How do you relate to your landscape? At so many turns of my native roads, I’m reminded of the spirits of forebears who trod, tilled, prayed, and sought life and the sacred in these otherwise ‘ordinary’ features of the land. Today this, for example, is ‘just’ a farm. Yet for centuries a double monastery (i.e of women and men) stood here at the foot of the Lincolnshire Wolds during the Middle Ages (from c.1150 to 1538) - one of a number of houses of the Gilbertines (the only completely English monastic order - founded by a Lincolnshire man). Gwaldys, daughter of the last native Prince of Wales, spent her final years here and its priests served our local communities until the Reformation. Subsequently all such land became secularised, with the greatest shift of power and wealth since the Conquest and the coming of the Norman ‘Yoke’, followed by the further deprivations of common land with the enclosures and the ravages of modern industrial agriculture. Of course we can’t simply return, even if we wished, to a sacred medieval understanding of land and creation, but perhaps such remembrances in the land reminds us that there are still alternatives open to us today
an introductory reflection offered to a recent NSW Ecumenical Council discussion by Josephine Inkpin
Firstly let me acknowledge country – in particular the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation on which I live: their elders past, present and emerging. I also acknowledge all First Nations people here. I do so as right and proper. I also do so as this immediately focuses our discussions. For I live in a suburb (Forest Lodge) named after the house of Ambrose Foss, one of Pitt Street Uniting Church’s distinguished early founders. Next door is the suburb of Glebe: a name also witnessing to Christianity’s role in the dispossession of First Nations peoples. Such naming highlights how so many of our conventional expectations and faith stories are tied up with power. This lies at the heart of many divisions, embedded in our ways of thinking and being. Thanks be for God’s grace, these things are not intractable. Yet, without at least naming them, we will not go far in addressing the polarisation they help cause...
Congratulations to my dear friend Dr Jennifer Herrick (pictured here with my lovely wife at our 25th wedding anniversary party) for her strength, courage and persistence in dragging the (Roman) Catholic Church in Australia to recognition and penitence for the clergy sexual abuse she suffered in the past. It has been a long struggle. I know only some of the details and emotions which we have been privileged to share as Jen has fought this battle. However this week, alongside other 'compensation', she finally secured a both a public apology and a public admission of the eventual defrocking of the offending priest. Check out the ABC coverage here.
This is certainly a landmark case for Australia. For a Royal Commission rightly continues to help address child sexual abuse perpetrated by members of Australia's Churches and other institutions, greatly accelerating long delayed appropriate responses and responsibility. May that process continue to be fruitful, bringing some genuine consolation and integrity out of pain and refusal to respond. Others have however also suffered who do not fall into a childhood age bracket, some of them very vulnerable in other ways. Together with my friend Jen, I hope therefore that others may indeed now be enabled to come forward to build on the gateway of healing which has been created.
The issues raised are also challenging of course not only for the surivors of such abuse and the workings of power in ecclesiastical institutions but for clergy as individuals. Hopefully this case will therefore also encourage all of us in accredited positions to reflect more deeply on our own care and approach to relationships. Churches in the West may not have the power or influence they once had, and many may describe themselves as disinterested if not hostile to Christianity as such. Yet the spiritual power exercised by clergy should not be underestimated, especially when it comes to vulnerable or suscepible people.
In the meanwhile, I look forward to sharing with my friend many more times of joy, wine, good theological discussion and the love of the Sydney Swans!
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.