A CONFERENCE sponsored by a group calling itself the Centre for Progressive Christianity? As a citizen of a country where even conservatives call themselves progressives and we know where that got them, this did not seem an attractive prospect. On the other hand, given the movements for retrogressive Christianity both inside and outside the Anglican Church, a quick trip across the water to St. Mark's Cathedral in Seattle, Wash., to see what progressives had to say appealed.
This was the third national forum for a group founded in 1994 by James Adams, an Episcopal priest who eventually took early retirement to devote himself to the Centre for Progressive Chrisianity, a movement aimed at "encouraging churches to care about people who find organized religion irrelevant, ineffectual, and repressive."
As the opening speaker at the conference, Mr. Adams made the point that while fundamentalist churches have enjoyed a boom in numbers up to now, which has encouraged mainstream churches to imitate them, statistics show that there are far more people who are alienated by doctrinal rigidities and authoritarian demands. At the same time those alienated often show a real desire for spirituality in their lives.
The theme was On the Road: Honouring Those Who Search. In a nutshell this meant that even if we admit we do not know everything, the religious journey is worth undertaking. The various workshops covered themes such as reclaiming the doctrine of creation from fundamentalism, the Chartres labyrinth as a spiritual tool, discovering life and spirit among the poor, the effect of Christian history in the shaping of contemporary attitudes about homosexuality, and worship for a new century - or how to avoid Jesus jingles in contemporary worship. A folk singer, a liturgical dancer and a final agape meal were other elements.
What can one make of this group of people?
There is an official definition of Progressive Christianity. Progressive Christians proclaim Jesus as our Gate to the Realm of God (John 10.7-9); recognize the faithfulness of people who have other names for the gateway to God's realm; understand the sharing of bread and wine in Jesus' name to be a representation of God's feast for all peoples; invite all sort and conditions of people to join in worship; think the way we treat one another and other people is more important than the way we express our beliefs; find more grace in the search for meaning than in absolute certainty; see ourselves as a spiritual community in which we find the resources for work in the world; recognize that faith entails costly discipleship, renunciation of privilege, and conscientious resistance to evil. …