A Prayer of Blessing for LGBTIQ+ Celebrations
by Josephine Inkpin, written for Sydney Mardi Gras 2022
You dance among us
in a glorious riot of expression,
embodying afresh the generous love of Jesus,
and all who have embraced love at the heart of being.
Bless all who gather at this time to celebrate
the gifts of sexual and gender diversity.
As you have inexhaustible pride in your rainbow children
so may we have such life-bearing strength
in ourselves and in one another.
Touch our lives and bodies with your transforming Love,
shining light where there has been darkness,
bringing healing where there has been hurt,
and making visible what has hitherto been invisible.
Inspire us to deeper intimacy and interconnection,
opening up the closets of all that remains damagingly repressed,
and leading us along fresh pathways of hope
to a more joyous and glittering future for us all.
Recent weeks have been some of the hardest of my life in Christian ministry. Discussion of the Religious Discrimination Bill proposals fell into another debacle in the midst of concerted opposition and some brave Liberal backbenchers who stood out against the Bill's cruelty in the face of approaching election pressures. The political use and abuse of transgender people, especially school children, was particularly monstrous. Coming on top of several years of similar controversy and very slow positive changes in Churches, the pastoral burdens and spiritual impact was hard to bear. Thankfully, in the Uniting Church at least, opposition to the form of the Bill was expressed from the top clearly and positively. Particularly encouraging was the UCA President's Pastoral Letter which opens up possibilities for real progress, especially in addressing the deficit in transgender and non-binary care and celebration. In general however, there is such a long way to go and the 'gruesome week' demonstrated that amply. Media outlets, notably ABC's The Drum (see, for example, the clip on YouTube above) and the Guardian Australia (see article here) were kind enough to interview me and share some of my LGBTIQ+ faith perspectives, which I know are so vital to so many.
This is my favourite of some of the recent picturing of the Presentation/Candlemas I’ve seen - with thanks to mamabishop and her wider current reflections on this continuing Epiphany season:
Life-giving and nurturing, the prophet looks thankfully and in hope to the light - and, in contrast to the problematic elements of childbirth ‘purification’ and the slaughter of doves, the two living birds speak too of ecological and other resurrection and baptism for fruitfulness and healing.
What do others see? My dear friend and fellow Anglican priest, Stuart Soley, says: 'In addition to the things you see I notice the prophet (and it could be both Anna or Simeon...lovely!) holds but doesn't hold the Christ child! Ready to let him go to be that light and energy of world'. My wonderful Pitt Street friend and retired Uniting Church MInisters says: ' I delight in the confident graceful smile of Simeon/ Anna. The earth colour encompassing them and their own earth colour speak of the joy and birthing of the new way comin.'...
Among those of us who ponder these things in our hearts and souls (and seek to live in response) - modern day Annas, Simeons and Marys - I wonder what images of Candlemas/Presentation of Christ touch you. It has been refreshing this year for me to reflect upon a few of the new perspectives which have emerged in Reformed church spaces - not evading (as sometimes in the past), or replacing, but enriching the ancient streams.
The image above is one which expresses African American prayer and action for justice (by the artist Cynthia H. Catlin, from Quilt – “The Beginning of Social Justice.” National Underground Railroad Freedom Center).
Below is a powerful South African picture, by Sam Nhlengethwa, offered by Victoria Jones (see her blogpost here) - to bring fresh light and depth to Candlemas today, coupling it with reflection on Anglican Evangelical scholar Richard Bauckham’s poem (full version in the link) In the Drab Waiting Room:
‘Truly to wait is pure dependence.
But waiting too long the heart
grows sclerotic. Will it still
be fit to leap when the time comes?
Prayer is waiting with desire.
Two aged lives incarnate
century on century
of waiting for God, their waiting-room
his temple, waiting on his presence,
marking time by practicing
the cycle of the sacrifices,
ferial and festival,
circling onward, spiralling
towards a centre out ahead,
seasons of revolving hope.
Holding out for God who cannot
be given up for dead, holding
him to his promises—not now,
not just yet, but soon, surely,
eyes will see what hearts await.’
I’ve always loved the ‘hinge’ time in the Christian year at the beginning of February - with the poignancy of time, light, joy and suffering in the Presentation of Christ/Candlemas, as well as its embodied meanings in places and people so varied as the dale farmers on my native hills preparing forw animal and plant births and the shiny school students in Sydney beginning new adventures at the same time.
This year was particularly poignant, as, before our Pitt St worship, the last time I had heard the Nunc Dimittis was at my parents funeral (shall I say the nunc dimittis? the vicar had asked me specifically - in a very priest to priest moment - knowing the answer and what it meant to us both, and to my father). These lines from the poem ‘Nunc Dimittis’ (originated dedicated to the great fellow poet Anna Akhmatova) by Joseph Brodsky express so well the Christian hope, reflected in Candlemas, which my parents carried in their last days, in the meeting of age and infancy, and in the eternal uncreated light:
‘He went forth to die. It was not the loud din
of streets that he faced when he flung the door wide,
but rather the deaf-and-dumb fields of death’s kingdom.
He strode through a space that was no longer solid.
The roaring of time ebbed away in his ears.
And Simeon’s soul held the form of the Child --
its feathery crown now enveloped in glory --
aloft, like a torch, pressing back the black shadows,
to light up the path that leads into death’s realm,
where never before until this point in time
had any man managed to lighten his pathway.
The old man’s torch glowed and the pathway grew wider.’
So be it..
As we merge from the worst of the recent Omicron Covid-19 wave, it was a great joy and delight to host the ordination of Stuart Sutherland in Pitt Street Uniting Church by the International Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, with other very good friends and Christian companions.
It was an immense joy recently to take a ferry trip out to Watson's Bay to share food and a great time with one of Australia's foremost LGBTIQ+ elders and leaders, Anthony Venn Brown. Although Penny Jones (not least, as one of the very first female priests in England) and myself are pioneers in our own ways, Anthony came out and broke new ground at a time when things were so much tougher for LGBTIQ+ people. His example, encouragement, and continued advocacy and support remains so vital in Australia :-)
For more on Anthony Venn Brown, do read his story in his book A Life of Unlearning - a preacher's struggle with his homosexuality, church and faith and check out his continuing work through ABBI (Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International)
It has been good in recent weeks to link up with other Uniting Church members in forwarding our shared commitment to Walking Together with First Nations peoples in Sydney, and further afield. This has included marking the Day of Mourning (on the nearest Sunday to 26 January) at Pitt Street Uniting Church, meeting with others on the steps of Pitt Street UC to share in the Survival Day March on 26 January, marking at Pitt Street the 14th anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations and linking more closely with other Uniting Church leaders and First Nations peoples locally in order to take next steps on the journey towards justice and healing. We have been particularly blessed in the leadership and encouragement of Nathan Tyson (Manager, First Peoples Strategy and Engagement, Uniting Church in Australia Synod of NSW and the ACT) - see further his article in Insights on the recent 26 January events and associated issues.
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.