I have been quite moved this week - with all kinds of trans pride, past trauma and hope rising up - as the reality sinks into my body and consciousness that the Uniting Church makes a vital little bit of history this Sunday. For we hold the first ever Induction in a mainstream Australian Church of an openly transgender ordained person (as distinct from allowing someone to continue in an existing role after coming out) - and without all the cruel insistence on justifying trans existence so often present around us. Trans people do not need churchy validation, but, my God, as I know from others, it makes such a difference for so many journeys of affirmation and empowerment when pathways are opened. It is a huge tribute to those who have made the way - to trans and other queer people ourselves, and not least to those in the Pitt Street story who've created the ground for this and other things (not least my distinguished predecessors). Of course, this placement is about much, much more, but it is one significant aspect. There's a long way to go, but I'm so proud of the Uniting Church in this, and pray that it may be a contribution to the much needed changes in law, health, and education required to support gender diverse people who are currently under such attack (not least in New South Wales right now. I'm also thrilled to have so many different people attending, and messages of encouragement, from right across the Christian and community spectrum, and I know that what we share on Sunday is part of the broader changes coming into being also. May all people and their/our gifts flourish!
Why are we here? Why are people of so many diverse faiths involved today in worldwide climate change advocacy and why do we need to sound the alarm?
The short answer is - We are United by a common human spirituality - of solidarity, scriptures, and science...
(my brief address at the Sound the Alarm Green Faith day of action for climate change, 11 March 2021)...
Three things then:
1. We are United by Solidarity - with our planet and its suffering peoples (those closest to the land and seas)
* We increasingly make Acknowledgement of Country but are we listening and honouring the spirituality of First Nations people - who speak particularly as voices of the Land and seas themselves?
* Let us indeed listen to the voices of our land and seas!
* Why are we not listening, for example, to my friend, the Senior Queenslander of the Year, Aunty McRose Elu and Torres Strait Islanders (king tides etc)?
* Why are we not responding to our Pacific Island neighbours?
* Why we not acting to address the increasing numbers of Environmental Refugees?
2. We are United by Scriptures
* The BIble at least is quite clear - indeed the first command in the Bible is to care for Gods Creation
* The Book of Deuteronomy is but one further key text - telling us that God, land and people all suffer when one suffers
* Jesus also drew his teaching from the Earth - can we not see the seasons? Jesus said
* Jesus too called us to wake up, to repent (that is, to turn around and change our behaviours), and to sound the alarm
* These themes are echoed in other faith traditions - hence our common stand today
3. We are United by Science
* Science is no enemy of good faith but rather faith and science are essential partners
* Climate change is such established scientific fact, just like Covid-19 - and like that virus we need to act effectively (as Australians, including our Governments, have shown we can do with Covid-19)
* Let us take but one recent report - where 19 out of 20 Australian key ecosystems that were examined were found to be collapsing - from coral reefs, through Murray-Darling waterways and arid desert, to our extraordinary rainforests
* Have we forgotten the devastating bushfires just before the Covid-19 outbreak?!
* We’ve made Gods out of narrow economic growth totems and fossil fuels - so its time for change, as with lead pollution and CFC’s
* Research also shows we can best address jobs and futures through climate change action - thus also addressing the manifest inequalities and stresses revealed by Covid-19
* Action benefits us all
Solidarity - Scripture - and Science are as one...
so let us Sound the Alarm - The time for action is now!
Great work by the Pitt Street Uniting Church Earthweb team today - with excellent accompaniment by Ecopella and John the bagpipe player - Sounding the Alarm on climate change as part of the worldwide Green Faith actions.
I've been warmly welcomed by members of the Uniting Church as I prepare to be inducted to ministry with Pitt Street Uniting Church in Sydney. Here below is Jonathan Foye's article for Insights (Uniting Synod NSW/ACT) - reproduced from the magazine here...
Tired’ (with rage) writes Anna Spargo-Ryan - full article here - and that is one way of putting it! Is there a problem with men’s ears and hearts? Day follows day in the revealing of our deep cultural violent sexism and still no action, other than deflections?
“We don’t want the government to host a morning tea, catered by women, organised by women. We don’t want their 30-second video patronising our womanhood. We need them to come out loudly against sexual assault. We want policies to protect women from harm, to support their recovery and keep them safe. We want action against a nation-wide culture that says women are liars. Take over the burden of carrying blame.”
