Unfortunately, we have had to change the date of Retreat 2 – the weekday one, to the following week.
So it will be from Tuesday 27 February 4pm to Thursday 1st March 3pm.
Our apologies for any inconvenience this may cause.
The good news is that we have sufficient numbers to run both retreats. Registrations close on 1 February.
Registrations for the two silent Lent retreats for women, to be held at the Catalina Conference Centre at Rathmines on Lake Macquarie, are coming in well. We can confirm that both the Weekend (16-18th February) and the weekday (20-22nd February) will be going ahead.
There is still room for a few more people if you would like to come – but you will have to get your booking in soon – deadline 1st February. The cost is $280. Retreat Conductor is The Rev’d Mel Nelson.
See the earlier article for further information, or download the PDF brochure below or the Registration Form in Word.
TOUCHING CHRIST’S WOUNDS
Sermon presented by The Revd Dr Barbara Howard at Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle, on the 25th Anniversary of Women’s Priesting in the Diocese of Newcastle:
‘Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.”’
21st December, 1992. Twenty-five years ago – a quarter of a century. How much has changed in that time. The world has changed – we now live in the post-9/11 era, with all that that means globally and locally. Society has changed – look at what has happened over the past month or so – the legalisation of same-sex marriage and the current media outrage at sexual harassment by celebrity figures.
And the Church has changed – and specifically the Anglican Church. As we wandered the grounds of Closebourne, back in December 1992, preparing for our priesting, did we dare believe that, twenty-five years later, here in Australia, we would see a woman elected as Archbishop, two women as diocesan bishops, women deans and women archdeacons? Did we dare believe that, in most parishes across the diocese and throughout the country, leadership, both lay and ordained, would be cooperatively shared by women and men?
We certainly dreamed of it and we dreamed of the change that this would bring to the Anglican church- a major change in culture. We dreamed of a transformation within the church from a culture of male clerical power, where ‘Father knows best’, into a culture of mutuality and cooperation. We dared to dream of a Church in which we, as women, were ‘no longer strangers and aliens’ but instead full ‘members of the household of God’.
And twenty-five years later much of that dream has come true, much of the longed-for change has occurred. It is even mentioned in the Final Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Abuse. There Bishop Sarah MacNeill is reported as asserting that ‘there has been a significant shift in the culture of the church, away from clericalism to ‘a more open and transparent use of power and sharing of power between laity and clergy’1 while Bishop Greg Thompson called the ordination of women ‘a watershed moment for the diocese’s having a new perspective, a new way of thinking about ministry, saying that it also broke the power of older men mentoring younger boys’. 
These are big achievements that we must celebrate. They deserve big hurrahs. The presence of women in positions of leadership within the Anglican Church of Australia and within this diocese has been truly a ‘watershed’ event.
The Royal Commission Report, however, reminds us that we cannot rest on our laurels -that there is still a very long way to go in relation to deep culture change. The Commission’s exposure of the church’s failure to act and its cover-up of abuse to protect its reputation has challenged us to greater transparency and deeper honesty in our relations with one another and with God. Here, I believe, the readings for this festival of St Thomas have much to say to us. They remind us of the sort of God we worship, a God who eschews our worldly understanding of reputation, power, and prestige, and who reveals Godself to us in vulnerability, darkness, and the pain of woundedness.
The prophet, Habukkuk, in the darkness of the Babylonian conquest, is reminded that the present bleak situation is not the whole reality. He is summoned to tell the people, wounded by defeat and humiliation: ‘God is not absent but present with us in our waiting. What we have to do is hold on patiently and in faith for the fulfilment of the vision we’ve been given. Times of darkness, confusion and failure are times for deepening our faith and trust in the God who doesn’t work according to human understanding.’
The gospel reading expresses the same message in a different way. Here the Risen Jesus holds out his wounded hands to Thomas and says, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’
It’s that summons to Thomas to touch Christ’s wounds which is my focus as we look ahead to the next twenty-five years and consider the deeper change that will need to take place in our Anglican culture. It’s that summons to touch Christ’s wounds that, I believe, is the challenge to women and men in the church over the years ahead.
