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.
To admit my own mixed family history (including being fair to my mother, a gentle royalist), one of our ancestors actually preached the Restoration sermon for the last King Charles of England in Gloucester Cathedral (I have a copy). What is particularly interesting about him is that he was one of the few pre-Civil War clergy who survived as a parish priest (in the Cotswolds) through all the upheavals of the 1630s-1660s, and (unlike the fabled Vicar of Bray) was clearly held in continuing high esteem - despite being hauled before Presbyterian and Congregationalist inquiries (including the Parliamentary Committee which dismissed errant Ministers) whilst also coming under some attack from ultra-royalists/episcopalians. Maybe having run-ins with church structures, and being attacked from various different quarters, is in my blood?!...
Loving the creative hearts beginning to appear from folks at Pitt Street - here are a few examples (my current favourite being a fellow trans person’s ‘Love’ heart - as I know that comes from a deep journey ) - part of our #returningourhearts Lenten theme, as part of ‘repairing the breach’.
I’ve always loved the ‘hinge’ time in the Christian year at the beginning of February - with the poignancy of time, light, joy and suffering in the Presentation of Christ/Candlemas, as well as its embodied meanings in places and people so varied as the dale farmers on my native hills preparing forw animal and plant births and the shiny school students in Sydney beginning new adventures at the same time.
This year was particularly poignant, as, before our Pitt St worship, the last time I had heard the Nunc Dimittis was at my parents funeral (shall I say the nunc dimittis? the vicar had asked me specifically - in a very priest to priest moment - knowing the answer and what it meant to us both, and to my father). These lines from the poem ‘Nunc Dimittis’ (originated dedicated to the great fellow poet Anna Akhmatova) by Joseph Brodsky express so well the Christian hope, reflected in Candlemas, which my parents carried in their last days, in the meeting of age and infancy, and in the eternal uncreated light:
‘He went forth to die. It was not the loud din
of streets that he faced when he flung the door wide,
but rather the deaf-and-dumb fields of death’s kingdom.
He strode through a space that was no longer solid.
The roaring of time ebbed away in his ears.
And Simeon’s soul held the form of the Child --
its feathery crown now enveloped in glory --
aloft, like a torch, pressing back the black shadows,
to light up the path that leads into death’s realm,
where never before until this point in time
had any man managed to lighten his pathway.
The old man’s torch glowed and the pathway grew wider.’
So be it..
After marriage equality law passed, I was delighted, but cut ever deeper to the heart every time someone excluded from Australian Anglican rules asked if I’d preside at their wedding. It is one significant reason I now rejoice in sharing in Uniting Church ministry . It’s three decades since, as a priest, I first blessed a same gender relationship (a gorgeous couple in a former coal mining village on the top of England) so even blessings (aka ‘crumbs from the hetero/cis table’) are really just not enough anymore. So I was hugely delighted today to talk with a wonderful gay couple about their forthcoming wedding at which I’ve been asked to preside - so good to meet their needs for a priest in Sydney.
Our queer God will find a way
(With love and prayers for those continuing to work for change in every faith community)
Wonderful to have Sorèl Coward, my dear friend and fellow Anglican priest, sharing some of her story as a keynote contribution to this year’s Sydney Mardi Gras - another beautiful expression of the rich diversity, generosity and developing life of our fabulous Australian queer community.
I speak today as both a proud member of our LGBTIQA+ community, and also as a dedicated person of faith, indeed as an Anglican priest. I do so, because people like me are typically erased, our lives and voices ignored. Yet we queer people of faith do exist! - and we are increasingly seeking to be visible. For our very existence gives lie to the monstrous misuse of religion for political ends. We suffer particularly profoundly from religious discrimination. We do not want religious exemptions which hurt us and others, and betray the heart of who we are. We also know that the majority of our fellow Australians of faith agree with us, as we saw in that dreadful postal survey. So we’ve tried to lobby, spoken to Government inquiries, sought to be part of desperately needed change. Yet, as queer people of faith, our rights to religious expression are seldom recognised...
