25 years on, affirmation of women in leadership 'still critical'

Service commemorates 25 years since women first ordained in the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne

PHOTO: Kit Haselden Photography

By Muriel Porter

December 14 2017On 13 December 1992, 12 women deacons were ordained priest in Melbourne – the first women priests for this diocese.

Twenty-five years later, most of them were back in St Paul’s Cathedral on Thursday 14 Decemeber to mark the silver anniversary of that long-awaited, long dreamt of, historic event in a celebration Eucharist. They were joined by many of the other 21 women ordained in two further ordination services in that hectic 1992 December. And other women clergy ordained in later years joined the silver celebration.

Many happy memories of that ordination were shared: of the queues of male priests who lined the stairs in the Chapter House to applaud those first women clergy as they came down to join the procession into the Cathedral; of the Cathedral packed to the rafters by excited family, friends and supporters; of the streamers and applause and floods of tears of relief and delight after the decades-long battle to see this day.

And some sadness too, for the women from that first occasion no longer with us, particularly Elizabeth Alfred, the great stalwart for women’s ordination ordained in retirement to honour the promise made to her by a former archbishop, and Barbara Darling, who later became the diocese’s first woman bishop. Barbara’s presence seemed quite close to many at the anniversary service.

Another woman bishop was on hand to preach the sermon. “The unexpected does happen!”, proclaimed Bishop Genieve Blackwell, Bishop of the Marmangatha Episcopate of the diocese, hinting at the irony that in 1992 she was a student at Sydney’s Moore Theological College (bastion of opposition to women as priests and bishops) – and yet here she was, a bishop!

Even though it is 25 years since women were first ordained priest in Melbourne, Bishop Blackwell said there was “still a need to prayerfully commit

as a Diocese to ensure that we do not just settle for tokenism, that the church, the kingdom, is able to benefit from women, growing in numbers in leadership and maturing in their leadership”.

We should not just “play catch up” but rather should “lead the community

in empowering women in leadership”, she said. An affirmation of the gifts and perspectives brought by lay and ordained women was “critical for the Diocese living out its vision to make the Word of God fully known”, she continued.

Women in leadership in the church, she said, played a role in changing the narrative from the Anglican Church “being a patriarchal, out of touch institution”.

The great women of the Bible, including Miriam, Deborah and Huldah, Priscilla, Junia and Phoebe, and Mary the mother of Jesus, led, prophesied, taught, and were apostles and local church mentors, she said. Can women today do what women did in the Bible and in the early churches?

“The Diocese of Melbourne answers ‘yes’”, she said. “And we, all women actively using their gifts in ministry are part of what it means to ‘Behold all things new’, what it means to see the story of the Bible unfold from creation, through the fall and redemption to new creation”.

In a time of great challenge for the church, she continued, it was “critical, mission critical, that we open our eyes to the vocations God is raising up in women and men, to give the opportunity for them to mature, to bear fruit in abundance as we seek to make the Word of God fully known”.