Until I looked at the gospel passage more closely I hadn’t realised how surprising Jesus’ words to Thomas actually are. Jesus says, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands’. The implication is that we only truly see something or someone when we actually touch them. Jesus seems to be saying that true seeing involves touching, that we won’t really see his wounds and know what those wounds actually mean unless we are willing to touch them.
It follows then that true believing involves that willingness to touch, to touch Jesus’ wounds in all their rawness, and to touch those same wounds in one another. Of course, I don’t mean ‘touch’ in the sense of actual physical contact. Safe Ministry training warns against that. I mean the touch of spirit to spirit, deep connection, being close enough and sufficiently connected to another person that we can experience that person’s pain and share something of its intensity.
The failure to do that was the charge against the church that came out of the Royal Commission. It was the accusation that the church, as a whole, and in particular, many church leaders could not see the woundedness of abuse victims because it was preoccupied with protecting itself and its reputation, instead of being willing to touch the pain and to connect with the suffering of those victims.
Touching wounds is difficult. We shy away from it. It makes us feel uncomfortable and reminds us of our own pain. So we put up barriers to protect ourselves, especially in our western culture. We swallow analgesics to reduce physical pain; we resort to alcohol or drugs to escape emotional and spiritual pain; we turn the grief of funerals into celebration, and try to transform the finality of death into the transience of ‘passing’. Touching pain, our own or other people’s, is very frightening. But Jesus said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here- in the wound in my hand. Put your hand right into the hole in my side. Then you will really see and believe. Then your doubts will be dispelled.’
It seems that it’s only by touching Christ’s woundedness that we can deeply know the truth about God, the truth of God’s passionate love for creation and for every creature. Only then can we gain some understanding of the depth of the love that was willing to give up every vestige of divine or earthly prestige and power, to be born as a vulnerable baby, to experience the frustrations and hardships of human life, to endure the ignominy and agony of a shameful, excruciating death: all so that we might truly see and touch the reality of God. The truth about
God is revealed in the vulnerability of Jesus hanging on the cross, and in the continuing woundedness of that same Jesus, risen from death.
Twenty-five years ago, we women were very conscious of our wounds. We knew the pain of being an outsider in the church, excluded for centuries from priesthood because of the difference of gender. We experienced the hurt of having our ministry devalued, of having communicants refuse to take the sacrament from our tainted hands, of having parishioners leave when we were appointed to a parish.
Those wounds drew us closer to God and made us more aware of the hurts borne by other outsiders and by those who felt excluded within our parishes. Our wounds served to make us more compassionate towards others and more understanding of their pain. It was, I believe, this touching of our woundedness that contributed to the cultural change that has taken place in the church over the last quarter century. But it is easy to forget the wounds and to settle down comfortably within the current system.
Awareness of woundedness is essential to the health of the church and to our belief about God. It is my privilege as a supervisor of Clinical Pastoral Education to witness that awareness coming alive for CPE students as they begin to ‘touch’ the wounds of patients in the hospital, of prisoners in the state’s gaols, or elderly residents in aged care, enduring the loss of home, independence, mobility, memory, and even their sense of self. In touching others’ wounds, we touch Christ’s wounds, and we learn to see Christ in the other. In touching others’ wounds we are able to come to terms with our own woundedness, and so to discover the depth of the love which accepts and welcomes us, with, and despite, all our scars and ugly deformities. It’s in this way that we learn to confront and not to avoid pain.
The church in this diocese has been deeply wounded through the revelations of the Royal Commission. Bishop Peter has written of the Commission as a gift to the church. It is the gift of humble awareness of our woundedness. Shamed and disgraced in the eyes of the public, we can no longer lay claim to any authority, power or status. We have been forced to confront the ugly underbelly of our beautiful rituals and the shallowness of much of our communal life. Culture change is called for and it is my belief that such change will require a willingness on the part of bishops, clergy, and people to be vulnerable, to be open to seeing, listening to and touching one another’s pain, difficulties, doubts, and discouragement, and to be open to seeing, listening to and touching the pain of our society and our world.
A church that is able to see and touch Christ’s wounds in each other is a church that can confront the pain of shame, failure and scandal, and that can offer to the world a place where woundedness is welcome, where the pain of strangers and aliens is understood, where difference is valued and not despised, and where people can discover a God who shares their vulnerability and loves them in their woundedness.
