A review of a book of sermons by Rev. Glenn Loughrey
Another Time, Another Place: towards an Australian Church
Published by Coventry Press (2019)
I have recently read this book, a collection of six sermons by Anglican priest, Glenn Loughrey, in which he articulates a plea for his church to move towards being a more consciously Australian church.
I had known of the innovative ministry of Glenn for some time, and was fortunate to have met him in person at a recent seminar. He practices what he preaches. He extols the character of love which Jesus exemplifies, which he describes in this manner: “grumpy, rude, difficult, alternative, disruptive, contrary, and more” (p.50). He does all of this in a constructive and challenging way. This book is a fine contribution to the enterprise of sharing this kind of love in a wider way.
The central image of the book is a pot plant. The Anglican Church, says Glenn, is like the pot plant given to you by your favourite Aunt, which you have kept, all these years, in that beloved pot. The pot is still intact. The plant, however, is stunted and distorted. It has not grown to the full potential it has. It is still in the pot. It needs to be transplanted.
Thus, the book articulates a plea to the church: be transplanted into the soil of this continent. Find the place where you can send your roots down, deep into the country where you have been sitting, no longer protected and constrained by your pot. Draw on the age-old wisdom of the country. Be nourished by the spirit of the land.
Glenn can articulate this challenge with authenticity. He identifies as a Wiradjuri man, with connections deep into the people and the land of that nation. In his ministry, as well as in his creativity as an artist and his rhetoric as a speaker, he sets forth his response to this challenge on a regular basis. His words and his artwork both articulate this desire for contextualisation in our church life, for grounding our faith and our communal expressions of that faith in the realities of Australian society.
Grounding our faith expressions in the deep seated spirituality of this land, is a pressing and primary need.
Glenn outlines four ways in which this contextualisation could take place, arguing that we need to come to grips with four key factors:
the history of the church in this country
the ethos of the space we now inhabit
the language and spirituality of this context
the need to mature as a nation, and as a church.
These four factors read, to me, as eminently sensible and entirely central to the task that the church as a whole faces—not just the Anglican Church, but every Christian denomination in Australia. It will not be easy for us to grapple with these factors. But it is essential that we do so. There are multiple challenges for the churches in Australia in addressing these factors with care and responsibility.
The book is a series of sermon-reflections on a number of biblical passages, which Glenn correlates with these four factors. John 6 leads to a discussion of “breaking the sacred pot” and grappling with the church’s history in Australia. Ephesians 6 is the springboard to considering the ethos of the space we now inhabit. “We recognise that … through a process of living, we have come to this place [of belief]. In the midst of the diverse landscape that is modern Australia, we are to leave space for others to come to faith in the same way.”
Mark 7 and James 1-2 provoke insights into language and spirituality, flowing into possibilities for maturity. Placing a story from the ancient desert fathers alongside the scriptural texts, Glenn proposes that our spiritual ethos and language might be characterised by being “doers … fair dinkum … [giving] a fair go … in tune with nature … listen to land/country”, and then asks: “sound like what we say we believe as Australians?” Indeed; and the challenge for the church is to live this to the full!
In the encounter between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7, he observes that “the woman and Jesus engage in such a transaction where both are visibly different as a result, but neither is diminished. Both grow in stature and in their understanding of who they are.” The bruising encounter which Jesus has with a person of his land models how the church in Australia needs to engage in intense encounters with the peoples of our land—and points to the transformation that ensues as a result.
The reflections conclude with Mark 8 offering a focus on transformation: “taking what you believe and planting it in the soil of relationships and community and watching it be shaken and broken by the winds of fear”.
Way back—over forty years ago—when I was a theological student, preparing for ministry in the Uniting Church, I was being challenged and encouraged to develop “an authentically Australian theology”. I remember that we looked at pithy sayings, like cutting down tall poppies, going in to bat for the underdog, and having a fair go for all, as well as trends in society like mateship, sexism, and the colonial cringe. These were identified as aspects that could well figure in the development of such a theology.
The scourge of racism, issues of migration, and the existence of indigenous spirituality, were each noted, but the deep connection between indigenous peoples and the land of this continent was not really canvassed at that time. Since then, an awareness of the importance of this has grown in Australian society. The voice of the First Peoples has been heard, most clearly, in the Statement from the Heart which was shaped at Uluru in 2017.
Now, the deep connection with the the land, and indeed the sovereignty of our First Peoples, are to the fore of our national conversation, and rightly call the churches to engage, listen, and be transformed through this conversation, and through undertaking work on the ground (as it were) with local indigenous communities.
This is a stimulating book, easy to read, consistently to the point, offering creative insights. I recommend it to my colleagues in ministry and to those exercising leadership in their local faith communities.