Saturday, 23 January 2010

"The stone which the builders rejected..."

Last week I had the privilege of being called by a Priest wrongfully dismissed from the Sydney Anglican diocese about fifteen years ago. I won’t tell his story here; not just because it’s not mine to tell, but because my prayer is that he’ll soon find the strength to publish it himself. Suffice it to say it occurred as a result of a number of blatantly unbelievable (and completely unsubstantiated) allegations of a non-criminal nature. Were he to have been working in a secular field it would have – even then – been illegal for an employer to fire him on the basis of such ludicrous accusations, and he would be entitled to significant compensation.

He’d spent more than a decade fighting for justice, and was finally told he could have the matter referred to the appropriate tribunal for review. “But”, Archbishop Jensen told him, “irrespective of the tribunal’s findings his license would not be renewed.” His many years of faithful service, both in Sydney and as a missionary abroad, counted for nothing: the arrogant vision of our diocese's present has no place for the wisdom of its past.

Through the struggle his marriage has remained intact, as has – even more surprisingly – his faith. Granted, there was an obvious cynicism in his voice when our conversation drifted to the machinations of power-brokers like the Anglican Church League, but even this was overshadowed by his hope for a future in which the bright young stars of the church’s firmament are encouraged to seek out lost sheep with the same fervor as they do clerical advancement and a seat on the more prestigious committees. “It’s the waste that God must find so appalling”, he said, “the waste of all this talent, learning, and understanding. While the Catholic process is to seek restoration between those dismissed and their church, we just discard them in a rush to find the next aspiring Philip Jensen.”

The vision we discussed was of a fellowship to support those who – for whatever reason – are on the journey through which he have passed. As we spoke we recalled those we once knew personally that have also since been flung upon Sydney Anglicanism’s dung-heap - not just the divorced, the gay, and the mentally ill, but all of us, including the internationally recognized theologian made to resign from Moore College for “heresy” (if he’s a heretic Luther was a Mormon) and the brilliant historian considered crazy for leaving academia to develop - among other ministries - a vibrant parish community among Sydney’s transvestite and transsexual sex workers – a ministry shut down as soon as he was forced to retire. The simple act of once more saying their names felt empowering: it doesn’t matter what a person accomplished before their fall from grace: once you’ve gone nobody can ever mention you again. Books and papers are dropped from reading lists, and life-long friendships never existed. Phone calls are never returned. Chance meetings in the street become awkward: don’t ever expect the hastily made promise to “catch up for a coffee” will be kept. Perhaps exclusion is part of the punishment, or – more likely – they’re worried whatever you’ve got is catching.

Which is why this idea of a support group is so exciting: the pathetic failure of the Connect 09 evangelism campaign to make any impact whatsoever upon society is proof enough that young men who think they know everything, but whom have survived nothing, cannot be the sole guardians of our church’s future. Certainly it’ll take a while for our vision to become reality, but I promise to post more about it here along the way. In the meantime anyone interested in finding out more is welcome to email me - I think you’ll find what emerges will be a pretty varied bunch of characters, both theologically and socially, as well as in terms of our experiences, but one thing I know will be constant: Christ didn’t give up on us, and we won’t give up on you.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Ours is not a caravan of despair...

Sydney Anglican numbers may be declining, but they gained one new member this past Sunday with the baptism of the gang’s youngest. We had to keep things quiet, since his parents’ notoriety caused all sorts of complaints and problems in the months following his older sister’s baptism (I guess “suffer little children” doesn’t apply if your father has the temerity to speak out against injustice and pharisaism, and refuses to play by the rules imposed upon former clergy), but thanks to a dear friend - and one of the wisest and most inspiring Priests ever - a welcoming font in the diocese of Sydney was found.

The title of this post comes from a line in the liturgy he wrote for our little chap, and for me it sums everything about what the absurd voyage that is a life following Christ should be; an adventure of joy in which the questions are relentless; a caravan of wonder, not despair. Which is why I’ve posted this picture of him in one of sister’s fairy costumes: not only has a Duck Noodle Gangster slipped through the Donatists’s net, but a cross-dressing one at that!

Ok, so the costume is part of the role assigned to him by his ballet-obsessed older sister: she has to recruit her corps de ballet from somewhere, and when you’ve only got one sibling you can’t be too picky. Which means that if he insists on wearing a t-shirt underneath his tutu that says “My Dad Rocks” she’s long understood that sometimes you’ve just got to compromise…

May he grow up to be part of an Anglican Church that displays the same accepting grace as his almost-four-year-old sister. A church that takes Jesus’ compassion for the little ones of our world seriously. A church which has forsaken the temptation to be nothing more than a caravan of despair.