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...
How and what we breathe has become a deep concern in the face of COVID-19, So what does it mean to speak of the Holy Spirit as breath? My wife has written a short reflection on this theme (see here and, by video, below). I was also reminded recently of a prayer I wrote using this theme many years ago - drawing on the themes of Reconciliation, unity and peace which are so vital and prominent at Pentecost in Australia...
One more step along the road we go. For it is 6 years, almost to the day, since I successfully proposed a diocesan Synod motion for the Anglican Church Southern Queensland to explore a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), inspired by the work done by the Toowoomba Catholic diocese. I was reminded of this this afternoon as I took part in filming Reconciliation stories with Anglicare Southern Queensland and other diocesan colleagues as part of a new and developing Anglicare Reconciliation project. It has certainly been a sometimes frustrating, but also, above all, deeply enriching journey for me personally. For - from Cunnamulla to Buderim, through Toowoomba, the Gold Coast, and Brisbane - I have walked, yarned and worked with all kinds of people, from all kinds of different spaces and with all kinds of different stories. So it was lovely to share today in bringing some of this together, in immediate advance of NAIDOC Week, in order to enable fresh steps ahead with many more people. The RAP, is, and always was and will be, an ambitious project - seeking to work together over such a large and diverse area, with all sections of the diocesan family - and there is so much more to do, but today was an example of how rewarding this can be.
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:
It has been good to contribute recently to a number of faith-based initiatives which are seeking to engage constructively with ecological challenges. Edited by the excellent Dr Clive Ayre, one of the Australian leading thinkers in this field, the latest journal of the Australian Association of Mission Studies is for example focused on these issues. It was an honour therefore to contribute some of my thinking and experience of the, often disconnected, relationships between Reconciliation, Ecology and Mission, particularly positively in relation to local projects in Queensland. It has also been good to hear of planning for the first national conference (this September) of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) and to begin to link up more closely with that work in which I shared in Sydney. Meanwhile the Anglican Board of Mission (ABM) has been moving forward with its own climate change awareness and advocacy, on behalf of Australian Anglicans as a whole. Some of its work and plans can be found here, including an article I was pleased to contribute from my experience in the Philippines and eco-theological studies. The article itself is also to be found below (just click "Read More"). All these things seem such small steps but together, by God's grace, we can make a difference...
Congratulations to St Mark's Buderim for another wonderful Reconciliation event today: Celebration of Country 2017. Following a Welcome to Country by local cultural educator and traditional owner Jacquie Davis, the centrepiece was a sharing of the story of the Nandjimadji outrigger canoe project, with artists Aunty Robyn Lennox and Aunty Tracey Nicholson from the Nanjimadji Artists (a local group of Indigenous people with disabilities). The video shown can be seen below or directly on You Tube here. It is both illustrative of the value of cultural healing - a significant feature of local life in this area of the Sunshine Coast - and of the way in which such artefacts can be vibrant symbolic, and literal (!), vehicles for community, learning and deeper relationships in our Australian society. It was a lovely tonic in the face of the crassness of much that will occur on the horribly mischosen date 'Australia Day' this week. Today's gathering, ably facilitated by the Ven Jeremy Greaves and the St Mark's team, was also the fruit of many years of relationship building, similar events and the hospitality of St Marks. As such it continues to be an encouraging model for others to follow. Indeed, such local connections have now created a welcome new internet resource - the Buderim Indigenous and South Sea Islander Peoples History website. It was launched at the event today by Steve Chillingworth and Meredith Walker who, as a project of Buderim Sails ministry have worked with local Indigenous & South Sea Islanders on it. Including a number of stories, sites and other information, it is another step in the journey of Reconciliation, and will grow - hopefully to be copied and adapted by others elsewhere.
