Mar 29 2012

Sea of Faith future – talk at Annual Meeting

Published by under Talks

Sea of Faith, Dunedin

The Future of the Sea of Faith

On the future of the Sea of Faith Network, it seems to me entirely appropriate at this time to start by drawing on one of the most recent contributions to the national Newsletter by Donald Feist.

This came in an article in the January issue entitled: ‘What do we do? What should we be doing?’ It was a follow-up, with the blessing of the Steering Committee, to the Conference discussion last October on the name by which we shall identify ourselves in future.

‘What sort of organisation’, he asked, ‘should Sea of Faith (NZ) be in five years time? Will it be good enough for it to be, as it is now? … Would it be better if one way or another, we are something more than that?’

Don had felt at the Conference ‘a sense of urgency – accepting that the human race really is racing towards a brink.’ He acknowledged that he valued the free discussion that we are able have without prior commitment to any one position, but he was beginning to wonder whether ‘the brink’ means that it is no longer fully responsible to go on in a leisurely way being a discussion network, talking among ourselves indefinitely.

He then went on to envisage three main possibilities, which I shall summarize:

1). Continue as we are, taking into account that many of us are also active in other organizations which may express some part of what Sea of Faith represents for us.

2). Widen our activities, doing more, explicitly as Sea of Faith, to make others in New Zealand more aware of issues, connections, and spiritual values, with a view to influencing our collective behaviour.

3). alternatively, if we don’t want to compromise the open, uncommitted nature of Sea of Faith, we could set up a separate group devoted to doing the things mentioned under option (2).

He concluded by suggesting that there are other possibilities apart from those he had come up with, and variations on them, before inviting responses through the Steering Committee.

For my part, I shall add some comments on Donald’s list and some broad-brush suggestions:

Option (1). Maintain the status quo. More of the same. A ‘talk shop’.
In favour: The least disruptive approach.
Against: Limited success so far, apart from offering a safe haven for those seeking freedom from the strictures of more prescriptive organizations, especially churches.

Option (2): Become more of a lobby group. Assume an activist role.
In favour: Respond more to sense of urgency. Provide outlet for more creative focus.
Against: Difficulty of achieving consensus and strategy for change amidst plethora of good causes. Risk of alienating a portion of the membership.

Option (3): Set up separate group to tackle the more active, outwardly focused role.
In favour: As for Option (2), but less risk of upsetting those who do not support particular solutions favoured by the proponents for change.
Against: Partly as for Option (2), and unlikely that just one separate group could adequately promote the range of issues which may command attention.

It seems to me that there is an inescapable paradox in our make-up. We espouse free thought in areas riddled with dogmatism. That is the gift which we offer. It nevertheless comes with its own contradiction – it challenges its own programme at every turn. It can slow us down and tone us down to the point where we must wrestle with our own strength before advancing with great caution.

By the same token, we should show an equal reluctance to merely stand still, so I welcome the review of our future shape and direction. We dare not rest on our oars in the restless sea of faith. We should recognize that we are at risk of atrophy if we ignore a need for ongoing renewal. There are challenges within as well as without. Are we not an ageing group with insufficient signs of generational revitalizing?

Yet we should play to our strength as a clearing house for new thinking. That may lead to either of the new possible steps as Donald suggested, but first it may require that we take ourselves more seriously. Remember the adage about an idea whose time has come.

In particular, we may need a national online forum to supplement the Sea of Faith Network (NZ) Newsletter and to help with cross-fertilization of ideas in between national conferences. That may lead to fuller documentation, more discerning critiques, and growing expertise.

With a few such aids to increased momentum, what is there to stop us from being the equivalent of a research centre for the future of faith, unfettered by past petrifaction?

Perhaps we need to be more proactive in seeking closer liaison with groups that may share some of our forward-looking commitment. But above all, we need to relish the excitement of the potential power of faith without dogma.

David Kitchingman
22 March 2012

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