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The Progressive Christian Network of Victoria, Dec. 2017

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 The Progressive Christian Network of Victoria Inc. 76 Coppin Street, Malvern East, Vic 3145

Association A0048832S ABN 93 004 530 948 Newsletter editor: David Merritt
http://www.pcnvictoria.org.au Email: info@pcnvictoria.org.au
PCNV – The first eleven years - and
creative possibilities for the future
There was a special “Gathering of Members”
before the AGM on 19 November – to
recognise the contribution of members to the
Network and to hear the ideas of members
about what has meant most to them up to
this point and their ideas for creative and
resalistic possibilities for the future.
Encouaged by refreshments including an
African style afternnon tea, time to mingle
and purposeful conversation in groups, the
ideas flowed for the Committee to work on.
See the special report on pages 2 and 3
Pages 2-3: “What has meant most to me
about PCNV” & “Creative and practical
possibilities for the future of PCNV”
Page 4: “Facing another Christmas”
Pages 5-7: A new template for religion.
Using the word “worship”?
Pages 7-9: Lectures and books by Professor
Hal Taussig
Page 9: PCNV program for 2018
Achieving a modest purpose
The Progressive Christian Network of Victoria started in 2006 with eight to ten people sitting around
a table exchanging stories of their disenchantment with churches and hearing three people recently
returned from a Westar Institute conference in USA share the inspiration of that gathering which
explored more contemporary perspectives on the Christian tradition.
Now PCNV has been going for more than eleven years.
As well as over 100 meetings on chosen topics in a variety of formats, there have been seminars
by national and international scholars, guest speakers from other religions and Aboriginal
Australians, cooperative interfaith ventures with Muslims for Progressive Values (now the Muslim
Collective), a DVD of resources about Open Christianity, literally thousands of books from
Progressive Christian authors around the world sold through John and Robyn Smith’s bookstalls,
around 12 groups in Victoria loosely related to Progressive Christianity, assistance in the founding
of the young adult venture “Beyondering”, 8 to 10 newsletters each year, and opportunities to meet
like-minded people.
The recent ‘Gathering of Members’ was an opportunity to look back and ask what it has meant –
and to look ahead and ask how we could be more effective. Behind each brief report described in
the following pages is a story of encouragement and hope: “I thought I was an outcast but found
out there was a group I could identify with”. “Finding like-minded people.” “Appreciate the
scholarship”. “A platform for people to discuss their faith”.
A network is not a simple organisation to nurture. It requires both appreciation of the diverse
interests of its members and enough people to volunteer to carry through the necessary tasks to
respond to those interests. Our President when presenting the Annual Report for this year stated
that it might have been our best year. If so that is a tribute to the nearly 300 people who are the
Network, providing financial support, participation, encouragement and vision for coming years.
In a special “Gathering of Members”, groups of 4 to 6 people discussed two questions. The first
was about their experiences up to this time. The second was about possibilities they saw for the
future. They were asked to focus on creative possibilities but also to take into account what could
be practical. The ideas recorded were from individual members and did not necessarily have
support from others in their group.
The Committee has already begun to think about the creative possibilities for the future as it is
working on the program for the middle of next year. (Planning for the program for the first part of
next year needed to begin before the Gathering of Members).
From the “Gathering of Members”, November 19, 2017
In a large number of ideas some themes emerged:
An effort has been made to retain original wording rather than to interpret notes
• “I thought I was an outcast but found out there was a group I could identify with”
• Finding like-minded people
• Meeting progressive people beyond my own congregation
• “To meet others who thought in other ways than the “Magic God”. A liberating experience
for me”
• A delight to find so many interested in progressive Christianity
• Discussions that focussed attention on the problems facing progressives in their own
• Appreciate the scholarship
• Meetings for critical exploration
• Critical analysis and symbolic possibilities
• PCNV provides a more rational methodology
• Divinity lectures have been helpful eg. Hal Taussig
• Richard Rohr, Julian Burnside, Morwood, Val Webb, Spong, etc
• A speaker who has attracted me and my friends
• Speakers from other faiths and other denominations
• Panel input
• Common Dreams
• John Smith’s visit to Geelong
• A platform for people to discuss their faith
• Affirming your own beliefs
• Newsletters
• The speaker’s notes – a great help
• Beyondering (especially for young people)
From the “Gathering of Members”, November 19, 2017
In a large number of ideas some themes emerged strongly:
An effort has been made to retain original wording rather than to interpret notes
• A new website. “Kept up to date”. “Find someone to do it or take it down”
• A Facebook page – to gain more interest in the wider and church communities
• Articles in “Crosslight” and other journals.
