Yesterday I was given a marvelous gift from a remarkable artist of both life and embroidery. This is a person of great grace and determination who, little known to most people, was a courageous female pioneer in her field of work, also engaging with Indigenous people in other places long before it was 'fashionable' (if it ever has been in a positive sense). At the same time, she has been an amazingly skilled and prolific needlewoman, whose creations, soaked in prayer and deep reflection, richly adorn not only much of the parish of St Luke Toowoomba but many other places besides.
I was overwhelmed by the generosity of this gift and also the beauty, skill and insight which has gone into it. For as my blessed benefactor put it, in an accompanying card:
Traditionally the needlepoint group gave a piece of needlepoint to outgoing priests from this parish. This continues that practice.
It was worked with care and consideration in in appreciation of all you have done in the parish and community.
The four arms of the cross symbolise the outreach in all directions.
Celtic knot work has no beginning or ending but one has to start somewhere - so in your new position may that outreach continue.
On the eve of the feast of St Hilda of Whitby, it is hard to express the Celtic Christian call to mission better, in a medium so resonant of Celtic spirit. I feel richly blessed.
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...
One of the great joys of recent times has been the recovery of the ancient traditions of Christian meditation. It has been good to share in this and see new groups grow locally, including our regular Wednesday 5 pm group at St Luke's Toowoomba. Across the world this continues to be so, making new relationships of depth with God, ourselves, one another, different faith traditions, and the planet. The World Community of Christian Meditation is one key focal point in this global (re)development and it is lovely to see how new steps in the journey are forming, including the new home of WCCM at Bonnevaux in France. Check out more information at the WCCM website, WCCM Twitter feed or view one of the videos on the WCCM You Tube page. Best of all, just start meditating! :-)
It is easy to become afraid these days. After all, we live in a very fast-paced world and today’s media brings us immediate revelations of fresh horror and violence anywhere across the globe. These can quickly disturb our thoughts and emotions and magnify such troubles out of all proportion. They can also lead us to mistrust others different from us, not least those who themselves are survivors or potential victims of the very forces which may be challenging us. We live in times therefore when we badly need to grow love among all people. For love, expressed in prayer and wise action, is the only true antidote to fear. When fear rises within and around us, will we close the doors of our lives and world to others, as the first disciples did after the terror of Jesus’ death? Or will we, like those first disciples, re-open those doors and re-connect with others in new ways, as we experience and grow more deeply in the peace of Christ? Being sensitive to fear and violence is human but how we handle these things is what shows God among us.
A wonderful sign of the divine presence in the midst of our troubled world was the All for Peace gathering at St Luke’s this July. It came about at the request of our Iraqi Muslim community who asked if we would host something to acknowledge the pain of Iraq and the wider world. Muslims asking Christians to host a joint event – in a church building -for peace: imagine that in many parts of our world! What a lovely expression of the model of loving community for which so many parts of our city of Toowoomba have been working and praying so hard. It was certainly a moving occasion, with a nearly full St Luke’s, and with contributors including our Mayor, Federal MP, District Police Inspector, faith leaders, St Saviours school children, and many more! We reflected together on the violent acts which had recently taken place in France, Germany, Turkey, the USA, Sudan and elsewhere. We lit candles. We placed flowers outside in a public witness. We recommitted ourselves together to help make Toowoomba even more of ‘model city of peace and harmony’. For one good model or example can be like the one candle which dispels the darkness which can seem so threatening. Each of us, in the strength of Jesus’ nail-marked hands, can be that candle for our own fears and violence, signs of divine love for everyone, lightening up our world.
For several years Toowoomba hosted the major Christian gathering called Easterfest. This brought great life to the city and many people, especially young people, from far and near. St Luke's happily hosted part of the 'Gospel in the Chapel' program in recent years, with some magnificent Christian bands, individual musicians and dance perfomers. The closure of Easterfest last year therefore left a major gap in the Toowoomba city, as well as local Christian, calendar. As a response, many in the Christian community collaborated this year with the Regional Council in something new - the Streets and Lanes Festival - bringing new life to the city centre on Holy Saturday with various music performers and other activities in the streets and lanes. St Luke's was a key site. Here is a brief report:
All day people came to St. Luke's to enjoy the friendly atmosphere, share food and fabulous coffee, and wander among the various stalls. Children particularly enjoyed the three stations of activities prepared for them, around the themes of suffering, rising and walking to Emmaus. Their green and yellow footsteps painted on calico formed a wonderful addition to our worship on The Sunday after Easter. The range and skill of the performers, dancers and musicians who graced the afternoon was tremendous and certainly added to the beauty of the afternoon, and the rain held off until the last note was played and the last two walkers completed their meditative walk around the labyrinth. Meanwhile in church dozens of people enjoyed the quiet atmosphere and the chance to reflect upon the visual meditation on the passion and resurrection ably curated by Sharon Roberts. All in all a blessed afternoon that we hope to repeat in years to come.
