Father Rod Bower,
Outspoken: The Life And The Work Of The Man Behind Those Signs,
Ebury Press, North Sydney, 2018
ISBN-13: 978-0143788409

Outspoken

 

"Outspoken is a challenging read – after all, that’s kind of what Bower is about, challenging what he sees as injustices - but whether you ultimately agree with his views of not (and people will react strongly), the book provides a close up and personal look into the life of a man who’s certainly made a mark on the national stage."

It’s no secret to those who have seen the signs he places outside the Gosford Anglican Church in New South Wales that Fr Rod Bower is a man of strong convictions. 

So it’s no surprise to find his memoir is called Outspoken, and while the first half of the text devoted to telling the narrative of his life, it’s the second half of the book that we encounter Bowers in full flight while we’re taken through an exploration of his, at times, controversial views.

Bower had an difficult start to life in the New South Wales city of Newcastle – his was an unplanned birth and his 16-year-old mother felt she had no choice but to give him up. His adopted family soon moved out to a farm at Warakeela in the Hunter Valley and it was there he spent the first 14 years of his life.

Bower was just 13-years-old when his father died suddenly at the age of just 46 and the young teenager spiraled into an “angry, out-of-control” young man who found school a “nightmare”. He left home just before he turned 16 in 1978 with no other plan than to head to Newcastle.

He soon found work as an apprentice butcher – “heavy, hard and often demeaning” work – and by his early 20s was earning “good money” and had "made it". It was in 1984 that, while attending a Christmas Day church service (he’d been introduced to church as a child), that he had what he described as a “low-key” epiphany and started attending services regularly despite his ongoing “inwardly hedonistic behaviour”.

It was suggested he would make a good priest and, eventually, he decided to pursue such a path, spending some three years in training before being ordained in February, 1992. The ensuring years saw him serve at various locations – Dee Why, Cessnock and Toukley and meet (and subsequently) marry Kerry, who had two teenage kids from a previous marriage.

The new family moved to Gosford on the New South Wales Central Coast, where Bower took up the role of rector. It took some time for his family to adjust to their new lives at the heart of the parish – Bower writes of the “incessant ringing of the phone and never-ending doorbell” and of how some parishioners actually said that “because the parish owned the house, they had the right to come and go as they pleased”.

There were further challenges and changes in Bower's personal and professional life before we reach 2010 - the year Bowers decided to establish a Facebook account for his parish - and 2013 - the year he wrote the controversial post, "DEAR CHRISTIANS. SOME PPL ARE GAY. GET OVER IT. LOVE GOD". Also posted on the church’s signboard, it quickly attracted national media attention.

The latter half of the book then goes on, with reference to various messages posted on social media and the sign outside the church, to canvass Bower's view on everything from homosexuality, the Federal Government’s asylum seeker policy and US mass shootings to women’s rights and Indigenous affairs.

And while his statements have certainly attracted attention, what’s perhaps most surprising - and sad - is the level of vitriol that has, at times, been level against him and his family because of them.  

The threats – which included “substantial death threats” – have become what Bower says is “now our lived reality”. “We exist in a permanent and heightened state of anxiety; threatening, abusive people at the door, on the phone and via social media are commonplace,” he writes.

Outspoken is a challenging read – after all, that’s kind of what Bower is about, challenging what he sees as injustices - but whether you ultimately agree with his views of not, the book provides a close-up and personal look into the life of a man who’s certainly made a mark on the national stage.

Postscript: Rod Bower is running for a New South Wales Senate seat in the Australian election.