It was as I was beginning to sing the praises of Professor Ann Loades my fabulous Ph.D supervisor the other day that I learned she had just died - having been such an extraordinary person and ground-breaking pioneer in theology and in the life of the Church of England, and wider Church, not least in Durham.
Meeting with Ann was always an occasion for me - whether in a coffee shop (and ideal set for Vera) in Newcastle upon Tyne on a Saturday morning, togged up as she was to teach ballet: or in a County Durham village when, out of her fierce compassion she told me firmly to take a term off combining research with social justice advocacy and church development (I sometimes hear her voice on that today!) as ‘too many women and children are left bereft by over-working spouses and parents having heart-attacks’.
Maybe above all I remember her cutting through the academic nonsense on so many things with keen telling intelligence - as when once I began to stress about maybe needing to write a substantial section in my Ph.D on definitions of feminism (though it was mainly a work of history): ‘rubbish’ she said (though she was eminently capable of writing several books hersrlf on the subject) ‘just put ’justice for women’’ ‘Of course’ I said ‘just like Josephine Butler!’ She laughed in her gorgeous full of life way and we both rejoiced. For, though she was an amazing, creative and accomplished pioneer, Ann always knew she too stood in a long line of Christian feminists (not least our fellow north east foremother Josephine Butler). Ann helped pass on the torch of judicious thought, justice and joy to so many of us - and we continue to honour her by keeping it bright and passing it on to others.
For a wonderful woman, a great mentor and inspiration, thanks be to God!
With great sadness today but with immense thanks for the friendship, strength and encouragement Peter gave to so many of us - and to a fellow priest who taught me what it was to live, as a priest, so humbly, honestly and hopefully, in the one holy catholic and apostolic community which transcends us all and calls us into the love, justice and joy of heaven. Deo Gratias.
Lovely to light a candle from among my mother’s treasures today - the word summing up how I’ve always seen the heart of her being and the life she share with my father, for whom love and just dealings were always gifts of his soul: love and laugher together. I wrote a reflection for the funeral at St Thomas' Market Rasen (see here) and was grateful to be given the strength to deliver it.
I am deeply humbled and thrilled to announce that I am again being called to ministry in Sydney - as the next Minister of Pitt Street Uniting Church. This is a wonderful high profile progressive faith community which gathers on Gadigal land in the heart of Sydney’s CBD. After much reflection and careful discernment with the Uniting Church, Penny and I believe that this is the very best way in which I can serve with others in nurturing faith, love and hope in the next few years (from 1 March 2021) - as well as, very happily, being again close to family in Australia. I extend my thanks and blessings to all with whom I have journeyed in the past and to those I look forward to joining soon...
Above is a prayer I have written to mark the annual Coming of the Light festival (1 July) and for use of other occasions. It is shaped with thanks to Torres Strait Islanders with whom I have walked/continue to walk, with appreciation of their deep faith, spirituality and commitment to justice and diversity. Living strongly in my heart is also the visit, with NSW Ecumenical Council friends, which I paid several years ago to the Torres Strait. Torres Strait Islanders are often little known to many Australians, never mind the rest of the world, and literally and metaphorically missed off maps of the nation. Yet their history, culture and life today are rich and life-giving. They also continue to challenge us all to face up to the continuing effects of colonialism, injustice and climate change (which impacts on the Torres Strait so strongly). I am particularly grateful to walk paths of just Reconciliation with Aunty Rose Elu and the non-geographical Anglican Torres Strait Islander parish in Brisbane. May this year's Coming of the Light further enrich the people of the Torres Strait and deepen our solidarity.
