As secretary to the Brisbane Common Dreams Conference in September 2016, I emerged as a convinced progressive, greatly inspired by the presentations, the scholarship and an awareness of a rapidly growing movement that addressed the many problems of relevance and authenticity in Christianity in the 21st Century. I have recently been elected to the National Planning Committee and look forward to seeing great things happening.
Dick Carter, the chairperson of Common Dreams Inc has provided us with the history and current state of CD together with its rules of operation and some recommendations. This is Part 1 of that story.
The Common Dreams Story
COMMON DREAMS is an alliance of Australian and New Zealand kindred organisations which promote the study, discussion and implementation of Progressive Christian and other progressive religious streams of thought and action.
COMMON DREAMS is an alliance of Australian and New Zealand kindred organisations which promote the study, discussion and implementation of Progressive Christian and other progressive religious streams of thought and action. The alliance includes The Progressive Christian Network of Victoria, Progressive Christian Network Queensland, Progressive Christianity Aotearoa (NZ), St Luke’s Community at Remuera (Auckland), Pitt Street Uniting Church (Sydney), The Progressive Christian Network of South Australia, & Progressive Network of Western Australia. “Two founding groups – The Centre for Progressive Religious Thought Canberra and The Centre for Progressive Religious Thought Sydney – have since gone into recess, but individual members still share in local discussions and national events.”
Progressive Christianity is a nondenominational approach to faith and spirituality. It seeks to understand Christian beliefs and doctrines in the light of modern biblical and historical scholarship and current scientific knowledge. It values inquiry and intellectual integrity. It rejects biblical literalism and inerrancy. It is open to diversity of opinion. Expressions of progressive streams in other religious faiths have similar approaches within their traditions.
“The real reason why progressive Christianity exists is not to prune away archaisms and false accretions. It exists to be an authentic gospel voice, to proclaim the good news of Jesus’ life and teaching: a vision of humanity united to the sacred and to one another in love and justice.”—Rev Dr Margaret Mayman
The principal way the alliance pursues its objectives is through staging the major international Common Dreams Conference each three years. These conferences bring together for several days a large audience to hear and interact with a distinguished group of international, Australian and New Zealand scholars, researchers, writers and speakers. The first Conference was held in Sydney in August 2007 and featured Bishop John Shelby Spong as lead keynote speaker; the second was staged in Melbourne in April 2010, starring Gretta Vosper (a leading Canadian progressive); the third in the series was presented in Canberra during September 2013 with Marcus Borg leading a strong line-up of international and Australian and New Zealand experts; the fourth was held in Brisbane in September 2016 featuring Diana Butler Bass. The fifth conference was presented in Sydney 11-14 July 2019 and the distinguished international guest was Matthew Fox.
The proceedings of these conferences are made available as study resources for scholars, students and individuals. Common Dreams also arranges tours to Australia and New Zealand from time to time by leading scholars under the banner of Common Dreams On The Road. Our touring visitors have included Professor John Dominic Crossan (twice), Professor Bernard Brandon Scott (twice), Rev Dr Robin Meyers, Rev Dr David Galston, Professor Hal Taussig, & Professor Joe Bessler.
It all started in 2005! Rex Hunt was in Canberra and Jonathan Rea in Sydney. Both were actively involved in progressive religion/progressive Christianity. During one of their meetings around the Hunt dining room table in Canberra, Jonathan flagged, ‘we should stage a national progressive conference’.
To that end, Jonathan talked with Ian Pearson (then Minister at Pitt Street Uniting Church) and a meeting was called for January 2006 at Pitt Street Uniting Church in Sydney. Present were: Rex Hunt (Canberra), Jonathan Rea, Ian Pearson, Eric Stevenson and Valerie Worswick (Sydney), Greg Jenks (Brisbane), and John Smith (Melbourne). Discussion centred on establishing a national progressive religion network, using the Centre for Progressive Religious Thought Canberra as a model, which would then stage a national Conference. A theme for the first Conference was decided on: Common Dreams: Progressive Religion as a Transforming Agent. Principal speakers suggested included: Bishop John Shelby Spong, Brandon Scott, Joe Bessler-Northcutt. A tentative date was set for August 2007 in Sydney.
That national Conference was staged and was a huge success with people attending from Australia (every state was represented), New Zealand, USA and Canada. Towards Conference end, Rex Hunt approached Richard Carter of the newly formed Progressive Christian Network of Victoria and invited them to hold a second Conference in three years’ time. He accepted, giving birth to the Common Dreams Conferences.
So thankful to have this organization.