Jim Thompson. our lovable bishop who ordained me deacon in London's East End, used to say that not a week went by without him wondering why he was still in the Church, and yet not a day or two without experiencing something of the amazing gifts which come with being a priest. I thought of this when I was reminded this week of the 25th anniversary of the passing of the ordination of women measure in the Church of England's General Synod. Writing in the Church of England Newsletter this week, Emma Percy, Chair of WATCH (Women and the Church) in the UK, commented pertinently about the joys then, and the achievements and frustrations since. As she reflects:
It is now 25 years later, almost half of my life, and the young people I work with have never known a Church of England without women priests... (now) part of culture appearing in TV, adverts, novels; both fictional and real examples. Yet, tensions over the role of women still continue in the church... The debates around women bishops meant that the church’s continuing uncertainty about really welcoming women into all orders of ministry was played out for the wider world to see. Sadly, this means that many younger people think the church is out of step with gender equality.
25 years on I rejoice that the church has benefited, and continues to benefit, from the priestly ministry of so many women. I rejoice in the ministry I have been able to have. I hope that we can continue to encourage women to serve in this way and that the Church of England will find ways to truly celebrate the momentous decision made 25 years ago.
Those are memories and reflections with which I concur. It is a mixed bag. Indeed, as my first grandchild comes to be baptised (in Christ Church Gosford) tomorrow, and in the wake of the Australian postal vote on marriage equality, it leaves me pondering: what will be the shape of the Church in another 25 years?...
A great deal of my life has been spent as a border crosser, on so many levels A number of factors have no doubt given rise to this, including life contexts and personality. It is also however a key element in being both a priest and a transgender person. Much has been written about this from the point of view of priesthood. Whether lay or ordained, all Christians also share in the ministry of reconciliation (see 2 Corinthians 5.17-20 and elsewhere). Yet perhaps one of the under-recognised gifts of transgender people is the capacity many of us have to work across the borders of identity and difference. After all, we have to negotiate this more than most in our very selves. No wonder that, across the world's cultures, gender variant people have therefore always exercised sacred roles as priests, mediators, go-betweens, and other reconciling figures, in so many aspects of human existence. No wonder too that some like myself have been drawn into Christian priesthood and border crossing work as a means of finding life for ourselves and others, even when our own transgender identities have been outwardly submerged or suppressed. As transgender people become more visible and accepted as equal and positive contributors to human life, it will be lovely to see such ministries increasingly more explicitly affirmed, celebrated and nurtured. To be a border crosser, whatever your gender identity, is typically both an uncomfortable but wonderfully rewarding vocation. So if you are, or know, a border crosser, say a prayer and raise a glass of cheer and comfort! We are vital, for ourselves and for others. As Kathy Galloway put it, in a favourite poem of mine (entitled 'Cross-border peace talks'), it is a holy place to be:
Better late than never? Today I am coming out fully as a transgender person. It has been a lifelong journey to this point and I am sure there are more struggles to come of a different nature. Tonight however I feel the deepest sense of joy and freedom - like that of Paul in his letter to the Galatians (more reflections about that and other wonderful trans affirming parts of the Bible and Christian Tradition in due course) - and I know that I now stand more clearly in the imperishable image of God in which I am created. I feel greatly blessed by this moment and all who have inspired, gone before, supported and/or stood by me. Thank you to anyone reading this who has been part of that :-) For my coming out has profound spiritual dimensions for me which I believe are sources of healing, strength and renewal for us all. Like my little grandchild cradled in my arms in the photograph (see left) I feel more intimately part of God's 'new creation', a little child cradled in the love of God.
Below is the letter sent (with the kind support of my archbishop) to my fellow clergy today in the Anglican Church Southern Queensland, together with just a few resources which may help our mutual understanding and growth. Together with the archbishop and my college principal, my loving partner and I pondered and prayed hard about the best way to share my news, aware both of the current contrasting levels of knowledge and care in our churches and also seeking a path of healthy transparency without causing unnecessary reactions in some quarters. I therefore hope and pray that this may be part of our continuing journeys into wholeness and joyful life for us all...
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.