As Minister of Pitt Street Uniting Church in Sydney, it is a great joy and encouragement to stand in a powerful lineage of prophetic ministry. The more I come to know, the more I appreciate its vital significance to Sydney, and the wider world, in providing light, inspiration and hospitality to so many. As a community Pitt Street Uniting Church mourns the recent loss of Bishop Spong from our lives in this world, but rejoices in what he shared with us and so many others. We give thanks that we were able to offer a space for him to share God's love even when others were sometimes so hostile. Here above is a photo of the old Pitt Street Uniting Church's celebratory 'Bishop John Shelby Spong Greeting Card'!
(we still rejoice to wear that stole too :-) )
Dare to be indeed. The first time I heard Jack Spong speak was in October 1992 in Methodist Central Hall in London - at the launch of Elizabeth Stuart's then highly controversial landmark LGBT+ prayer book 'Daring to Speak Love's Name: A Gay and Lesbian Prayer Book'. They were historic and testing times. Two weeks later, after our long struggles, the Church of England would finally vote for women's ordination but opposition to queer people was so much more intense. I'd traveled down from Gateshead in England's north east for the occasion, and was one of 300 or so queer people and allies who shared in what was a powerful and moving show of solidarity titled ''Prayer, Protest, Politics: A Celebration of Who We Are and Our Relationships.'' The evening featured an informal blessing of queer relationships, prayers and recitation of a ''Declaration of Coming Out,'' as we danced, cried and hugged together. Helped not least by negative remarks by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, SPCK, the intended publisher, had pulled the plug on the book. Thankfully however, Hamish Hamilton Ltd (part of Penguin) stepped in at the last minute and the book thus defiantly and joyfully came to birth (more on the story here). Whilst other Church leaders ran from the fray, or hid behind kindly but insufficent words, Bishop Spong stood on the stage that evening and shared his own commitment as true ally. Those kinds of actions matter. I'm grateful to him for many other ways in which he helped set people free from fears into new life. As much as as his words, such actions however really stay with me. In his death, as in his life, he continues to ask us, where are you when life and history is to be made and shown? Dare we continue to speak love's name when and where it is needed? #deedsnotwordsalone
Meeting family eh? I do love this photo. It is one of those (this one from a pixabay source) which our delightful friend Petrina Gardiner has shared with us for the Season of Creation. It reminds me of preaching on creation a few years ago and a resident fundamentalist sharing the Peace with me and saying, kindly but firmly, ‘there are no monkeys in my family tree’! That always seemed a bit sad to me - I know some relatives can be difficult but generally they are not those of another species.
Action is obviously (to most of us) long overdue to address our climate change crisis and other issues of sustainability on our planet. At the heart of our inability to respond as a species also however includes the very ways we look at the Earth. For Season of Creation 2021, here is my introductory Reflection on the unhelpful and positive models and metaphors which we have been using, and the enlivening re-thinking by theologians in recent times. Full text here.
(originally created for Pitt Street and Glenbrook Uniting Churches)
It was a delight, in our strange times, to meet the trees on Pitt Street again this week - though, sadly, it’s not hard to find our wonderful church building as they are the only trees left on Pitt Street: like the building and its community they are natural resisters and witnesses to a better, more loving, sustainable way of life. The trees touch, and are enwombed, in Gadigal land and in the hope of a different kind of Sydney. May we see, work for, and be signs of, that in days to come, and not a mere new ‘normal’
‘It is time that leading politicians and religious leaders stopped abusing religion to hurt people and cling to power’, said the Revd Dr Josephine Inkpin, a transgender Anglican priest and Minister of Pitt Street Uniting Church in Sydney, speaking ahead of this Saturday’s protest at Sydney Town Hall against the One Nation ‘religious freedom’ and ‘parental choice in education’ Bills in NSW Parliament.
‘As I, and so many people of faith embody,’ she said, ‘there is no necessary conflict between being part of the LGBTQ+ community and being a person of faith. The attempts to drive a wedge between people undermines our nation’s shared commitments to human rights and a ‘fair go’ for all. Jesus was quite clear – ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ is at the heart of divine law and compassion. Shockingly however, the cross, a symbol of love for all, is turned upside down by some to become a sword to damage others'...
First of all, may I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land and all First Nations people in this area. I also give thanks for this cathedral, so important to me in my own journey in recent years, and all who have helped develop the unfolding work of Christian feminism which we highlight tonight.
In introducing and commending Mavis’ book, I am reminded of a number of things from the first wave of Christian feminism, which was the subject of my Ph.D. One is a famous quotation from the northern English working-class leader Ada Nield Chew: women’s advance, she used to say, ‘’tis a long row to hoe.’ What we do today, as Mavis encouraged in her book, is part of a continuing journey. The South African writer Olive Schreiner put it strikingly in one of her essays, which drew heavily on biblical imagery, and helped her become the ‘muse’ of first-wave Christian feminists. One of the Anglican suffragettes, Lady Constance Lytton, referred to this in her autobiographical account of the sufferings of female campaigners in prison. We were encouraged each night in Holloway, she recalled, by readings of Schreiner’s work, not least the story ‘Making a Track’. An allegory of women’s, and others’, struggles for justice, this described a long trail of the bodies of insects stretching over a long distance. These learn, as Olive Schreiner put it. to ‘take off the shoes of dependence’, to clothe themselves in ‘the garment of Truth,’ and to use ‘the staff of Reason’ when they are lost and cannot find a way. Eventually the track of bodies reaches the banks of a river to cross into a more spacious land of freedom, fording the river with the costly solidarity of their bodies. On the other side, there is room for more authentic life and expression. ‘But what of those who did not make it?’, asks one of the characters in the story, ‘those who were swept away by the current or did not even build the bridge with their bodies?’ ‘What of that?’, comes the reply, ‘they make a track to the water’s edge’ and ‘over that bridge, which shall be built with our bodies… the entire human race will pass.’
