For Danielle Lynch, the idea of her ‘ministry journey’ is very much an unintended, or accidental one. Yet hearing how it has unfolded so far, it seems that she has been set on a course that fits her interests, skills, and desire to connect with others. She grew up in the UK with a deep vision: “I couldn’t let go of the big existential questions, making meaning of life.”
Danielle began her career in the world of theory, exploring the mysteries of music through the medium of theology. At the time, music fulfilled many of the functions of religion in her life and, she observed, in the contemporary world. But part way through, she discovered that there were not many positions available for new academics; she needed a new pathway.
So Danielle then fell into the teaching profession. Her mother was a teacher, and she only needed a year’s training to start in a school. On initial contracts, she started to impart Religious Education in a “reasonably rough” state school, but a friend encouraged her to return into the Catholic system. At the time, Danielle had walked away from the Catholic Church, but again, her friend “wouldn’t let that go.” So Danielle found herself among teaching Sisters who were humble, beautiful and gentle.
One Sister was very musical – later branded the ‘Singing Nun’ as she performed COVID-lockdown street entertainment. Another volunteered to proofread Danielle’s PhD “out of the goodness of her heart.” Even though they were retired and no longer young, they were “still giving so much.” The Sisters drew Danielle back into liturgy – both to attend and to participate. Soon enough, the author of the thesis ‘Music as Theology: God in Sound and Silence’ was singing in the choir.
From there, Danielle journeyed to Australia and started teaching religion in boys’ secondary schools. While living Down Under was a shock to the system at first, it was a “really good change.” She appreciated her warm welcome, and relished hearing a whole school of strong male voices raised in “powerful” hymns. Danielle has subsequently taken on various roles, such as head of the Religion department and Director of Mission. She describes the latter as extremely rewarding, during which she encouraged service activities, liturgies, music and broadened the school’s range of spiritual experiences.
However, one time a year 11 student in her class really challenged Danielle’s perspective. The child said, “I don’t fit here. I’m not comfortable in my gender.” Danielle felt that while she could personally see, hear and affirm the child’s humanity, their sexuality was not accepted by the school or wider Catholic Church. Danielle could not “just stand by”, but began to ask questions and explore an affirming Christian response. She read more broadly in theology, encountering authors in such fields as queer theology and black theology. She realised that she “could barely name a woman or gender diverse person I had referenced in my PhD.”
This learning led Danielle to see the positive difference that teachers can make to their LGBTIQA+ students’ lives. She was asked to present at schools about this topic, and do training sessions with principals. Last year, she hosted a Zoom presentation by Women and the Australian Church on ‘Working Towards a LGBTQ+ Affirming Church’.
Danielle began speaking out in this arena of marginalisation with a sense of trepidation; she wondered if she would be employable in Catholic schools or if she would be put in a box. However, her sense of pastoral care and justice moves her to continue on. Following on from her original direction, Danielle still writes and performs music, which has the power to transform lives. It is an avenue of prayer, both for her and for the listener. Once, during a performance of a song that explored non-gender-exclusive ways of speaking about God, someone watching just cried and cried.
Danielle’s journey makes me wonder about how God is experienced both in sound and in silence. Sometimes silence can be dangerous, reinforcing stereotypes and injustices. But sometimes it can be the silence of listening, of empathy, and of space for the new to emerge.
To read Danielle’s reflections, and hear her music, visit her website.
To hear Danielle speak and play at a Women’s Night of Spirituality, see this video.