New plaque to commemorate groundbreaking centenarian priest
August 24 2016A commemorative plaque for the late Revd Elizabeth Alfred, the first woman to be ordained a priest in Melbourne, will be unveiled and blessed at St James’ Dandenong on 11 September at the 10am service of Eucharist and confirmation, recognising Ms Alfred’s deep and longstanding links with that parish.
Ms Alfred, who died on 2 February 2015, little more than three weeks after her 101st birthday, became a deaconess in 1944 and was in the first group of women in Australia to be ordained a deacon in 1986. She was ordained a priest on 13 December 1992, at age 78.
On 10 January 2014 she achieved another notable first, becoming probably the first priest to preside at Holy Communion on her 100th birthday, at St James’ Dandenong.
The plaque at St James’ will be unveiled and blessed by the Right Revd Bradly Billings, bishop of Melbourne’s Monomeeth Episcopate.
St James’ parishioner Marlene Newell said that the plaque was “stunning” and a fitting tribute to a “truly inspiring and gracious Christian woman whose faithful service extended through the long and turbulent time when the ministry of women struggled to emerge from the margins of the church to full acceptance and integration.”
In the foreword of Ms Alfred’s book Called to Serve, former Melbourne assistant bishop John Stewart wrote, “When Elizabeth Alfred was ordained deaconess in 1944, the Principal and students of Deaconess House gave her a psalter. The inscription read: ‘Who knows but that you have come for such a time as this’, from the Book of Esther. At the time Elizabeth took it to refer to her calling to be a deaconess — a calling she had initially rejected. Looking back now, it seems an appropriate verse for a woman who was used of God to help bring about the ordination of women.’”
Ms Newell said, “This is exactly what Elizabeth Alfred did through her life — served others. As far as it is known she may be the only woman to have served in three roles of ministry in the one parish. Elizabeth always referred to St. James’ Dandenong as her ‘home parish’ in later life and it was in this parish that she served as a deaconess from 1950 to 1956, as a deacon from 1986 to 1992, and as priest from 1992 to 1995.”