• Present PCNV views to churches
• How can “we” promote these ideas beyond “us”
• Public comments on social justice issues
• An alternative Christian public voice
• More focus on communities
• We cannot just rely on good teachers. Need action. What actions?
• Support groups of PCNV to do things
• Groups for action – support or do
• Ideas for making the world a better place
• Issues – not in abstract
• We need more creative and realistic possibilities for the future of the church
• “Supper clubs” – The role of food in informal creative get-togethers
• Series of discussions – “We do the work”
• Do home groups have a place, especially in the country?
• Expand from books to an educational opportunity
• Common Dreams conferences VIP
• Variety of experiences – spiritual, theological, creative – art/music
• How to tap into groups that do have creative worship, liturgy
• Meditation. Ways of meditating and meditative supports in progressive worship
• Sourcing resources for progressive worship eg. music, hymns
• Leadership
• How do ministers unpack ‘myths’ and keep people in congregations
• Listening! How to do this in communities. Networking – we need to move out into the
• Multi-faith. Leading the dialogue
• Understanding other values and spiritual paths
• Dealing with distance
• What’s Christian about it? Revitalise church
• What is “church”. Ambience? Activities? Statement “representing” Christian faith
• How do we better get in touch with the spirit within/God within?
• How much does PCNV know about Beyondering? Does Beyondering need to be better
• Bible stories told in modern language
• The$wealth$of$written$material$is$too$big$for$each$of$us$to$read!$Could$PCNV$offer$summaries$eg.$On$
Well here we go again, friends, facing another Christmas. The big stores are
posting huge advertisements, notifying us of major sales, playing Christmas music
and of course wherever you go there is a Santa Claus. …
First, why are we celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25th? We know he was probably born
between 6 and 4BCE and we also know he was not born in December. …
… the early Christians did not celebrate Jesus’ birthday until the fourth century. Up until that
point, the most important holiday on the Christian Calendar was Easter. Then as Christianity
began to grow in the Roman world, church leaders had to contend with a popular pagan holiday,
commemorating the “birthday of the unconquered sun” (natalis solis invicti)–the Roman name for
the winter solstice. At the same time, Mithraism–worship of the ancient Persian god of light–was
popular in the Roman army, and the cult held some of its most important rituals on the winter
It was around this time the Roman Emperor Constantine I converted to Christianity, in 312. He
soon sanctioned Christianity, and more than likely instructed church leaders to appropriate the
winter-solstice holidays and thereby achieve a more seamless conversion to Christianity for his
subjects. So December 25 became the birthday of Jesus Christ. So the fact is, we are celebrating
natalis solis invicti, not Jesus’s birth or even Santa Claus’ birth. …
And then there are the carols. When I go to a candle light service, which I truly hold dear in my
heart, we are sometimes lucky enough to hear a decent sermon. Then we start to sing about the
“virgin birth,” or the King of All, Joy to the World, or Silent Night Holy Night, or O Holy Night. Well
you get the idea. Yes, I do go now and then, and I have learned to view the words symbolically
not literally. I tell myself that this is just a song and some of them still stir something in my soul,
even if my head is spinning. …
If we want to look seriously at the story of Jesus of history, we must first let go of the idea he was
God or part of the Godhead. Only when we move toward the more real Jesus, can we begin to
understand why we celebrate his name every year. Remember Jesus was a prophetic teacher
and preacher, and was a man of extraordinary faith. For us to truly understand this, we have to
let go of the idea that as God he would have no need for faith. But we have a pretty good idea
that Jesus struggled, he doubted and he wept just like the rest of us. And when we begin to
understand this, only then can we understand what an incredible thing it was for him, as a moral
person, to maintain his deep faith, in spite of his difficult life. Like other Jews of his time, Jesus
had to reconcile his faith in a God who promised freedom, while he was experiencing living in a
hostile, occupied country. I can celebrate that.
