Penny and I are feeling very blessed after renewing our marriage vows this week in St John's (Anglican) Cathedral in Brisbane - on our 35th wedding anniversary. We had intended to mark this occasion by beginning several months long leave overseas. COVID-19 put an end to that. However we felt powerfully drawn to mark this point in our lives, particularly after this year completing the main elements of my gender affirmation journey. It also gave us an opportunity to celebrate a 'queer' marriage which some of our co-religionists say is impossible (!) but which we believe is a lovely gift for the renewal both of marriage and also of human relationships with our wider creation. For, as I have written elsewhere (see here for example), a deeper wrestling with Judaeo-Christian tradition leads us into a much more profound and life-giving understanding of marriage and God's shalom...
The photo above represents some of what I see in marriage (or at least my own!). The two figures at the centre are of course intimately bound up with one another but they are very far from alone. The other figures around them, some out of photo-shot, represent other parts of their individual and shared lives which they bring to one another, and which, in the deep mutuality of each other, they are then better able to return to those about them and others beyond. The figure in clerical robes (in this case the Dean of Brisbane, the Very Revd Peter Catt) also connects them with the wider body (in this case also specifically the wider Body of Christ) of which they are but a part, and of the so much greater story of human faith and love in which they make their own current contribution. The very size of the building in which they gather is itself a vital expression and reminder of how their own very special love and identities are just one small reflection of the immensity of love and diverse identities throughout time and the cosmos. In coming together they make this real and particular, even as they re-entrust themselves to the deeper whole. Does what they wear, or who they are in their bodies or journeys, really matter in such perspective? Of course it matters to them, and to those immediately around them. As two women married and before the altar of God, there is even something a little significant for our times. Yet, in the scale of things, such details are but flashes of light in a so much greater rainbow of love, beyond time and space.
This second photo, of Penny and I walking down the central aisle of the cathedral, is one taken by my lovely friend Kim Streten (also a woman with a trans history, as well as a former photographer for Brisbane's Courier Mail). It too speaks expressively of the significance of our renewal of marriage, as s symbol for others as well as a celebration for ourselves. There is such light and joy in this image, reflecting the joy and light of our being together, despite the challenges we face along the way. As it happened, this event took place within Queensland's current COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines, and in an Anglican centre of worship within the current wider debilitating church restrictions on the full celebration of love, sexuality and gender diversity. No law or canon was broken but the Spirit of life was still able to breathe and re-create. The very spaciousness of the cathedral was a practical aid and spiritual pointer to that spaciousness of spirit. We, and others with us, felt so relaxed and renewed, for we were able to rest and rejoice in that greater roomy love in which we, and all creation, live and move - block it though we, and passing circumstances, may try to do.
For me, the gentle dynamism of this second photo also stands out. Penny and are so together in our diversity but are one in moving together. For we have learned to move, to flow, to dance together, whatever life has thrown up for us, or whatever strange moves we have put on each other. This is part of the meaning of our marriage, part of its reason for being, and part of its significance in the wider context. We have learned how to move in the Spirit and continue to move. Our marriage is thus like the rainbow labyrinth we chose for the top of our anniversary cake. It is an ever-unfolding adventure or opening up anew. Sadly, too many Churches, including the Anglican Church of Australia as a whole, have missed this central reality They typically obsess about regulations and not the spirit of marriage. They see marriage in static terms and not as a living dance of love. They love to be gatekeepers at weddings but not celebrants of ever-surprising loving diversity. They cultivate heaviness and judgement not lightness and joy.
Penny and I thus give thanks for all who have made possible our journey of love, who share it now, and will join us in the future of our dance together. Our joy comes from being part of something profoundly greater and deeper than even the extraordinary intimacy and blessings we have shared together, along with the thorns. We pray that our Churches make wake up to this adventure, joy and inexhaustible delight in so many from whom they distance - and, most of all, that that adventure, joy and delight will abound in all who tread the paths of love, whatever sexuality, gender, or spirituality they may espouse.
below are a few more images of our own current adventure, joy and delight...
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.