Isn't it amazing how, even though we may not knowingly prepared for it, we can often enter a space set aside for intentional spiritual growth and be caught up, affirmed and transformed by it? This was again my experience this week as I put the finishing touches to a new website I am creating - which will share something of the growing spiritual resources and reflections being produced by transgender Christians across the world, together with others of my own. Focused on thoughts of this, I made my way to the beautiful Chapel of the Holy Spirit here on our college site. What I encountered brought fresh joy to my soul, placing in greater profile and context the purpose of that work. For it was a powerful reminder to me, as a transgender person, not only that, in the words of Psalm 139, I am 'fearfully and wonderfully made', but that all of us, whoever and whatever we are, exist in a mystery which is both far beyond our understanding (certainly more than straightforward binary ideas of good and evil, male and female) and yet also closer to us than the identities we have or for which we struggle. Such is the gift of loving spiritual intention, in people, place and prayer...
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the Pope’s horses and all the Pope’s men (and women),
couldn’t put Humpty together again.
For good and ill, the era we know as the Reformation has hugely shaped us. It involved immense fragmentation: both a breaking down and a breaking open. Like Humpty Dumpty, that which went before had ‘a great fall’ and could not be put together again as it had been. Especially within Christian life, it has thus bequeathed so many features we simply take for granted. Some have lasting value. Others are much more questionable. This includes the very existence of different Christian traditions, in what, from the 19th century, we have termed denominations. This was not, of course, an intended outcome. Indeed, it would have seemed anathema to any Reformer, as well as to the Church of Rome. Yet it is part of our Reformation inheritance. So what do we make of this, for God’s continuing mission? What is worth keeping? How might we move on together?
This reflection is not a traditional potted history. Nor does it seek to draw us into comparisons of our different Christian traditions, never mind reassemble past dynamics and rhetoric. Instead, it outlines briefly both vital differences and also important similarities between that age and our own. In doing so, it identifies a number of negative features which often mar our churches and world. It also suggests a number of positive features which can heal and take us forward. Hopefully, in the contemporary spirit of ‘receptive ecumenism’, these may then provide a basis for assessing which Reformation gifts we will own together and which we will leave behind. What else, we might then ask, do we need for our journey onwards today?...
One of my most fascinating distant ancestors (on my mother's side) was William Bartholomew, who was Vicar of Chipping Campden between 1636 and 1660. As such he lived through many of the epic events of 17th century England: remarkably holding his living from the age of the 'Personal Rule' of Charles 1, even in the upheavals of civil war, the Commonwealth and Protectorate, through to the return of the monarchy. So was he like the fabled 'Vicar of Bray', a by-word for holding on to his ecclesiastical office irrespective of principle? Or was there something more at play in his career? The immediate historical records themselves can be confusing. On the one hand, some have portrayed him as an 'ardent Puritan', perhaps on evidence which suggests he was a major player in the suppression of Dover's Games on the Cotswold downs after 1643. Yet he also appears to have been harassed by the Committee of Plundered Ministers and forced to spend 200 pounds of his own money to avoid trouble. Indeed the memorial in Chipping Campden Church records him as a 'fearless advocate (even in the worst of times) of the Royalist cause.' The latter seems the most likely, as, on Charles II's return from exile, he had the honour of preaching the Restoration sermon in Gloucester Cathedral (see front page pic above right), as well as speedily restoring to his parish the Church of England's Prayer Book which had been proscribed. What then went on in his ministry which enabled his stabilitas through such dramatic changes? The answer needs more research (!), which my beloved late aunt Molly began with my parents a few years ago and which I would love to follow through with at some point soon. My historical hunch however is that, like Jesus' words in the story of Mary and Martha, William Bartholomew effectively continued with 'the one thing necessary': waiting on God in Christ even in the toughest circumstances, continuing to read and expound the Scriptures, and exercising a deeply appreciated 'cure of souls' (earning 'the love and praise and admiration of all', according to his church memorial). As such, his life tells us both something about the complexity of English religion in that tumultuous period (much broader, more localised and even less ideological than simplistic history might assume?) and also that the essence of Christian priesthood (lay or ordained) is not defined by obvious externals (such as the presence or otherwise of episcopacy or authorised liturgy, helpful though they may often be). That may point us to the deepest mystery of all.
