St Matthew-in-the-City, as most Aucklanders would be well aware, is the most progressive Christian church in New Zealand. Its reputation for pushing the boundaries of what a church can be, do and say is legendary. Just Google the words 'St Matthew's' and 'billboard' together and you'll see a few examples of what I mean.
St Matthew's remains a treasured part of my cartooning history. As Communications Manager for the church from 2002-2005, I was responsible for running the web site and the church e-zine. Quite naturally, my cartoons found a place in that mix, and were whole-heartedly welcomed by vicars that were unafraid about challenging established perceptions of church and Christianity. (Take a bow Ian Lawton, Glynn Cardy and Clay Nelson!)
The majority of the cartoons that appear in my book Gone Astray were thought up in the midst of my life and work at St Matthew's. Another was featured on their Easter billboard last year. Having that defaced with spray-paint by an unknown critic and deemed blasphemous by more than one blogger were, for me, accolades on par with winning a Reuben Award.
The above cartoon especially, while drawn after my time working at St Matthew's is nevertheless infused with the spirit that abides there. Those are St Matt's pews and St Matt's people sitting in them. What's also represented is this church's true embodiment of the values of love and acceptance.
St Matthew-in-the-City demonstrates these values like no other church I have ever encountered. With St Matt's, no matter how you interact with them – be it through a Sunday service, via the Internet, or as an attendee at one of the many public events held there – you are truly free to be whoever you are, no matter what you think, or do, or say. Their doors will always be open to you. You will be accepted.
Of course, there are some things that St Matthew's finds unacceptable; that is, anything that is the antithesis of love and acceptance – hate, discrimination and oppression. St Matthew's is embodying this ethos yet again with their latest campaign, opposing the discrimination against gays and lesbians becoming priests.
One hundred years from now, I'm sure the grand St Matthew's building will still be standing as a place where people are loved and accepted for whoever they are. What I'm not sure of however, is whether issues of individual sexual preference as they affect someone's capacity to be a priest will have passed into antiquity. I have hope though, with churches like St Matthew's leading the charge, this may one day come to pass.
For now, if you have a moment, I encourage you to sign their petition. If you'd rather not sign it, that's fine – St Matthew's will still accept you. I have a giant pink bunny rabbit you can cuddle instead.