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 :-) )
I've been troubled lately by 'inclusive' churches saying 'LGBTIQA+ are welcome here'. Such words involve good intentions but embody the problem they seek to address. For let's think about it. Do we say 'heterosexual/cisgender people are welcome here'? Or, even when we aim to tackle enduring sexism and racism, do we say 'women are welcome here', or 'black people are welcome here'? Now thankfully this is a step beyond 'all welcome here' - that now trite phrase on so many noticeboards and church communications. Like the offensive phrase All Lives Matter, 'all welcome' tends not only to erase our vibrant differences, but pays no attention to our particular experiences of power and (degrees of) acceptance. 'LGBTIQA+ are welcome here' is also better than 'we welcome LGBTIQA+ people here', which much more starkly represents the issue: differentiating 'we' - i.e those at the heart of the church community - from 'them', the sexually and gender diverse 'outsiders'. Yet it too also reflects the dominant approach of relating to sexually and gender diverse people as 'Other'. It fails to speak of the agency of LGBTIQA+ people our/themselves. It still keeps us/them in the status of guests, more or less unwelcome. It does not grasp that sexually and gender diverse people are as much the hosts and gifts of God's love as anyone else. Perhaps it is even time to leave 'affirmation' behind, and speak more directly of celebration and transformation? After all, sexually and gender diverse people are as much hosts as guests in Jesus' 'radical hospitality'...
It was a delight to meet with local Muslims today to affirm our shared concern for one another, our city and peace in the world. A number of people spoke well, not least Dr Shahab Abdullah the spokesman for the local Iraqi Muslim community. Tea and cake then helped seal the deal. What a contrast with the over-reaction of some, including those who closed three local military museums this week, thus, to my mind, exacerbating community anxiety rather than alleviating it. Even the police present seemed a bit embarrassed about currently having to wear firearms as part of the security reaction to recent events. Whether that is alarmist or not, it certainly does not reassure those of us who tend to feel less secure in the presence of weaponry rather than with it. More positively, it was a joy to speak with five Indonesian Muslim women who are in their last week of five in Toowoomba. They spoke with wonderful pleasure of their experience here, not least the excited interest they had conjured up in visiting a local school yesterday. Once again the benefits of 'table fellowship' shone through: last week in the Buddhist monastery, Sunday in St Luke's, today among USQ Muslims. Such is an important path to peace. As another Christian pointed out to me last week, in a much more conservative Christian setting, Jesus was much more a guest than a host. Should more be willing to step out of their comfort zones and risk vulnerability, there would similarly be much more joy and solidarity to quell our own anxieties and transform the world's genuine fears. Anyone for another cup of tea?
A great Christian (Hans Kung) once said ‘there will not be peace in the world until there is peace between the religions of the world, and there will not be peace between the religions until religious people meet, understand one another, and work together for peace.’ Recent events, especially in the Middle East, show how true this is. Perhaps in the past it was possible for different religions to ignore one another or to compete, sometimes violently. Today, when people of different faith live next door to each another, we need another way...
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.