2 February 2023

Women must be supported to withstand barriers to God’s call: Leaders

Archbishop of Perth Kay Goldsworthy will preach at the Eucharist in thanksgiving for the 30th anniversary of women’s ordination in Melbourne. Picture: supplied.

Jenan Taylor

8 December 2022

Women will continue to face barriers to priesthood unless the Australian Church strengthens them to be able to attend to God’s call, prominent leaders say.

Archbishop of Perth Kay Goldsworthy said some young women may feel discouraged about taking up a vocational call to ordained ministry because of the conservative theologies of some parts of the Anglican Church.

Set to preach at a Eucharist service to celebrate the 30th anniversary of women’s ordination in Melbourne next Tuesday, Archbishop Goldsworthy said she was concerned that parts of the church persisted in promoting calls to women for many things, but not ordained ministry.

“It is an indictment on the Anglican church that some young women think it is no place for them as leaders because of that,” she said.

The archbishop was among the very first women in Australia to be consecrated a priest at a service in Perth in March 1992.

Barring some dioceses, an estimated 900 women have become priests across Australia.

Read more: Young Anglicans unaware of opposition to women priests in some dioceses

But Archbishop Goldsworthy said she held some reservations about what was ahead for the equal inclusion of women.

“I think we have lots of work to do. That includes reflecting on how it is we embody the welcoming love of Jesus, and how we invite women to take up all that God offers,” she said.

Despite her concerns, the archbishop said the inclusion of women priests deepened the life of the Anglican Church.

Their presence even offered the broader community a window into God.

“The advent of women, as deacons, priests, and bishops in our Church, has meant that the wider community now sees a Church in which women take a place as leaders alongside men,” Archbishop Goldsworthy said.  “That surely says something outside the Church about the God in whom we believe, and it says something about place, embrace, belonging, and authority.”

 Also set to contribute to the upcoming service at St Paul’s Cathedral, women’s ordination campaigner Dr Muriel Porter and Sale Cathedral parish dean the Reverend Keren Terpstra believe there is still much work to be done to encourage women priests.

Dr Porter said women were critical to the health of the church.

They had made a difference in making the governing bodies less formal and more similar to the way that society operated.

They were also vital in dealing with issues such as domestic violence and sexual abuse, Dr Porter said.

Read more: Thirty years on, the church is richer for women’s ordination

But she said the Church was in decline, and because of that there was the danger of vocal minority groups battling with each other.

“So in particular, in this period, we need to ensure that women are encouraged to find the vocation, to do theological study, to be ordained, and to be ensured that they are not left in subsidiary positions, which can happen only too easily. That must not happen now,” Dr Porter said.

Reverend Terpstra also said women improved how the Church was run.

She said in the Gippsland diocese more than 50 per cent of clergy were female.

“It makes a huge difference in things like how synods are conducted in terms of the tenor of meetings that are held, Ms Terpstra said.

But she said statistics showed that only 21 per cent of clergy around Australia were women, so there was a great deal of work to be done to come to a place of true equality.

There was still an inherent bias against women in ministry and in church leadership. In the Melbourne diocese, this was evidenced by the lack of women on committees, she said.

“They do try for more or less equal balance, but there’s still work to be done in several places and it needs to work on a lot of different levels,” Ms Terpstra said. “It’s not just about tapping someone on the shoulder and saying, ‘Hey, do you want to be ordained?’ There’s got to be a whole infrastructure of the raising up of roles like in lay ministries, like in finance and law.”

Read more: ‘It is Christ who has called you’: Eighteen new priests ordained

Archbishop Goldsworthy also said that as someone who in some ways had been at the forefront of ordination, she realised that many women found it hard to say yes to the priesthood.

Reflecting on her own path, she said perhaps one of the strongest lessons she had learned was that women needed to believe that they were worthy of being called by God.

Ms Terpstra’s anthem, Wisdom’s Feast, specially composed for the 30th anniversary for the ordination of women to the priesthood in Australia will be sung by the girl’s choir at the Eucharist service at St Paul’s Cathedral on Tuesday 13 December.

Dr Porter will be canting a Psalm, originally written by St John’s Camberwell music director David Byrne to commemorate the late Bishop Barbara Darling, at the service.

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