From my early childhood, I have always been engaged in exploring what liberty means. I grew up fascinated by history for that reason and it is not for nothing that the pictures over my office desk resonate with some of the mightiest of English struggles for liberty: a copy of the Magna Carta, photographs and records of female suffragists, and, most poignantly of all, a facsimile of the Leveller Anthony Sedley's scrawled protest on the font of Burford Church (see picture to the right). Such epic battles, mixed in as they often were with religious identity and aspiration, both challenge and inspire. They are in parts a record of gruesome hurts but also witness to the Christ-like 'courage to be', to re-imagine, and to 'turn the world upside down' Imagine then my frequent puzzlement and dismay, when some people, in comfortable places, speak about religious liberty as merely the right to hold and publicise curious opinions and practices or to protect privilege. Of course I would not wish to deny others the first of those things. Yet liberty is so much more...
This year is the bicentenary of the Bible Society in Australia and it was wonderful to be given a lovely gift by one of our students which marks the occasion - Our mob, God's story : Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists share their faith. (researched and edited by Louise Sherman and Christobel Mattingley ; art selection by Max Conlon, Gail Naden, Glenny Naden and Inawantji Scales ; with foreword by distinguished Aboriginal artist and educator Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann)
Winner of the 2017 Australian Christian Book of the Year, Our Mob, God’s Story features the work of 66 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian artists, well-known and unknown, from communities, towns and cities across Australia, from Tasmania to the Tiwi Islands, from Ceduna to Cairns, form Perth to Wonthaggi, sharing their faith in 115 paintings inspired by Bible verses and stories, many well loved, others not so well known, from Creation to the Crucifixion. All artists have generously given free use of their images, but retain copyright.
It is a powerful and beautiful witness to God’s love for the traditional custodians of this ancient continent which we now call Australia, and to the talent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. Publication has been funded by a generous donor and all proceeds will go towards publication of Scripture in mother tongues of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups.
A great deal of my life has been spent as a border crosser, on so many levels A number of factors have no doubt given rise to this, including life contexts and personality. It is also however a key element in being both a priest and a transgender person. Much has been written about this from the point of view of priesthood. Whether lay or ordained, all Christians also share in the ministry of reconciliation (see 2 Corinthians 5.17-20 and elsewhere). Yet perhaps one of the under-recognised gifts of transgender people is the capacity many of us have to work across the borders of identity and difference. After all, we have to negotiate this more than most in our very selves. No wonder that, across the world's cultures, gender variant people have therefore always exercised sacred roles as priests, mediators, go-betweens, and other reconciling figures, in so many aspects of human existence. No wonder too that some like myself have been drawn into Christian priesthood and border crossing work as a means of finding life for ourselves and others, even when our own transgender identities have been outwardly submerged or suppressed. As transgender people become more visible and accepted as equal and positive contributors to human life, it will be lovely to see such ministries increasingly more explicitly affirmed, celebrated and nurtured. To be a border crosser, whatever your gender identity, is typically both an uncomfortable but wonderfully rewarding vocation. So if you are, or know, a border crosser, say a prayer and raise a glass of cheer and comfort! We are vital, for ourselves and for others. As Kathy Galloway put it, in a favourite poem of mine (entitled 'Cross-border peace talks'), it is a holy place to be:
Even if, at least privately, I have never really identified as a male, I feel blessed by so many men with whom I have shared my life and not least those who have nurtured and enriched me. I will try not to embarrass too many, but maybe, as they had the love and courage to marry into my family, my sons in law will forgive me for mentioning them for a moment. For the shape of healthy masculinity is once again under consideration, especially with recent Australian media focus on the relationship between certain religious themes (not least 'headship') and domestic violence. These are weighty and rightfully necessary matters to address. Hopefully however they will strengthen the many men who both show us the beautiful strength and blessings of masculinity and work to overcome its darker manifestations. My sons in law are for me lovely examples of the former. Indeed perhaps the most life-giving picture I have carried with me in recent days is that of my first grandchild resting peacefully with his father. It seems this recent arrival is rightly calmed by his father's presence, held both safely and tenderly, and bound in a bond of love which brings comfort and heart to all. What a gorgeous portrait of what a man can be for others and receive from others. We have so many marvelous icons of mother and child, but - like that of the mutually enriching love of both my sons in law for my daughters, and through that for others - this living icon is one we need to treasure, affirm and multiply much more. With special thanks to my own father as we journey on...