We read that Thomas held back from touching Christ’s wounds. Seeing the Risen Jesus was sufficient for him. I wonder, however, what deeper truth about himself and about God he may have discovered if he had dared to reach out and put his finger into the hole in Christ’s hand and his hand into Christ’s side. Do we dare to do that at this moment of the church’s life?
We, the women who were ordained twenty-five years ago, together with our successors and the men in the church, can we put our finger into Christ’s wounds, in the church and in the world, and so be instrumental in bringing about change to the church’s culture?
By the grace of God, who keeps us close to the risen, wounded Christ, I believe that we can.
[1 Royal Commission Report… 582. 2 Ibid.]
Ordination Service, 21st December 1992 at Christ Church Cathedral, included the first ordination of women to the priesthood in the Diocese of Newcastle. Left to right: Barbara Howard, Ramsay Nuthall, Beatrice Pate, Julia Perry, Pam Sauber, Valerie Tibby, Brian Douglas, Sheila Bourne, behind her Audrey Fuller (out of view Maree Armstrong, Sr Angela Solling, Margaret Carr, Jenny Willsher, Rod Bower). Bishop Geoffrey Parker was the ordaining Bishop.
$7,500 has been raised through the Anglican Women’s Thank You Boxes for the Kairos Outside for Women-Hunter weekends over the last year. Their Chaplain, The Revd Jan Deaves, advises that this is enough for 15 women to attend a weekend. Here they can receive support and encouragement in facing the experience of coping when a family member is serving a prison sentence.
Thank you to all who have supported this worthwhile project!
People from the Central Coast Deanery gathered at Holy Family Church, Wyoming.
The Ahli Arab Hospital is a haven of peace in the middle of Gaza, one of the world’s most troubled places. A Palestinian territory (41km long x 12km at its widest), with a population of 1.85 million, it has only one point of access, at its northern tip joining Israel. The political status of Gaza affects all aspects of life because of restrictions on the movement of materials and people in and out. Electricity, medicines, food, water, fuel, and personnel are all restricted to some extent. Despite this the hospital provides some of the finest medical care available in the region.
Apart from general medicine, surgery, community services and child nutrition programs, it runs, completely free of charge, a program for the early detection of breast cancer among women above 40 years of age. It is this program which Anglican Women will help support through their ‘Thank You Boxes’ for coins over the next 12 months.
The incidence of cancer, and especially breast cancer, is much higher in Gaza than in other areas. Its diagnosis is seen as a death sentence by the wider public, and the hospital is working to overcome this perception. The hospital performs about 1,000 mammograms a year, and staff work with community groups to raise awareness about breast cancer and to teach self-examination techniques. If a lump is found, a biopsy is done. If malignant, then surgery – a complete mastectomy – follows, and if medication is available, a course of chemotherapy. Instead of despair, there is now hope.
The Ahli Arab Hospital’s mission is “to glorify God and bear witness to His love as manifested in the life of Jesus Christ. It serves all who seek treatment, without prejudice to any religious or ethnic community and irrespective of social class, gender and political affiliation.”
Nearly all the staff and patients are Muslims, though the Director, Suhaila Tarazi, is a Palestinian Christian. Recently the Archbishop of Canterbury presented Suhaila with The Langton Award for Community Service: “For outstanding service to the community in one of the poorest and most neglected corners of the world, overseeing with calm grace, the provision of vital medical services…” Despite having dual citizenship with a US passport, she chooses to remain living in Gaza to serve her fellow Palestinians, as she has for 40 years.
Anglican Overseas Aid is an overseas relief and development agency of the Anglican Church of Australia. They work with Anglican and like-minded agencies to create and strengthen partnerships in developing countries to overcome poverty, injustice and disaster.
Anglican Women has again organised the Silent retreats for women which are held each year in Lent.
The venue for February 2018 will be the Catalina Conference Centre at Rathmines, situated on the western shores of beautiful Lake Macquarie, between Toronto and Morisset. A spacious, very comfortable, single-level facility, it is surrounded by parks and walkways. A beautiful and peaceful place ‘to be still with God’ as we explore the theme, ‘We will face tomorrow in the Spirit’s power’
Dates & Cost: (1) Weekend from the Friday 16th to Sunday 18th February 2018. 2) Midweek (if we get sufficient numbers) Tuesday 20th to Thursday 22nd February. Cost for the full retreat will be $280. Accommodation is in single rooms, though people can share if desired. Deadline for bookings is no later than 1st February. Early bird discount of $20 for bookings for full conference before 16 January!
