Time or Too Late: Chasing the Dream of a Progressive Christian Faith
One January Saturday in 2004, a blizzard slowly crossed the province, turning roads to treachery with both snow and the impatience of drivers eager to get where they were going. I awoke to watch the skies drift down in grey and white and felt a deep sense of discouragement, knowing the plans I had set for the day would be undermined by the weather. It was Canada in January. What had I expected?
But later that day, as I waited at West Hill, the United Church I had served for seven years, expecting no one to show up to the meeting for which I had extended invitations, cars kept turning into the driveway, disgorging their tense drivers and companions. We gathered in the lounge, two dozen of us, and spent the afternoon telling our stories.
Before that afternoon, I knew few of these people. Jim Adams, then President of The Center for Progressive Christianity (TCPC) in the United States, had sent me their email addresses because every one of them had made a financial donation to TCPC. Jim had invited me to bring these folks together to see if they wanted to form a network for progressive Christians in Canada.
By the end of the afternoon, we knew we would undertake the work Jim had offered us. The stories we had shared were, every one of them, about the pain of isolation. For some, it was felt in the small towns in which they lived where options for spiritual nurture were confined to traditional or conservative forms of worship. For others, it was experienced in the large urban churches they’d known for decades but within which they didn’t dare speak of their evolving beliefs. The afternoon included goodies and hot drinks, but also tears and sorrow.
The Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity
So it was that, by the end of that year, we had created an organization, the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity (CCPC) and launched it in Mississauga with close to five hundred in attendance with Jim and Bishop John Shelby Spong as our keynote speakers. We’d formed a board, an Honorary Advisory Council that included the Very Reverend Bruce McLeod, Rick Miller, and former Moderator Anne Squire. We’d launched a website, filed for incorporation, applied for charitable status, and booked Jack Good, author of The Dishonest Church to be the
keynote speaker at our first conference, Barriers and Bridges. And we had begun the work of bringing people out of isolation and into community, even if that community could only ever be realized online or over the telephone.
For eleven years, the CCPC provided just that to many across the country. We organized conferences, published a journal, Progressions, and made it clear to denominations and congregations across the country that critical contemporary scholarship was alive and well and in the pews. No more would that scholarship be the exclusive purview of those in ordered ministry. The world needed to know how far we had come and the CCPC was sharing the work of making that happen. Alongside our organization, progressive networks coalesced and provided leadership in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland as well as in the US where the work had first emerged.
By 2015, we felt we had accomplished our goals and, along with emerging social networks, were confident that progressive Christians across the country were able to find support and connections they needed to continue their journeys toward creating a meaningful life. And so we made the decision to close the Centre, planning a final conference that would celebrate the work it did.
Time or Too Late: Chasing the Dream of Progressive Christian Faith is the evolution of the CCPC as it was reflected in speeches I shared at its launch and subsequent conferences as well as articles I wrote for Progressions. It is a record of the shift of my own understandings as they evolved alongside those who challenged us to keep moving, keep exploring, keep articulating this emergent new iteration of our ancient faith tradition.
In the end, I believe we came to a place where those of any or no faith tradition might come together and speak truth to one another, truth grounded in reality but edged with our deep desire to be light to one another.
The image on the cover is of the 2017 eclipse (I like to think it is the first one to show up on a published book!) An eclipse had been the logo for the CCPC throughout its brief history. It seemed that this image, printed on the cover of the very first editions of Time or Too Late prepared for our final conference, Ever Wonder, just weeks after the eclipse event, was so appropriate. There is nothing more spectacular than the emergence of light from darkness. May we ever choose to be those who bring light to whatever darkness we encounter, especially the darkness spread by the ills of religious belief.