Christian Controversies 2012

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Over 350 students, staff and speakers took part in the second Christian Controversies Conference at Chester Cathedral last week. The event jointly organised by Heather Staniland, the District Development Enabler for the Chester and Stoke on Trent District of the Methodist Church and Nicola Preston the Education Officer at Chester Cathedral, attracted 13 schools from within and beyond the district and diocese and included some schools from both private and public sectors, some church backed and some state-funded.

After a welcome by Canon Jane Brooke the conference got underway with the keynote speech by Dr. Peter Vardy on “Programming Reality-Genetic Engineering”, which focussed on the ethics of both plant and human genetic engineering. Students then went into breakout groups to discuss the issues raised and to develop further questions on other issues. A panel of Christian experts were convened to answer the questions from their own Christian viewpoints. On the panel were; Ruth Pickles, Vice-President of the Methodist Conference, the Rt Revd Keith Sinclair Bishop of Birkenhead, Father Paul Shaw from St. Werburgh`s Roman Catholic Church, Rev Billy McCurrie, Baptist Minister, Dr. Paul Middleton from Chester University as well as Dr. Peter Vardy. Panel members were challenged by the high quality of questions from the student audience.

A’ Level students from all the attending schools worked together during two afternoon seminars. The first focused on ‘Good and Bad Religion’ led by Dr Peter Vardy who engaged the students in discussion about interpretation of the Bible and strength of religious adherence and verve. The second was entitled “I now pronounce you husband and ...?” The Church and Same Sex ‘Marriage’ and was led by Dr Paul Middleton of Chester University. The students considered newspaper reports with slants for and against same sex couples being allowed to celebrate their civil partnership commitment in a church and whether this is in keeping with Christian marriage.  

Meanwhile GSCE students discussed; crime and conversion led by The Revd Billy McCurrie, Baptist Minister in Ormskirk, as well as taking part in a seminar focused on euthanasia and discussing the various denominational differences when answering ‘Can we choose when we die?’. The seminars were led by Canon Jane Brooke, Canon Chancellor of Chester Cathedral, Jenny Owen, Chaplain at the UCE Academy, Paul North, Chester Schools Christian Worker and Father Paul Shaw of St Werburgh’s Chester.

The conference supported students’ revision: in theology, ethics, philosophy and RE, for their forthcoming GCSE, AS and A’ Level examinations. Students from the Queen’s School, Chester commented on “the high level of debate and learning on offer” and contributor Dr Middleton enthused, “I thought this was a hugely successful day which was brilliantly organised. To bring together that number of GCSE and A’ Level students to engage in these religious and ethical issues was not only impressive, but of vital importance’.
Ruth Pickles, the Vice-President of the Methodist Conference commented;

"What a wonderful opportunity for students to engage in stimulating debate on important ethical consideration regarding contemporary issues. The chance to hear a world class speaker was great."

The organisers would like to extend warmest thanks to all contributing speakers, teachers, chaplains and students for their input to a successful and engaging event.


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