SHE’S heavily tattooed, got multiple piercings and is known to use salty language from time-to-time – say hello to Gemma Baseley, the new priest at St Paul’s Anglican Church in Beaconsfield.
Oh, she also won her wedding dress on the Gok Wan TV show Say Yes to the Dress.
But don’t judge a book by its extrovert cover – Rev’d Baseley says she adores all the “bells and smells” of traditional church.
“I’m a massive fan of the mass, so that is always a bit of a surprise,” she says.
But she does draw the line at mean scriptures in the bible.
“I take a more progressive approach to scripture – if it is a message that preaches love, of all people, then it is a message of God, but if it is a piece of biblical text that bashes others over the head, or leaves them out, or says they aren’t good enough just exactly as they are, then that – to me – is totally incongruent with who God is,” she says.
There’s no denying Rev’d Baseley has a big heart with a track record of being extremely virtuous.
In the early noughties, before becoming a priest, she ditched her job in the UK and moved to the slums of Mumbai, Bangalore and Goa, helping women and their children trapped in the sex industry.
“When I first heard about people being bought and sold – back in 2001 – I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. How can people, in the 21st century, buy and sell another human?!” she says.
“I decided I really needed to act, and that the time was now. That landed up with me leaving my job back home several months before going off to theological college and getting on a plane to India.
“I saw the best and worst of humanity, and the church, while I was there, and it changed me forever, I expect.”
Prior to India, she spent 15 years as a youth worker, talking to 11 – 19 year olds about sex education and relationships, including those in young offenders institutes.
“I did one-to-one work with girls who were in violent and controlling relationships in an attempt to help free them from this cycle,” Rev’d Baseley says.
“I remain absolutely committed to work with those who find themselves trapped in relationships that are damaging to themselves and their children and my work in the church inevitably takes me to these places, right on the margins.”
Originally from England, Rev’d Baseley had only been in Australia for a crazy, whirlwind month before taking up her new post in Beacy.
“I arrived in Australia on September 1 – double quarantined, first in NSW and then in WA – came out on the Wednesday night at midnight, and was married to my Australian husband at 1:30pm the next day, after covid had forced us to cancel three previous wedding dates!” she says.
She started working at St Pauls in early October and says she “feel absolutely amazed and overwhelmed by the beauty of the place, the warmth of the welcome, the friendliness of the people and the sheer delight of living somewhere that most people would consider to be a luxury holiday destination.”
Prior to arriving in Australia, Rev’d Baseley was a priest at a parish in the North of England, where she set up St Aidan’s Kitchen, feeding more than 150 of the poorest and marginalised people in the community each week.
“The most important thing to me about being a priest is to share the love of God in ways that are most visible to those most in need,” she says.
“So, my primary call is to those who are most marginalised in society – the poor, the oppressed, the homeless, the hungry, the slave, those who are usually excluded by the rest of society and often feel unwelcome.”
Rev’d Baseley says she is being kept busy with her new job and new husband Craig and his four children, but is eagerly awaiting one last divine arrival from above – her little doggie Maggie on a flight from the UK.
By STEPHEN POLLOCK