THE SOCIETY OF ORDAINED SCIENTISTS
The inception and growth of an ecumenical dispersed religious order
(1985-7)

A brief exchange of ideas in 1985 between two Church of England priests,
the Revd Dr Arthur Peacocke, then Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre at St
Cross College, Oxford, and the Revd Canon Eric Jenkins, then Vicar of
Hightown, Merseyside and part-time Science Adviser to the Diocese of
Liverpool, let to further informal discussions in 1986 at Nottingham
University (during the annual meeting of the Science and Religion Forum)
and at St George's House, Windsor, with other Anglican priests of similar
scientific and technological backgrounds.

Tentative proposals emerged for the formation of a dispersed religious
order, open to ordained ministers of the Church of England and to the other
main Christian Churches who shared a common background and were
prepared to commit themselves to certain Aims, a Rule and Constitution.
 Within four years, that is by the summer of 1990, the Society of Ordained
Scientists had attracted 55 full members, including men and women:
Methodists, United Reform Church, Presbyterian as well as Anglicans;
Scottish, Welsh, Canadian and American as well as English. In addition,
10 'associates' included lay members who joined with full members three
times a year at regional chapters comprising Southern England, East
Anglia, Midlands, Northern England and Scotland.

All of the 65 full or associate members have some measure of experience
of science (including medical science) and/or technology at a professional
level.  The Society is fully recognized by the Church of England through the
participation of Dr John Habgood, the Archbishop of York, as its Visitor
(who has been present to admit members at every Annual Gathering and
Retreat). The rapid growth and favourable recognition of the Society,
launched as it was without extensive publicity or significant financial
backing, suggests and idea whose time had come. It may be interesting to
set out briefly something of the theological and pastoral background in the
1980s that may have influenced the thinking of many of our full and
associate members -- as well as a fuller account of its inception.

One might start with the observation that science and religious faith are no
longer regarded as incompatible within influential sectors of the intellectual
culture in the U.K. Many books appeared in this country on this theme
during the late 1970s and the 1980s -- some of them by authors who
subsequently became members of SOSc (A.R.Peacocke, J.Polkinghorne,
D.Stanseby, C.Wiltsher, I.Paul) and others (R.Stannard, P.Hodgson,
D.Ford). Professor Keith Ward, then of King's College, London, in his The
Turn of the Tide
(BBC Publications, London, 1986), commented that he
had 'found fascinating to see how Christian physicists, biologists and
philosophers give an account of their faith, and show how their own
research has contributed to it' (p.8). It remains true that intellectual
arguments alone cannot prove or disprove Christianity, but 'we cannot now
return to the easy scepticism of the early 20th century. That is what has
been decisively overthrown' (Ward, loc.cit.).

At a more immediately practical level, there has been an increasing
awareness during the last 20 years from within science and technology that
the rapid advance of science is raising new ethical and political problems to
which science in isolation has no immediate answers. For example, the
British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1973 sought the
assistance of the British Council of Churches to set up a joint study group
on science and ethics, reporting in 1973 (The Sensitive Scientist by David
Morley, SCM Press, London, 1978). Ten years later, it had become
commonplace to note widespread discussion in the media and in
Parliament, as well as in Church synods and working parties, of ethical
problems occasioned by new scientific procedures. These now include
environmental issues, in vitro fertilisation and even 'life sciences in space'.
The World Council of Churches (sub-unit on Church and Society)
convened a world conference on Faith, Science Technology in 1979 at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, attended by a thousand scientists,
theologians, students and media representatives. Many ethical and
political issues were hotly debated, over a period of two weeks. Among the
Church of England participants were several priest-scientists who later
played a significant part in setting up the Society.

