Monday, 2 October 2017

Prophetic ministry - gets a Bedding down

For decades the reputation of the Christian Churches in Australia has been eroded by scandal upon scandal. I recollect my Nana telling me she had no time for the Church because of the hypocrisy she had witnessed - of people preaching against the ‘demon drink’ having one or two OR people talking about forgiveness condemning the poor, marginalised or outcast. Indeed, the Church seems to be particularly adept at crucifixion. 

Growing up ‘outside the Church’, I share the wider society’s suspicion of Church motives and Church behaviours. As a Minister in the Church, this makes me particularly mindful of guarding integrity, truth and transparency as precious and necessary for our wellbeing.

I become more conscious of the societal suspicion when I venture into public spaces. People harbour very long-term hurts and experiences of confusion and rejection, often arising from past encounters with an institutional mentality that appears as the antithesis to the teachings and example of Jesus. One might almost say, some in our society view the institutional Church as the Anti-Christ!

When I was the Uniting Church Minister at the city congregation in Newcastle, this was particularly evident. Weekly (sometimes daily) news stories about paedophilia and institutional cover-ups haunted  both Catholic and Anglican communities. Being a woman Minister, many of the victims approached me for conversation. I was shocked and horrified at the shunning of these people from their own places. It was shameful to witness, particularly as I knew so many people in both churches who were working very hard to change things. However, individuals struggle to redeem the culture of institutions if those same institutions pull the wagons around in defense, and do not allow themselves to be refined and restored, through confession and correction.   
The public places where I have heard so much disappointment and disillusionment have included: NAIDOC and Reconciliation Week events, Rallies supporting humane responses to refugees and asylum-seekers (Love Makes a Way, Jesus was a Refugee, Release children from detention, Public readings of leaked files from Manus and Nauru), and Marriage Equality (Australian Christians for Marriage Equality, Love is Love). At such events, wearing a clergy collar brings two major responses: people cursing or spitting at you OR thanking you for restoring their faith and confidence that God cares (or, at least, that “the Church doesn’t just comprise arseholes!”). 

Being engaged in public ministry, prophetic action and public theology is complex and difficult. It requires spiritual discipline, as the stories are hard and challenging. It requires deep commitment to prayer and bible study, as finding the faith response means plumbing the depths of lament and identifying hope and light in the darkness. It requires friends and colleagues, companions on the Way of Jesus together, who understand what it is to carry the burdens of others and share the responsibility for ministering to a hurt and broken world.

One of our companions on this prophetic journey is, in the words of a member of his Parish, “a deeply spiritual man”, and, in the words of a member of his Parish Council, “creative and faithful”. He is also funny. When you are in his presence, you want to smile, because there is honesty and hope and the deep joy that comes from knowing Our Lord. He is human, enjoys a good meal and good company, but never forgets that we are blessed in order to bless others. As a true Evangelist, he has a heart for reaching, connecting with, communicating with those who are beyond the Church’s current reach. His name is Chris. He is my friend. Just over a week ago, he celebrated a “YES” mass, welcoming people to the Lord’s Table who had felt unable to approach for a very long time. What wonderful ministry.

It was therefore with dismay that I learnt that Chris was to be suspended from ministry, pending institutional procedures...
Yesterday, Chris sat in a pew in the Parish where he is Priest, listening to a letter being read to his congregation informing them that he was “suspended from ministry”.  It did clarify that the issue/s of concern had nothing to do with sexual abuse of children... something Churches always need to clarify these days, due to our decimated reputation.

The Mass was celebrated (minus a few people who walked out).
Then the Parish Council then made their own courageous response in a statement.
You really couldn’t write a script like this. Unless, perhaps, you were TS Eliot describing the corruption and lack of transparency in Church politics.

What the institution may not understand is that prophets (whether on social media or on the stage or in the pulpit) are accountable for their calling to God. Most of us are also accountable to our churches (denominational structures) and so we obediently sit there and take what committees and councils dish out. Deep down, we know, however, that the institutions also will face God. This gives us the courage to continue. When one falls, another picks up the cross, and then another. The public prophetic calling doesn’t go away with one scalp or two. Call us heretics or blasphemous, but don’t underestimate God’s capacity to raise up more of us.

Prophets make religious institutions uncomfortable. Largely, this is because the prophetic ministry involves telling truth to the world, to self, AND, most dangerously, to Church. If Pirate Church has accomplished one thing, it is to let people know that the whole Church is not oblivious to its own failings. The Church should stop claiming to be perfect and remember that it is a house of sinners. As such, it is able to offer a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven... not in its fullness, but a glimpse. One which was seen when people take a risk to stand for good.

Despite their fears and concerns and despite the punishing experience Fr Chris must be enduring, I believe the Parish has been blessed, is blessed and will emerge from this wiser, stronger and better equipped for mission and ministry in the world. Chris’ exemplary leadership is a great contributor to that. 

My prayer for the Parish and for Chris:

Gracious One, who was rejected by the authorities,
You understand the pain and frustration being experienced.
Place your Wisdom within Chris - and your patience and comfort.
Give your energy and confidence in the Gospel to the people of St Cuthbert’s, 
especially their Parish Council. 
Bless the Diocese with fresh commonsense and humility 
And a spirit of reconciliation.
Above all, O Lord,
May you work for good in all things.

For published news on the situation:
To read the Perth Newspaper Report - click here!


  1. Thank you, Amelia. Wise, measured and fair. The treatment of Fr Chris seems likely to have many “unintended consequences” for the Institution, not least the exposure of its violence and brutality. That said, we need to find a Jesus-driven, nonviolent, non-scapegoating resolution.

    May the Living God continue to bless you and your writing!

  2. I am so glad Chris has exposed the church's complete incompetence and duplicity to a wider audience. Sadly when I "got done-over" and forced from ministry I had neither platform or desire to say what happened to me - I just wanted to run away and hide - which I am still doing. But I will support Chris [who I have known since he was about 16] to the hilt. Thank you Amanda and all others letting the wider world know what happens, usually behind closed doors.


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