Women called, empowered and holding authority

A motion recognising the 30th anniversary of the ordination of women was put to Synod by Bishop of North Queensland Keith Joseph, and seconded by Brisbane representative Justice Debra Mullins. The Rev’d Elizabeth Smith proposed an amendment with this speech:

I move this amendment, which asks members of synod to affirm that women who are priests or bishops teach and lead with full spiritual authority in congregations and dioceses of this Church.

For some, this is obviously true and has been obvious for 30 years and more. You will, I trust, be able to support my amendment.

For others, women’s church leadership with authority is just as obviously not true, not biblical, not at all to be affirmed. You will probably need to vote against my amendment.

But for yet others, my amendment gives you the opportunity to say: 30 years ago, I didn’t think this was true, but now I do. I have changed my mind.

A short story:

A few years back, I was at an event where a brother and a sister, both biblical scholars but from quite different parts of the Anglican Church of Australia, were presenting terrific bible studies to a group of clergy.

The brother was thoroughly enjoying the sister’s teaching. Over a mid-morning cuppa, I asked him: You’re clearly enjoying our sister’s teaching, with all the authority she brings to it. Is this a problem for you, given your stance on women teaching in the church?

No, said our brother; because she’s not in charge of a church. (She was a teacher in a theological college, not a parish priest.)

Oh, I said. Well, what about me? I’ve spent most of my ministry in charge of a church. I’ve been teaching and leading. Is it sinful for me not only to be doing that, but also perhaps to be leading other into a sinful situation by my presuming to have spiritual authority to lead in this way? 

No, said our brother; because you think you’re doing the right thing.

Oh, I said. So I’m not sinful; just deluded.

He didn’t have an answer to that.

But today I want to give all my brothers and sisters the chance to say: actually, ordained sisters, you’re neither sinful, nor deluded. You are truly called and properly exercising authority as priests and bishops in our church. You are a gift to the church, not a stumbling block. You do indeed have authority, God has indeed called you to these forms of leadership, and this Church has rightly placed you in leadership, not complementarily, and certainly not subordinately, but properly and joyfully and fruitfully. This we duly affirm

Thirty years of evidence of fruitful, faithful ministry is a lot of evidence that we are neither sinful nor deluded. If not  after thirty years, then how much longer will the jury be out, or voting “no”?

So please accept this amendment, and when it comes to the vote on Bishop Keith’s motion as thus amended, please vote for it wholeheartedly, whether for Nth time or for the first time ever. Not sinful. Not deluded. Called, empowered, and properly holding authority to teach and lead in this Church.  

The proposed amendment was narrowly lost, 111 people voting for it, 117 against, but the original motion reading as follows:

Bishop Keith Joseph moving, Justice Debra Mullins AO seconding
That Synod notes that:

this year marks the 30th anniversary of the ordination of the first women priests in the Anglican Church of Australia and that by the end of 1992 92 women had been ordained priests Australia wide – ‘92 in 92’;

currently, according to the Anglican Church Directory 2020/21 there are 3831 clergy of whom 888 (23%) are women. Of this number there are 7 bishops, 397 active priests, 171 active deacons, 66 whose position is not specified and 247 who are retired;

and acknowledges the important contribution ordained women have made and continue to make to worship, ministry and leadership in the Anglican church.

and notes further that this year will be a time for observance of this anniversary across the nation;

and that 2 of the original 92 in 92: the Most Reverend Kay Goldsworthy AO, the Archbishop of Perth and the Right Reverend Kate Prowd, Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Melbourne are members of this Synod

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