Dick Carter of Common Dreams replies to 3 x questions on Beyond the Boarders Progressive Spirituality Conference NZ

from Sophie Parish (Freelance Reporter & Photographer) for an article in Touchstone, a Methodist publication to appear end of August.

1)    What is Common Dreams function for progressives, what purpose does this group serve for people who are interested in exploring less traditional doctrines etc.. .

Commondreams “Common Dreams is an alliance established in 2006 of organisations in NZ & Australia concerned with the study, discussion & promotion of progressive religious thought & practice. At its inception, the members of the alliance included St Luke’s Community at Remeura, Auckland and progressive bodies in each of the Australian States including the Centres for Progressive Religious Thought in Canberra & Sydney, the Progressive Christian Network of Victoria, Pitt St Uniting Church, Sydney & others. It has since expanded its NZ constituency to include St Matthews-In-The-City, Auckland & St Andrews-On-The-Terrace, Wellington.

At first its main focus was to organise a major international conference of pre-eminent writers, speakers & researchers in progressive religion. The first of these conferences was held in Sydney in 2007 & featured Bishop John Shelby Spong, one of the iconic figures in progressive Christianity, plus others including Bernard Brandon Scott (USA) & Val Webb (Australia) who will both be anchor speakers at the “Beyond the Borders” conference this coming August.

A pattern of triennial conferences has developed with the second conference being held in Melbourne in 2010 & the third in Canberra last year. The next conference will be held in Brisbane in September 2016. Between conferences Common Dreams has promoted visits & tours by outstanding international figures such as John Dominic Crossan & local favourites such as Lorraine Parkinson, Val Webb, John Bodycomb & others under the banner of “Common Dreams On the Road”; this will be the first time that one of these tours has included NZ in the itinerary & we hope that the precedent established by “Beyond The Borders” will be followed by a succession of events in the future”.

2)     How popular have the conferences become? Who attends? Have you seen Any emerging trends that have stemmed from the conferences.

“The major Common Dreams conferences have been successful well beyond our original expectations. Each of them has attracted over 400 attendees to the plenary sessions over the three days of the event plus considerable numbers of additional casual registrants who attended the evening keynote public addresses by the star speakers. We have been very encouraged by the continuing popularity of the conferences and also by the enthusiastic response to the Common Dreams On The Road tours – there is no sign of this enthusiasm abating.

The audiences at Common Dreams events are an eclectic & ecumenical lot. While we deliberately do not ask participants to identify any affiliations they might have or their personal motivations for attending it is obvious that there are many progressive Christians among them from all traditions as well as those with non-Christian backgrounds & others with no religious connection. The typical person attending is theologically literate with an enquiring mind who has found the explanations of traditional religions of humans’ great questions to be unpersuasive & have been excited by the thinking, research & writing which has emerged from scholars & authors especially over the last few decades.

It is evident that there is a hunger for the new information & understanding that the conferences provide & particularly for the personal interaction that the events provide especially to people who feel isolated from kindred spirits on the same journey. The keenness of people to attend is indicated by the willingness of many to travel long distances to be there – including considerable contingents from NZ & the more far-flung parts of Australia.

Some trends seem to be emerging. Feedback from the participants indicates that many are wanting the conferences to address issues & questions that are at the frontiers of progressive thinking rather than travelling over ground that they have already traversed (which is one of the reasons for the choice of “Beyond The Borders” as the forthcoming conference’s title). Eco-theology/evolution theology & interfaith relations (including aspects of indigenous religions) are also themes that are attracting stronger interest”.

3)     As this conference will be the first in NZ what do you hope it will achieve and bring to kiwis here? Anything addition you would like to add, perhaps hopes for the future (conferences), reaching more people etc…

“NZ has a disproportionate number of acclaimed individuals with international reputations in the world of progressive religion – Sir Lloyd Geering, Jim Veitch, Margaret Mayman (now based n Sydney), & Glynn Cardy among others – & Common Dreams is delighted that Progressive Spirituality NZ has been established to develop the possibilities this heritage offers. We hope it will be a vehicle that will grow after the Beyond The Borders conference to be a vehicle to promote progressive religious thought & practice in NZ & we look forward to being a partner with our NZ progressive friends in future initiatives”.