Thirdly, I need to be reminded that Jesus was poor, worked with the poor, preached and taught
the poor. He set an example that can be followed today. His incredible faith carried him through
some extraordinary times and events. …
And finally, when we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate a very important birth. And no matter
what we have done with his story, my guess is young Jesus would have had no idea about his
life, what he would achieve, or its ending. But as he evolved and moved through the stages of his
life, his faith grew, his wisdom developed, and his absolute trust in whomever he perceived as
God, was strengthened. Although he never intended to start a new religion, it happened. As a
result we inherited a safer, more loving, and more just society. Now I can celebrate that.
~ Fred C. Plumer, President ProgressiveChristianity.org (Extracts from a longer article)
ProgressiveChristianity.org is a superb site for resources for progressive Christianity
Recently, Rev David Felton, known to many people involved in progressive Christianity for his
role in the DVD program ‘Living the Questions” interviewed Michael Morwood about ‘A New
Template for Religion’. Michael Morwood has been a speaker at PCNV events and at Common
Dreams 2016 in Brisbane.
Here is a part of that interview about worship and prayer
David Felten: We’ve moved away from using the word “worship” in our local faith community,
opting for words like “celebration” or “gathering” instead. The concept of “worship” has so much
baggage: all those ancient formalities and royal protocols that don’t fit post-Enlightenment ways
of thinking – yet people are somehow loathe to give it up.
Michael Morwood: Personally, I would stop using the word “worship,” too. The notion of
“worship” belongs to an old paradigm, an outdated template for religion.
I was in Canada not long ago conducting a weekend for a progressive United Church community.
The audience was very on-side with what I presented. At the end of the weekend, I asked some
of the community leaders, “Why, with such a progressive community, do you have the large
‘WORSHIP HERE 10:00 am SUNDAY’ sign outside the church?” I was met with puzzled looks,
as if to say, “Why wouldn’t we have this sign?”
So I asked some questions: ....
• Worship whom? .....
• For what reason? .....
• What do you imagine is at the other end of your worship? A deity taking notice? A deity taking
some delight in homage being paid? .....
• Is your Sunday gathering for God’s sake? .....
• Where did this imagination come from?
I’d ask the same questions regarding “the Mass” and what Catholics imagine “Mass” is all about
(but I don’t get invitations to Roman Catholic parishes these days!).
Overall, I prefer to use words like “liturgy” or “service” for a new template. The roots of the word
“liturgy” (leit, people; ergon, work), means the “work of the people.” For me, this understanding of
liturgy expands beyond ritual to mean participation in a sacred or divine action.
David Felten: So what’s the “work of the people” and the “divine action” you have in mind?
Michael Morwood: I think our primary task is to gather around the story of Jesus and seek to
understand its full implications for all human interactions. Our challenge is to let it reveal to us the
truth of who we are, to challenge us to commit ourselves to being the best possible human
expressions of the Great Mystery, and to do this as faithfully and as courageously as Jesus did.
And none of this has anything to do with reception of a sacred object, with a priesthood with
special powers, or being “fed” at an altar – it certainly has nothing to do with Jesus shedding his
blood for the sins of the world. It has nothing to do with singing songs to or addressing prayers to
a listening deity.
What it does include is: .....
• Remembrance of Jesus and of others who shared his vision ....
• Awareness of the presence/power within us ....
