A few weeks ago we had an owl in St Luke’s church building. It appeared first for the memorial service of a beloved Aboriginal woman. It stayed to perch above a wedding couple as they took their vows. It shifted next day to the high altar where it seemed to speak directly to me: ‘it is time to move.’ For, spiritually speaking, in many cultures the owl is a symbol of mystery, the feminine, and, above all, change. It appears, as a herald or guardian, at times of various transitions in the lives of individuals and groups. So it has been, I believe, for myself and Penny.
Today I am announcing that Penny and I are relinquishing our appointments in the Anglican parish of St Luke Toowoomba, to take effect from Monday 16 January next year. At the invitation of the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane, we do so to take up new roles in the life of the diocese and to enable the parish of St Luke Toowoomba to find new clergy leadership for the next steps in its journey. We do so with mixed feelings. For we have been richly blessed in Toowoomba and it is very hard to let go of the depth of relationships we have enjoyed with so many people here, both within church circles and in the wider city. Yet we would not be being faithful to our own sense of calling, or to the needs of the parish and wider church, if we did not do so...
There are four aspects to our new appointments, each of which we believe makes the best use of our skills and experience at this stage of our lives and ministries. For we have each exercised ordained ministry for 30 years in a number of different forms and we seek now to exercise what Erik Erikson once called the ‘generative’ stage of our life: where, that is, we nurture and pass on to the next generation those valuable things which we have learned and treasured. Firstly, Penny is being appointed to a half-time position as Director of Formation at St Francis College. This will enable her to share both her wide ministerial experience in assisting recognised ministers in training and to employ her outstanding suite of skills of spiritual direction to the full. Similarly, secondly, I am being appointed at two-thirds time Lecturer in History and Senior Tutor at St Francis College: allowing my educational skills and intellectual interests fuller expression. Thirdly, challengingly but excitingly, Penny is to become priest-in-charge of the Anglican parish of Milton-Auchenflower, based on the St Francis College site. This is a parish which has fallen on very hard times in recent years, due to the radical changes of buildings, transport and demography in inner city Brisbane. However, with the right innovative and collaborative leadership, there is great potential to develop a new model of contemporary, contemplative, connected church there, hopefully including the founding of a new intentional Christian community in the not too distant future. Fourthly, and not least, on my part, I am being offered a congenial setting and space to develop a series of projects I have either begun imperfectly or have struggled to do alongside parish responsibilities: these include writing a number of books and other resources, developing further my commitments to Reconciliation and issues of human difference, and having space for an increasingly significant aspect of my own personal development and solidarity with others.
This decision is the result of much prayer, thought and conversation with our bishops over the last few weeks and it has not been entered into easily. Penny and I have been very conscious both of the needs of the parish of St Luke Toowoomba and of all that enriches us here. It was well said by parish historian Dr Max Brightman that ‘the position of Rector of St Luke Toowoomba is not for the faint hearted’. Yet the last 6 years here have been wonderful ones for us, and, we hope, at least bearable for others where we have touched their lives. There have been many changes in both the parish and wider community and there are more challenges to come. Nonetheless we believe that we will leave the parish and city happier, stronger and more sustainable in essential foundations and with a growing sense of creative shared purpose. We can explore that further in the next few weeks. After renewing vision and mission, we believe however that the time has come for new clergy leaders to take the parish to the next stage of its life and engagement with others. A clergy couple has many strengths, especially in critical times of transition. Yet it also has weaknesses, and needs to know when to move on when it is right. With the wisdom of the owl, we believe that moment has come. May God thus bless us all in this time of transition.
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.