‘The Church you go to, when you don’t really go to a Church.’
We live in an age when the world seems obsessed with profits, and margins, an increase in privatisation of public assets, creating private monopolies. It is a world where 1% of the population holds 46% percent of the worlds wealth, where wars are being kept alive by private companies such as is the case in Afghanistan and as a result millions are seeking asylum around the globe.
There is a church on the Central Coast, a predominately, Anglo Saxon population in New South Wales that is addressing such matters with its provocative signs, one of which has gone viral on social media.
The Gosford Anglican Church is perched at the top of a hill next to a beautiful older sandstone church at Gosford, a town that was established in 1885. Father Rod Bower has been at the helm of this Church since 1999 and his signs are a response to happenings in this world and what he says is, ‘the oppressed of society’. The signs out front are constantly changing. His current focus is comments from great leaders, such as a recent sign quoting John Kennedy (JFK), ‘Sometimes party loyalty asks too much.’
On the Website of the Gosford Anglican Church it reads:
‘We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich or dirt poor. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organised religion,” we’ve been there too.
I decide to attend a Saturday night service, which starts at 6pm. I am thankful that the occasion is not filled with a fire and brimstone sermon. Rod thinks the books of Revelations, Ezekiel and Daniel is a genre of apocalyptic literature, the graphic language and images being a symptom of oppression. He said the same literature came about in Apartheid, so therefore you have to see it in its context. ‘It tends to be a hunting ground for the crazies.’ ‘It is my conviction that the life and purpose of Jesus of Nazareth is to alert us, by his teaching and modelling to the reality of what he called the “Kingdom of God”. This “Kingdom” is not restricted to Christians or even people of faith, but is available to all creation and any human who seeks to live, justly, love mercy and walk humbly.’
The gathering is no more than thirty souls in this restored old church. The group consists of about a third pensioners and the rest in their forties. The vibe is welcoming and the service is peaceful. We are asked to shake hands with one another, uttering “Peace be with you”. It a lovely gesture which adds to the feeling of inclusion. The topic Rod discusses this evening is “To think different”, a slogan made famous by the late founder of Apple, Steve Jobs. Father Rod asks us to focus on the word “Metanoya”, a Greek word meaning – “the change in one’s life resulting from repentance”.
Everyone is offered communion and those who don’t wish to take it are not made to feel outcasts. After the forty five minute service, Father Rod leaves the Church first and greets everyone individually outside. It has been an uplifting and meditative experience. Days later I am thankful for such an enriching ritualistic event that appealed to the intellect. It is not surprising that those in the Church, have been going there for years.
Father Rod Bower, was adopted and grew up in the lower Hunter Valley on a farm. At the age of twelve, his father died; this event changed the course of his life and together with his adoptiveness, was a catalyst for his internal pilgrimage.
It was at the age of twenty in the year 1982, after attending an Anglican Church, he said, he was ‘captured by the transcendence of the liturgy, the movement, colour and incense. ‘I loved the atmosphere’, Rod said. His experience previous to this was to the occasional Sunday school at a nominal Anglican Church.
There was no turning back for Rod and he then went off to the seminary in 1988 and was ordained in 1992. He spent a couple of years in Cessnock, Dee Why and Toukley before ending up as the Rector of the Gosford Anglican Church.
Friendly and accommodating, short and sporting a beard, Father Rod Bower has been married for decades, has a daughter and a son and is a grandfather whose eyes light up when talk turns to his grandchildren, one of whom lives around the corner, and the other in Perth.
Rod is active on Social Media, Facebook; his page has 8,309 likes, and Twitter. He has written a book called ‘Plan B Attitude.’ On the Facebook page it states ‘We are a progressive Christian community. We share very little common ground with literalist, fundamentalist or evangelical Christians so while we wish them well we do not enter into dialogue as we have found this only serves to be mutually frustrating.
‘We have considered the views of the “tea party” and have no need to do so again. Rod does not respond to hateful messages and bans those that put ‘ugly’ messages on the Facebook page.
Rod says ‘In our country today, somewhere deep down in the place that is reserved for what is right, we are a hungry nation. Way down in that secret place we all know that mandatory detention of asylum seekers is wrong, that anti-terror laws only serve the terrorists, that we are in no real danger of invasion by marauding hoards from the north. Yet we allow our politicians to sow the seeds of doubt and we choose to believe that it’s okay to keep these people locked up because it maintains the illusion of safety.’
Rod’s diary is now full with speaking engagements, as well as all the daily ministry duties of running a church. He has already attended two funerals on the day we meet and will head off to read someone their last rites, but says it won’t matter if he is a bit late.
Rod will be speaking in Canberra at the “March in March”, a national event being organised by a key group of four people in an executive role with a broader team of specialist volunteers supporting them.
Rod says ‘I wonder what would happen if we just did what was right? What would happen if we accepted the truth, that these frightened, homeless, hungry people were in fact really us and that we could not feel safe until they did?’
The purpose of March in March Australia 2014 is to provide the people of Australia with the opportunity to come together to protest a unity vote of no confidence in the Abbott Government in Canberra, capital cities and regional centres throughout Australia and as Rod adds ‘to address some of the abhorrent policies around, Asylum seekers and Climate Change.’
Rod feels that the current government deals with the church by choosing to silence it and not give it any oxygen. The same government that seems to think it is not obliged to tell people when boats come to our shore and if they are turned back – the same government that seeks to control what can and can’t be reported.
On his Facebook page it says ‘We call upon the Opposition to present viable alternative policies that respect human dignity and engender compassion in the Australian psyche’.
“Rupert Murdoch’s News is very very limited” was the sign that went viral and was picked up by media outlets throughout the world, including independent advocacy organisation “Get Up” who used it in one of their campaigns.
