Michael Perry has served as President of the Churches’ Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies (CFPSS) since 1998 and as Editor of its journal, The Christian Parapsychologist, since 1978. He also serves on the Advisory Council of the Academy of Religion and Psychical Research. Founded in 1953, the CFPSS exists to promote the study of psychical and religious experiences within a Christian context. It takes a positive view of psychic sensitivity, recognizing that proper theology needs to listen humbly to all empirical evidence.
Born in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, a small town in the Midlands of England, in 1933, Michael was ordained into the Church of England in 1958. In 1970 he became a Canon of Durham Cathedral and Archdeacon in Durham City diocese – the youngest Archdeacon in the Church of England for nearly a hundred years. He retired in 1998 and continues to live in Durham City.
Last year he was honored by the Archbishop of Canterbury by being awarded the Lambeth degree of Doctor of Divinity ‘in recognition of his study of the ministry of deliverance and his leadership in CFPSS.’ Officially, he is now ‘The Reverend Canon Dr. Michael Perry,” though he prefers people simply use his Christian name.
His book Psychical and Spiritual was published in 2003 to mark the Golden Jubilee of CFPSS, and was written “as an encouragement to those who are psychically sensitive (in whatever great or small degree) and a plea to all others to treat those experiences critically but sympathetically.”
I put some questions to him by e-mail.
Has the CFPSS been embraced by the clergy of the Church of England or does much of the clergy ignore it or even frown upon it? How about members of the Church?
“Things are changing – but slowly, oh, so slowly! Fifty years ago, when the Fellowship was founded, there was more suspicion about it than there seems to be now. But we have always wanted to relate psychic experience to the mainstream beliefs of the mainstream Christian churches and to be accepted as a legitimate part of mainstream Christianity – not an unorthodox and heretical offshoot.
“So we have always insisted that all our members should either belong to a Church of the World Council of Churches, or else declare that they believe Jesus Christ to be the Lord and Savior of the whole world. Others may be associate members without voting rights, but our central plank has always been basic Christianity.
“Not that that means that every Christian thinks we are a good thing! There is plenty of disagreement, even amongst Church members, on doctrinal matters. We are an ecumenical body, but you are asking about the attitude within the Church of England (part of the world-wide Anglican Communion). Within that body, for instance, it is notorious that not everyone believes in the desirability (let alone the possibility) of ordaining women, or in accepting active gay and lesbian members within the leadership. We have to learn to live in fellowship with others who do not share all our own convictions. So, of course, there are many Church members who believe that it is wicked to have anything to do with psychic sensitivity. They say we are unbiblical; we reject that charge.
“But we have become much more accepted by the leadership of the Churches than we were when we began life half a century ago. Within the hierarchy of the Church of England, the second and third highest places are held by the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of London. They are both Patrons of the Fellowship. And last year, the Fellowship received the ultimate honor when the Archbishop of Canterbury conferred a Doctorate of Divinity on its President. The Archbishop has (by Act of Parliament of 1533) the power to award university degrees. They count, not as honorary degrees, but as full degrees of Oxford University; and they are not often awarded. The present Archbishop only conferred two doctorates this year, and that is about average. So for him to do so to mark my position in the Fellowship is a high honor and shows that he not only accepts us but welcomes us as a legitimate part of the Christian community.
“In England, where we don’t have a Second Amendment, that matters a great deal. In your country, the religious position is a great deal more fluid and the Academy doesn’t need the approval of the hierarchy to earn respectability!”
What has been the reaction to your book? Has there been much feedback, either positive or negative?
“We may be respectable, but we are still a specialist and minority interest! There have been good reviews from within the parapsychological community, and the Bishop of Monmouth gave us a clean bill of health when he reviewed the book for the Church Times. But as far as the rest of the world is concerned, the silence has been (as usual) deafening.”
If there is resistance to parapsychology within the Church, what is the primary reason for it?
“Compared, for instance, with the Tibetan Buddhists or the ancient Egyptians, the writers of the Old Testament were remarkably uninterested in any future life beyond this physical earth. Their God Jahweh (known to us as Jehovah) was concerned with his people here and now, and they believed that his rule did not extend beyond earth. Their near contemporaries had a much more lively interest in psychic communication. So it was felt that anyone who ‘dabbled’ in the psychic was being disloyal to the God of Israel. Hence the biblical prohibitions on such activity. Jahweh was the God of the living, and why should you seek the living amongst the dead?
“That is why there are Christians who believe that parapsychology is forbidden. But if they do, they are still locked in an Old Testament understanding of God.
“Christians know that the Resurrection of Jesus turned the whole Old Testament scenario upside down. The Resurrection showed us that God is the God of earth and hell and heaven, and his rule knows no bounds. The Communion of Saints is a communion which is not bounded by earthly, physical, parameters. We are not being disloyal to the Christian God by dealing with departed souls. We need to do so responsibly, and to God’s glory; and it is the business of the CFPSS to show how such responsible Christian commerce with unseen worlds may be enterprised.”
In your book, you state that the CFPSS is intended to serve as a ‘safe house’ for people with psychic experiences. Have many people availed themselves of this? If so, can you describe a few cases?
“I can’t begin to count them! But at all our conferences, there are people who belong to congregations (or who have ministers) who don’t understand the psychic side of human nature and either dismiss it or hint that it’s not properly ‘spiritual,’ or even that it’s evil. So they keep their own counsel, because they want to continue to be Christian believers and Christian worshippers. But when they come to CFPSS meetings, they know there will be people there who speak the same language as they do, and who will understand what it is they are talking about, and who will help them to be better Christians by being the sort of people God has made them to be.
“When he gave me my DD, the Archbishop of Canterbury had this to say: ‘one person who has been helped in this way has said that the Fellowship enabled her to understand questions of faith without devaluing her spiritual experiences and most of all by studying Christian writings through prayer, meditation, and regular worship.’ That is exactly what we are about.”
Does the CFPSS actively engage in any type of psychical research or is it simply an observer?
“No research, but a great deal of counseling, both of people who are happy with their psychic sensitivity and those who have been upset or worried by it. And we also actively engage in the healing ministry.”
In your years as a Christian parapsychologist, which cases or studies have most influenced your thinking? Please explain.
“If I started talking about those, the whole Bulletin wouldn’t have space enough to contain all the stories! But perhaps the article which has most influenced my own practice was the late Scott Rogo’s in the Journal of the SPR for 1974, where he explained how poltergeist phenomena were most often caused, not by external spirits, but by inter-personal tensions amongst the people at the scene of the disturbances. That revolutionized the way I dealt with poltergeist cases, and has proved enormously helpful.”
Recent news reports indicate that church attendance in Great Britain is at an all-time low. Does the Church hierarchy recognize this as a crisis situation? Is anything being done to reverse the situation?
“Big isn’t always best, and quality matters more than bulk. Of course we would like to see our churches full to bursting; but they need to be filled with committed and active Christians, not by those who only go for social reasons – which was too often the case here in the past. And, as to quality, let me quote Tom Wright, the new Bishop of Durham: ‘Everywhere I go in the diocese I see fresh plants coming up, pushing their heads almost cheekily through the chilly blankets of pessimism. There are wonderful children’s and young people’s projects. There are church-run centres helping people get out of debt or learn to read. There are old people’s drop-in centres, projects for the homeless, for asylum seekers, and so on. And in the middle of it there are plenty of people coming to fresh and lively faith’. Don’t think that ‘cynical press scribblers’ have the whole story!”