Celebrating the ministry of all women
[Photos – with thanks to Grant Killen]
On the 3rd June 2017, a special Service was held at Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle, to mark the 30th anniversary of women in the Diocese of Newcastle. It also sought to place this in the context of the wider ministry of women, both lay and ordained, over a much longer period.
Celebrant was The Revd Audrey Fuller, now retired, but whose ministry goes back very many years to 1960 when she trained at St Christopher’s in Melbourne to be a parish worker. She was made deacon in 1988 and ordained priest in 1992, serving in many areas.
Preacher was lay woman Mrs Jenny Forester, who has been very active in many ways since her teenage years. She is married to Archdeacon Les Forester.
Sermon by Jennifer Forester at Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle on June 3rd 2017, on the occasion of the service to give thanks for the ministry of ALL women.
Are you surprised, to see, an ordinary layperson, standing here today? Yes…no?
Isn’t it encouraging to see how far we have come in our vision for women’s ministry?
We’re here today, to honour the years of faithful service, of all the women in our diocese. Both ordained and laity. Our mothers, and grandmothers in the faith of Jesus. Women who worked tirelessly, and often without any recognition.
The ordination of women, 30 years ago, happened because there were many women, who helped prepare the way. Women’s ordination was the next step in a long history, of faith-filled women’s ministry.
We honour those ordained since 1987. And before that, the St Christopher’s parish workers, Sunday school teachers and GFS leaders, Mothers’ Union and all our many women’s groups, women who were the first admitted to parish council and synod. This happened in my life time. Cooks, cleaners, flower arrangers and clergy wives. So we celebrate all the work done in the past. And today we also seek the leading of the Holy Spirit, to build our future.
Tomorrow is Pentecost. Tomorrow we will pray, ‘come holy spirit’. As we pause to listen to the Spirit of God, what can we learn from the example of our women?
I suggest that there are four qualities that can help us build our future with God:
- They grasped opportunities
- They persisted
- They passed on the baton of faith
- They showed, true kindness, that is, the desire for the best outcome, for others.
. . .Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in. To take any opportunity, that comes to you, and, to do the best you can with it.
Today’s reading from Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time for everything. A time to be silent and a time to speak. For women to have equal access to ministry opportunities it has been necessary to find our voice and use it, wisely and respectfully. And still today, we need to find our voice and use it, when we see injustice, when we see bullying behaviour. To speak out when we see the misuse of power. And we also need to speak up in sharing our vision of God’s leading.
Tomorrow is Pentecost. The day when we call on the Holy Spirit to breathe new life into us as individuals, and together as the Church. Maybe here today the Holy Spirit is already speaking. I wonder what he is saying?
Perhaps that this is the time to grasp an opportunity? To be brave? To try something new? As the scriptures tell us, God has not given us a spirit of cowardice or timidity, but a Spirit of power and of love and of self-control.
Quality number two, as seen in the examples of our women of faith. Persistence.
In today’s gospel, the Canaanite woman did not give up, until she achieved her goal of blessing from Jesus. She persisted.
Back when I was 16, I wanted to tell the whole world about the love of Jesus. His abiding presence had transformed my life. I needed to put faith into action. So, one Sunday at the church door handshake, I asked my Rector, could I train to be a server?
I made his day! He almost doubled-up laughing, and waved me off, with a gasped “Don’t be ridiculous, girls can’t be servers!” So I gave up.
We need to be careful, don’t we, about the messages we send to our young women. Spoken and unspoken.
But this story does have a happy ending. I persisted in another direction. I wormed my way into the youth group band! Leading music was a much more acceptable place for girls. I’m still leading music in worship. So that worked out well. And. . .I married the bass player!
So then, let us, search for our way to serve God. Don’t be put off by others. Persist. If one avenue is blocked to you, then find another way. I don’t mean that we should push on regardless, believing that we are always right. I don’t mean to treat others with disrespect, if they don’t agree with us. I do mean, having the Spirit-given humility to persist in seeking our calling. We can persevere, because we know the Spirit is at work, in human hearts and minds. If we listen, to his leading, we can find a way to co-operate in that work.
