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Church Fellowship

 

President

The President's Page

Welcome to all visitors to this website, both members of CFPSS and non-members.

The Fellowship was founded in the 1950's. More than 60 years later, we are a vibrant and purposeful group, but also at a point in the Fellowship's history when we are taking stock of our position and thinking strategically about our current role.

Where we are at the moment
Sixty years ago, very few arenas existed in which people could discuss psychic phenomena safely, particularly in a Christian context. In addition, the pattern of life then meant that people turned primarily to public lectures and meetings in order to explore topics of mutual interest. It is not surprising, therefore, that in the 1960s we had several thousand members.

In 2017, we are in a completely different place. Most meetings-based organisations have seen a decline in numbers, from local political parties and football clubs, through to interest groups of every sort. As our members will be aware, we ourselves have reduced our annual conferences from two a year to one – though that one is very well-attended. Online chat rooms and social media now provide the forum in which common concerns and interests can be explored and exchanged. One thing we are now seeking to develop, therefore, is our online presence and ways of communicating.

In any case, our role is now a bit different to what it was when CFPSS was founded. Discussion of many paranormal phenomena is now common-place: there are many ghost-hunting programmes on TV, as well as TV mediums; there are many sites on the internet where people share their experiences and can consult psychics by webcam. In addition there are many accounts, both on the internet and in print, of NDEs, angels, visions of Mary and Jesus, messages from heaven and prophecies of what is to come. There is a 'Mind, Body, Spirit' section in any bookshop or library. The psychic and paranormal have become mainstream.

However, quite a lot of this interest falls outside the mainline Christian churches. A lot of NDEs focus on the person of Jesus and so overlap with Christianity, and some people have joined a Christian church or become a Christian minister as result; but it would be fair to say that there is an assumption in the world at large that these phenomena do not sit easily with orthodox forms of Christianity, and indeed are often seen as a challenge to the churches.

What we do
CFPSS has therefore dedicated itself to the quite challenging task of integrating these phenomena within mainstream Christianity. Mainstream churches can be suspicious of these kinds of phenomena. Similarly, people who have experienced these phenomena do not always turn for help and understanding to the churches.

How do we approach this work of integration? One of the important things we do is listen to each other. We are not expected to agree with each other – indeed, we come from many different denominations and traditions, or none -- but we do undertake to listen respectfully and with an open mind. This in itself can be a healing and clarifying process.

Next, the Fellowship is one of a cluster of societies engaged in serious, careful and discriminating scrutiny of these phenomena, such as the Society for Psychical Research and the Alistair Hardy Society for the Study of Spiritual Experiences. The term 'psychical studies' in our title is important: we do not simply share, describe and perhaps categorise experiences enthusiastically and uncritically. Instead, we are called to ponder, pray, and discern: are we being urged in directions which align with the teaching of Jesus? All psychic phenomena need to be subjected to the test of Christian living: 'By their fruits ye shall know them', as the Gospel says. This is necessarily a slower process than modern society often finds comfortable. It takes time – perhaps years -- for a psychic or spiritual experience to be validated by the fruit it bears in our lives.
A further function of the Fellowship is to support and nurture members who have discovered that they have psychic gifts, and who struggle to reconcile these with their Christian practice and beliefs. These gifts, if rejected or suppressed, do not disappear, but can manifest in negative ways. The Fellowship encourages such members to explore how their gifts can be used for Christ, for example, as part of intercession.
We also engage in 'spiritual studies', because a wide-ranging and in-depth knowledge of the Christian tradition allows us to draw on the experience, discernment and reflection of past Christian generations, all the way back to the Bible itself, which is full of visions, dreams and spoken messages from God. We thereby discover that past generations were far less alarmed by these phenomena than our own materialist, rationalist age. However, they also brought a critical perspective to bear on them: are they the products of our own vanity? Are they the symptoms of mental illness? Is the person concerned being led towards good or evil?

As a Fellowship, we aim to be mutually-supportive companions on the same journey. We are always happy to welcome new members who are in sympathy with our aims. We are also happy simply to be of use to visitors to this website.


