And here is an account of the proceedings themselves. Do any of our US friends know of the Reverend Mr Adams? Sounds like he would have the blessing of that other US "progressive" - Bishop Spong!
Irish ‘progressive’ Christians meet
By Canon Charles Kenny
About 40 people, clergy and lay, Roman Catholic, Anglican and Free Church, young and old, from North and South, turned up for a conference on ‘Progressive Christianity’ amid the beautiful setting of the Slieve Croob Inn near Castlewellan, Co. Down, from Thursday 31st October to Saturday 2nd November.
The keynote speaker, the Revd James Adams, was for more than 30 years rector of the episcopal St Mark’s church in Washington DC. There he emphasized that the hallmark of God’s people should be down-to-earth following in the footsteps of Jesus rather than doctrinal expertise or theological orthodoxy. Jim argues that this is in accordance with the procedure of Jesus himself and with the judgement of New Testament writers. (The essential message of the letter to the Ephesians is: "Love one another", not "Believe what you are told".) Also, as rector of a thriving parish church, Jim is convinced that a parish church with such a policy works in practice, attracting and enthusing churchgoers.
In 1994 Jim established The Centre for Progressive Christianity (TCPC) with a website of interesting, thought-provoking material. He is in contact with nearly 200 affiliated churches and faith communities in 25 countries throughout the world.
Under the heading ‘Religion doesn’t have to be irrelevant, ineffectual, repressive’ Jim introduced his listeners to his Eight Points. He invited us to join with Christians who (point 1) "follow the way to God that we have found in the life and teachings of Jesus" and (point 5) "think that the way we behave towards one another and other people is more important than the way we talk about our beliefs".
Formal response came from Sr Anne Codd who, while by and large accepting as valid the eight points, felt that perhaps there was a vagueness as to who "we" are whom people were invited to join; more definition is needed as to what exactly is this community of God’s people of which we are invited to become part.
Wayne Simmons spoke movingly of how fresh and appealing this Progressive Christianity is to one like himself who had abandoned the "narrow, mean-minded fundamentalist" Christianity he had grown up with in Belfast. He particularly appreciated point 6: "We find more promise in the quest for understanding than we do in absolute certainty."
Point 2 brings Progressive Christianity into conflict with some. We "respect people who follow other ways to God, acknowledging that their ways are as true for them as our way is true for us". On the Friday morning a member of the Belfast Jewish community and the president of Belfast’s Islamic Centre, after sharing breakfast at the same table, addressed us on being small minority communities in Northern Ireland.
The message of Dr David Warm and Jamal Iweida was as interesting as the respect they showed each other was heartening. The Christian audience was reminded by both speakers that all three traditions are of the People of the Book who share many prophets in common, and that the Golden Age of Spain when Jews, Christians and Moslems lived happily together was under centuries of Islamic rule. This godly situation ended when Christians took over. Dr Warm was forthright that "the Jewish experience of the Moslem world was more benevolent than of the Christian world".
Canon Hilary Wakeman spoke of her concern for the intellectual and moral integrity of contemporary Christians when in religious life we repeat phrases of a former age in a way we wouldn’t dream of in any other area of life. While appreciating that many are happy with the old ways she feared that increasing numbers are unwilling to listen thoughtlessly and to repeat in worship poetic phrases as if they were literally true. She offered an understanding of the perceived godliness of Jesus as an alternative to the Chalcedonian words.
There were further interesting contributions from a psychotherapist who believes she sees the results of secularism in some of her patients. C.G. Jung feared that decline in religion would cause great problems of loss of bearings and loss of meaning in life. Jung warned that religious symbolism arises from the deepest recesses of human consciousness and that the western world was endangering itself by squandering its Judaeo/ Christian heritage.
Friday’s banquet speaker, Dr William Patterson, a Methodist lay preacher, described his own odyssey to an informed faith via an RE teacher who encouraged thoughtfulness and serious questioning on the part of his pupils.
Entertaining storytelling on pagan and Christian hallowe’en, Scottish and Irish Gaelic music from CAIM, a Christian Celtic group, and Taiz+Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¬ meditations by the Revd Nigel Kirkpatrick and Michael Brush afforded spiritual sustenance to all ages and traditions. Finally, Anne Odling-Smee summed up the gratitude of all of us for the message of Jim Adams and his presence among us. She felt that all religious traditions in Ireland could learn from his vision of parish life.
As present-day Christians search for ways of relating faith to daily life in a way that would win the approval of Our Lord, the question must be raised, especially in Ireland, of doctrinal purity and alleged threats thereto. As we were reminded, even St Augustine commented: "If you think that you understand Him, it isn’t God." Those attending this stimulating conference are grateful to its originator and organizer, Wayne Simmons, a self-described recovering fundamentalist. Taste and see! www.tcpc.org
Canon Charles Kenny is a retired residentiary Canon of St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast.
Radicals meet in Co. Down
A conference of "progressive" Christians was held recently near Castlewellan, Co. Down. The main speaker was the Revd James Adams from the United States who outlined the principles of his Centre for Progressive Christianity, which places orthopraxis ahead of orthodoxy and which says that "progressive" Christians find more grace in the search for meaning than in absolute certainty.
Another speaker was Canon Hilary Wakeman who reportedly questioned the usefulness of at least some contemporary religious language. In an account of the gathering which he has sent to the Gazette (and which is published this week on page 5), Canon Charles Kenny, formerly of Belfast Cathedral, says that Canon Wakeman suggested "an understanding of the perceived godliness of Jesus as an alternative to the Chalcedonian words".
In an email from her home in Schull, Co. Cork, Canon Wakeman responded to a request from the Gazette to comment further on this: "What I believe we need to do is to try to get behind labels like ‘second Person of the Trinity’ to what the people who invented them were trying to say, about Jesus, about God. Because the labels have become meaningless; or, at least, [have become] no more meaningful than if I were to say that ‘the one I love is the sun and the moon to me’."http://gazette.ireland.anglican.org/221102/homenews221102.htm#6