Tony (not in the photo left!) was one of my wonderful old Gateshead clergy colleagues. He used to threaten or promise (depending on your viewpoint) that when he retired he would stand for Council as a true left-wing Christian Socialist, and generally kick over the traces like our shared holy ratbag guru Jesus. Sadly Tony died before he could make good on that intention. Yet he remains an inspiration to me, not least because, for all his faults, his heart was true and he loved his people and his God. He also never gave up, even when it might have been far more convenient to do so. Every time I hear the words of Chumbawamba's Fade Away (i don't want to) I think of Tony and resolve never to fade away, albeit not necessarily as a left-wing politician/activist.
Now I don't have a problem with those who live in quiet retirement, particularly not those who are an immense source of prayerful strength and gentle kindness in Toowoomba! Possibly God, or life, will also have some way of turning me also into a prayerful watcher at a later age, like my near namesake the formerly chaotically activist Lincoln Imp. I will wait and see. What I do know is that I am not alone in not wanting to fade away Arriving at retirement age, uncle David for instance (that is his photo above) has recently struck out in a new direction, taking on a new charge as chaplain to the Anglican community in Warsaw in Poland. Putting aside any possible concern - he is my last surviving uncle! (and delightfully warm and encouraging to boot) - I am impressed. It is an exciting new responsibility but not one without its challenges, and not just those of the Polish winter and language. As Pope Francis has this week observed, Europe is full of much angst and the European Community has lost much confidence in its founding principles of human dignity and international unity. This is a concern both for Europe's minorities and for its poorer peoples, not least the Poles. The Anglican Church in continental Europe is often in a significant minority. This is certainly the case in traditionally deeply Roman Catholic Poland. Yet the Anglican presence is an important one for international understanding and solidarity, as well as in offering opportunities for worship and support for emigres (including growing numbers of African Anglicans) and others. I am therefore following my uncle's next vocational step with great interest, rejoicing that he at least has not settled for simply fading away - as if...
For more about the Anglican Church in Poland, go to http://www.anglicanchurch.pl
and to follow the Rev David Brown, go to http://revdavidbrown.com
The great song of Jesus’ mother in the Bible is often known by its Latin title of Magnificat. This means ‘let magnify’ or ‘let thanks and glory be given’. It is the cry of Mary when she realises that she is pregnant and is full – or will soon be full - of the love of God in human form (that is the boy-child we know as Jesus). With all the joy and excitement and anticipation she feels, Mary is crying out as loud as she can – let thanks and glory be given, let life come to birth. Mary’s whole heart, her whole being, is caught up in thanksgiving and in the process of bringing new life into being. Can we join in with her?
Advent – the immediate weeks before Christmas Day – is a great time for renewing the spirit of thanksgiving and for pondering on what is coming to birth, or might come to birth, in each of us and in our broken world. What gifts do we want to thank God for? What joyful things can we see in our lives and/or in the world around us? What new things is God doing in us that we want to bring into being? For each of us is called to sing, and live, our Magnificat.
Mary's song is just one more reason why we have renewed our Season of Gratefulness initiative for Advent this year. This is not blind to the pain and struggles of our lives and world. Rather this is also about justice, seeking to rejoice, like Mary, in the presence of that Love which has brought light out of darkness in the past, and will again: not least, as we, if we would but know it, can ourselves be pregnant with the Spirit of God.
My soul glorifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour.
He looks on his servant in her lowliness; henceforth all ages will call me blessed.
The Almighty works marvels for me. Holy his name!
His mercy is from age to age, on those who fear him.
He puts forth his arm in strength and scatters the proud-hearted.
He casts the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly.
He fills the starving with good things, sends the rich away empty.
He protects Israel, his servant, remembering his mercy,
the mercy promised to our forebears, to Abraham and his descendants for ever.
Nei Neiwa Yi Yu Gali. I’m sorry, I don’t know many words of local language: especially the words used for celebrations just like this, in this place, for thousands of years. So those words will have to do. But imagine that. Imagine all who have gathered, like us, for thousands of years in this Darkinjung and Guringai country: meeting, binding in love, feasting, singing, and dancing, the joy of human relationship. Nei Neiwa Yi Yu Gali: we walk, or dance, together, with Mother Earth. Don’t we?! Isn’t that what we do today: aren’t we dancing a celebration, together, with this part of Mother Earth, and with these two remarkable people, Cathleen and James, who owe so much to this place.
Thank you everyone for gathering here and thank you, Cathleen and James, for choosing to bring us here - and not to Sydney. For this is a truly amazing area with fabulous people and places. Indeed, it is an area full of Indigenous birthing places: like the birth canal which runs out from Narara, James’ homeland; close to Gosford School, where James and Cathleen first met; out past the Gosford Anglican site where Cathleen first lived and where she and James have just been married; further out past our family home in wonderful Woy Woy, towards Sydney, where Cathleen and James now live; and to the sea, a living expression of the depth and open future to which they are now called, into a new birth together, in the mystery of love.