The Canaanite woman was a woman desperate for healing and blessing from God. She wasn’t put off by the opposition of the disciples. She wasn’t afraid to step outside the boundaries of expected behaviour. She had her eyes fixed on Jesus, and she didn’t give up, until she reached her goal. And Jesus publicly praised her for her great faith.
We are celebrating here today, because of the ministry of women, who did not give up.
Women like Audrey Fuller and others who found a path of ministry. They were following God’s leading, many years, before we ever thought about women’s ordination. We give thanks today, for the ministry of indigenous Christian women like Ella Simon. Ella was a Biripi woman from Taree. Her grandmother got her reading the Bible. In the 1960s Ella improved living conditions in Purfleet. She supplied stoves for cooking, and introduced electricity. Ella did not give up. Like the Cannanite woman, she persisted, despite many obstacles.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in the future, others could say of us, ‘she persisted’? Do we feel today, that God is calling us to persist with something?
So then, courage to grasp the opportunity, and persistence to see it through.
Quality number 3: passing on the baton. The letter to the Hebrews talks about running, with perseverance, the race that is set before us. Have you ever thought that, often the race is a relay race? We need to run our part, and then pass the baton on, to the next runner.
We have just experienced a brilliant baton pass, in the parish of Nelson Bay. Two 80 year old ladies gave away their church! Eve and Maureen are their names.
Back in the 1950s, Eve and Maureen and their husbands, and friends were worshipping with the Anglicans. But they had a vision for building their own Lutheran church in Anna Bay. They built it with their own hands. Worship there was the focus of their life together. Then, over the years, church members grew old and died, and the church building was no longer used for worship anymore.
Eve and Maureen were the only two left. Last year, they felt called to walk a new way. In their prayers, they felt that God was calling them, to give away their church building! They handed over the keys, to the local Anglicans. Their vision was, to grow a new congregation! Now that’s a strong baton pass! And more! The new church plant is being lead by young people! 17 and 18 year olds. With guitars!
Of course, there is appropriate adult supervision. But it’s the kids who are doing the work. It’s not the way you or I might do it. . . but, that’s a good thing!
And Eve is there every week, worshipping with the young ones. Blessing the young people with her support and encouragement. Actually, Eve doesn’t even think she is doing anything of note. She told me that she, is the one getting all the blessings.
This story brings home to me, how much older people have a tremendous power, over present and future generations. My mothers and sisters in the faith, we have a choice. We can criticise and prevent, or we can open our hands and bless.
‘A time to keep and a time to let go.’
May we remember that our beloved church, and our work of ministry, is not our own possession, but held in trust by us, to pass on.
Tomorrow is Pentecost. What is the Spirit saying to us today, about passing on the baton, about persistence and about courage?
Which brings us to the 4th, and final point. It’s about kindness and openness. Recently, I’ve been to two commissionings of new clergy into parishes. We were reminded, on both occasions, that part of the fruit of the Spirit is kindness. Not that awful Anglican niceness, but a true kindness that desires the best for the other person. I don’t know about you, but in these difficult times, change can make me anxious and scratchy! Kindness is not always my first response! Just ask the bass player!
In our Colossians reading today, we are urged, as God’s chosen people, to clothe ourselves with compassion and kindness. To bear with one another. To forgive as the Lord forgives us. Some forbearance and kindness in our speech and action, goes a long way in growing a church.
Tomorrow is Pentecost. Tomorrow we will say ‘Come Holy Spirit. Come, act within us, change us to be more like Jesus, lead us on together, to share the love of God in the world around us.’
As we celebrate women’s ministry today, how might we act on these four qualities that faith- filled women have shown us? May we look to the Spirit to help us bravely grasp an opportunity? and to follow with persistence? Can we look to the Spirit for passing on the baton of faith?
And may we open ourselves, for the Spirit to grow in us, true kindness?
What is the Spirit calling you to, today?
(A month of celebrations: This service followed on from a celebration on 10th May, marking the first ordinations of women in this diocese – Pam Sauber and Julia Perry. A few days later was the Annual Anglican Women’s Service, which this year was part of the Anglican Women Australia Provincial Conference – see later article on this site.)