It’s much more than feeling tired of course, but Anna is right: our federal government’s reactions to the endemic truths currently courageously articulated and focused by Brittany Higgins, Grace Tame, Chanel Contos and others known and unknown are pitiful. And - yes indeed! - Church leaders need to look at their/our culture, language, and actions too...
The words blessing, with emergence, have been lively features for me this week - particularly in delightful spiritual conversation in Pitt Street' Uniting Church's Thursday lunchtime Reflect & Connect gathering, and the wonderful surprise of a beautiful joint Zoom blessing by Queensland & NSW Wellspring Community friends this morning. In this I've been reminded of this deep blessing which may touch others too. I first read it at the very point, literally and in other ways, I was opening the door and coming out as transgender. It still speaks powerfully to my soul and to other new beginnings which may be stirring in us, in our community life, and wider world. In all the turmoils and lack of clarity of our times, may we indeed trust that other ways are waiting for us and we can travel into them.
Reflecting on Congregationalist history, as I join Pitt Street Uniting Church, has me also recalling one of my great grandfathers, who was a prominent Congregationalist layman - preaching, supporting and part-funding Congregationalist life and mission (especially in Stratford, the East of London, Penge and Fulham). The child of immigrant Irish Catholics, he rose to become a successful manager - and, in marrying, changed his name from McDonnell (my now reclaimed middle name) to MacDonald (partly as a Scottish-sounding name was so far better received in England than an Irish one, and as his wife Jane had also changed her own name from Maindonald in her immigation from Guernsey). I love many of the historical tributes to E.F - in many ways, a case study in social and cultural history - not least the words of the Mayor of Stratford who declared that E.F believed that any type of Christianity that focused too much on another world was not Christianity at all, but that it should be one that enabled people to do some good. I guess in that, at least - and, I hope, in the warmth of his expression - there is a continuing family resemblance?!...
I’ve been happily reminded recently that, in moving to share ministry with Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, I follow in a few footsteps of one of my great heroes, Maude Royden. A leading first wave feminist, internationalist and peace advocate, among many other things, Maude started the Anglican ordination of women campaign. Prevented from preaching, she then became an assistant minister at the prominent City Temple (Congregationalist church) and was also the first Anglican woman to lead a church (an ecumenical fellowship she founded at The Guildhouse, also in London). In her worldwide speaker tours, she drew huge attention, with massive numbers - including packing Pitt St way over capacity, with lines and lines of people locked out down the street (a similar feature repeated at the one Anglican Church in Sydney which had the courage to invite her).
Laura Rademaker provides a very good reflection on Maude’s impact on Australia (particularly in the challenge she was to existing ideas of sex and women) - check out ‘Sex in the pulpit: the feminist preacher for Aussie flappers’ on the Australian Women’s History Network webpage, and her fuller article ‘Religion for the Modern Girl’’ in Australian Feminist Studies (2016)).
My own online tribute to Maude is in the link here, picking up on one of my favourite passages in Maude’s writings, where she speaks of ‘the great adventure’ of Christ and faith, contrasting so starkly with the deathly ‘activity’ which often passes for life in churches. To follow Christ is the invitation, she said, but:
“Would it be safe? No, of course it would not be safe… we are afraid of such risks, afraid of such a terrible victory (as Christ’s)… we treat the Church as one long accustomed to ill-health. Do not open the window! Do not bang the door! You cannot take risks with the invalid. Step lightly, speak softly, at any moment the poor thing might die!”
We, like Maude, can do do much better - in our lives, our world, and even in churches :-)
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.
Quite frequently I’m asked about fresh versions of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples - due to concerns for some such as patriarchal/parental or other distancing sounding words, issues about forgiveness (not least after church abuse revelations) and so on. I’ve suggested alternatives but have also just had another go at a contemporary paraphrase - also as a contribution to the Pitt St Uniting Church journey. Maybe it is also of some use to some others?
NB I do also value agreed ecumenical texts (!) and also warmly commend the practice, which I learned in ecumenical work, of inviting a diverse group to pray the prayer taught by Jesus in their own words and language - hearing such prayer in Aramaic for example, is particularly moving.
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.