There is also the option of attending for the day (9am to 5pm) on either the Saturday or the Wednesday – cost $55 includes morning & afternoon teas and lunch. Arrival for booking in is from 4pm (with a welcome at 6pm and dinner at 6.30pm). The retreats finish at 3pm on the last day.
Retreat Conductor – Fr Mel
Fr Melbourne Nelson (Mel as he is generally known in our Diocese), grew up in Fiji and New Zealand and studied for the ministry in St John’s College, Auckland. He was ordained a deacon in 1967 and a priest in 1968 in the Diocese of Bathurst for ministry in the Diocese of Polynesia, which he took up in 1969 following his marriage to Vivienne.
Mel served in Polynesia from 1969 to 1976 before coming to Newcastle with his family where he was appointed to the Parish of Bulahdelah-Tea Gardens. In 1981 Mel, having been invited to be Dean of Suva Cathedral, returned to Polynesia for 3 years.
Since then, Mel has served in the parishes of Nelson Bay and Kincumber and was Anglican Chaplain to John Hunter Hospital from 1997 to 2003 before entering retirement after a 3 month chaplaincy at the Sunderland Royal Hospital in the UK. Mel and Vivienne (who is a renowned artist) live in Mayfield and have three married children and five grandchildren.
Anglican Women’s Sunday is held on the last Sunday in July each year. This year it will fall on Sunday 30th July.
Its purpose is to celebrate ALL Anglican women across the Diocese and the good work they do on behalf of your parish, the community and the organisations to which they may belong. Our theme for the next 12 months is “We will face tomorrow in the Spirit’s power” (from the Elizabeth J Smith hymn, ‘God gives us a future’).
You might like to include some information about us in your pew sheet and include in your service on 30th July the Anglican Women’s prayer:
Eternal God, the light of the minds that know you,
the life of the souls that love you,
and the strength of the hearts that serve you,
help us so to know you that we may truly love you,
so to love you that we may fully serve you,
for to serve you is perfect freedom:
through Christ our Lord. Amen
Anglican Women Thank You Box giving:
It is also an opportunity to highlight our ‘Thank You Box’ Project, where Anglican women donate a coin to their ‘Thank You Box’ every time they wish to thank God for something in their lives. This money is collected at our annual June Service and the September Spring Celebration events and donated to our nominated Thank You Box project for the year. Any container can be used — or there is a template on our web site, anglicanwomennewcastle.org.au
This year Anglican Women was able to send $6,00.00 to Alzheimer’s Australia (NSW), who fund, support and research an illness which touches so many lives, for the 2015/2016 Thank You Box project. In the current 2016/17 year, we are raising funds for Kairos Outside for Women (Hunter). This is a programme for the family of those in prison, who often ‘do time’ as well, even though they did not commit the crime. At Kairos Outside weekends, guests find a safe environment where people are willing to listen. It offers a listening ear without condemnation, as they seek to love and listen non-judgmentally. KOW offers hope and on-going support.
September Spring Celebrations:
The first week of September always sees the Spring Celebrations organised by Anglican Women in the various Deaneries of the Diocese of Newcastle for everyone who would like to come. This year the guest speakers will be from Anglican Overseas Aid. They will be the recipients of the next Thank You Box collection.
Venue/ dates:- Monday 4/9/2016: Manning Deanery – Tuncurry; Tuesday 5th: Combined Deaneries of Newcastle & Lake Macquarie – St Thomas’, Cardiff; Wednesday. 6th: Upper Hunter – Merriwa; Thursday 7th: Lower Hunter (Maitland & Paterson) Branxton; Friday 8th: Central Coast – Wyoming.
I hope your Anglican Women Sunday service will provide an opportunity for you to honour the women in your parish and their dedication to doing God’s work.
