6. What is the purpose of “Scientists in Congregations Scotland”?

Published October 11, 2013 by Andrew Torrance in

Following the Scientists in Congregations programme in the United States and Canada, the Scottish programme calls for a sustained, creative collaboration between practitioners in the fields of science and pastoral leaders who are already engaged with one another through shared participation in the life of a congregation. The purposes of this effort include the following:

  • To identify existing resources of congregations in Scotland and to stimulate conditions for a sustained, rich, generative engagement between science and faith.

When ministers and other church leaders set out to generate a deeper engagement between science and faith in the lives of their congregations, the impulse is to reach beyond to tap the expertise that resides beyond the life of their congregation. This initiative is intended to focus attention on the potential resources that are intrinsic to the life of congregations—specifically, scientists and science educators who are active participants in the life of the congregation. While not all churches have these science related professionals in their midst, many do. But to our knowledge, there are very few congregations who have recognised and drawn upon the insight they often possess from a lifetime of holding together their love and knowledge of science and of God. Indeed, many of these science professionals themselves may not recognise the wisdom they possess because they are rarely if ever called upon to articulate it. When there is such a science professional, a minister who recognises the importance of the engagement between these two worlds, and a congregation with a readiness to grow their encounter with science and faith, this programme will serve as a powerful catalyst to draw these elements into a creative collaboration that could have a sustained impact in the life of a congregation. This more internally grounded strategy also enhances the likelihood of a cultural shift in a congregation that will be sustained over time in a way that one-off events and conferences, however good the outside speakers, cannot.

  • To provide ministers with the means to call scientists into a sustained collaboration that would enrich a scientist’s engagement with theology and a theologian’s engagement with science, and their shared participation in church life and leadership.

Many ministers are highly motivated to encourage a deeper engagement with science in the life of their congregation but feel unprepared to do so—and lack the time necessary to grow their expertise in this area. Many science-related professionals would welcome the challenge of contributing to a more robust integration of faith and science in their church, but are rarely called upon to do so and, if and when they are, often feel theologically unprepared. This programme provides the means to establish a context where ministers and scientists can enter into a mutually enriching collaboration that would overflow to the benefit of the congregation.

  • To develop a range of locally grown models of how Scottish congregations can draw deeply from the well of their own congregational life to become communities where the life of science and the life of faith are experienced as spiritually enriching and intellectually stimulating, and to find ways of encouraging a multiplying number of other congregations to also implement, and improve on these models.

While it is not uncommon to find among ministers a high level of interest in encouraging engagement between science and faith in the lives of their congregations, it has been difficult to provide them with a range of models of how individual congregations have actually done it and qualitative change they have experienced. For many, it is not even entirely clear what it would mean, or how precisely it would enrich congregational life. The intent of this programme is to develop several models of how this impulse has been translated into a course of action that have measurable and enduring results. The models will be communicated as narratives and will provide concrete resources that can be used in the lives of congregations across a wide spectrum. The intention of this programme is thus twofold:

1. To support up to fifteen congregationally based efforts to develop and test models.

2. To take the most workable and transformative of these efforts as examples that can be taken up by hundreds of other congregations who, with concrete project ideas to hand, do not need project development grants to get started.

  • To mediate into congregational life many of the existing resources, as well as those now under development, that are intended to cultivate a generative encounter between science and faith in the life of congregations.

The field of science and Christianity has developed in extraordinary ways over the past thirty years, generating a rich body of scholarly literature on the relationship between science and theology. These resources will be directly relevant to the congregational initiatives that will be developed in this programme. But surprisingly little work has been done to either popularise these scholarly ideas and findings, or to explore their relevance for personal spiritual development or congregational life. It is anticipated that this programme will, in the course of its implementation, result in a whole new range of resources especially relevant to congregational life.

  • To help overcome the wider social issues which grow out of the troubling ways in which some Christian communities relate to science.

This programme seeks to help churches avoid either unnecessarily watering down their message on the one hand, or unnecessarily dismissing large areas of well-documented science on the other, out of a sense that faith is somehow incompatible with science. Projects supported by this programme have the potential to catalyze a new willingness on the part of Christian communities to engage with the intellectual side of our culture. In time this could help break down the current separation of faith from thought. To put it starkly, we have allowed our institutions to mirror the faith-thought division in modern life – seeing universities as being just for intellectual life, and churches for spiritual life. In time, the projects initiated by this programme could expand our sense of the importance of the church for all aspects of our lives by exploring the relevance of the sciences for the church.

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