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A Funding Panacea for Prophecy Research

I recently enjoyed listening to Rev Dr Jane Shaw’s series of talks on mysticism on Radio 3, so I was interested to see that she has written a book on Mabel Barltrop and the Panacea Society. Frances Stonor Saunders has a review in the Guardian; the final paragraph is amusing:

A curious omission from Shaw’s otherwise exhaustive volume is any mention of the society’s finances. As it’s a registered charity this information is readily accessed on the Charity Commission’s website, which reports a long-term investment portfolio worth £20m, in addition to £3m in own use assets, presumably the Bedford properties. This represents a nice wad for Jesus when he reappears (will he go for government bonds or dip a toe into futures?). The society’s published accounts for the past five years show donations of nearly £500,000 to something called the Prophecy Project. Based at New College, Oxford, its co-director from 2003 to 2011 was Jane Shaw. She is also named on the Charity Commission website as a trustee of the Panacea Society. Oh.

Also on the list of trustees is Canon Professor Christopher Rowland; it is curious to see two academically-minded Anglican priests acting as trustees for an apocalyptic and heterodox religious group known for eccentric beliefs such as that the Garden of Eden was in Bedford (a 2001 Independent interview also describes one member expressing some racist religious views, to the embarrassment of another). Here is the full list of the “aims of the charity”:

1. Work related to the advancement of the religious beliefs of the Society as defined by its original charitable objects.
2. Sponsoring the writing, publication, and distribution of religious works associated with the Visitation.
3. Undertaking the duties and responsibilities incumbent on being the custodian of Joanna Southcott’s Box of Sealed Writings.
4. Sponsoring research by recognised academic institutions into the history and theology of the Society and its antecedents.
5. Supporting the work of the Church of England in advancing the Christian Religion especially in the Bedford area, or in aspects of theology or liturgy that relate to the Society’s specific interests.
6. Supporting recognised local organisations dealing with the relief of sickness within the Bedford area.

It makes more sense when one reads to the end of the list: it is of course sensible to have clergy and academics overseeing how money is disbursed in relation to aims 4-6, and I strongly doubt that they have anything to do with aims 1-3. A more general statement on the Society’s website downplays the Society’s distinctive beliefs in relation to the charity even more, giving as aims:

(a). To advance the Christian Religion (and in doing so the Council may have regard to the teachings of Joanna Southcott and her successors)
(b). in furtherance of Christian principles to relieve both poverty and sickness and to advance education both generally and in the production, publication, and dissemination of religious works.

In 2007, there was an acrimonious dispute about the running of the charity – lawyers were called in, as well as a certain Derek Stuart, described as a “religious detective” who operates “Sword Investigations”. Bedfordshire on Sunday has more.