courage in sharing; there was acknowledgement by voices who held the “heterosexual marriage only” viewpoint that, while their opinions on the topic of homosexuality were strong, there was a need for pastoral sensitivity when dealing with this subject. That sensitivity was embodied by many and diverse people on diverse topics as the course progressed.

Whenever I teach in this area, I move from exploring scripture and tradition and identifying theological principles to the link between sexuality and spirituality. I said at the beginning that there are three ‘S’s’ that shape my teaching. The first is the setting up of a space that respects the sanctity of the individualThe second ‘S’ is structure: the course can be envisioned as a drama with three acts. Act One locates us as Christian people in the 21 century, reviewing biblical, traditional and contemporary views of sex and gender and teasing out theological themes that may help in thinking theologically and pastorally about sex. I begin with the Bible and tradition because whenever we deal with sexual issues in a church context, we bring our understandings of them, as well as our personal experience. We need to reflect critically on what the Bible and tradition actually say and what assumptions lie beneath those sources.st We then need to identify theological principles that help us to think about and respond to sexual issues.

The second Act of the drama introduces a new thought landscape, drawing on the link between sexuality and spirituality, and enables a new framework for Christian sexual ethics that affirms the goodness of the gift of sexuality. After a mini lecture about how both sex and spirit are operant in identity, development, relationship, creativity and transcendent experience, I ask the group to formulate a new framework for Christian sexual ethics: one premised not on procreation, property and ancient purity concerns, but rather on the aspiration to live out one’s sexuality sacramentally. Informed by the theological thinking in the first third of the course, the group articulates a holistic view of sex as gift and self-giving, using ‘thou shalt’ as a template. The lists generated come to include such things as: Thou shalt know, love, accept and become/be oneself; treasure the other and seek their flourishing; be faithful in relationship; be willing to learn to give and receive pleasure; nourish the fruits of the Spirit; be open to healing, transformation, grace and creativity.

Act Two also includes the opportunity to do autoethnographic work. One of the convictions I bring to this work is that that training for ministry must engage personal experience.2 Self-knowledge and self-awareness are key tools in enabling good ministry, which includes preventing sexual misconduct. Our personal knowledge of our own sexual experience and attitudes is subjugated, tacit knowledge.3Whenever I teach in this area, I invite participants to do reflective writing throughout the course– using oblique and not so oblique methods to enable them to uncover the experiences and attitudes that shape where they are in their sexual formation. Methods include: word-association; icon/image identification; reflective writing of prose and/or poetry; autobiographical ‘life lines’ for sexual and spiritual events; boundaried conversation. No one is required to share anything personal. Some do share personal information with the larger group, and some do not. In individual interviews conducted after the event, I have been struck by the identification of vulnerability and working through of early sexual experience those methods had facilitated.

In class, after giving time to work autoethnographically, I invite participants into pairs for a reflective listening exercise on the topic of ‘sexuality and spirituality’. In the plenary after the exercise, as the group reflects on what it is like to speak of such holy things and what it is like to listen, it is common for the room to be hushed and reverent as people acknowledge the privilege and the challenge of ‘hearing one another into speech’4.

Act Three takes us to the streets, addressing the nitty gritty of sex in ministry and enabling work with sexual issues, our own and those of others. The third ‘S’ guiding this work is most explicit here – Safety. Not just safety in the space opened up for honest exploration, but safety in the practice of ministry. One of the primary goals of this course is to enable people in the church to inhabit their vocations in a way that is healthy and safe for themselves and for their ministry settings. I became a church sex worker because of the shocking prevalence and potentially devastating impact of ministerial sexual misconduct: a Canadian study suggests that ministers transgress sexual boundaries with someone in their care at a rate of twice that of secular counsellors.5 I wanted to understand how better to prevent the suffering caused when ministers transgress sexual boundaries.

Thus the last third of the course works on safety in ministry: looking at boundaries, power, vulnerability and intimacy in ministry; considering the prevalence and impact of ministerial sexual abuse; and working with scenarios in pastoral ministry. Space is made to enable people to raise sexual issues in pastoral ministry. Issues that arise include pornography, sex addiction, marriage preparation, bereavement as a time of heightened sexual desire, youth work. The discussions I’ve witnessed have been frank, self-revealing and compassionate.

The final scene in Act Three is called taking good care, the focus of which is that self-knowledge, self-esteem, self-awareness and self–care are some of our most important tools in ministry. We look at the expectations of others in the ministry settings and our own, and labour to articulate how we may manage those expectations for the good of all.

At the end, I do a quick what worked and what could work better evaluation. Invariably people remark that the course should be required (if it is not already), that learning what the Bible and tradition really say is important, and that having a place in the church to struggle honestly and holistically with sexual issues is essential for these times.

The title of today’s exploration is Celebrating our Sexuality: Preparing Future Church Leaders for Pastoral Care. Good pastoral care is informed, sensitive and safe pastoral care. Good pastoral care is about the pastoral carer communicating in her body and by her words a sense of welcome and hospitality, and having at her disposal tools to enable light and space for sexual issues to be expressed and wrestled. The pastoral carer brings with her attitudes about Biblical and traditional sexual ethics and her own life experience, attitudes and experiences she has hopefully had an opportunity to work through. She also carries the imprimatur of church authority; she’s been given a role, a certification of approval, to hold these sensitive areas. She needs to be adequately prepared to wrestle scripture and tradition and know where she stands and why; to respond to contemporary understandings of sex and sexuality; to listen sensitively as others wrestle these questions themselves; and to articulate a holy and holistic ethic that enables the living out of sexuality sacramentally.