We asked the Very Rev. Dr. Gary Paterson, co-founder of the West Coast Centre for (r)Evolutionary Theology and the lead minister at St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church in downtown Vancouver, about his views on the Centre and about changing religious perspectives and practices.
1. How did the West Coast Centre for (r)Evolutionary Theology get started?
The idea for (r)Evolutionary Theology began after a dozen or so people attended a major Process theology conference last June (2015) in Claremont, CA, and were inspired by how the theological conversations that took place there were thoughtful, progressive and connected to what was happening in the world. We wanted to create a centre that would bring together people who are wrestling with how to talk about God in our times. The idea is for (r)Evolutionary Theology to create a space where people can explore revolutionary theological topics, such as Process thought, Ecotheology, new expressions of Liberation theology and other topics.
2. How is (r)Evolutionary Theology’s approach helping to meet modern spiritual needs?
These days, people are hungry for a spirituality that touches their souls and everyday lives, but, too often, they’re finding that hunger unmet by what is happening in traditional churches. I believe that we are called upon to explore new ways of talking about God, and new ways of practicing our faith.
3. What’s the broader significance of the inaugural (r)Evolutionary Theology Conference in Vancouver?
When we thought about starting up a centre, we decided that holding a conference might be the best kick-off strategy. The (r)Evolutionary Theology Conference: Re-imagining God and the World, was to be a drawing card – an event that would bring a variety of people together and create some energy, some synergy. Out of this would emerge the West Coast Centre for (r)Evolutionary Theology. The Conference was not understood to be a one-off event, but the beginning of a new conversation. Further, we are so excited to be bringing together some incredible theological voices, such as John Cobb, who just turned 90 years old and is still speaking and writing; he’s truly an inspiration. Sally McFague is 82 and sharp as a tack. Add to this Jay McDaniel, who is of the next generation and doing work on Process thought, Buddhism and Ecotheology. Then drop one generation further to Tripp Fuller, whose podcast ministry is enabling so many to discover new theological voices.
4. What’s next for the West Coast Centre for (r)Evolutionary Theology?
The Centre is still emerging, and part of what comes next will be shaped by the conversations and ideas generated at the Conference. Our vision is for (r)Evolutionary Theology to be a forum where these conversations can continue. In the future, (r)Evolutionary Theology may produce events where key speakers are invited to Vancouver. There may be resources made available for discussion groups, rooted in neighbourhoods or in congregations. There may be courses offered at the Vancouver School of Theology and elsewhere. With all the networking possible through modern technology, it will be exciting to see what emerges.
5. Why is it important to foster public discussion about Progressive theology and God-talk?
How we think about God, how we understand God to be present in our lives and in this world, shapes and impacts how we see ourselves and the world. It undergirds and energizes our work in the world, particularly our commitment to love and justice. Too many people are discouraged about dead-end theologies and are unaware of some of the alternatives. I have heard from some people in the green movement – who are working hard on climate change issues and sustaining the environment – that fear and guilt are insufficient motivators. If there is also a spiritual energy to enliven this movement, the long-term impacts will be greatly enriched.
Vancouver is perhaps the most secular corner of North America; and, the number of people who have no religious affiliation is growing in leaps and bounds. The big question for churches and for people of faith is how to respond to this. Not with criticism, e.g., what’s wrong with them?, but with new ways of talking about faith that actually respond to where people are at, and that open up new ways of thinking and acting.