David Peel, St Columba’s Lecture
The Revd Dr David Peel, Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church, delivered the annual St Columba’s Lecture today (2005-10-31) on the topic of ‘In the world but not of the world: the challenge of being a counter-cultural church’. The lecture is planned for a collected volume of David’s thoughts. Here are 3 of my thoughts in response.
1 David helped me put into words something I have known for a few years but was not able to articulate before: There is one way of evangelism which involves reading a lot of John Calvin etc., then pick up the megaphone and head for Cornmarket Street. But there is also another way which is: perhaps over food, or a cup of coffee, or a walk in the countryside, and talk and listen to each other; in this, the Gospel is proclaimed, not because of either party preached it, but that God is working in the process.
2 I have recently been reading about Bolivia (Forrest Hylton and Sinclair Thomson, Chequered Rainbow. New Left Review 35, September/October 2005; I am aware of the romanticizing tendency). During the water wars and subsequent turbulences in the Bolivian cities such as Cochabamba, large numbers of people met in the city squares to jointly decide things, including large-scale projects such as water distribution. It was done in such a non-dominant way that the established State was not even able to stop these mass movements because there were no clear leaders to round up and prosecute. Given 1 above, shall we not try to open our church meetings to be venues of dialogue? This — to get people in the city to talk with each other — should be the city council’s job, but they do not seem to be doing as well as we would hope. For example, we could have our church meeting on the street, weather permitting. Or, we could have joint church meetings with the Methodists. There could be lots of logistical problems: we find it difficult to even invite an Anglican in our church meeting, as people are busy, suspicious, etc. But is this an idea worth trying? Worcester’s (Massachusetts) interfaith breakfast seems to be a successful model to follow.
3 In answering one of the questions, David touched upon the pursuit of truth and knowledge as a Christian value to defend, particularly in a seat of learning such as Oxford. Currently, the intrinsic value of knowledge is under attack. Education is no longer about learning and exploring the truth, but about maximizing the return in economic and financial terms. Hark the rhetoric that attempts to justify top-up tuition fees by arguing that graduates earn more than school-leavers. Behold that educators and researchers now have to justify their endeavours solely on the potential contribution to the so-called ‘UK plc’*. Is there something against this trend we should do about this in Oxford?
* Jocularly, why not consider the benefits to ‘The Great Britain and Northern Ireland Co-operative Society’? To ‘The Ecumenical Parishes of Saints David, Patrick, George, and Andrew’? To ‘The Amalgamated Federation of Workers’ and Employees’ Unions in the Isles’? Respectively, they are actually represented (more or less) by Co-operatives UK, Churches Together, and the TUC. The point is that the CBI, speaking for ‘UK plc’, should not dominate discussions about education with ’employers’ demands’. There is more to it.
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