It has just been announced that:
The Revd Canon Katherine Bowyer, Rector of the Parish of Cardiff since 2013 and Director of Formation, is to be the next Dean of Newcastle! She is the first woman to take this role and also the first to be locally born. Katherine starts in November.
Dean Stephen Williams is retiring (finishes work in August and officially off in November). He has been Dean since 2013, having previously been rector of Merewether 2002-13.
Bishop Kay Goldsworthy awarded an AO in the Queen’s Birthday awards:
Kay Maree GOLDSWORTHY, VIC “For distinguished service to religion through the Anglican Church of Australia, as a pioneer and role model for women, to church administration, and to pastoral care and equality.”
The Venerable Canon Sonia Roulston preached at the Annual Anglican Women’s Service held at Christ Church Cathedral Newcastle on 6th June 2017. Women from around the Diocese of Newcastle, as well as many from further afield, attended. This service was part of the Anglican Women Australia Provincial Conference being held at Club Macquarie, Argenton, for which Sonia was the Chaplain.
Today we are celebrating the ministry of women – giving thanks for the ministry that has been, and looking to the future.
We celebrate the ministry of women today in a particular context in our Diocese – for we are celebrating 30 years of the ordained ministry of women this year. In fact we (women) think it is such an important celebration, we’ve celebrated it twice! And now we are 30 and we’re all grown up … aren’t we. At the very least 30 years is two generations of people. Women in ministry at every level is part of life as we know it.
As I was doing some pre-reading for out anniversary services I came across the following history:
- Girls’ Friendly Society groups in the diocese began forming in the mid-1880s. By 1888 there were enough groups to form a Diocesan Council. GFS in those days was particularly concerned with providing a place for young women, especially in an age when they were much more vulnerable – a real issue in those days. For example, there is a parishioner at Morpeth whose (perhaps) great grandmother arrived on a boat in the mid 1800s – aged 17 – her parents had died en route, and so concerned were they for her safety that she was not allowed off the boat without a husband… one was quickly found! It’s an extraordinary story to our ears! It is in a similar context that GFS has its origins.
- Enquiries about Mothers’ Union began in 1907 when the Mrs Stretch, wife of the then Bishop, called together a group of interested women to discuss to discuss bringing Mothers’ Union to Newcastle. This was in response to a request from the English body to promote the spread of Mothers’ Union ‘throughout the Empire’. Mrs Stretch was, however, was not a well lady, and so it was another 10 years before the first group gathered.That group was in the Cathedral Parish and they are celebrating their centenary this year.
- Anglican Women is a relative newcomer to the scene, forming in 1960, as an umbrella for ALL the women of our church.
- Through the 1950s and 60s women of our diocese took up the opportunities for training at St Christopher’s College or Church Army and became parish workers. These were a dedicated group of women lovingly remembered wherever they served. Deaconess House was not part of the scene here, though it had provided similar opportunities in other dioceses.
- I was a bit startled as I scanned the history to find that women only sat on Synod in this Diocese as recently as 1978! I was startled because I was in High School by then … and at Maitland Girls’ they were teaching us that the world was open for women! Perhaps Synods move more slowly? Anyway, in 1978, the bishop said in his opening address to the Synod:
“May I extend a special welcome to those 12 ladies who have been elected to Synod for the first time and say without any degree of patronage that we look forward to enjoying your company and the contribution that you will make. Having you with us makes the 39th Synod a very historical and significant one”.
You might be interested to know that at our most recent Synod slightly more than half the house of laity were women!
- To finish this reflection on where we have come from, we celebrated the ordination of women to the diaconate in the Australian Church in 1986, and here in 1987; women were first ordained priests in 1992, and it is great to welcome Bishop Kay Goldsworthy here today, who was consecrated a Bishop in 2008.
There is much to give thanks for as we celebrate today. And we give thanks not only for these public ministries, but also for the often unseen and yet essential ministries of so many women in our churches – as Sunday School teachers, GFS, children’s ministry, and youth group leaders, organists and choristers, women who have cleaned our churches, arranged the flowers, washed linen, worked in catering guilds and op shops, typed newsletters, welcomed people to church, served morning tea, visiting the elderly, and more recently joined those teams serving at the altar. And I could go on.
We celebrate today the ministries we share in our church. We give thanks for the many women who have taken their place in church life, often quietly and humbly, and who have been a force for good … by … and through … the grace of God’s Spirit.