At the risk of sounding like The Big Bang Theory's Dr Sheldon Cooper, we have been having some appropriate 'fun with flags' at St Luke's Toowoomba over the last few days, as we have sought to honour the tragedy and courage of our broken Australian and international histories. Firstly we held our annual Remembrance Service, remembering the fallen and damaged of the great wars and conflicts in which Australians have been engaged, as well as praying for peace across the world. This involved armed services representatives, our mayor and local MPs, retired services organisations, Harlaxton RSL band, serving army chaplain the Revd David Snape, a fine sermon from the Revd Penny Jones, and display of the three services ensigns and main Australian flag. The collection from the service also once again went towards the maintenance of the Warriors Chapel in St Luke's, a space for our city which honours the fallen and damaged of various conflicts (including those of the world wars, Korea, and Vietnam) and which holds a number of banners from former times.
A new step this year however will be the addition to the Warriors Chapel of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags. These will be installed next Monday, 14 November, alongside a beautiful memorial cross to remember the Battle of One Tree Hill, one of the most significant local conflicts in the European invasion and settlement of the Toowoomba region. This is part of our Reconciliation journey together as we learn more about our shared histories and walk more closely together for healing and a better world. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait island flags are recognised national flags of Australia and are available free from MPs offices to recognised bodies. It was a delight therefore to receive these for St Luke's yesterday from the office of the Hon John McVeigh.
We pray together that all the flags we will hold at St Luke's will bring renewed honour and dignity to all they represent. I did have a little wry chuckle yesterday however as I received the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Island flags. They, like all our flags, are deeply sacramental of identity, visibility, connection and life. Yet in another sense, they can also be aspects of our human capacity for pompousness and far worse, if they are not regarded properly with humility and care for all. For, as Eddie Izzard put it memorably, especially for those of us with British backgrounds, flags are also very curious constructions...
It was a huge delight to be part of the launch of the Reconciliation Action Plan of the Anglican Church Southern Queensland (diocese of Brisbane) in St John's Cathedral Brisbane last Thursday. Together with a Welcome to Country, didgeridoo music, food, and audio-visual display of Reconciliation activities across the diocese, a particular highlight was also the performance of the Malu Kiai Mura Baui dance troupe and speeches from Archbishop Phillip Aspinall and our National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Anglican Council diocesan leaders Canon Bruce Boase and Aunty Rose Elu. Almost 200 people attended the event, including the most prominent lay and ordained Anglican leaders in the diocese, local elders and representatives of leading organisations such as Reconciliation Queensland.
The RAP Launch was the culmination of four years work of awareness and relationship building across the diocese and represents a significant step forward. Indeed the ACSQ RAP is highly unusual for the sheer scale of its geographical and organisational extent, covering both such a large area of Australia with so many different Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples and involving every section of the diocese, including finance and service departments, as well as parishes, schools, St Francis College and Anglicare. May God bless all involved in making this next stage of shared commitment real in the days ahead.
The theme for this year's Reconciliation Week has been particularly fruitful for those of us who are practising Christians. It has provided another positive link between our faith and the journey of healing and justice in our land. For each element of the threefold heading has meaning for both the Christian pathway and that of Australia's many peoples. Indeed it was a delight to preside at baptisms this week in this dual context. For 'Our History' calls us to reflect, and act, upon, the question 'where do we come from?' Neither an individual, nor a nation, can go far without acknowledging and being in proper touch with the bedrock of our lives, whether our historical memory or spiritual 'dreaming' and relationship to God. 'Our Story' similarly calls us to reflect, and act, upon, the question 'what do we belong to?'. This is vital for both individuals and communities. In the Christian case, this involves participation in the 'Jesus Christ', or biblical 'God' Story: in a sense, our Christian 'Dreaming'. Meanwhile, 'Our Future' calls us to reflect, and act, upon the question 'where are we going?' This is vital for purpose and meaning, new life and the realisation of our individual and shared gifts and potential. For Christians, this involves living further into the promise of shalom which God has for us and all his/her children. May all we have thus shared this week strengthen our ancient foundations, our walking together, and life in the Spirit of renewal.
Jo Inkpin an Anglican priest, trans woman, theologian and justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice and sustainable creation.