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We update our blog several times a week, with news and comment on ministry, theology, the Bible, liturgy and issues of the day.

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Posted 12 Aug 2019

Book asap for this year's JAEC!

It’s not too late to book for this year’s Junior Anglican Evangelical Conference, featuring John Dunnett, Mark Tanner, Andrew Towner and many others.  All the details and the booking form are here. Please contact the office as soon as possible to confirm your place.

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Posted 30 Jul 2019

Robin Barfield continues our series of posts on the subject of spiritual abuse by considering some of the particular dangers and temptations in ministry with children and young people.

Children and young people are the most likely to be spiritually abused, since spiritual abuse is most likely to occur in a relationship between a significantly more powerful individual (most likely an adult) and a less powerful individual (often a child or young person). The only successfully prosecuted criminal case of spiritual abuse in the UK so far was between a vicar and a teenage boy.  This means that those of us with responsibility for the care of children and young people in our churches have to be particularly vigilant.

We need to understand the ways in which children and young people are particularly vulnerable and then think carefully about how we guard against spiritual abuse occurring.

Children are Theologically Vulnerable

Children are full of questions and naturally curious about everything, including Christian things. Adults are seen as people who know more, who can answer their questions and who are, therefore, in a position of power and influence over the children they are in proximity to. Generally speaking, that is all children an adult is in proximity to. I minister in a primarily working class context, and I realise that in these circumstances, and others, it does not always feel as though all adults have this type of power over a child, but they do.

A child will listen to whatever you tell them about Jesus. If you say Jesus was half man, half goat a good number of younger children will nod and accept that without question. An adult would not. This makes children theologically vulnerable to whatever you want to tell them to believe, do, say or think. Evangelicals are therefore particularly open to this kind of spiritual abuse because we love the truth and we love people hearing the truth of the gospel. We are truth people. We recognise that the gospel cannot just be invented on the whim of the human heart but is revealed to us often in ways that rebuke and correct our own thinking and feeling.

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Posted by Ros Clarke, 29 Jul 2019

Ros Clarke offers some suggestions for summer podcast listening.

With no new episodes of the Church Society podcast over the summer, now is a great time to catch up on some of what you may have missed. Here are eight of our most popular episodes, along with a handful of suggestions of other great podcasts you may not have come across:

Evangelism Four Ways
Anglican Elders
Singing the Psalms
Ministry and Mental Health
To Lithuania and Beyond!
Matt and Anne Kennedy

Have you tried:
Simply Put: Barry Cooper
Preventing Grace: Matt and Anne Kennedy
Talking Theology: Cranmer Hall

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Posted by Nick Gowers, 25 Jul 2019

Nick Gowers offers some ways in which we can guard ourselves against becoming spiritually abusive in our ministry

Now that spiritual abuse is rightly more out in the open (though, sadly, I suspect we much more of the iceberg will become apparent over the next few months and years), what can we be doing to guard against it? Here are some initial thoughts that I offer:

1. Remember: “Our greatest weaknesses are often our strengths overplayed.”
A wise Christian once told me this and it has stuck with me. We are not talking here about focussing on our strengths to the neglect of other areas. This is how our strengths themselves can be the source and harbour of our weaknesses.

Martial arts are a physical illustration. In many martial arts, one uses an opponent’s own strength and movement against them. It is much easier to push someone a little bit further in a direction they are already moving than to stop them or to change their direction. Sin and the devil are very good at this as well.

Chances are, some of our greatest weaknesses and biggest failings will be caught up in our strengths. This will be the case both individually and corporately. It shouldn’t surprise us.

So it is worth stopping and thinking: if preaching is our strength, what will be associated dangers with that? If personal discipleship is our strength, what will be associated dangers? If leadership is our strength, what will be associated dangers? If a passion for mission and maturity is our strength, what will be associated dangers? If truth is our strength, what will be associated dangers…and so on…

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 23 Jul 2019

Lee Gatiss looks in depth at the Church of England’s definitions of “spiritual abuse”, and how it can be avoided.

The Church of England has some very helpful online resources for safeguarding. They even have some courses that can be taken by anyone involved in church at their Safeguarding Portal, and you can get “badges” and certificates to prove you’ve passed the course if that is of use in your context. I got a couple of foundational certificates and also did two very helpful and informative training courses on modern slavery and human trafficking, while looking into this recently.

Whilst checking out some of these very well-presented resources, I was struck by the definition given of “spiritual abuse” — something which has sadly become topical of late. It starts by admitting that unlike physical abuse, sexual abuse, or modern slavery for example, “spiritual abuse” is not a category of abuse recognised in statutory guidance. It is a matter for great concern, however, both within and outside faith communities, including the Church of England. It was, for example, discussed and defined in Protecting All God’s Children (2010), a Church of England document which can be found online here. There it is said that:

“Within faith communities, harm can also be caused by the inappropriate use of religious belief or practice. This can include the misuse of the authority of leadership or penitential discipline, oppressive teaching, or intrusive healing and deliverance ministries. Any of these could result in children experiencing physical, emotional or sexual harm. If such inappropriate behaviour becomes harmful, it should be referred for investigation in co-operation with the appropriate statutory agencies. Careful teaching, supervision and mentoring of those entrusted with the pastoral care of children should help to prevent harm occurring in this way. Other forms of spiritual harm include the denial to children of the right to faith or the opportunity to grow in the knowledge and love of God.”

