Serving the Lord

Serving the Lord image

Jane Sophia Barker (Nee Harden) was born in England in 1807. On October 15, 1840 she married Frederic Barker who, at that time, was serving as a rector in Liverpool, England.

They had no children and served in parish ministry together for 15 years until Frederick was asked to be the second Bishop of Sydney. They arrived in Sydney in May 1855 and Jane would remain in Sydney until her death 21 years later.

Jane kept a private diary – unfortunately we only have a very short section of it, but you can read it in the Moore College library – along with letters she wrote to her sister. 

And it’s in her diary and personal letters, things she probably never imagined to be public, that we get to know Jane as she really is, a woman whose life was one of submission to Jesus Christ as her Lord and Saviour.

Jane’s diary and letters to her sister record ordinary life in so many ways, yet it is diagnostic about what she thinks is important as they reveal her theology. Two things that I want to briefly touch on are, firstly, her priority of the preached word of God, and secondly, her good deeds.

The word

Throughout her writings it is clear that Jane is an evangelical. It is clear she has a personal relationship with God and that she places a great importance on the preaching of God’s word. She often mentions Frederic’s preaching and other clergy sermons, noting what passage they preached from and commenting about the sermon. She notices when they preach against false teaching and she’s glad when they do. 

Money was a priority to her, but only in order to raise up clergy who would preach the word of God. Jane mentions several times of her great desire for good clergy to come from the UK and how painful it is that they don’t have more, as well as the need for more new churches to reach people throughout the Diocese. Both she and Frederic write of her being a spiritual mother to the younger clergy.

“Frederic finds that no less than 30 stationary clergymen with 30 churches, as well as 10 missionary clergyman, are required to meet the present wants of his See,” she wrote. “For this a large sum and a large income will be needed, and I hope obtained. What a blessed thing it would be to pour in such a band of faithful ones to evangelise the land.”

Another time she wrote of how Frederic was keen for German speakers in Berry to be given German bibles so they could understand God’s word and be saved.

Interestingly, even during what is regarded as our “Christian” history it was hard for Jane Barker to be a faithful servant of the gospel to those around her.

“I feel it very difficult here to be openly Christian but hope that lending books will help me on,” she wrote. “I try to do this especially in cases of sorrow with a few kind words, which is calculated to pave the way for further attempts.” She hopes to have Christian conversations with others and thinks this will be made easier by lending Christian books to other women.

In addition, Jane taught Sunday school and had a great desire to see people become biblically literate. She hated that children were taught like parrots to repeat answers without exercising their minds. She knew people needed to be individually saved, that ministry to children was powerful and that they can and should know God’s word.

The effort

Jane found it very hard at times, especially when reflecting on the first six months or so she and Frederic spent in Sydney. However, throughout her struggles she continually made clear that they were in Sydney for God’s purpose, because they were submissive to God’s greater purpose for their lives.

“We must have patience and try to be busy doing our Master’s work until he bids us rest,” she wrote, adding this on another occasion: “Frederic said yesterday that God had brought us into this wilderness to teach us to look to him for our happiness and to find that he could refresh us with his peace in the midst of so much that was distasteful.”

Yet, in time, the couple settled in to life in Sydney and began the make the most of their time. Regular prayer meetings were held at their house where those present prayed, sang hymns, and read Scripture. And many times Jane Barker’s diaries and letters spoke of the value of a Bible college that would train Sydney men to have good and right theology (less than a year after the Barkers arrived in Sydney, Frederic opened Moore College on March 1, 1856. It began with three students and a tutor in Liverpool, before moving to its current premises in Newtown).

Jane says about the potential graduates that, “the word faithfully preached by these excellent young clergyman will, by God’s blessing, soon produce an effect upon the city of Sydney”.

The deeds

After Jane’s first visit to the infirmary she wrote of her desire to go again soon, the value of being close to the “sick and sorrowful… to sympathise with them and read to them out of the counselling words of Scripture”.

She also made regular visits to the School of Industry, which was a children’s home that provided domestic training for girls aged four to 14, as well as visits to people’s homes. And these weren’t all neat and cosy with pleasant cups of tea – they could be harrowing, as evidenced by her description of a scene of domestic violence.

Education was high on Jane’s list of priorities. As someone who was well educated and loved books, she saw – amid her travels around the Diocese with Frederic – the need for clergy daughters to be provided with a place of education, as some of these clergy were now quite isolated geographically.

She started soliciting help to begin a clergy daughters’ school. It began 160 years quite small, with only one teacher, but still stands today and has grown enormously – St Catherine’s School at Waverley. There are women throughout our Diocese who are alumni of St Catherine’s, groups of men and women who have served and are currently serving on its council, serving as teachers and other staff, as well as female and male graduates of Moore College who have served or are currently serving as chaplains and Christian Education teachers.  

Jane travelled a lot with Frederic, which wouldn’t always have been easy in the mid-19th century! However, she did it to be a good helper (language she used of herself) and companion to him, and also to be a source of encouragement to the people in the parishes Frederic was visiting. Jane recognised that she also played a part in God’s plan of salvation and she had the word of God to share with others. She expressed her loneliness at times in not finding too many women who were like-minded, but even when she did this she often remarked on the strength of her marriage to Frederic and the joy they found in each other.

Jane Barker could not have known people would be reading her diary and letters 160 years after she wrote them, but they reveal a woman who is extremely honest yet committed to submitting her life to the purposes of God because of what he did through Jesus on the cross.

God’s Spirit worked through Jane Barker to bless the Sydney Diocese in so many ways. Much of her ministry was behind the scenes and her commitment to the priority of the preached word of God, and the importance she placed on good deeds, are a good model to us, whether we’re male or female, of a life lived in submission to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

In God’s mercy we have Christian women from the past in our own time – women in our own churches and ministry settings – to encourage us to live a life of submission to Jesus Christ. Let’s be encouraged by them to submit ourselves to Jesus and so live our lives as they were created and redeemed to be.

Photo: Jane Sophia Barker. calotype: David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, 1844. © National Portrait Gallery, London 

Jane Tooher is director of the Priscilla and Aquila Centre, director of part-time studies and lectures in ministry, New Testament and church history.

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