Toowoomba Preparatory School - now known as Toowoomba Anglican College and Preparatory School (TACAPS) - began in 1911 and has seen many changes and had many achievements over the years. It has certainly been a well loved Anglican school for so many who have passed through its doors. From an initial foundation of 17 students, it has grown as the only co-educational Anglican school in the Diocese of Brisbane west of the Great Dividing Range. Sitting picturesquely atop the Range, it indeed has a very beautiful series of buildings and resources and a delightful assembly of students and staff. It is currently however facing one of its biggest challenges as it transitions from what has essentially been a junior school to a full school covering ages from kindergarten to year 12. This also involves developing new outward-looking relationships with others. As an Anglican school located in the parish of St Luke, Toowoomba, this is an important concern for many of us in the wider church too. It is also an invitation for others to join in what is an encouraging spirit of faith in the future. For what above all impressed me in my most recent visit last week was the passion, imagination and practical pastoral and educational vision of the school, wonderfully embodied in its Head of School, Mr Simon Lees. This not only gave me confidence for the school's future but was also a witness to others to grasp the nettle of change, with all its demands and uncertainty. For a journey into the unknown can be unsettling for any well-established institution, even one with the past and present resources of TACAPS. It requires a genuine faith in the future and care and imagination to match. It is literally, as well as metaphorically, trusting in things unseen. For me, this was marvellously expressed both by the fledgling first-year students and staff of the inaugural year 8 and by their aptly named Inspiration Room. Would that every Christian body had an Inspiration Room! As our parish at this time seeks to discern its own 'mission action plan', part of which must involve developing closer links with TACAPS as part of our commitment to being One Church with One Mission, this is an encouragement and inspiration to us too. Can we all respond to the invitation to have faith in the future?
In its remarkably unhelpful article on the Church of England's belated decision to move for female bishops, Catholic Online (15/7/14) makes one of those knee-jerk denominational reactions which do little credit to the wisdom of its own tradition, never mind the complex truth and relationships of ecumenical life. As a leading Roman Catholic communication channel, it is a disappointing response and one which must, at the very least, make many Catholics cringe. Whilst the article rightly raises the ecumenical challenge contained in the emergence of female bishops in the Anglican Communion, it vastly overstates the continuing divisions, ignores the nuances and other positive dynamics of Roman Catholic ecumenism, and, above all, fails to understand that the journey of Christian unity is not a one-way street. Perhaps, like other instinctive Christian reactionaries, the author feels a sense of betrayal as the Church of England stumblingly implements a very Catholic principle of doctrinal development to help ensure historic Christianity remains credible and alive in the changed context of the contemporary world...
Wednesday evening was a delightful example of the nature of interfaith peace and harmony life in Toowoomba. Not only were members of our Muslim community wonderfully warm and welcoming but all kinds of people were present from across our diverse wider community. And it all took place on Christian premises, at St Anthony's Catholic Church in Harristown. Jesus, I think, was smiling: all God's children together, sharing 'table fellowship', sharing faith and food, life and laughter together.
Sharing the evening Iftar (breaking of the fast) with others has become a very valuable and enjoyable part of Australian life. Each year, many Australians of other faith and none happily experience the generous invitation of their Muslim neighbours to join in this important part of the Muslim year and to grow in deeper understanding and love together. Thanks, in Toowoomba, go out especially to the coordinators of the Islamic Interfaith and Multicultural Committee. For, as a spiritual gift, hospitality is one of the most vital contributions anyone can make to peace and harmony. It is certainly one aspect of Ramadan which enriches others, though not the only one. Ramadan, like daily prayer in Islam, is also a gift to recall the rest of us to attentiveness, mindfulness and the presence of God. It is a binding force for community, here and across the world. It helps release our society from the compulsions to consume and blunt our senses with material things alone. Indeed, only when we know how to fast (in various ways) do we really feast properly. 'Let us cherish fasting', Athanasius, the great early Christian bishop and theologian said, 'for fasting is the great safeguard along with prayer and almsgiving. They deliver human beings from death.... (for) to fast is to banquet with angels.' Delivered from the destructive powers of self, we can then be more generous and hospitable towards others.
Hospitality is certainly a central theme of Anglican inter-faith and cross-cultural endeavour. As the helpful international Anglican document Generous Love puts it:
As God both pours out his life into the world and remains undiminished in the heart of the Trinity, so our mission is both a being sent and an abiding. These two poles of embassy and hospitality, a movement ‘going out’ and a presence ‘welcoming in’, are indivisible and mutually complementary, and our mission practice includes both.
This kind of hospitality is therefore an expression of the very nature of the God whom we approach in different ways. Such true hospitality is not about losing, but expressing, our integrity and convictions. Rather, we in turn can then receive the gifts of others, which can speak powerfully of the welcoming generosity at the heart of God. For , as Generous Love reflects:
through sharing hospitality we are pointed again to a central theme of the Gospel which we can easily forget; we are re-evangelised through a gracious encounter with other people.
Transformed by God, we become paradoxically both deeply centred and radically open, for our centre is self-giving love. Faith is not then based on human work, such as particular belief or practice, but on grace. In all the great spiritual traditions, fasting and feasting are gateways and expressions of this.
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.