Even before that conference, several initiatives within the churches in the
U.K. had started to attract a modest degree of support and to carry a
growing influence. Each in its way helped to prepare the ground for the
inception of the Society in 1985-6. They are respectively: the Science and
Religion Forum, founded by the Revd Dr Arthur Peacocke in 1975, the
conferences and clergy training programmes fostered at St George's
House, Windsor Castle, over recent years organised by the Revd Canon
Derek Stanesby, and the initiative of the Diocese of Liverpool (due to
Bishop Stuart Blanch, later to be Archbishop of York) in establishing in
1973 a part-time post for a priest-scientist as their 'Science Adviser' (a post
held by Canon Eric Jenkins 1973_88 and by the Revd Ursula Shone since
1990 -- both members of the Society).

It was against this fertile background of interdisciplinary scholarship and
ethical and pastoral concern that Arthur Peacocke, a leading figure in the
Science and Religion Forum, was by the mid-1980s convinced of the need
for the formation of a new devotional, spiritual and pastorally based
community among those operating on this frontier -- a hope he had long
cherished (see his personal Note attached to this account). The Forum
had established a role for itself in convening an annual conference, usually
at a university centre, open to all who wished to participate in intellectual
discussions at a high academic level, with or without any prior personal
commitment to the Christian faith and to any particular theological tradition
or church community. (Albeit, it was early established that each annual
conference should include an Anglican Eucharist). In his early musings
that led to the Forum, Arthur Peacocke had written in the Church Times in
the early 1960s of the need for 'an intellectual apostolate' informed by
science, akin to the early Dominicans.

Arthur Peacocke's own proclivities tended to the liberal Catholic tradition,
within which he developed a personal vision of a new dispersed religious
order of priest-scientists that would be concerned with a deeper
commitment to the spiritual aspects of the life of scientists who profess the
Christian faith -- something quite different from, but complementary to, the
work of the Forum. During the early 1980s he took advice from members
of existing Anglican religious orders, including SSJE and the Oratory of the
Good Shepherd and also shared his thoughts with various individuals
including Bishop Michael Mann at Windsor and Canon Allchin, then at
Canterbury. He mentioned his ideas briefly to Canon Eric Jenkins during a
Forum Conference at Oxford in March 1985 and subsequently accepted an
invitation from him to give a public lecture on Science and Religion at the
Liverpool Institute of Higher Education (St Katherine's College) on 25
November 1985.

After the lecture at the home as an overnight guest of Canon and Mrs
Jenkins at St Stephen's Vicarage, Hightown, Canon Jenkins reminded Dr
Peacocke of their earlier conversation and invited him to talk more fully
about his idea for an Order of priest-scientists. They found common
ground and Jenkins later wrote a short paper, for presentation at the
annual conference of the Forum, on 'Science and Devotion'. In that paper
the question was posed: 'Given the validity of an inclusive view of Science
and Religion, does this offer any new prompting to growth in our prayers,
our expositions of holy scriptures, our devotional talks, our spiritual
meditations?'

Peacocke and Jenkins agreed to canvass a selection of the Anglican
priest-scientists from the membership list of the Forum and invite them to
attend an informal consultation on the first afternoon of the 1986 annual
Forum conference at Nottingham University on 20 March. They hoped for
support for the idea of an 'Order of Priest-Scientists', to include some form
of 'rule of life', including an obligation to attend its annual retreat. In
addition to Peacocke and Jenkins, two other Forum members (the Revd
John Kerr and the Revd Dr Brian Chalmers) accepted the invitation and
took part in a lively discussion at the Anglican chaplaincy of the University
of Nottingham (by courtesy of the Chaplain, the Revd Dr Alan Caldwell,
himself a Forum member).  There was a sufficient consensus to encourage
Peacocke and Jenkins to draft a further invitation over the names of the
above four members of the Forum, addressed to a wider group of personal
contacts.  The invitation included a list of seven possible aims of a
proposed Order/College/Society of Priest-Scientists in the Church of
England. It was hoped that as many as 20 priests may respond, and
Canon Derek Stansesby of St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, offered to
host the consultation at his home in the Cloisters (he was also a Forum
member, had a background in science and held a special responsibility for
encouraging discussions and courses on science and faith as a part of the
wide ministry of St George's House.

(Continued on next page -- click here)

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