I should have worn my clerical collar to tell this story. My beloved partner, Ali, was not a church person but she thought I looked sexy in a clerical collar.
I want to tell you part of my story as the Minister of the Pitt Street Uniting Church in the city from 1986 to 1988.
This was the period when we were being attacked by a group of Neo-Nazis called National Action. They were painting racist graffiti all over inner Sydney, ‘Kill an Asian a Day’, and we were going out in the middle of the night and painting it out. There was some awful racist graffiti in the Stanmore Station pedestrian tunnel and we went to the railway authorities and asked them to wipe it out. They said it would be done six months later when the graffiti cleaning team came around. We decided we would paint it over ourselves and we got caught doing it.
The railway police were obviously surprised by who they had caught – a music student, a teacher, a doctor working in the health commission and a member of the clergy. They told the media and the next morning there was a knock on our door and when I opened it there were cameras and my picture and the story was all over the papers the next day. So National Action knew who was wiping out their graffiti.
A few weeks later a group of them attired in jackboots with swastikas on their sleeves, marched into our church service and placed a horrible pamphlet, entitled ‘Sodomy and gonorrhoea in the church’ on our preaching lectern. They began attacking our church in various ways – painting swastikas inside, throwing rubbish across the front of it etcetera.
They had put a mole in our congregation and therefore they knew that I was claiming my sexuality as a lesbian and that we were supporting the South African National Congress in its fight against apartheid. Every time the SANC lost someone in the struggle they would come to our church and we would all sing ‘E Africa’ together.
Then they found out where I lived alone in Leichhardt. For two years, their leader used to stalk me as I walked home, they knocked on my door in the middle of the night, rang me and played the Nazi National Anthem, threw vomit and faeces across the house and painted graffiti on my fence, including ‘Lesbian Slut’. My son came and painted out the ‘Slut’.
In all this, I finally learned to be vulnerable and members of my church often came over in the middle of the night to support me and they all comforted me when I cried before preaching.
Of course, I reported them to the police and Special Branch but nothing happened. After two years, I had a phone call from one of their officers who told me not to tell the Special Branch anything more. He just said they couldn’t be trusted. Shortly after, he was made head of Special Branch and when the Neo-Nazis lit a fire on my doorstep and burned an effigy of a women, they were finally arrested. Their leader was imprisoned for the attempted murder of Edie Funde the head of African National Congress.
Special Branch was dismissed because of its colluding with the Neo-Nazis. I was awarded the 1988 Australian Human Rights Medal and an honorary Doctorate of Letters by Macquarie University. All these awards really belonged to all of the Pitt Street Church people – something I said when I received them.
After all this, I was appointed as National Director for Mission and I became the only woman in the world to ever be the Chairperson of the World Council of Churches Worship Committee. I decided that it was time for me to come out publicly at the next National Assembly of the Uniting Church which was discussing sexuality. I had also met Ali Blogg, the love of my life and I wanted to honour our relationship.
I remember sitting in my office and feeling as though I was about to step off a cliff as I risked almost everything that was important to me, apart from my love of Ali. However, I decided that I would do it. I will never forget what I felt at that moment of decision. I wrote this poem:
The Unutterable Experience of the Grace of God
It arises within me like the fluttering of my heart –
a trembling of hope which I can’t explain or name.
Then there is the sound of singing in a voice of tenderness
which lies deep within me
and then spreads across the heavens like a universal song.
Could I dare to believe that I am loved?
Is the song really for me?
I look down into the depths of my soul
and feel beneath my life the firm hand of God.
‘Would I ever forget you?’ a gentle voice says,
‘You are mine and I love you.’
The skies part in breathless joy,
my soul flies free for the first time
and all of my being wheels into oneness and fullness.
The fragmented elements of my truth,
which I have always denied life,
come together in delighted integration.
I am alive and Christ is risen within me!
The grace of God surrounds me like a cloud of love
and I stand on the ground in recreation.
I am home, I am free to live!
Thanks be to God!
As it happened, I got an 85% vote of support from the national Assembly and my ordination was affirmed. I was also supported by the World Council of Churches.
Ali Blogg, the love of my life, died three and a half years ago. I still grieve for her but will always celebrate claiming my sexuality.