A New British Bishop with the “Smell of the Sheep”

Pope Francis made major headlines when he chose not to live in the Vatican palace, but in smaller rooms at……, to carry his own luggage, and to drive a battered used car. This is fully in keeping with the Gospels and the practice of the early church – but in marked contrast to the ostentation and sumptuary of some of his predeccors, and some bishops. He has recommended similar simple lifestyles for his bishops, saying that he preferred them as shepherds of the faithful, to have on them “the smell of the sheep”.

Not all bishops have yet taken on board this new corporate culture, but here’s one who very decidedly does – Bishop John Keenan, newly appointed to the see of Paisley, Scotland:

New Catholic bishop chooses to live in deprived housing scheme

 

AS Scotland’s newest Roman Catholic bishop he could easily have opted for the opulent residence set aside for a man in his position.

CULTURAL SHIFT: Bishop John Keenan has said he is moving in order to be closer to the deprived and excluded members of society. Picture: Jamie Simpson

But Bishop John Keenan, who grew up in a high-rise in Maryhill, Glasgow, has shunned the more comfortable address to move into a parish house in a housing scheme in an area of multiple deprivation.

Explaining his decision, Bishop Keenan said the Catholic church was going through a cultural shift and would have to “adapt and change in order to be close to the people of our times”.

His first move as the new Bishop of Paisley has seen him decline to take up the detached sandstone villa in the town, in Renfrewshire, used by his predecessors, and move instead to a church property in Greenock’s east end.

In his first wide-ranging interview since being installed last month, Bishop Keenan has told of his concern that those in destitution have been “abandoned by society and the church”, adding he would reflect “a church out on the street not one that’s comfortable in the chapel”.

Echoing the stamp put on Catholicism by Pope Francis, the 49-year-old said there were still structures within the church restricting its ability to reach out to those on the margins of society.

Bishop Keenan said: “Exclusion is a scandal for a country that calls itself Christian.”

He has also spoken of the need to strip some power and responsibility in the church away from the clergy and hand it to lay members, adding he supported the Pontiff’s call for a “new reformation” within Catholicism.

via Herald Scotland.

 

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Church of England Bishops: “Retain Civil Partnerships”

When the UK government legislated for same – sex marriage last year, some unresolved issues remained around civil partnerships: would they disappear, or be retained as an alternative to marriage for same – sex couples? What would be the status of existing civil partnerships, would they be automatically converted to marriage, or would those couples have to take part in a deliberate conversion process? Should civil partnerships become available for opposite – sex couples, as a mark of full equality?

The government has been engaged in a public consultation process on these issues, for which the closing date is Thursday, April 17th.  The Church of England has now published its submission, which urges that these be retained as an option for same – sex couples, but should not be extended to opposite – sex couples.

civil-partners


“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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The Biblical Case for Gay Marriage

In Denver today, judges of the USA Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments for and against the ban on same – sex marriage in Utah. Next week, they will hear arguments for a similar case in Oklahoma. Both states are among the most conservative in the country, and where religion looms large. Much of the public opposition in both states is based on a religious belief that homosexuality and Christianity are incompatible, but the arguments in court will be secular, based on law and evidence, not theology and the bible.

gay union, in church


The Sexual Revolution Reaches the Catholic Church

When Pope Francis released his papal document “Evangellii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel)” in November 2013, it was enthusiastically received for its sound, humane and profoundly Christian take on so many issues facing the modern world. One notable feature was the complete absence of any reference to gay marriage or homosexuality, and little comment on the broader topic of human sexuality in all its forms. This seems surprising: one of the first challenges facing the Church to be identified by the Pope’s advisory group of eight cardinals, was the challenges facing marriage and family in the modern world – and Catholic bishops in many countries have been closely identified with fierce opposition to gay marriage, and its supposed threat to the family.

However, the reason for this omission is clear. Right in the opening paragraphs of the document, Francis explains up front that he has not attempted to cover everything of importance, because some things “require further study”.  It has become clear in the months since, how seriously the Pope and his advisors are taking this imperative for further study into matters of marriage, family, and human sexuality.  The study now under way is seen in several forms, most notably a global consultation on marriage and the family; a re-examination of the theology and history (especially of divorce, and communion for those who have remarried); and the experience in some countries, of gay marriage and civil unions.

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“God and the Gay Christian” (Matthew Vines)

For over half a century, since the pioneering work of Canon Sherwen Derrek Bailey, bible scholars have been reassessing what was one a commonly accepted view that the bible strongly and obviously condemned homosexuality. By the twenty first century, what was once a trickle of revisionist books on the subject has become a torrent: a book search on Amazon with the terms “bible” and “homosexuality” will turn up many more titles which either reject the traditional biblical view, or accept that there is room for disagreement, than those still insisting that the biblical view is hostile.

These reassessments, applying particularly to the six “clobber texts” take many different forms, varying from scholar to scholar and from verse to verse.  Some follow Bailey in pointing to internal Biblical evidence that contradicts the idea that the destruction of Sodom was because of same – sex practices. Others, notably William Countryman, show that the Levitical prohibition was part of the Jewish purity code, and so is not applicable to Christians, just as compulsory male circumcision and kosher dietary laws are not. Boswell and others deal with Paul’s complaint in Romans about men who act “against nature” with other males, by reminding us that for those with an inherently same – sex orientation, it is heterosexual, intercourse that is truly unnatural – and so the apparent prohibition does not apply. Still others have examined problems of translation and mistranslation or argued that the problem lies not in understanding or interpreting the texts, but in applying them to modern conditions and understandings of sexuality.

God and the Gay Christian

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