Father Rod Bower is leaving Gosford Anglican Church for a job at Lake Macquarie.
After 22 years at the church, Father Bower says his most memorable sign was about LGBTQI+ rights.
There are plans for his successor to continue crafting clever signs
The Central Coast’s most famous priest has spoken out on various political and social justice issues through his church billboard.
He even had a tilt at federal politics in 2019 when he unsuccessfully ran for the Senate.
Some of his signs have gone viral on social media and made international headlines, including about the United States gun policy, which he recalled led to a rapper incorporating one of his quotes into a song.
But Father Bower believes asylum seekers, climate change, and marriage equality were his key focuses.
“The issue around refugees has been a huge one,” he said.
“We have to look after the refugee and so, as Christians, we have to speak out and speak into that issue.”
His most memorable sign was the one that started it all in 2013 about LGBTQI+ rights.
“That’s the one that really started everything and helped me to realise that we had a platform in a meme culture where on social media photos with words in them really communicate powerful ideas,” he said.
His signs have provoked conversation but not without death and security threats.
He recalls a couple of weekend masses being interrupted by what he describes as “Nazis”, with one far-right group barging into the church service carrying a toy sword and a whip in 2018.
“It was horrifying and shocking and devastating at the time,” he said.
“But then you think, well if those people disagree with us then we could well be in the right space!”
A new beginning
Father Bower is moving onto his new role as Director of Mission for the Diocese of Newcastle, based at Lake Macquarie, where he will shape and “pass the baton of social justice” onto the next generation of priests.
“Bringing me on … is a way of helping to form new priests in a new way, in a new Church for a new world,” he said.
Father Bower said it was an “enormously difficult decision”.
“I love this place and its people and having been here for so long, you get embedded in people’s lives.”
And what will become of the world-famous signs?
While Father Bower has signed off for the final time, his legacy will live on with his successor expected to continue crafting catchy phrases.
“Part of the brief of my successor will be how they engage in social justice issues, and how they’ll keep that tradition going.”