Reflections on Building a Network for Progressive Christians

The group began by recognising that although most participants were members of TCPC, and at the conference looking for support, renewal, and recharging of batteries (as we feel that we plough a lonely furrow), others had come to the conference, and joined the workshop, in a spirit of inquiry, looking for guidance, help and a platform.

As our conversation progressed, we spoke much of the potential of TCPC- actually we got quite excited! We saw TCPC as:

 

1. a network — building connections, sharing ideas, dialoguing, pursuing questions and answers.

2. helping people to act locally, to form groups of like-minded individuals, within and outside congregations.

3. drawing in other sympathetic groups, and networks of groups, offering support and valuing their gifts: but we wondered whether we were ready to speak for TCPC and progressive Christianity; spreading the message calls for action and integrity!

4. needing to have a clear vision of purpose and action orientation, if we are to be an effective tool to —

  • affect congregations and renew the Church,
  • in its theology
  • towards a ministry of inclusivism
  • using education as an agent of change
  • so that they engage locally in social action, politically, through School Boards
  • play a greater part in calling priests and bishops and stimulating local leadership.

For this latter aim, we value and need the directory of progressive churches and communities (like the Foundation of Contemporary Theology).

We saw the key to all this as lying in the Internet, using local, regional and national web sites, but we had some questions, including:

How do we envision ourselves, fund ourselves, and network ourselves effectively? And we had a warning: we must be ready for difficulties, and be ready to offer support to one another, which is where we came in!!

In our follow-up session, we gave further consideration to how we should work at all this, locally. We felt that there was the need to start small, listing those interested in the locality, and getting them to draw in their friends. We really need a core group in every city!

The group should set about gathering information, listing sympathetic organisations, setting up speakers and events which both support the aims of TCPC and spread the message. Use the e-mail to link to regional and national centres, so that we build up useful contacts, courses, resources.

As a result of all this the Houston group set about its own formation(1), and we wondered what had happened in Columbia following the previous conference. Would they like to tell us? Is this how the work will spread- mainly through the annual conferences??

A Personal Perspective

My own interest in TCPC springs from a chance meeting with Jim Adams in Salisbury in 1972 leading to 25 years of friendship with a kindred spirit, and 35 years of ministry in the Anglican Church working through education to build a more effective church: so progressive Christianity is a must! However, I have been conscious that the difference in our cultures does possibly lead me to take a slightly different perspective on the place and value of TCPC.

At the first Forum, the emphasis was really, as I saw it, on questions of inclusivism at the expense of an emphasis on questions about how we could influence the church. That emphasis was, for me, somewhat redressed at the second Forum, but we still need to recognise the overwhelming need for a clear vision of our purpose, which is surely more than the quest for social justice; it is the challenge to build the Kingdom of God. Inclusivism, for example, is an issue not just for the sake of the individual but because we need to complete the body of Christ for the work of God in the world. Such a stance has theological and practical implications. We should be concerned not just about healing creation but about releasing the potential in creation, and it may mean putting the Kingdom before the Church and the Church before the individual.

If this is so, then we need to think very carefully about how we can best influence the wider church. My own experience would suggest the need for the building of fellowship, the nurture of the faithful and the continuous challenge to engage with the world. It is a slow process, equipping the people of God for the work of God, and difficult, but the value of cells of prophetic challenge, within Christian communities rather than outside them, is enormous. TCPC has the potential to create such cells, sustained and supported from the centre, which can live what they preach, and so influence the Church that it too lives what it preaches and brings in, by the grace of God, his Kingdom on earth — as it is in heaven!!

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