Reality television came to the Brisbane Diocese – or at least the stars of it – with housemates from the recent SBS series Christians Like Us reuniting for a community charity event in Brisbane recently.
Rector of St Paul’s Parish, Ithaca-Ashgrove, The Rev’d Tiffany Sparks, was one of the stars of the two-part series which aired last month. She invited the nine other housemates with whom she spent a week in a Sydney house last November for a ‘reunion’ of sorts – and five of them attended the recent Saturday night panel discussion for the parish wine and cheese night.
Brisbane-based Christians Hannah Campbell, Carol Portmann and Tiffany were joined by Sydney-based stars Chris Csabs and Jo Kenderes and Steve Smith from Newcastle before a crowd of around 100 parishioners and friends.
On their own admission, they’re unassuming and unlikely TV stars (and yes, they can still all go grocery shopping in their local suburbs without getting stopped for endless selfies) and all jumped at the chance to reassemble five months after they wrapped up filming and a few weeks after the show aired.
What was a revelation for most people was the great bond and friendship that flourished between the six housemates during the show and which has endured in the aftermath. Perhaps the most remarkable is the strong friendship between Tiffany and Steve Smith, who was sexually abused over 250 times as a young altar boy in the Newcastle Anglican Diocese in the 1970s and 80s.
“Steve and I became buddies within the first few hours of meeting in the Christians Like Us house,” Tiffany said.
“He was initially shocked and wary when he saw me enter the house wearing my collar, but we just formed a connection and it’s a great testament to his resilience and his compassion that we became friends and have remained friends.”
Despite his traumatic past with the Anglican Church and the fact he’s no longer a practising Christian, Steve has nothing but admiration for Tiffany, who will leave St Paul’s next month to serve in the role of Archdeacon of Grafton.
Of Tiffany, Steve said on the reality show: “Just watching and listening to Tiff about what she thinks and does and how she conducts herself – I think the Anglican Church, if they’re bringing people like Tiffany into their church in leadership roles, they’re going to find themselves in a pretty healthy place.”
The wine and cheese Q&A delved into some of the behind-the-scenes tensions with some of the more conservative housemates, plus the very moving personal stories of housemates including Chris’ campaign to have gay conversion therapy banned after years of traumatic immersion in it; and the stress that Carol (a Uniting Church parishioner and gynaecologist/obstetrician) experienced after she revealed on the show that she had performed numerous abortions.
“It was fantastic for the six of us to get together again. The reality show was emotionally intense and during the filming, but especially in the aftermath, the six of us have been an enormous source of support, comfort and friendship to each other and I hope that continues for a very long time,” Tiffany said.
Donations from the event raised $638 for the Anglicare Home Away From Homelessness Women’s Shelter at Toowong.