Becoming a member

Visitors to this website will see that at present we offer two categories of membership: full and associate. Full members must be practicing members of a Christian church, or be willing to sign the statement that they acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour of the world. The main distinction is that Full members require the signature of an existing member of the Fellowship on their membership form. Associate members cannot vote and cannot become members of the Council (i.e. Trustees), but otherwise are indistinguishable from Full members.
It has become apparent that Associate members are mostly people who have signed up online, particularly in the USA, and do not have a sponsor in the CFPSS who can sign their form; they would otherwise be happy to be full members. Associate members make up about 20% of the Fellowship overall, but 50% of new members in the past five years. In this day and age, having two classes of membership can be seen as off-putting and divisive rather than welcoming. It has also become clear that Associate members often feel like second-class citizens within the Fellowship. Even among full members, those who have had to sign a statement of faith feel discriminated against.

One of the things the Council is currently attempting to do is to remove unintentional barriers to membership. Our first move therefore was to see if we couldn't simply remove the need for a sponsor's signature from the membership form. However, this is written into the constitution, and that is why we are having to revise the constitution at this point.

One of the main reasons for having two categories of membership originally was to avoid people who might be more interested in the paranormal than in Christianity being eligible to become Council members, and therefore able to steer the Fellowship in a non-Christian direction. The Council has discussed this problem extensively. Firstly, there are now many other associations and online communities for the study of spiritual and psychic phenomena, so it is now far less likely than in the past that such persons would seek membership of an explicitly Christian organisation like CFPSS. Indeed, the present secular suspicion surrounding organised religion of any sort ensures that it will be chiefly church-goers who seek to become members of an organisation called 'the Churches' Fellowship'. Secondly, we are helped here by the regulations that all charities now come under. The Charity Commissioners now impose a training on any Trustee of a charity, to make sure they understand their duties and obligations. This provides an opportunity for CFPSS to ascertain that any possible new member of the Council (who are the Trustees of the Fellowship) fully understands and accepts their legal obligation to uphold the stated Christian aims of the charity. The key statement in the constitution now reads:

4(i) Inasmuch as the Fellowship is a Christian Fellowship, membership shall be open to those who satisfy the Council that they are members of a recognised Christian denomination, or that they are sympathetic to the Christian faith and are willing to accept this pre-eminent ethos of the Fellowship.

The Constitution also includes a statement about its aims and objects:

3(i) The objects of the Fellowship are to encourage the study, within the Christian Churches, of spiritual or paranormal or psychological and other scientific phenomena and to try to assess their validity and their relevance to the Christian faith.
(ii) Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, the Fellowship may organise or take part in conferences and meetings and may publish literature and organise and support research and study meetings and shall with circumspection encourage the fostering by individuals of spiritual and paranormal gifts. Other than the common Christian faith, which is of its essence, the Fellowship holds no corporate views and it may at the discretion of the Council co-operate with and affiliate to other bodies in pursuit of the Fellowship's objects and shall endeavour to co-operate and work with the Christian Churches which belong to or are affiliated to the World Council of Churches.

We are proposing to take out the reference to the World Council of Churches, as this is a grouping based on the member churches' willingness to work towards its objective of doctrinal and sacramental unity. This means that several mainstream denominations, such as the Roman Catholic church, cannot be members, though they work in co-operation with it, and some other churches have at times withdrawn over concerns that humanitarian aid might be finding its way to armed militia. We have received a query about the wisdom of removing what might be considered an objective definition of what constitutes a Christian church. However, we have consulted the statutes of several similar Christian organisations and institutions, and all of them are content to use the term 'Christian' without reference to any specific list.
The Council considers that preserving the Christian character of CFPSS is paramount, but many comments from the members have convinced us that there is a strong and widespread wish within the Fellowship that, in the 21st century, CFPSS should be a welcoming organisation with only one category of membership. Members are invited to share any views they may have with the General Secretary or with the President, who can be contacted on presidentcfpss@gmail.com.

The proposal for one category of membership will be voted on the AGM of the Fellowship in September 2017.