AWA Conference: challenged – and encouraged
AWA Conference: Anglican women in a time of change ‑ looking to the future
It was a time of great fellowship, worship and learning as women from various parts of NSW, plus others from further afield, including the US and South Africa, attended the Provincial Anglican Women Australia (AWA) Conference, hosted by AW Newcastle, from 5-8th June 2017 at Club Macquarie, Argenton. Their theme was ‘Thanksgiving for the Ministry of Women’.
Following the annual Anglican Women’s Service at the Cathedral on Tuesday, which was attended by 200 people who heard from Bishop Kay Goldsworthy of Gippsland and The Revd Di Langham, Chaplain at Cessnock Gaol, conference members visited the Mission to Seafarers at Wickham. Chaplain Peter Middleton spoke about the vital ministry of MTS to the thousands of seafarers who visit Newcastle, and showed them the excellent facilities provided.
Wednesday saw 43 ‘local’ women join with the 32 full time members for the day, meeting and listening to many amazing women who serve God in many ways, who challenged us to look at where we are and where we are going.
Lisa Towle, President of Episcopal Church Women in the US, spoke of dealing with change in society and the Church, for ‘change is hard…but it cannot be stopped’. She reminded us that ‘our words are words, but our actions speak louder’. Quoting from the book, ‘Radical Welcome’, by Stephanie Spellers, which speaks of the ‘fundamental Christian work of welcome and hospitality, of patterns of inclusion and exclusion, about transformational growth – not just the budget’, we were challenged to consider ‘what new thing is God calling us to?’
Lucille Henniker, President of the Anglican Women’s Fellowship of Southern Africa, said that AWF started in 1966 following an idea from Australia. AWF in all dioceses is encouraged to choose a sustainable outreach project, which must be relevant to the aims of the AWF. ‘Life is rough in South Africa,’ said Lucille, ‘where social challenges include domestic violence, poverty, HIV/Aids. However, we too have ‘a major problem in involving younger women.’
A group of vibrant women representing MOW (Movement for the Ordination of Women) shared their experience of women’s ministry and the ongoing struggle to achieve ordination to the priesthood of women in all the Anglican Dioceses across Australia. Still the Dioceses of Sydney, Armidale, North-West Australia and The Murray will only ordain to the Diaconate. This means that those women who are to follow their vocation to the priesthood, must leave their local communities, family and friends.
We heard Angela Peverell, Elaine Lindsay, Jeannette McHugh, Jan Malpas and Lu Piper speak about the history of women’s ministry from New Testament times, to the Early Church, and then on to the more recent milestones of the battle for women’s ordination, to the current situation now in the Anglican Church of Australia.
Although much has been accomplished, there remains much to be done, especially in the Diocese of Sydney where the doctrine of male headship is strong and spreading. However, ‘we continue to hope…. keep on walking forward and never look back!’
Jan Malpas, from the Diocese of The Murray, spoke of her ministry, which has taken place locally in her parish and community, as well as on a diocesan level, nationally and internationally, through MU, the World Council of Churches, Lifeline, Suicide Prevention, MOW etc – often, she said, ‘thrown in at the deep end!’ These ministries saw her travelling far from their farm in SA – throughout Australia and overseas.
Now in her 80s, Jan said, ‘there is no retirement age for us, for a woman’s work is never done’. If any institution, including the Church, ‘does not change as it grows, it risks becoming irrelevant. With maturity comes change, though care is needed in how this is done’. While God never changes, our perception of him may, leading to a bigger, better picture.
The diminutive but indomitable Revd Lu Piper, currently undertaking a locum at Belmont Nth/Redhead, shared in word and picture some of her amazing ministry over many years in the islands off the eastern tip of PNG. (At other times she has also worked in the Northern Territory, and in the Dioceses of Sydney and Newcastle.)
She went, when young, with ‘Australian Volunteers Abroad’ to serve as a teacher in PNG for one year – this turned into 20 years over a nearly 50 year period. For 9 years from 2004 she was Project Officer for the United Church – this role included the extension and development of a Nursing School which now sees 25 students graduating each year, as well as overseeing the maintenance of Health Centres and Aid Posts around the islands.
Last year Lu returned to oversee the building of a chapel on the small island of Ubuya. Previously a leprosy hospital, the place is now a vocational school. Some work had already been undertaken – a carpentry workshop, chaplain’s and other staff houses, new dormitories – and now finally the chapel was to be built by the students themselves with the help of five men from Fergusson Island. The challenges were many, but Lu’s mantra was, ‘We will do this together!’ and ‘You never give up!’ Everything from cement and sand to water tanks, had to be brought in by dinghies and small boats, and then carried up the hill.
On Thursday the AGM of AWA was held, with reports from the three dioceses where AWA is still active – Bathurst, Riverina and Newcastle, with apologies from Canberra & Goulburn. Riverina offered to host the next AWA conference, in 2019, at Griffiths, with Judy Nolan and Lee Blacker-Noble commissioned by Conference Chaplain, the Ven. Sonia Roulston. Sonia had led Morning and Evening Prayers throughout the conference and was the preacher at the Cathedral Conference.
The evenings provided time for fellowship over dinner, and after dinner entertainment with bush poet, Bob Bush of Tea Gardens on Monday, following an interesting talk by Bishop Kay Goldsworthy or her years of ministry and path to ordination as deacon, priest and bishop. On Tuesday we were entertained by the cheerful Sing Australia Choir from Belmont/ Wallsend.
On Wednesday evening, we heard of a very different way in which a most inspiring woman is serving God, as Sergeant Debra Rowe shared fascinating stories, some humorous, some tragic, of her time in of the NSW Police Force.
She went on to share some of her faith journey – of how God has worked in her life, and how he leads and inspires her, as she looks ahead to her ‘retirement’. It was this story that moved many of us to tears, and made a fitting conclusion to a very special conference.
Debra brought us back to basics, to the reason we do what we do – for the greatest of gifts is love, and all of what we do is nothing without that, as we open ourselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit and the changes which lie ahead for us.