Reflecting on Congregationalist history, as I join Pitt Street Uniting Church, has me also recalling one of my great grandfathers, who was a prominent Congregationalist layman - preaching, supporting and part-funding Congregationalist life and mission (especially in Stratford, the East of London, Penge and Fulham). The child of immigrant Irish Catholics, he rose to become a successful manager - and, in marrying, changed his name from McDonnell (my now reclaimed middle name) to MacDonald (partly as a Scottish-sounding name was so far better received in England than an Irish one, and as his wife Jane had also changed her own name from Maindonald in her immigation from Guernsey). I love many of the historical tributes to E.F - in many ways, a case study in social and cultural history - not least the words of the Mayor of Stratford who declared that E.F believed that any type of Christianity that focused too much on another world was not Christianity at all, but that it should be one that enabled people to do some good. I guess in that, at least - and, I hope, in the warmth of his expression - there is a continuing family resemblance?!...
I’ve been happily reminded recently that, in moving to share ministry with Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, I follow in a few footsteps of one of my great heroes, Maude Royden. A leading first wave feminist, internationalist and peace advocate, among many other things, Maude started the Anglican ordination of women campaign. Prevented from preaching, she then became an assistant minister at the prominent City Temple (Congregationalist church) and was also the first Anglican woman to lead a church (an ecumenical fellowship she founded at The Guildhouse, also in London). In her worldwide speaker tours, she drew huge attention, with massive numbers - including packing Pitt St way over capacity, with lines and lines of people locked out down the street (a similar feature repeated at the one Anglican Church in Sydney which had the courage to invite her).
Laura Rademaker provides a very good reflection on Maude’s impact on Australia (particularly in the challenge she was to existing ideas of sex and women) - check out ‘Sex in the pulpit: the feminist preacher for Aussie flappers’ on the Australian Women’s History Network webpage, and her fuller article ‘Religion for the Modern Girl’’ in Australian Feminist Studies (2016)).
My own online tribute to Maude is in the link here, picking up on one of my favourite passages in Maude’s writings, where she speaks of ‘the great adventure’ of Christ and faith, contrasting so starkly with the deathly ‘activity’ which often passes for life in churches. To follow Christ is the invitation, she said, but:
“Would it be safe? No, of course it would not be safe… we are afraid of such risks, afraid of such a terrible victory (as Christ’s)… we treat the Church as one long accustomed to ill-health. Do not open the window! Do not bang the door! You cannot take risks with the invalid. Step lightly, speak softly, at any moment the poor thing might die!”
We, like Maude, can do do much better - in our lives, our world, and even in churches :-)
Wonderful to have Sorèl Coward, my dear friend and fellow Anglican priest, sharing some of her story as a keynote contribution to this year’s Sydney Mardi Gras - another beautiful expression of the rich diversity, generosity and developing life of our fabulous Australian queer community.
Quite frequently I’m asked about fresh versions of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples - due to concerns for some such as patriarchal/parental or other distancing sounding words, issues about forgiveness (not least after church abuse revelations) and so on. I’ve suggested alternatives but have also just had another go at a contemporary paraphrase - also as a contribution to the Pitt St Uniting Church journey. Maybe it is also of some use to some others?
NB I do also value agreed ecumenical texts (!) and also warmly commend the practice, which I learned in ecumenical work, of inviting a diverse group to pray the prayer taught by Jesus in their own words and language - hearing such prayer in Aramaic for example, is particularly moving.
I've been reflecting recently on transitions (including the 20th anniversary of our emigration from England in early March), as we traverse our current 'denominational' one - which feels in some ways both like a second emigration and also a deep coming home (on all kinds of levels), as well as other things. As so often, I'm drawn again to one of my great muses, Ursula Le Guin, who so brilliantly explored and celebrated what I might call a 'trans-ing' spirituality - in which binaries are not fixed but intertwine, and in which change and return may be one. These two passages state it so typically passionately and poetically (the first on the lips of Shevek, the central character in 'The Dispossessed' - and the other the blessing, in 'Always Coming Home', given to those who leave their home in the Valley to share with others elsewhere).
Mind you, when I showed this meme to Penny, she also immediately thought the black and white - with the Going Home theme (Mark Knopfler's great Geordie anthem) - was about Newcastle United! That'll work for me too lol...
Queensland eh? Where/when I grew up, all we occasionally heard was about a racist State, at times mirroring white South Africa (John Bjelke-Petersen etc), mitigated by the extraordinary beauty of the Great Barrier Reef and the supreme elegance of Greg Chappell’s batting. It was not a place I ever thought I would live...
but it’s been very good to us and we’ll miss so many people and places. May all that is beautiful in the Sunshine State come to light and shine brightly! :-)
It was a delight to share together with MCC Brisbane on our last Sunday evening in Brisbane - with special thanks to Pastor Alex Pittaway for leading a special blessing of Penny and I as we head south, to my dear friend Kevin Green for his sermon, and everyone involved. I am deeply grateful to MCC Brisbane for the love, encouragement, fun and divine glitter we’ve shared over the last five years. A truly, fully, affirming church is such a profound joy and gift to the world - may more and more flourish!
Bowled over today by this beautiful gift presented to me by the amazing Aunty Sandra King - whom, with Fr Bruce Boase, Aunty McRose Elu, and so many others in our Anglican Southern Queensland RAP (Reconciliation Action Plan) work, I’m really going to miss. (The painting is by Lalania Tusa, Kuku Yalandji woman and Anglicare SQ Cultural Support worker). It has been an honour to share this part of the journey of healing and justice-seeking.
Maybe it’s just me, and/or being English (with so many variations of grey & green, and rain, and the landscape romanticism of Turner & Constable et al in my bones and soul) - but I do love the subtleties of grey, green and other colours which sometimes break through to differentiate the otherwise generally wonderful Australian coastal climate (so beautiful but sometimes a little overdoing primary colours and bright starkness?). Rain too is often all or nothing. Today however there is that kind of gentle drizzle which is so healing and refreshing - such that, like a tender massage, it illuminates the natural beauty of Jellurgal (aka Burleigh Heads) and exfoliates it afresh. Sea and sky, beach and bush, meeting and merging with one another in different ways. Why, even the brazen towers of Surfers Paradise are washed in mist and disappear from view!...
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.