One of the most life-giving parts of my ministry in Toowoomba was the installation of the Reconciliation Cross in St Luke's Anglican Church. Created by renowned Aboriginal artist Uncle Colin Isaacs, as a gift from Heather Johnston (a descendant of one of the original European settlers), this commemorates the great Aboriginal leader Multuggerah, the Battle of One Tree Hill, and Aboriginal resistance to invasion and dispossession. It was overseen with the guidance and leadership of the late Uncle Darby McCarthy and other local elders, with particularly notable support from Mark Copland (from the Social Justice Unit of the Catholic diocese of Toowoomba). It represents a vital visible step in Australian Reconciliation, affirming a continuing journey for recognition and justice. For, in these days of #BlackLIvesMatter and questions about 'white' history and memorials, it offers a tangible example of what can be done to renew our histories and nurture new symbolism and focal points for a better future together. In my view, as both an historian and a priest, it is undoubtedly appropriate that some, more offensive, statues and other historical artefacts are replaced and/or re-used in new ways. Others might have constructive adaptations or additions made. Both of these courses have indeed been employed, on church owned sites, as part of Church practice in addressing the legacy of, and memorials, to child abusers, and those who have colluded with them. Much much more important however is addressing living injustices and forging new pathways. Reclaiming Australia's 'black history' is a crucial aspect of this and Toowoomba's Reconciliation Cross is a living symbol.. It is therefore a cause of thanksgiving that it is placed in the centre of Toowoomba, in one of its oldest and most significant spiritual buildings, available for anyone to visit, to ponder and to encourage the next urgent steps in the journey of justice and healing...
Among other things, the killing of George Floyd in the USA has raised big issues about racism, in Australia as well as the USA, and elsewhere. Here are just three reflections by Aboriginal Christian leaders which raise the profound challenges to those of us who are white and continue to benefit from the systemic violence of our society. At the end of this Reconciliation Week they are particularly important to hear, and act upon...
Today is an opportunity for everyone to rejoice in the great historic achievement of the Mabo campaign in reclaiming title to land and self-determination, toppling the monstrous British and white Australian fiction of ‘terra nullius’ - and to be inspired to address continuing injustices, not least those of enduring violence and dispossession borne of colonialism. This should truly be one of Australia’s great public holi(holy)days, not just another day, and its messages should be developed every day...
I'm so pleased for the talented Gympie photographer Charmaine Lyons that her first Women United exhibition was able to be held recently, at Gympie Regional Library, before COVID-19 spread here. The project has been focusing on sharing the photos, and stories, of 200 'ordinary, extraordinary' women from all walks of life in regional, or regionally connected, Australia. It was motivated by reaction to the White House photograph featuring President Trump signing off on an US 'global gag' on support for women's reproductive rights - original story here - and by the Women's Marches in the USA and worldwide. Charmaine's vision is about affirming those working for, and living out, a more just, sustainable and flourishing society and world for all - which is something we sure need to ponder and work for more actively in the future as the weaknesses of our profit-before-people economy & privilege-for-some culture are so exposed by COVID-19 right now. A book and - in time - more exhibitions elsewhere will follow (part of the positive creative expression which hopefully will be nurtured and curated in this bunkered dread season). Most of all however I just love the affirmation of diversity coming from regional Queensland (often despised elsewhere in Australia). It is such an encouraging example of empowerment wherever we may be: if Gympie can do this, why not elsewhere? With blessings to all creative spirits 🙏❤️ Here’s an 'official' film interview (Women United - an interview with Charmaine Lyons), hosted on Vimeo - by another talented Gympie creative spirit (Jazmyn of Jazmyn Produces) - sharing some of the aims, inspiration and photos (including one of me if you’re very attentive!).
Speaking before this weekend's Sydney Mardi Gras, the performer Courtney Act went to the heart of today's political and cultural struggles:
People having the opportunity to … picture themselves in someone else’s experience – [It] fosters a sense of empathy. Empathy is what is missing right now in the world. We’re yelling from opposite sides of the room and nothing’s getting done.
(Guardian interview 23 February 2020)
Sadly, but probably accurately, Courtney's view is also that whilst “the world has become more respectful of diversity in general … Australia is still definitely behind the eight ball.”
How do we move beyond this?
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.