We Spoke To The Priest Behind Gosford Anglican Church’s Fantastic Signs
He was lovely.
It’s long been scientific consensus that Melbourne Catholic priest and cranky old bastard Father Bob Maguire is the greatest thing to happen to the Catholic Church in Australia since Mary MacKillop; his weekly radio slot with John Safran on Triple J aside, old mate has set up a foundation to help homeless young people in inner-city Melbourne and released the whitest cover of Kanye West’s ‘Jesus Walks’ you’ll ever hear.
But when it comes to being a kick-ass dude in a robe, Father Rod Bower in Gosford is giving Father Bob a run for his money. Bower’s the head of the Anglican Parish of Gosford, and he’s behind those fantastically ballsy and surprisingly progressive church signs that pop up in your newsfeed every few weeks.
We asked Father Bower to pick out his personal favourites, as well as give a bit of insight into why he’s doing all this in the first place. Here are his recommendations, and the reasons behind them.
On Marriage Equality
The first of the church signs to grab everyone’s attention was this one, back in July:
It exploded online and got international press coverage, but the story behind it is far more human than most people realise.
“I was called to anoint a man who was dying of cancer — his sister was looking after him, and she wanted a priest to come, so I went to the house and there was one of those hospital beds in the loungeroom,” Bower told Junkee.
“I asked if he had a partner and they very sheepishly said ‘yes’, and I asked if the partner was there and they said ‘yes’, and by that time I’d worked it out, so I said: ‘do you want to bring him out so he can be part of this?’ I was uncomfortable with the assumption that because I was a Christian and a priest that I would be anti-gay. I went back to the office and put that sign up because not all Christians are anti-gay, or homophobic misogynists.”
Despite the hugely positive response from most people, some more conservative elements have come down hard on Bower and his church. “The fairly extreme right can sometimes be very threatening; we’ve had some threats. When you get the extreme right and the conservative Christian mixed up in the one person, you can get some fairly intense criticism,” Bower says.
On Asylum Seekers
Bower selected a number of signs which highlighted Australia's treatment of asylum seekers in recent years -- an issue he believes is in dangerous of sending Australia down a very dangerous path. "It cuts to the very core of who we are as a people, I think. At the moment, more than any other issue, it makes us ask 'who do we want to be? What do we want our national heart to be?' Do we want to be this huddled mass afraid of our borders, or do we want to be an open and generous nation, which we have the capacity to be?"
He's singled out Tony Abbott and immigration minister Scott Morrison for particularly harsh criticism on his billboard, despite the fact that both men consider themselves staunch Christians. "I think a nation that treats the vulnerable in the way that we are treating the vulnerable is in a very perilous place in terms of its national identity. In many ways, this government's policies are leading us as a nation, to a place where we have never been -- a very dark place. We need to shine a light on that."
On Rupert Murdoch, Real Christianity And Public Dissent
This sign, in which a mild-mannered priest from a rural town quietly tells one of the world's most powerful people to kindly bugger off, became the inspiration behind a TV campaign by GetUp! in the lead-up to the 2013 election -- a message Bower was only too happy to encourage.
"I believe what I'm advocating is a biblical expression of Christianity as we see it in the Gospels. At the end of the day Jesus was executed for sedition -- he spoke and acted against a very oppressive regime, and encouraged others to do the same, and he got himself executed. I think that is a more valid and pure expression of Christianity than most."
On Evolution, Social Media And Atheism
This billboard in particular prompted a puzzled response from many people. "It was interesting that people started questioning me about the 50,000 years; that I acknowledged that the world was older tan 6,000 years. The assumption that all Christians believe these fairly basic, prehistoric things is something I kind of want to challenge in the wider community, because all mainstream Christians acknowledge evolution as fact."
Bower is also getting very comfortable with using social media to get the word out. "The Church has always engaged with the media of the day -- the mystery plays of the Middle Ages and stained glass windows were the media of their time. The Church was the first to use the printing press. Now it's Facebook and Twitter."
However, Bower also uses the medium to spruik a different kind of Christianity to what most people are used to. "The type of language we use is very important -- we're speaking to a very secular culture, so the language we use to promote what we believe are the teachings of Christ is quite similar to what are, at heart, very humanistic teachings. It's all about compassion. These are principles that many other religions adopt, and atheists as well -- we have a big atheist following on Facebook. I think we all yearn for the same kind of society."
He's also lovely on the phone. Nice one, Father Rod.
All images courtesy of the Anglican Parish of Gosford, which you can find on Facebook here.