The Society started in a simple way in 1993. About 1991 Father John Medcalf, Roman Catholic priest at St Peter’s, Shoreham, had invited John Bowden, Managing Editor of SCM Press, to give a lecture on the Belgian theologian, Edward Cornelis Schillebeeckx, as part of a series.
It scarcely seemed the sort of event that people would flock to. Some went to learn and some went to support an event which was obviously going to need a lot of nurturing. ‘Three old ladies and a dog’ was all one member expected. To his surprise, when he arrived a few minutes before starting time, he found a packed hall and barely an empty seat! Similar events followed and identified a thirst for good contemporary scholarship, sound instruction and depth in faith.
When the Shoreham series ended, regular attenders from West Worthing Baptist Church picked up the baton and the result was a lecture on Karl Rahner by Raglan Hay-Will, RC Chaplain at the University of Sussex. Numbers again exceeded expectations and they moved from a small meeting room into the church.
Not every lecture was a winner. Not every lecturer was a draw. An occasional attendance of 25 was worrying. Fifty was good. Then the word got round and after ten years, fifty was worrying and over a hundred not unknown, with a ‘special’ for Bishop Spong from the USA in 2002 when the figure was nearer to 200.
Organisation to begin with was kept to a minimum: a secretary arranged speakers, made recordings and sold tapes, and an ad hoc group occasionally came up with names. West Worthing nurtured it and made the church available free of charge until the Society had sufficient funds to make a contribution but as numbers grew and funds increased it became clear that some structure was needed. Around 2000 a name was adopted (The Worthing Theological Society) and in 2002 a treasurer and chairman were appointed and a constitution agreed.