There have been countless articles on the church globally, including “The Huffington Post and The New York Metro.’
When I suggest that perhaps he has become a poster boy for the gay community, given the huge response to another of his signs “Jesus had two dads” and “Some people are gay get over it” Rod replies, ‘yes, I am a bit of a gay icon, like Barbara Streisand.’ There is a float he will be on for gay Mardi gras this year.
As for the contentious issue of homosexuality, which Rod gets sent a lot of hate mail with quotes from the bible, often from Leviticus, Rod says ‘The bible says absolutely nothing about homosexuality and it is a mistranslation. Further he adds ‘In the Bronze Age, the nomads had no concept of anything other than heterosexuality, and so therefore the bible doesn’t even understand they exist.’
Rod has put up many signs in response to the treatment of those seeking asylum, what he terms, the ‘oppressed.’
Scott would you bring your pregnant wife to Nauru?” (Morrison’s’ wife is pregnant).
“Every Asylum seeker has a name”
“Women 22 weeks pregnant sent to Nauru”
“Every Asylum Seeker has a mum”
“Now we separate Mother and Baby Shame”
He is often told he should stay out of politics. ‘I don’t know how many times I have heard that statement. I have heard it at the church door on a Sunday morning. I have heard it on a phone through an angry voice and I have received it in the written form of hate mail.’
Rod gets sent hate mail daily, most of which is anonymous. The worst one; an anonymous picture of the boat smashed on Christmas Island, (which killed all on board). Someone had cut and pasted a bottle of champagne over the top with the caption saying “when this happens, we should celebrate”.
Rod says, ‘We humans cannot stay out of politics, because politics is simply the way we relate to each other and organise ourselves and by definition, it is the total complex of relationship between people living in society.’ He feels that being a priest neither disqualifies, nor excuses him from politics. ‘On the contrary, my priesthood requires that I be deeply involved in every aspect of human existence.’
Jesus wanted to create a new kingdom and that is what Stage Two is about. Rod says ‘It is my conviction that the life, and purpose of Jesus of Nazareth, is to alert us, by his teaching and modelling, to the reality of what he called the “Kingdom of God”. This “Kingdom” is not restricted to Christians or even people of faith, but is available to all creation and any human being who seeks to live justly, love mercy and walk humbly.’ He offers the example of The Sermon on the Mount as a model of how we can live our lives.
A man by the name of Fowler identified the 6 stages of faith and M. Scott Peck (author of the best selling book “The Road Less Travelled” narrowed it down to four stages of spiritual growth. ‘We are a Stage 3 Church’ Rod says, explaining that ‘Stage 2 gives me the rules and regulations; gives me the boundaries and how I can be saved’. The church generally likes to keep people in Stage 2, but people leave those churches because of the dogma.
Stage 3 people aren’t really church goers; He says it is like opening a bottle shop amongst a dry town. Stage 3 people have normally given up religion. They tend to be more spiritually advanced and less religious than Stage 2 – less need for other people to be the same as them.
Stage 3 Churches according to Peck contain the individual, the questioner, including atheists, agnostics, and those scientifically minded who demand a measurable, well researched and logical explanation. Although frequently “non-believers,” people in Stage 3 are generally more spiritually developed than many content to remain in Stage 2. Although individualistic, they are not the least bit antisocial. To the contrary, they are often deeply involved in and committed to social causes. They make up their own minds about things and don’t need everyone to be the same.
Stage 2 being the bigger churches are Formal, Institutional, and Fundamental – they are all about being and getting saved. There are clearer boundaries.
Rod gets sent a lot of scripture quotes. An example of this is a response from an article written in the “Sydney Morning Herald” about Rod. One reader from Brisbane responds to what he considers God thinks about boat people with a Bible quote: Acts 17.26, “God made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth having determined allotted periods and boundaries of their habitation”. Rod says ‘this is just an abuse of the scripture, any scholar would say that. It has nothing to do with what we are talking about.’
Are we a racist country?
According to Rod we are all racists. It is a part of everyone who is afraid of difference. He feels that the term “I’m not a racist” should be turned around and we should say,“I am a racist”.
He uses the example of a story about Jesus encountering a Canaanite woman.‘Jesus was raised in an intensely racist culture and he would have been brought up thinking all the Canaanites were bad.’ Jesus said, “it is not fair to give the children’s bread to dogs”, and the woman pleads with him, so he has to overcome his entrenched racism.’
Rod thinks it is a model to us to acknowledge our racism first before we can overcome it. ‘Acknowledge and overcome in self and challenge it in others. It is more complex than we think,’ he says.
Rod thinks that supporting the oppression of another human being for any reason requires a form of justification that is unacceptable to his spirit.
The Church has always been up to date on the current communication of the day. It had the first printing press in the Fifteenth Century to print Bibles.
Rod says ‘It has always used the media of the day. Other churches are making a stance. The Reverend Dr Lowe has put a banner outside St Paul’s Cathedral inviting people to welcome refugees’, and Rod is convinced that future generations of Australians will judge this policy for what it is: inhumane to those seeking our protection, and demeaning to Australia as a nation.
‘These actions will not only be judged by our children and grandchildren but by God himself. Christ’s judgement will be based on a simple measure: “What you have done to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done to me” (St Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 25 Verse 40).
He says the banner outside his church will remain ‘as a daily reminder and appeal, until these policies change.’
‘For Jesus, the Kingdom of God was set up as an alternative way of being. It isn’t an oppressive way of governing’.
Rod believes there is only one way to truly overcome an enemy, and that is to make them a friend.
- http://anggos.com.au/Bower. R, 2006 ‘Plan B attitude’ Anggos Publishing.
- Interview Rod bower, Dec/Jan 2013/14.
- St James edition Bible