Semper reformanda!

In his speech to the motion to celebrate of the 30th Anniversary of Women as Priests, Bishop Keith Joseph made these remarks:

Archbishop, members of Synod.

Most of you remember the time when the Priesthood was entirely male. I certainly remember the argumentation through the 1980s, and the insistence that the witness of tradition and scripture meant that women could not be in any position of leadership in the church. At that time, as a young layman in Sydney, these arguments were very strong and persuasive. Many of you here were involved in the battles at that time, including cases in the New South Wales Supreme Court.

This resistance to the Ordination of Women continues in the Australian Church. In 2006 the Reverend Michael Jensen wrote Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology. It is an erudite and impressive book, and I recommend it to you as an excellent resource. It helps explain the reluctance to ordain women and accept their leadership in the Anglican Church of Australia. In Chapter 9, entitled “A Line in the Sand”, Michael Jensen talks about the reasons why he – and most of his colleagues from Sydney – could not and do not accept the ordination of women as priests and bishops. In his understanding, the Bible was quite clear: women could not exercise leadership over men. Among other proof texts, 1 Corinthians 11.2-16 and 1 Timothy 3.1-12 were clear: headship is only for men. A line in the sand was drawn.

Like many of you, my views have changed dramatically over the last forty years. As I have seen the Holy Spirit move through the ministry of women priests and bishops, I cannot deny their call to ordained ministry and leadership. The fruit of the Spirit is there to be seen, and not denied. In my Diocese we would be lost without the leadership of women. One of my Archdeacons is a Māori woman who as a parish priest revitalized one of our aboriginal parishes, and who now as a volunteer, on top of her work as a parish priest, is leading the Aboriginal communities through Far North Queensland. Under the supervision of the Venerable Annette Woods there has been a dramatic growth in almost all of our aboriginal communities. The Spirit has been truly moving through her, and we benefit so much from her priestly leadership. And she is only one of a number of remarkable women leading vibrant and growing ministries in North Queensland. I am sure that most of you here can point to remarkable women exercising servant-leadership as priests and bishops.

The ninety-two ordained in 1992 have been a gift to the church from which we still benefit. I give thanks and glory to God for this. I also acknowledge and give thanks for the work and stubborn determination of the Movement for the Ordination of Women over many decades, and acknowledge their presence here today. Especially I acknowledge as members of this Synod two of the original ninety-two: the Most Reverend Kay Goldsworthy and the Right Reverend Kate Prowd. Thank you.

It should be said that I was ordained in a province – the Anglican Church of Melanesia – which does not accept the ordination of women, mainly on cultural grounds. I have seen the pain that the debate causes in Melanesia for both those in favour, and those against, the ordination of women. I also see that same pain here, where so many of you continue to oppose ordination of women because to you it appears to be in clear contradiction of scripture or tradition. I respect the sincerity of your opposition, even if I no longer share your hermeneutic or exegesis on this matter. Semper reformanda! I am however grateful that so many of you no longer see this as a matter of salvation, and therefore can be at the same table as those who differ with you on this matter. Perhaps some lines in the sand do fade with time and tide.

Accordingly, I would ask you to join with me in a time of celebration and joy, as we remember those pioneering women from 1992 and give thanks for their contribution to our church. May the Holy Spirit continue to bless their ministry as they share with us their love of God and of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we all find redemption and salvation. Amen.

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