It has been an interesting week - this lunchtime helping to re-inter those unidentified people (all we think buried in the Congregationalist tradition) whose old Devonshire Street cemetery resting place was disturbed by new Sydney Metro developments at Central Station. One of those who were identified - Joseph Thompson - has a plaque in our Pitt Street (mother church of Congregationalism here) and ceremonies took place earlier. All human lives matter however and today’s ceremony is important in continuing to make connections of various kinds as well as bringing spiritual peace. With many thanks to everyone involved who have worked patiently and sensitively through the necessary protocols - and, not least to the Bidjigal and Gadigal ancestors and elders who have cared these places over so many more generations of life in which we are entwined.
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 :-)
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.