Often when I travel I know exactly where I am going, what I will be seeing and who I will be meeting. Travelling with two members of Margaret River Uniting Church, who were very good at getting flights and accommodation booked, meant that a week before leaving I still hadn’t given our journey to the SacredEdge Festival much thought.
It was a lovely change to be a participant who was open to making last minute decisions about how to engage with this ‘little festival with the big heart”.
This was a trip with a difference.
The journey that led us to attending this festival was, however, far more intentional. In 2015, Craig Mitchell,national director for formation, education and discipleship with the Uniting Church in Australia, spoke to guests at Summer Spirit, the Uniting Church WA’s continuing education and discipleship event.
As part of his presentation, he showed video interviews with a variety of leaders in ministry who were trying things a little differently. The footage of Kerrie Lingham and Charles Gallacher from Queenscliff Uniting Church struck an immediate chord. Listening to them speak about the activities of their church community was a little like seeing all the hopes and dreams of Margaret River Uniting Church in a mirror.
Needless to say, we made contact with Kerrie and Charles after Summer Spirit, and began a conversation. That’s when we discovered their annual festival, SacredEdge, that incorporates the arts and spirituality, as well advocacy for refugees and the LGBTI community. We applied for money to attend as part of our Mission Project Grant and the journey continued.
After many hours in cars, a plane and a bus we found ourselves in the seaside town of Queenscliff – open and ready for a unique experience. The program began with beautiful music from Gawurra, an introductory panel of some of the key speakers chaired by Rachael Kohn (ABC, The Spirit of Things) and some more energetic music from Ajak Kwai, a Sudanese singer/song writer who recently performed in Margaret River.
Throughout the weekend we were treated to poetry and blessings from Padraig O’Tuama from Ireland, who also visited Perth recently.
Some of us attended creative workshops where we danced, sang or wrote poetry. Others heard people sharing their stories about struggles, conflict and walking with the oppressed. There were opportunities to add our touch to community art projects and a mandala, and we were blessed with amazing hospitality from the church community with homemade scones, soup and sandwiches. The program was full and enriching. In reflection, the lasting impression was not about the amazing program or the inspiring speakers and singers. I felt extremely blessed to have been part of a community for the weekend that I was proud to say – ‘this is the church!’
Not all of the people who attended were Christian; some would not associate themselves with any faith tradition. But, as Rachael Kohn reflected on the final day, “there was a palpable presence of God” among us. One of the most meaningful moments was the LGBTI panel that was held on the Sunday afternoon. The panel was chaired by Pr Carolyn Francis, a Baptist pastor from Melbourne. The panel consisted of transgender, lesbian, gay and intersex people. They shared stories of struggle and hope and challenged us to action in our own communities. At the end, each panel member was given the opportunity to leave us with some words of wisdom. I wrote them all down, but the one that stuck with me was from Starlady. She thanked us, and then added, “This weekend has been an amazing time of healing for me.”
Carolyn finished by apologising on behalf of those present for the hurts the church had caused each of them over the years. The gathered crowd gave them a standing ovation and the tears of healing fell – from the panel and the audience.
As I write this, we have only been back a couple of weeks. We have already been able to make some small steps towards becoming the community of Christ that we are called to be. Yes, it was a physical journey to get ourselves from Margaret River to Queenscliff, but more importantly it has become a touchstone on our journey as a community of faith. SacredEdge was bold, challenging and inspiring. But more than this, it was a call to authentic Christian community that is healing, loving, inclusive and broad.
Now the real journey begins.
Top image: Starlady (left) pictured with Kerry Lingham, a minister at Queenscliffe Uniting Church at the SacredEdge Festival.