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Finding grace amid difference of marriage equality opinion

  • 25 September 2017


I once held a school chaplaincy position where I nearly got sacked in my first week on the job. I was employed by the Council for Christian Education in Schools (now known as ACCESS Ministries). In the lead up to my appointment there was some disquiet.

The school wanted me but the parent representatives on the chaplaincy committee were not convinced — I had not shown enough evangelical orthodoxy during the interview process. In January 2000, by the end of the first week of term, I was in the midst of a furore.

On the first Thursday of term the monthly meeting of the chaplaincy committee was held in a private home of one of the parents; this group was charged with fundraising and support of the chaplain. I was expected to attend but the welcome was muted — there was an awkwardness in the room. When it was indicated that the committee would like me to pray at the close of the meeting it felt like a test.

At home I had been praying the words of a Miriam Therese Winter blessing song with my nine-year-old daughter at bedtime. Winter was one of the Medical Mission Sisters — in the 60s, their song 'Joy is Like the Rain' was a signature tune in guitar-playing Christian circles. Thinking to offer the blessing as a benediction, I was brought up short when I remembered it referred to the Spirit in the feminine. That would certainly stoke the fires of discontent — I mentally scrolled through prayers I knew by heart and selected an alternative.

When the moment came to pray, I opened my mouth and found myself speaking the familiar words of the blessing song: 'May the Blessing of God go before you. May Her grace and peace abound. May Her Spirit live within you. May Her love wrap you round. May Her blessing remain with you always. May you walk on holy ground.'

When I finished, the air in the lounge room was thick with reproach. Heads lifted and eyes met. Within a couple of heartbeats voices rose in fiery protest. One man distinguished himself by the immediacy of his objections and the forcefulness of his challenges. He declared himself to be a fundamentalist, and, astonishingly to my ears, a creationist.

In the initial outcry, he was the one who spoke up and stared me down, asking if I was planning to teach children that God is a woman and