Better late than never? Today I am coming out fully as a transgender person. It has been a lifelong journey to this point and I am sure there are more struggles to come of a different nature. Tonight however I feel the deepest sense of joy and freedom - like that of Paul in his letter to the Galatians (more reflections about that and other wonderful trans affirming parts of the Bible and Christian Tradition in due course) - and I know that I now stand more clearly in the imperishable image of God in which I am created. I feel greatly blessed by this moment and all who have inspired, gone before, supported and/or stood by me. Thank you to anyone reading this who has been part of that :-) For my coming out has profound spiritual dimensions for me which I believe are sources of healing, strength and renewal for us all. Like my little grandchild cradled in my arms in the photograph (see left) I feel more intimately part of God's 'new creation', a little child cradled in the love of God.
Below is the letter sent (with the kind support of my archbishop) to my fellow clergy today in the Anglican Church Southern Queensland, together with just a few resources which may help our mutual understanding and growth. Together with the archbishop and my college principal, my loving partner and I pondered and prayed hard about the best way to share my news, aware both of the current contrasting levels of knowledge and care in our churches and also seeking a path of healthy transparency without causing unnecessary reactions in some quarters. I therefore hope and pray that this may be part of our continuing journeys into wholeness and joyful life for us all...
Tomorrow is the 30th anniversary of my ordination as priest, so it seems appropriate to break what has been a (initially unintentional) five month blog fast. For as I look back and around today, reflecting on my life and vocational journey, it seems new beginnings are certainly in the air. For some time I have felt myself in a watershed period and this is certainly true of 2017 so far.
Today I fly back from Vancouver, at the end of a short stay in Canada en route back from the UK. For at the beginning of June my parents marked their 60th wedding anniversary. My wife and I therefore coupled being there with a series of different work and research engagements which will hopefully bear much fruit for us and others in the next few months and years to come. As we stood awaiting our suitcases at Heathrow at the very end of May, we also received news of the birth of our first grandchild. Symbolically it was a powerful expression of new phases of life into which we, and many people and interests we share, have entered.
In the next few weeks I hope to share some important aspects of changes which have opened up for us, pondering a little on the significant shifts which have taken place for us so far this year (new city, new house, new jobs, new work roles, new family roles, new relationships, new understandings of ourselves etc) and those to come. However, on the eve of my priestly ordination anniversary, it is enough to reflect briefly on a visit to the St Brigid's Community gathering at Christ Church Anglican cathedral in Vancouver last Sunday. St Brigid's is a three year old emerging church initiative, with a particular affirmation of diversity (not least of LGBTI+ people) and is apart of the cathedral's developing ministry and mission. It marked the feast of St Peter and St Paul (my ordination festival) on Sunday and I was greatly moved by the shifts of 30 years. At that time, in St Paul's cathedral in London, all was done in the style of high Anglican papalism, with a presiding bishop who shortly afterwards converted to Roman Catholicism - out of horror of female ordination - and who insisted on determined Anglo-Catholic clerical elements, including a concelebration of new priests which excluded some of different Anglican tradition. At St Brigid's, whilst surprisingly faithful to today's liturgical expectations, it was very different. The female priest presided engagingly, inviting all to reflect and contribute together on their response to the texts and themes of the day, and to gather as one around the eucharistic table. Transgender, as well as other LGBTI+ people, shared deep Christian insights, speaking from their own faith experience, embodying the new voice and confidence gradually being found even (slowly and sometimes agonisingly) in the churches. For me, it was a beautiful affirmation of so much that I have prayed and worked for over the past 30 years, and a wonderful timely encouragement to new steps into the future. Sometimes God seems particularly close, especially at times of threshold and transformation. Feeling renewed in my vocation, may the journey of grace continue for us all.
It has been good to contribute recently to a number of faith-based initiatives which are seeking to engage constructively with ecological challenges. Edited by the excellent Dr Clive Ayre, one of the Australian leading thinkers in this field, the latest journal of the Australian Association of Mission Studies is for example focused on these issues. It was an honour therefore to contribute some of my thinking and experience of the, often disconnected, relationships between Reconciliation, Ecology and Mission, particularly positively in relation to local projects in Queensland. It has also been good to hear of planning for the first national conference (this September) of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) and to begin to link up more closely with that work in which I shared in Sydney. Meanwhile the Anglican Board of Mission (ABM) has been moving forward with its own climate change awareness and advocacy, on behalf of Australian Anglicans as a whole. Some of its work and plans can be found here, including an article I was pleased to contribute from my experience in the Philippines and eco-theological studies. The article itself is also to be found below (just click "Read More"). All these things seem such small steps but together, by God's grace, we can make a difference...
My name is Jo Inkpin and I live in the midst of many fragmentations in Australia. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice and the integrity of creation.