• Commitment to working for a better world.
David Felten: So, what about the songs we sing and our liturgical prayers? What about the
efficacy of the prayers we offer in our faith-sharing groups?
Michael Morwood: What are we being asked to imagine when we ask God to listen? When we
thank God? When we address God with personal pronouns? We know where this imagination
comes from. The question is, how does this image resonate once the notion of a “God in the
heavens” has been abandoned?
By all means, let us sing hymns and address prayers to “God” that suggest this divine “being” is
listening in and taking note. But, let us do so mindful that whatever words we use are metaphor
and poetry. They’re not to be taken literally, but as a means of giving expression to longing, pain,
gratitude, joy – all those movements our minds and hearts struggle to convey otherwise.
Then let us embrace one of the key challenges that faces us today: to shape prayers (the hymns
may take a lot longer!) that affirm a “presence” within and among us. We need a growing
collection of metaphors and images that help develop our awareness that this “presence” is not
only here with us in the ordinariness of our everyday lives but challenges us to live out the best
possible human expression of this “Great Mystery.”
David Felten: For as long as I can remember, one of my mentors, Bill Nelson, has advocated
that we simply stop using the word “God” altogether. We need images that are free from so many
centuries of the theistic and human-centric God that is “out there” somewhere.
Michael Morwood: Exactly! In practice, stop addressing prayers to “God.” Just stop doing it. If
you still practice a traditional style of spoken prayer, all it takes is the determination to not begin
as if you’re speaking to a theistic God. Try it and see what happens! I resolved to do this 15
years ago. It resulted in my book, Praying a New Story which Spirituality & Practice included in its
list of “Best Spiritual Books” of 2004.
With regard to their own private prayer, many people ask me, “If I let go of the idea of praying to
“God,” how do I pray now?”
One way I think about it is remembering a Syrian monk known as “the golden speaker.” St John
Damascene was born and raised in Damascus in the early 8th century, but he’s given the church
words that have been carried down through the centuries: “Prayer is the raising of the mind and
heart to God.”
Today, if we substitute “great mystery” or “power” or other similar concepts for the word “God,”
the definition still holds – understanding it to mean raising our minds and hearts to a presence
here, all around us; in the depths of our being. So a key concept for any prayer becomes
“awareness.” The goal of my personal prayer is to deepen my awareness, to be conscious of the
reality that I embody this “great mystery” in human form.
It’s also important to acknowledge that my personal prayer is not for God’s sake. It is for my
sake, it is meant to change me. Someone recently asked me, “Can prayer change the world?”
and I said, “Of course! If prayer is intended to change us, then we can change the world.”
Otherwise we become trapped in the religious cop-out version of prayer: “Let’s leave the fate of
the world in God’s hands.”
I think Jesus had the same conviction about personal prayer. It’s what motivated his ministry to
“the crowd.” He wanted people to become aware of the power and the presence within them and
use it to change the world. That was his dream.
What a pity that this fundamental stance of Jesus has been buried beneath a layer of prayer
asking God to “deliver us from evil.” That’s not God’s task; it’s our task.
David Felten: Well that should give the proponents of conventional Christianity heartburn. The
Church has thrived for centuries convincing people that they are but loathsome sinners and
depraved worms, incapable of any good without Jesus vouching for them. It sounds like your
new paradigm puts some pretty high expectations on us lowly humans.
Michael Morwood: The major shift in my theological thinking and prayer life in the past 25 years
has stemmed from a growing – and a completely new – appreciation of what it means to be
human. Much of my appreciation is grounded in the scientific story of our origins in stardust and
the four billion years of atoms undergoing transformation after transformation until the 60 trillion
atoms that are Michael Morwood enable me tell the story of who and what we really are.
Now that’s a truly remarkable story. But what I find just as remarkable is to have discovered that
throughout human history the other side of this story – without the great scientific story we have
today to back it up – has made itself known. Call it “enlightenment”; call it whatever you will, but
there has been this constant awareness, insight, revelation – in both religious and non-religious
people – of an awareness of a power, an awesome reality beyond our imagination, within and
among us, a presence that binds together everyone and everything.