As we think about these women, I remember a friend of mine, a clergy daughter, once telling me that her faith didn’t come from her father – it was his job … but through the old ladies of his church. To quote her, “They had something special and I wanted it!”
What our readings today remind us is that women have ALWAYS taken their place in church life, and served as they could.
In his letter to the Romans, the latest of Paul’s letters that we have, he greets the many leaders of the church in his day. We have heard part of that list this morning. In the whole list Paul names 28 church leaders, 10 of whom are women. The women he named are:
- Phoebe – a deacon whom Paul praises highly;
- Prisca (or Priscilla) with her husband Aquila, whom Paul calls ‘fellow workers’. Significantly Paul names Prisca first, indicating that it is her faith and leadership that is the more significant;
- The list goes on to include Mary (we don’t know which Mary), Tryphena & her sister Tryphosa, Persis, the mother of Rufus (probably Mrs Simon of Cyrene), Julia, and Nereus’ sister…
- And then there are Andronicus and Junia. Poor Junia suffered the fate of having her name turned into a man’s name for generations – until the most recent translations. How did this happen? Most scholars agree that though Paul was evidently quite happy to work alongside Junia and acknowledge her gifts, Bible translators were not!
Everett Harrison, reflecting on this list, wrote:
Prominent in this list are women. They occupied various stages of life – a wife, a single woman, and a mother – and all are represented as performing a valuable service for the Lord. Evidently Paul esteemed them highly for their work’s sake.
The Gospels also contain a number of significant women. One of the more prominent women is Mary Magdalene – the first witness of the resurrection. In John’s Gospel we hear of Mary going to the tomb on that first morning, filled with grief, we heard how in her grief she was unable to recognise Jesus: “They have taken my Lord away and I do not know where they have laid him”, and we have heard of her recognition of the risen Jesus when he calls her name – Rabbouni! Jesus then sends Mary to tell the others that he is risen.
Extraordinarily, in that culture, the first witness to the resurrection is a woman … and not a perfect woman. It is Mary Magdalene whom Jesus sends first with this precious news. For this reason Mary is sometimes referred to as the “Apostle to the Apostles”.
Michael Jensen writes of her:
This woman, with her history of being afflicted and tormented, is the one through whom the rest of the Christian church gazes on the risen Lord. It is through those eyes, blurred somewhat with tears, that we see Jesus alive. It is through her hands that we touch his walking feet, and feel the warmth of his living flesh.
She is our first, surprising witness. She’s unlikely as a witness, but being unlikely makes her reliable. … You’d think, if the story were made up, that the presence of Mary Magdalene would be eclipsed: that her honour of being the first at the tomb, and the first to see Jesus would be taken away from her by the embarrassed men, who thought that they should be the heroes in this story. But, like her, with her, we gaze upon the extraordinary truth: that Jesus, the one who was crucified, is now risen from the dead.
Today as we gather our theme is Thanksgiving for the Ministry of Women. And we have reflected on that ministry as it has shaped us today. Not only in our context, but also through Scripture. We have heard how Paul gathered men and women of all stages of life around him to share in leadership, work and life of the early church. And we’ve heard of Jesus calling Mary Magdalene to go and tell the good news.
Like her (and all those before us) we too are called and sent – called to follow Jesus wholeheartedly, and sent to share in word and deed the good news we have received.
Our full theme is: “Thanks giving for the Ministry of Women: Facing tomorrow in the Spirit’s power”. And that is exactly how we shall go as we go forward … sent into our future … whatever that is … trusting in the Spirit’s power with us … and likewise with the many women … and men … who will follow us.
As we do let us remember to be faithful in all we do, to trust God, and to offer ourselves willing in response to God’s call in the ways that we can today … just as so many of our forebears have done … for it is true: we are sent in the Spirit’s power.
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 was formed in 1966 because at that time Mothers’ Union only catered for married women and divorcees and single mothers could not belong – so AWF was born to cater for them.
AWF in all dioceses is encouraged to choose a sustainable outreach project, which must be relevant to the aims of the AWF. ‘We are faced with various society ills such as poverty, abuse against women and children,unemployment and lack of education etc.’ 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.