To rework a common saying, if something doesn't quite look or quack like a duck, perhaps it is not a duck. There are no doubt many reasons why the Anglican Parish of St Luke has not always flourished as well as it might have done. Yet key may the very identity of its principal worship site (St Luke’s). This is situated on two major city thoroughfares of Ruthven Street (the main north-south route through Toowoomba) and Herries Street (which links key city institutions such St Vincent Hospital & Toowoomba Grammar School with The Glennie School). It faces the City Council chambers which are mere yards away diagonally. It has traditionally hosted many wider civic and city events. Local people outside the church congregation also frequently and instinctively call St. Luke’s a Cathedral. Yet its city centre significance and ‘more than ordinary parish’ identity has not always been well grasped. Linked with other worship centres with different dynamics, it has felt further dislocating pulls of theological, pastoral and missional orientation. As Toowoomba grows each day towards being a genuine regional capital, and as the wider Church wrestles with today’s mission priorities, it is therefore appropriate to ask: ‘is it time for the St Luke’s site to be regarded, supported and developed as a form of Minster?...
What is a Minster?
The Minster (or ‘Greater Church’) concept has been developed in recent decades in the Church of England as significant for health and mission. The nature and location of such churches vary. What all share in common however are 'requirements to offer facilities to a large number of visitors, host special services, offer community access and fund the specialist maintenance and repair of large buildings, most of which are heritage listed. Each shares the joys, struggles and opportunities of running a ‘cathedral‐like’ church with the organization and financial resources of an ordinary parish church.' (From Anecdote to Evidence, C of E report)
Theologically and spiritually, Minsters have a unique role. The English word minster itself for example Is related to the Latin word monasterium or monastery, but it was used from the 7th century to designate any settlement of clergy, endowed by charter, living a communal life and maintaining the daily office of prayer. It is further argued by some (the so-called ‘minster hypothesis’) that, in Anglo-‐Saxon and Celtic Britain, the minster also provided a particular distinctive model and base for local contextual mission, alongside episcopal direction and organisation. After the Norman Conquest however, a minster came to refer, in a more limited and general way to a large or important (collegiate or cathedral) church. Some of these historical British features are of academic interest to the Church in Australia. Yet some are more suggestive. For what is especially interesting in recent years has been the Church of England’s designation of several new Minsters. Like cathedrals, these have grown as church centres, as and when they have developed their distinctive role and identity. For they then combine both ancient wisdom and missional response contemporary need.
Why St Luke’s Toowoomba as a ‘greater church’ or ‘minster’?
After four years ministry in the parish of St Luke, my view is that intentionally recognising St Luke’s as a ‘minster’ would benefit its own health and mission, developing its potential contribution to the wider Toowoomba Church, the wider region and diocese. It would help renew St Luke’s latent identity as a potential flagship of prayer, encounter and creativity at the city’s heart. As the first place of Anglican worship and education in Toowoomba, it began life this way and has periodically exercised this role without properly owning it. Today’s missional context calls for such a proper intentional focus.
What might St Luke’s Toowoomba as a ‘Minster’ mean?
- this question is intended for others to contribute their own insights, but some key features might include (drawing on experience of contemporary Minsters elsewhere – not least the vision of Sunderland Minster):
1. giving intentional focus to St Luke’s as 'In the City’s Heart, in God’s Heart’
- with three vital elements (corresponding to the three parts of the current parish vision – i.e ‘seeking to be Focused in Christ, Joyful and Inclusive, Compassionate in Witness)
a. A Spiritual Heartbeat for the City
- as a spiritual ‘hub’, with regular patterns of daily and weekly prayer, meditation, spiritual direction, developing tools such as the labyrinth, and the nurture of a spiritual city and identity – a ‘Mantra’
b. A Place of Hospitality for All
- offering space, a 'sanctuary', a home, celebration, mourning, and journeying, nurturing, healing & social justice –a ‘Meeting Place’
c. A Connecting Place for Loving and Sharing
- bringing together Faith and contemporary insights, arts, cultures and struggles, as a focus and catalyst for city‐wide partnerships –a 'Mosaic'
2. offering a special spiritual contribution to Toowoomba’s growth as a new Australian regional capital (intentionally developing ‘engaged’ spirituality on the St Luke’s site)
3. offering a particular strengthened focus for Anglican and ecumenical life in Toowoomba, as part of the reshaping of Anglican mission as a whole in the new city and regional context
4. helping create better resources and a city central focus/’signboard’ for the development of Toowoomba as an educational, spiritual and missional hub for the diocese
5. giving fresh identity and strategic purpose to the disjointed hot-potch of resources on the St Luke’s site: nurturing a more integrated ‘Minster Project’ with several elements
As Jeremy Francis, Vicar of Beverley Minster in England, has wriiten:
‘Cathedrals have grown because they have a clear mission, a recognition that their ministry is regional and their mission is to the structures of society, and because the wider church recognizes this, gives them money and requires them to have…experienced clergy there full time. All of this can be true of ‘greater’ churches at the heart of their area. You don’t need a cathedral constitution to do that… But it does need a recognition by the diocese that it is a church of regional influence, and it needs to have staffing which enables that influence to bear fruit… and it needs the support of the parishes and wider church around it. Elements of that work here… Exciting times.
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.