This I think was the working definition in the case of the Revd Tim Davis who, it was reported in 2018, subjected a 15 year old boy to intense prayer and Bible sessions in his bedroom. The teenager described the mentoring he received as “awful” and all-consuming, but never felt able to challenge the minister. Davis was found guilty of “conduct unbecoming to the office and work of a clerk of holy orders through the abuse of spiritual power and authority.”

Distressing Control and Coercion
The Safeguarding Portal course defines spiritual abuse as “coercion and control of one individual by another in a spiritual context. The target experiences spiritual abuse as a deeply emotional personal attack.” The “spiritual” aspect then is the context of the abuse, which is all about coercion and control. It is a form of emotional and psychological abuse, as Lisa Oakley and Justin Humphreys (whose work has been very influential on the Church of England’s approach to this) define it in their new book Escaping the Maze of Spiritual Abuse. The idea of “coercion and control” is a category of offence which has entered our legal code: Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 created a new offence of “controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship”, which involves violence of some kind or “serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on [one’s] usual day-to-day activities.” The legal guidance on this is set out here.

I think that what is becoming known as “spiritual abuse” is this controlling or coercive behaviour in a spiritual context, i.e. in a religious or ecclesiastical relationship. It is a systematic pattern of behaviour which causes serious alarm and daily distress, perhaps with a threat of violence of some sort, in a church context or within a religious relationship or organisation. There is a connection between “an intimate or family relationship” and the church, of course, which is “the household of God” (1 Timothy 3:15), a family of faith (Galatians 6:10), a “brotherhood” (1 Peter 2:17, 5:9). But it is a distinct context, which can shape the abuse in particular ways.

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Posted by Ros Clarke, 22 Jul 2019

Two current students on the Priscilla Programme share their experiences from the first year.

More information about the Priscilla Programme.

Application form and fees.

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Posted by Ros Clarke, 18 Jul 2019

Ros Clarke examines three Bible passages containing examples of spiritual abuse and showing God's judgment on those who do it.

Spiritual abuse may be a relatively new term and one that is not always well-defined or well-understood, but it is not a new concept. The Bible gives us multiple examples showing clearly how it is possible for people to manipulate, bully, use, coerce, control and abuse others in a spiritual context. And it leaves us in no doubt about God’s views of those who do such things.

1 Samuel 2
Two kinds of abuse are mentioned here: priests claiming for themselves that which should have been God’s, and the use of shrine prostitutes.

Preventing others from worshipping God
In the first case, the priests are preventing the Israelites from making their offering of meat to the Lord by insisting on claiming their share first. If the Israelites refused, the priests instructed their servants to threaten to take it by force. This is clearly coercive behaviour, using force or threatened force, to compel the Israelites to give up their offering. It is spiritual abuse because it denies the Israelites their freedom to make their offering, and because it is the spiritual authority of the priests which is being abused in order to coerce.

God’s judgment on this specific abuse is given in v17: “This sin of the young men was very great in the Lord’s sight, for they were treating the Lord’s offering with contempt.”

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Posted by George Crowder, 16 Jul 2019

George Crowder gives us some ideas for summer evangelism - and explains why he's started smoking!

It’s barbecue season - piquant aromas carry on the warm evening breeze making our mouths water and our tummies rumble.  This week our church hosted an evangelistic barbecue; I suspect we were not the only ones.

Positively, though it is a well-worn formula, it gets a reasonable turn out and is at least an enjoyable experience.  Negatively, I can’t help feeling that, in a similar vein to barbecued meat, the church barbecue so often promises much more than it delivers.

While pondering the purpose of events like this, I was inspired by the whole barbecuing concept.  Are we unwittingly wedded to ‘barbecue evangelism’ - a short hot blast of gospel leaving people burnt on the outside but raw in the middle?

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Posted by Ros Clarke, 15 Jul 2019

Stephen Walton talks to Ros about the history and the present international ministry of Christ Church, Dusseldorf.

How to listen to the Church Society podcast:
1. Listen to the episodes as they are posted here on the website.
2. Listen to all the episodes and all other Church Society audio resources via Soundcloud.
3. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.
4. Subscribe to the podcast on an Android device (phone or tablet). You will need to install a podcast app and then subscribe via our RSS feed here.

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Posted by Ros Clarke, 8 Jul 2019

The Priscilla Programme run in partnership between Church Society and Union School of Theology reaches the end of its first year.

“...when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside
and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” Acts 18:26

It’s almost exactly a year since Church Society and Union School of Theology agreed to work in partnership on the Priscilla Programme, and we have now completed three full modules: Old Testament, Doctrine, and Ethics and Pastoral Care. Lectures for next term’s Church History module have already been filmed. Students have valued the contributions from Robin Barfield, Sheila Stephen, Lee Gatiss and Ros Clarke.

Each term, we have been able to run two seminar groups, and a total of 12 women have studied one or more modules. There has been a wonderful mix of women at different stages of life, with different experiences, and coming from different kinds of churches. Some have a particular ministry they want to be better equipped for and others are simply wanting to understand their faith better. Some have been Christians for decades and others are relatively new to the faith.

We are planning to expand the Priscilla Programme in two ways from September. First, I’m really excited that a local Priscilla group is being planned at Christ Church Central, an AMiE church in Sheffield. The students will have access to all the online lectures, reading material and discussion forums, but they will have their weekly seminars in person, led by the women’s worker there. This is a really great way for churches to equip their women for all kinds of service.

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