Rumi, the great Muslim scholar, teacher, and poet said it well 800 years ago,
“You are the fearless guardian of Divine Light,
so come, return to the root of the root of your own soul…”.
“Why are you so enchanted by this world
when a mine of gold lies within you?
Open your eyes and come,
return to the root of the root of your own soul.”
Here is the proper focus for religion, today and in the future. Here is where religion can get
beyond dogmatism, thought control, the disregard for common decency, and claims of exclusive
access to the divine. Jesus is not alone in urging men and women to “return to the root of the root
of your own soul” and use what is discovered there to create a profoundly better human
And here is why the “Christ” religion needs to change its thinking about Jesus so dramatically:
Jesus is not and was not a god-figure essentially different from the rest of us because only he
could gain access to God’s dwelling place. Rather, he presents a movement, a presence, a
reality – a great mystery – that is within every woman, man, and child. That is the good news that
needs to be proclaimed and acted upon.
A New Template for Religion: A Conversation with Michael Morwood, Part 3 Worship, Prayer, &
the Other Side of the Story Rev. David Felten
1. PCNV now has the USB of all the presentations by Professor Hal Taussig in Melbourne
There has been a very positive response from those who attended these sessions both for
content and presentation. PCNV is pleased with the quality of this production, It was produced
by St Michael’s Uniting Church at a cost of $15.00 each plus $5 packing and postage in
Australia. These presentations will provide refreshing new material for small group
discussion. Orders can be placed by phoning John Smith on 0427520500 or by email:
jwhsmith@iinet.net.au .
2. We also have copies of the following Taussig books.
“A New Spiritual Home: Progressive Christianity at the Grassroots.” (12 copies available @
$23.00 each plus postage). Orders can be placed by contacting John Smith by phone or email.
In this book Prof Taussig identifies thousands of progressive churches and faith communities
who are embracing a Christian faith for the 21st century. He affirms the need to challenge the
doctrines and theology of orthodoxy and encourages these explorers to stay with their faith
communities to share the sacred wisdom of life together.
“Many Tables” co- written with Denis Smith (20 copies available @$20.00 each plus postage)
Orders can be placed by contacting John Smith by phone or email.
This book addresses the need to develop liturgies that are contemporary in practice. There is a
particular emphasis on a contemporary approach to the “Lord’s Supper” rather than the current
traditional but outdated forms.
“In the Beginning was the Meal” (4 copies available @ $ 50.00 each plus postage). Orders
can be placed by contacting John Smith by phone or email.
In this beautifully detailed analysis of the early faith communities sharing of open meals (Supper
Clubs) Prof Taussig draws out the important implications in both recognising the celebratory
nature of the Eucharist and the egalitarian attitude of shared meals for today’s society. (Even
though the cost of 'In The Beginning was the Meal’ is $50.00 I strongly recommend it.)
“A New New Testament”. See the reviews that follow. A limited number of paperback copies are
available @ $25 plus postage. Contact John Smith by phone or email as above.
“A New New Testament”
Review by John W H Smith
For more than two decades I have been
searching for a single volume of sacred
writings that brings together the existing
biblical New Testament along with the
wisdom writings not originally included with
those that have been recently discovered,
such as the find at Nag Hammadi.
At last we have the book we have been
waiting for in Hal Taussig’s “A New New
Testament”. Hal has brought together a
Council of Scholars to examine these sacred
texts and they have added a further 10
volumes to the books already included in the
Bible. Such writings as the “The Gospel of
Thomas”, “The Gospel of Truth”, “The Acts of
Paul and Thecla”, The Gospel of Mary” along
with “The Gospel of Thomas” to mention
Some of these texts had been lost or mislaid
such as “The Gospel of Mary” and others
were never lost such as “The Acts of Paul
and Thecla”, which was written in the late 1st
or early 2nd century. By the second century
this text was extremely popular as was
Thecla herself. She had the following of a
modern day movie star. Unfortunately, her
popularity was criticised by the early church
fathers such as Tertullian as was her selfbaptism
after Paul refused to baptise her.
