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Minister’s reply: Closure of Ministry Service

We recently held the service to close my ministry with Wesley Uniting Church, Canberra. As part of these services in the Uniting Church, after the rituals of letting go of the ministry, the minister is addressed by the Chair of the Church council, and then has the opportunity to reply. 

I shaped my reply around the choice I had made to wear a particular clergy shirt – the shirts with the ‘dog’ collars you see priests and ministers wear. 

What we say matters. 

What we do matters. 

What we wear, as ministers especially, with the symbolic nature of our role in a community of faith and the community beyond it, matters. 

And it matters if our words and actions and symbols do not align. 

Because it all tells others who we are and what we stand for; whose we are, and what Way we follow. 

We are the body of Christ, we are are here for us, not me alone. We are here for the whole of us. 

You may have noticed it under the alb, and you will certainly see it when we are in the foyer – my clergy shirt with its rainbow stripes.

Some may be ambivalent, some delighted; and some will be confused, disconcerted, even affronted by this shirt.

I want to say this: I am wearing this shirt for the whole of you. Not for all, or each, but for you as a whole.

For the things I will celebrate and cherish from my time with you are the ways you moved into wholeness, with courageous, generous welcome and affirmation of each person in this community in your glorious diversity.

The way, when we talked about the changes to marriage rites in the Uniting Church, we refrained from vilification of those who differed from us, in their embrace or uncertainty of the new way forward.

Or, when we changed the chapel to better accommodate the children’s participation in worship and the nurture of their discipleship to embody the vows we make at each baptism, people who were put out bore the discomfort with grace for the sake of the other.

I see members with disabilities and mental health conditions supported, respected, welcomed as they are with joy and delight for who they are.

I see members embodying diverse expressions of gender and sexuality celebrated, supported, welcomed as they are and are becoming, with joy and respect.

I see members bringing their questions about God, the Bible, Jesus, discipleship, life; coming with different faiths and none, and they are welcomed with joy and delight for the perspective and wisdom they bring.

People who have felt unsafe, abandoned and rejected by other communities of faith are safe here, and this – this – is what I cherish about who we have been together, who I know you will continue to be together.

I wear this shirt for the whole of you – richer, healthier because of the differences between you, the different and diverse expressions of humanity you bring to weave a cloth of strength and bold witness to the love of God for all creation.

Not for me or my own agenda. Not for any one person or group within you privileged above others. I wear this shirt that celebrates diversity for the whole of you, one body with many members bringing your uniqueness together as the people of The Way. The whole of you, with whom it has been my privilege to embody the mutual encouragement Paul exhorts of Christian community. Thank you, may Holy One be with us all, always.