SOCIETY GATHERING AT SCARGILL RETREAT CENTRE
Sr. Claire with other members of the SOSC North
American chapter at Scargill, England
When I tell someone that I have an interest in faith and science I almost always get a response of surprise or disbelief: “They’re opposites, aren’t they?” "Really?” “Does your church allow that kind of thing?” My answers are “No, yes and yes.”
My interest in science goes back to childhood and I worked in medical research for a time as a young adult. I left that work about 20 years ago to become a priest but my interest in science has never left and I’ve discovered that I am among a growing number who share an interest in the intersection between science and faith.
In the spring and summer of 2005 I was able to attend two gatherings of people who share my interest. The first was in Santa Fe, New Mexico from April 7 to 10. It was really two meetings rolled in to one. The first day was devoted to the steering board of the Episcopal Church Network on Science Technology and Faith. This is rather loose association of laypeople and clergy in the Episcopal Church who have an interest in faith and science issues and who are willing to offer their expertise to the wider church. At the moment, I am serving as treasurer of this group.
A highlight of this meeting was a presentation on the newly released document, A Catechism of Creation: An Episcopal Understanding. It was prepared by members of the network who are scientists and theologians as a resource for study and discussion in congregations. It's format is question and answer, like the Episcopal Prayer Book’s Catechism (pp. 843-862). Part I builds upon the Bible’s basic doctrine of creation. Part II outlines the modern scientific worldview, including the Big Bang and the evolution of life. Part III presents the biblical roots for environmental care. It is available on the web here.
Meeting at the same time in Santa Fe were faith and science groups from a number of other denominations. Once the individual denominational meetings were over we came together, about 50 people in all from the Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, United Church of Christ, Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches for the annual meeting of the Ecumenical Roundtable on Science Technology and the Church where we heard from leading scholars on topics that included some of the questions being raised in the areas of cognitive science and religion and on the complex relationships between venture capitalism, the scientific community and religion. Other areas touched upon included ethics, the environment, social justice and the use and interpretation of scripture.
Scargill Retreat Centre, Yorkshire, UK
Later in the summer, I traveled to Scargill, a retreat center in northwest Yorkshire, England, for the Annual Gathering of the Society of Ordained Scientists. It is a group that was formed in the Church of England about 20 years ago. All of the members of the society are ordained and are or were active in some field of science. While most of the members belong to the Church of England there are members from other denominations and others parts of the Anglican Communion. I serve as North American co-convener for the Society.
The aims of this society are:
- To offer to God in our ordained role the work of science and technology in the exploration and stewardship of creation
- To express both the commitment of the Church to the scientific and technological enterprise and our concern for its impact on the world
- To develop a fellowship of prayer for ordained scientists by the following of a common Rule
- To support each other in our vocation and
- To serve the Church in its relation to science and technology.
These aims are as much spiritual as academic and a primary focus of the Gathering is the time spent in retreat together. In addition to time for silent reflection there were opportunities for walking in the beautiful countryside, catching up with friends and discussion of a number of current ethical issues, including genetic engineering and the environment.
My own role in the faith and science dialogue is a small one. Apart from serving on the boards of these groups most of my involvement is at the parish level; speaking with groups all ages from young children to adults about faith and science and touching on these issues in some of my sermons. I am looking forward to the possibility of meeting with parish groups to study the new Catechism of Creation, using it as a tool for discussing some of today’s crucial issues of theology, ethics, social justice and human understanding that are raised at the crossroads of faith and science.
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