29 October 2022
Waiting on the sidelines has never really appealed to the Reverend Tanya Cummings.
“I think I get bored if I’m just sitting and watching other people do stuff,” she said. “I’d rather play backyard cricket than watch cricket. I’ve never just been a spectator.”
For Ms Cummings, this desire to be in the centre of the action has taken her through parenting three children, working as a personal trainer, aerobics instructing, working as a children’s pastor and verger and finally, training to become a priest.
Having worked in parishes in Essendon and Dingley, in February this year she took up a new role as priest-in-charge of Mt Eliza Anglican Church.
Ms Cummings said church wasn’t a priority growing up in her immediate family. Her experience of faith began with two key women.
“When I was a little girl, I had a grandma who was a Christian and she told me the stories of Jesus,” she said.
When Ms Cummings was a teenager, she began to rebel. Her parents sent her to live with a Christian aunt in Port Macquarie, and she attended a youth group where she said the teenagers were on fire for Jesus.
“One night at a Bible study they asked if I wanted to make Jesus Lord and Saviour of my life, and I wanted what they had,” she said.
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When Ms Cummings returned to Melbourne, she said life became more challenging. Once she fell pregnant with her first child, the church began to draw her in again.
“I decided to really get my life sorted out and seek the Lord and find a church home to raise my kids in,” she said.
The family settled at St John’s Anglican in Diamond Creek. Ms Cummings took up positions as a verger and a children’s pastor, among other roles in the parish.
Then, 14 years ago, she went through divorce. Ms Cummings said facing the end of an abusive marriage, she wanted clarity in her beliefs. She said she had felt a pressure to be perfect and to maintain her marriage despite all odds.
“It was a real shaking of my faith,” she said. “I wanted to go to Bible college to find out if I was making God into the God I wanted him to be or if everything I believed was actually true.
“I was wondering why God allowed me to be in that situation.”
With a yearning for mission, Ms Cummings begged God to send her into mission work. She longed to work in Africa or the Northern Territory. Instead, God sent her to Doreen, a small town just north of Diamond Creek. St John’s was launching a church plant in the area, now known as Plentylife, and she became part of the founding team.
“I felt a real call to church planting [and] local mission,” she said. “I really prayed about it and sensed a yes from God.”
Ms Cummings then became the second person in Australia to become a missional community development worker.
Through study at what was then the Bible College of Victoria and later became Melbourne School of Theology, and then at Ridley, God led her to pursue ordination.
But, to become a priest, she had to leave the fitness industry. She had worked throughout her years of parenting young children as an aerobics instructor, had run circuit classes and also took on personal training.
“People say I used to keep people physically fit, and now I keep them spiritually fit,” she said. “It was a bit of fun!”
When looking back at the challenges of life, Ms Cummings said she feels they have prompted her to have more understanding, grace and sensitivity toward those in her congregation. As part of her work, she has counselled other women who have experienced domestic abuse.
“Having real life experiences makes me more approachable and more easily able to support others in their life experience, because everyone has stuff,” she said. “For me personally, it’s showed me that God has me in his hand. He protected me and my kids, and I’m just amazed at his protection really.”
This profile of the Reverend Tanya Cummings is part of a series on women in ministry, marking the December 2022 anniversary of 30 years since women were ordained in the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne.