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
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
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.