Tag Archives: United Reformed Church

“We Are Vulnerable” – but “the Kingdom of Heaven Has Come Near”

In the communion service for the CSCS Theological Educators’ “Embodied Ministry” conference this week (July 2014), this was the homily delivered by Rev Carla Grosch – Miller:

Carla Grosch - Miller

Here are the signs that the kingdom of heaven has come near: unclean spirits are cast out; and every disease and sickness is cured. Jesus sent the twelve out to their own people, with authority to cast out, heal disease and sickness, and proclaim heaven’s nearness. Continue reading “We Are Vulnerable” – but “the Kingdom of Heaven Has Come Near”

Sexuality and the United Reformed Church

Roberta Rominger

With many others, I believe that Christianity requires a revolution in regards to sexuality. We must finally make peace with the fact of our physical existence and our physical relatedness to each other. It is not acceptable for us to face the world as people who are afraid and ignorant and condemning of what they do not understand.

The revolution I am talking about would have implications much wider than the issues we usually discuss under the heading of “sexuality”. With Rosemary Ruether, I believe that the way we regard our bodies has everything to do with the way we treat the planet and our fellow creatures. It has implications for racism and the relationship between the rich and the poor. It would even touch us in the United Reformed Church as we contemplate new structures, because much of the debate is focussed on how intimate we wish to be with fellow congregations and whom we will or won’t accept as bedfellows. We are seriously considering a new form of consensus decision making – again, an issue of relatedness. So it is an enormous project.

James B. Nelson puts it best for me:

Far more than genitality, our sexuality is our embodied ways of being in the world as female and male persons. With our varied gender understandings, our varied sexual orientations, our desires for deep sensuous touch with the world, our hungers for physical and emotional intimacy, we are all sexual beings from birth to death: celibate or genitally active, paired or single, living with disability or temporarily able-bodied, we are all sexual beings. And seen with the eyes of faith, human sexuality, I believe, is God’s way of calling us out of separation and loneliness into communication and communion. The bodily energy for all of our loves, the grounding of our passion for life, our possibility of mutuality and pleasure. Indeed, the sexuality of which we are speaking has such power in our lives, it is the source of such anxiety and fear, such joy, such shame, such yearning, such curiosity, it must be very close to the centre of things.

James B. Nelson,
Earl Lectures, Pacific School of Religion (Berkeley, California)
25 Jan 1994

Such a revolution cannot be legislated into existence. It cannot be imposed from outside. It comes from showing people a better way, which is where the work of CSCS has been so valuable.

In the United Reformed Church, mention of “human sexuality” immediately evokes the work we did on homosexuality in the 1990s. This began with a task group report urging the churches to take an open view of homosexuality as possibly within God’s plan for creation. The report was largely ignored. The issue came to the fore with two gay men who candidated for ministry. Both were approved for training, and one went off to college and completed his course. The other was barred from training by a college that said that they could not receive him in the absence of a URC policy about the ordination of gay and lesbian people.

Another task group was established, and we led a consultation process throughout the church, ultimately recommending various areas for further work and successfully arguing that, in the absence of a policy, the URC position should be to consider each candidate on his/her merits according to the usual discernment processes. The further work was done and General Assembly received a proposal for a policy statement which said that the URC welcomed and affirmed homosexual people within the life of church and society but could not affirm the acceptability of homosexual practice. This statement did not satisfy anybody and thus was rejected.

The position now is that the URC has no policy and has agreed to defer further consideration of the matter until 2007, a seven year moratorium. During this time discussion is meant to continue but no decision that would establish policy is to be taken. The moratorium has enabled the church to heal after the very divisive debates of the 1990s, but many people are conscious that 2007 is now just around the corner. This is one of the reasons the “consensus style” of decision making is being explored, to enable us to engage with each other more creatively in our councils when we find controversial matters on the agenda again.

In the meantime, we have been much involved in discussions about sexual abuse in the church, following the publication of CTBI’s Time for Action. The 2005 General Assembly adopted a “Charter for a Safe Church”, and work has begun in all the synods to raise awareness of issues around power, boundaries and appropriate behaviour. The United Church of Christ U.S.A. has an interesting story to tell at the moment. They hired a new communications director, and in December 2004 he launched a television advertising campaign that has transformed the church’s image for thousands of people.  You can see the advert on www.stillspeaking.org. There was an initial boost of publicity from an unexpected source, as two of the three major TV networks refused to broadcast the commercial, rejecting its message of radical inclusiveness as too controversial in George Bush’s America. Thus local ministers found themselves on the radio all across the country, boldly proclaiming a gospel of acceptance and healing. To date over seven million people have visited the website, and of these, 661,000 have entered their postcode into the box that says, “Where is my nearest UCC?”

Last summer’s General Synod passed a marriage equality declaration, proclaiming that everyone should have the right to marry. Forty-nine churches (less than 1%) left the denomination in protest, but 25 new ones have joined, with another 40 enquiries underway and new enthusiasm for church planting. See www.ucc.org.

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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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