Today is James and Cathleen’s day. So let me just share three brief things. Unusually, for me, they are from three men and no women. For, throughout Cathleen’s life in Australia, I have been part of a female household: fabulous females indeed, but all females, even both our dogs. So it is a huge joy fully to welcome James into my closest family, as a fellow male. Maybe God - bless her - has finally started to readdress the balance?! At any rate, Beeny, today, just for once, I’m going to ditch my usual feminist desire for inclusivity, and offer you, with James, three pieces of masculine wisdom...
Two weeks ago I shared in the gorgeous wedding of my daughter Cathleen and James Murch. It was a delightful occasion and one which, I quickly realised, also represented quite a time and rite of transition for myself. Happily the wedding took place at St Mary's Anglican Church in Gosford, because of James' family origins and our continued family connections with friends on the NSW Central Coast, not least Fr Rod Bower who led the ceremony. Through the kindness and generosity of Lorraine and Jeff Long in Umina, we were also able to begin the bridal party journey from our beloved Woy Woy Peninsula. As such, it was such a joy to travel by limousine past so many places of family and personal significance: along Ocean Drive, up past St Luke's Woy Woy, past the station and portal to Sydney, along the beautiful Brisbane Water Drive, past Cathleen and James' old school, past Kibble Park and several special event memories there, along Mann Street with a glance at Central Coast Stadium, and to the church site itself where we had spent so much enjoyable time in the first years of emigration from England. The occasion linked all of that, and so much more, with fine and enjoyable wedding celebrations, sprinkled with quirky, loving features typical of the couple. In doing so, it took us all into new space, consolidating James and Cathleen's relationship in many vital new ways, and taking each of us who are close to them into new spaces and relationships of our own.
To rework a common saying, if something doesn't quite look or quack like a duck, perhaps it is not a duck. There are no doubt many reasons why the Anglican Parish of St Luke has not always flourished as well as it might have done. Yet key may the very identity of its principal worship site (St Luke’s). This is situated on two major city thoroughfares of Ruthven Street (the main north-south route through Toowoomba) and Herries Street (which links key city institutions such St Vincent Hospital & Toowoomba Grammar School with The Glennie School). It faces the City Council chambers which are mere yards away diagonally. It has traditionally hosted many wider civic and city events. Local people outside the church congregation also frequently and instinctively call St. Luke’s a Cathedral. Yet its city centre significance and ‘more than ordinary parish’ identity has not always been well grasped. Linked with other worship centres with different dynamics, it has felt further dislocating pulls of theological, pastoral and missional orientation. As Toowoomba grows each day towards being a genuine regional capital, and as the wider Church wrestles with today’s mission priorities, it is therefore appropriate to ask: ‘is it time for the St Luke’s site to be regarded, supported and developed as a form of Minster?...
Laying the foundations of a labyrinth at St Luke’s has been a beautiful symbol of our parish journey together. For we are named after someone – St Luke – who wrote the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles to encourage us to see our life and faith as a journey into the heart of God and a journey into deeper relationship with all those around us. Like the first disciples on the Emmaus Road, we are called to experience God in Jesus Christ as we travel with our parish vision: to be more deeply ‘focused in Christ, joyful and inclusive, compassionate in witness’.
Over the last few months we have been praying and reflecting together about the next steps we should take. It has been a very positive experience. For we have begun to discover new pathways building on our current strengths and shared Christian traditions. We have identified a MAP (short for Mission Action Plan) which we hope and trust will help us walk forward together over the next 3 years. Unlike the final stage of the labyrinth, it will not be fixed in stone. Some things will work. Some things will not. Other surprises will come our way. Yet our MAP will help us from straying from the pathway, helping us better attention to God’s love among us. in both our inward and outward looking journeys.
There are six aspects to our MAP, like the six petals at the centre of our labyrinth. By far the highest priority identified by members of the parish is developing our ministry with younger people, children & families (including seeking a new paid member of staff to guide and support us). Alongside this is a second priority of engaging with the new Pilgrim course – for existing and new members of our parish to grow as Christians. Thirdly, we particularly seek to develop a growing sense of the St Luke’s site as a, cathedral like, Minster for our city: as an accessible place of prayer for all (‘focused in Christ’), an open meeting place for people of different backgrounds (‘joyful and inclusive’), and a lively place to explore and bring together ancient and contemporary understandings of life, truth, justice and beauty (‘compassionate in witness’) – ‘in the heart of the City, in the heart of God’. May God bless us therefore as travel on.
Jo Inkpin an Anglican priest, trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.