‘Once we see God as an artist, everything changes’ (John O’Donohue). For God’s work is like an artist, shaping life’s raw materials into new forms of beauty, truth and justice, through love. Sometimes we think of God too much as a law-giver or police officer, a mechanic or an engineer. All those occupations can also speak of God. Yet they can distance us from God’s intimate, costly and creative involvement with us, and from the invitation to share that love in similar ways with others. Art can thus reopen our eyes and ears and touch our souls and world afresh.
At St Luke’s Toowoomba, we see the community we call ‘church’ as a kind of ‘art-school of divine majesty’. Our building itself is indeed an artistic expression of God’s love. Recently we therefore installed art hanging rails better to share God’s love and creativity through art in the city’s heart. Beginning in Holy Week, and linked to the Streets and Lanes Festival on the Saturday before Easter, we have our first exhibition, with local artists reflecting visually on the Easter story. We hope it will inspire others to see God’s art among us and to grow as artists of God’s grace.
What a beautiful start to 2016 at St Luke's, with a delightful New Years Day 'building bonds of humanity' community friendship tea at the Toowoomba City Labyrinth, organised by the Islamic Interfaith & Multicultural Association of Toowoomba. It was a great joy to offer and share hospitality together, as a symbol of our hope and mutual intent for the coming year. With music and dance, positive but concise speeches, food and drink and wonderful company (Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and all sorts), it was another sign of our 'model city of peace and harmony' in action.
It is hard to pick a special moment in the afternoon - a gorgeous Toowoomba summer day - as there were many, including the joy of many of our other faith friends, young and old, exploring St Luke's church building itself. Perhaps my favourite however was the men's dance (the first I think on the labyrinth), recalling the words of the psalmist (Psalm 133.1): 'how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell (and dance!) together in unity'.
It is a couple of weeks now since we formally launched the Toowoomba City Labyrinth
with a wonderful community ceremony at St Luke's and already it has proven a lovely boon to spiritual journeying in our city, with all kinds of individuals and groups using it. Labyrinth facilitator training will also start soon to enable more people to understand and lead others with this tool of spiritual growth. For an introduction please check out Toowoomba Chronicle's fine video piece here:
When I worked in the national and NSW ecumenical council offices in Sydney, I once had a close colleague who had previously been employed in HR departments for big business. He was a lively contributor to our shared endeavours but it took him a while to become used to office email and conversational exchange. ‘I just can’t get my head round all of this’, he said one day, ‘people keep signing off with ‘best wishes’ and ‘blessings’ and say ‘thankyou’ for all kinds of simple things. I am being disoriented by kindness.’ Now my friend may have had a particular bleak earlier work experience. Many secular workplaces have very positive atmospheres as well as respectful staff protocols. Christian workplaces can also be full of unstated, and sometimes open, hostilities and negative undercurrents. The ecumenical office we worked in certainly had its mix of all of that! Yet it is true to say that, where human beings are intentional about giving thanks and sharing praise, a positive spirit surely develops. Even when we do not feel particularly thankful or gracious, such practice can transform us and others.
Our parish stewardship and thanksgiving developments this year have certainly helped us on the way to being a more thankful community. They have also made us more capable of responding to our diocesan call to grow in faith and generosity. It has been wonderful to see how so many people have responded positively to the challenge to consider how to become more open to God’s love and share our particular blessings with others. Even those who have been a bit nervous about considering the financial and other implications seem to be have been at least touched by this life-renewing spirit of consideration. May this long continue to grow and flourish among us!
What highlights will we take forward from our stewardship and thanksgiving initiative this year? For many the Thanksgiving Festival in August was certainly a huge delight. On the Saturday we shared a wonderful community day at St Luke’s, with food, music, children’s activities, chalk drawings and a welcome for all, including to several visitors. It was indeed a lovely example of what we can do to use the St Luke’s site as a ‘Minster’, sharing blessings for all. Then, in the evening, we had a terrific parish meal together, with great food prepared by our generous cooks and a feast of music from Robin and his band. ‘We must do this again’, was the feeling of many. Thanksgiving is infectious!
This Saturday, at 10 am in St Luke’s, a special event will mark the anniversary of the Battle of One Tree Hill (Table Top Mountain) between local Aboriginal people and early European settlers. The organisers hope it will enable us to learn more of our shared history and thus move forward with greater understanding and a stronger commitment to a better future. For at the heart of Reconciliation of all kinds is a recognition of the truth of our past and present and a transformation of hurtful memories into purposeful new life.
An Anglican bishop once termed the dispossession of Indigenous people ‘Australia’s Original Sin’. He was saying that unless deep uncomfortable truths are faced we can never fully receive the grace of new beginnings. For this works on social as well as personal levels. Whether as individuals, communities or nations, all of us fall short of the glory of God. When we acknowledge our brokenness however, healing can come. For, as the great El Salvadorean Oscar Romero put it, the task of the church in every generation involves helping to make the history of every nation a history of salvation. May God continue to bless us in this journey.
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.