Mavis was one of those great Brisbane women who helped form the bridge of women’s ordination, and stepped over. Yet, as the exhibition of Anglican women’s history in this cathedral affirms, she would not have been able to do so without others who had made the track to the water’s edge. Vitally, she also knew that stepping over the bridge was not enough. Much more was needed. Some of that has been in evidence in recent years, including the first female bishop in this diocese. Yet Mavis was clear that such landmarks are insufficient without a much greater transformation. This is what she calls us to in her book Gender Balance. It seeks, and embodies, not an end but an encouragement to travel on. Indeed, for me it is a particular delight to see it published, for it represents a key part of the track – after the ordination of women - that was so difficult, and which is so easily ignored. If we are to travel on further, into fuller life and freedom for all, we need to see the whole track and learn from it. This is what Mavis’ book helps provide. We are diminished without it.
Understandably, after the first ordinations of women, the movement which brought them about lost steam. Partly this was because so many wonderful women poured their hearts, faith and lives into parish and other ministries hitherto denied them. This brought much fruit but came at a cost from which we are still, I think, recovering. As a lay woman who had helped lead MOW locally, Mavis saw that. Gender Balance thus represents her perceptions of what more is needed on the track. She perceives the insidiousness of patriarchy and clericalism. She asks us to go deeper, to reconsider symbols and language, relationships and support. She also reminds us of the bigger vision of Christian feminism, so much larger than ecclesial offices or church facing concerns. Lift your gaze, she continues to challenge us. Renew the pathway and the purpose your forebears marked out, at the cost of their bodies, lives and faith struggles.
Mavis thus recalls us to the promise of the 21st century in which we live and to a better Faith in which to live it. She outlines how the continued undervaluing of women is a major feature of what she calls ‘Christianity’s Credibility Crisis’. Indeed, she shows how women and women’s experience is devalued in aspects of our Faith and how dissent is resisted by entrenched attitudes and structures. At the heart of this is what she calls ‘The Embodiment Problem’, even though women carry with them connections and resources which can bring new life. She affirms that women’s theology and spiritual experience can thus help to renew the expression and work of the gospel, providing health in so many other fields also.
Gender Balance is not entirely complete as a vision of Christian feminism for today. For there are some new elements recently which have entered the journey, which can make us stumble or enrich us. Mavis does not really speak for example of the rise of sexual and gender diversity, which have made the track more complex and enlivening. She also wrote at a time before the full rise of recent phenomena of terrorism and anti-terrorism, and the resurgence of populism and authoritarianism in politics and religion. Yet, even in the face of such factors, Mavis reminds us in the book of other features which we have neglected. Not least, particularly at the end of this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, is the value she rightly gives to solidarity and co-working across our denominational and national boundaries. She thus draws widely on the work of Catholic and other theologians, and on ecumenical connections, not least the inspiration that was the Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women. What an idea that would be to see again! What a difference it makes when women and others make fresh linkages together, as the #MeToo movement and Marches for Justice have shown recently – the wider and deeper agenda of liberation is not lost, but renewed.
I sadly only met Mavis in person once: when she came to my home, on the St Francis College site, to talk with some of our students and others about the ordination of women struggle, its legacy and learnings, and the need for the continuing journey. Yet I feel strongly that, if she were here today, she would be warmly encouraging us to take the next steps on the track – and this, she indeed does today through this book, distilling some of her lively insight, informed reading and personal wisdom, continuing to challenge us (as the self-confessed ‘Anglican spiritual guerilla’ she was) and willing us on.
Do take up Mavis’ book, learn and inwardly digest, and, inspired by her spirit, and that of all who have gone before us and made the path to the water’s edge, build the next bridge and help others cross over. For like Mavis, we either help to make our own history, or are condemned to be victims of it.
After marriage equality law passed, I was delighted, but cut ever deeper to the heart every time someone excluded from Australian Anglican rules asked if I’d preside at their wedding. It is one significant reason I now rejoice in sharing in Uniting Church ministry . It’s three decades since, as a priest, I first blessed a same gender relationship (a gorgeous couple in a former coal mining village on the top of England) so even blessings (aka ‘crumbs from the hetero/cis table’) are really just not enough anymore. So I was hugely delighted today to talk with a wonderful gay couple about their forthcoming wedding at which I’ve been asked to preside - so good to meet their needs for a priest in Sydney.
Our queer God will find a way
(With love and prayers for those continuing to work for change in every faith community)
I've been very glad to contribute to this series of essays on Contemporary Feminist Theologies, with such a distinguished and lively group of contributors. My own essay is on the need for supporting trans theological voices and their/our emerging insights - 'From footballs to Matildas?' Overall, this book explores the issues of power, authority and love with current concerns in the Christian theological exploration of feminism and feminist theology. It looks particularly at issues such as embodiment, intersectionality, liberation theologies, historiography, queer approaches to hermeneutics, philosophy and more. With thanks to the Australian Collaborators in Feminist Theologies. More about the book here.
This was SUCH a joy! A little bit of history too, as, in being inducted as the Minister-in-Placement at the Pitt Street Uniting Church in Sydney, I became the first transgender person to be called and inducted into ministry in a Christian Church in Australia.
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.