By Chris Shearer
19 January 2022
Anglican Overseas Aid will aim to engage with a new generation of Anglicans around Australia over the coming decade as its supporter base ages, the organisation’s incoming head has said.
Jo Knight will take over as chief executive of AOA in mid-February when the Reverend Dr Bob Mitchell retires after nearly a decade at the helm.
Ms Knight said the transnational issues of poverty, inequality, the climate catastrophe and human conflict would need to be addressed through collaboration.
“International networks and the Church as one of the biggest networks in civil society are very well poised to collaborate together in smart ways to find maximum impact in these areas,” she told The Melbourne Anglican.
“But I think there are younger generations that have a great opportunity to grow in their understanding of what it could be for Anglicans to respond together and work with Anglicans around the world in response to these issues.”
Ms Knight said that engaging these people to follow in the steps of the “faithful stewards” who have supported AOA since its inception was the biggest challenge she faced leading the organisation into its “next season”.
“It can’t be an organisation broadcasting at people. That no longer resonates,” she said.
“People’s hearts need to be touched, and they need to find a way to step in and feel like they are co-contributing or finding different ways to contribute … there’s a lot of opportunities there that I’d like to explore.”
Ms Knight joins AOA from Tearfund, where she was advocacy director, and has 20 years of experience as a Christian leader dedicated to justice and sustainability.
But her passion for helping others goes back to her childhood watching her mother and grandmother’s efforts to care for her aunt, who was born with down syndrome. Their Christian dedication set the foundation for a life that would be shaped by what she felt was God’s calling to help those less fortunate than herself.
Perhaps most formative in her young adulthood was time spent in India with Tearfund, working with Indian theologian and advocate for the poor the Reverend CB Samuel. Her experiences there helped her see that she could be doing so much, and that this dedication was needed at home.
“That was an excellent time of shaping my faith,” she said. “I came away with a great sense of hope in God’s purposes and the part that we are called to play.”
Her part saw her work as a lawyer for refugees during the difficult Howard years, working with non-profits, and thinking about how to engage people with issues of poverty at the newly formed youth poverty agency Oaktree.
She says these years of experience have not only prepared her for the role of chief executive in terms of the skill set required, but also through a sense of belief in God’s plan for her.
“There’s so much around the way God might have been working and shaping and getting your character ready to lead an organisation like this into the next season,” she said.
“There’s been a lot of discerning, a lot of questioning ‘Is this where God is calling me to?’ … and I feel really peaceful and grateful and excited that the answer is ‘yes’.”