This could have been a major reason for the
text not to be included in the canon because
it was seen as being critical of the apostle
The great value of Taussig’s book is that by
adding these additional sacred texts to the
range and depth of the early sacred writers
in one volume, it allows for an informed
comparative analysis. Importantly this
innovative work is written in 21st century
easy to read language, which will encourage
in its readers a deepening spiritual
This is now my new Bible and I now use it for
readings from our tradition when preaching.
Review by Paul Inglis
For UC Forum, a discussion group for
open discussion on Progressive
Christianity in the Uniting Church in
Marcus Borg has described this book as
“Important both historically and theologically.
Readers will not be able to see the New
Testament in the same way again”.
In autographing my copy, Hal said of his own
work: Here’s to the powerful way the old and
the new combine to help us grow.
So this combination of the traditional and
newly discovered and analysed texts arriving
a millennium and a half after the canon was
settled for the New Testament will inevitably
be threatening and intimidating to some but
to many the beginning of a new and exciting
journey of discovery about Jesus and his
A New New Testament contains amazing
new material from the first century Christ
movements and places this alongside the
traditional texts. An eclectic mix of bishops,
rabbis, well-known authors, leaders of
national churches, and women and men from
African American, Native American, and
European American backgrounds have
studied many of the recent discoveries from
the first two centuries rigorously together,
and chosen these new books.
The story of the discovery of the new books
and bringing them into the light is a
remarkable thing in itself and the story of the
evolution of the traditional New Testament
over 500 years helps the reader to
understand why these new texts have not
appeared sooner.
The new texts, like the traditional texts were
all written between 50 and 175 CE,
somewhere around the Mediterranean Sea,
with similar themes and within certain
realities of life. Like the traditional books, the
new ones had a life of their own before they
were added to the New New Testament.
The reader is helped through new texts
(including The Gospels of Thomas, Mary,
Truth, The Prayer of the Apostle Paul, the
Odes of Solomon, and the Acts of Paul and
Theda) by a guide to reading the material
and making sense of its chronological and
thematic order. The reader is encouraged to
read thoughtfully taking into account
historical contexts. It is important to give
thought also to who wrote each text and why.
So it is a good book for personal refection.
Expect to be surprised about the common
material found in the old and the new, but
most of all be excited about the the totally
unique concepts and messages that we did
not see in the traditional text. This is a book
that provokes feelings and forces the reader
to think about the nature of God, of Jesus’
mission and develops positive attitudes
about the gift of learning we have in front of
us. Paul Inglis, 2nd November 2017.
Unless unusual circumstances affect
planning, PCNV public meetings in 2018 will
be on the fourth Sunday of each month,
February to November, at Ewing Memorial
Centre of Stonnington Uniting Church, Burke
Road, Malvern East.
Sunday 25 FEBRUARY: Glenn
Loughrey, the vicar of St Oswald's Anglican
Church, Glen Iris. He will bring us insights
into a spirituality informed by his indigenous
background and expressed through his art.
Sunday 25 MARCH: Palm Sunday. “A
Progressive Liturgy for Easter”. Followed
by time to discuss what is involved in a
Progressive Christian understanding of
Easter and relevant resources.
Sunday 22 APRIL: Coralie Ling,
Planetary solidarity - the contribution of eco
feminists from across the globe to new
interpretations of Christianity in the light of
climate change.
Michael Morwood will be the speaker on
24 June
From the Editor
I regret that poor health reduced the preparation
of Newsletters in the period September to
November. This larger edition completes 2017
with more ‘food for thought’.
A special thanks to those who have renewed
membership of PCNV in spite of late reminders.
You can email me at any time to obtain
information about the details of your
membership: djmerritt@ozemail.com.au

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