There are no doubt many anniversaries to be celebrated in 2024, but the one I am personally thankful for is the 30th anniversary of the appointment of the Archdeacon for Women’s Ministry. I’m reflecting, with thanks to God, about all that has been done, who did it, and how we can continue building on this vital work. 

The first Archdeacon for Women's Ministry

First, some history. It was Archbishop Harry Goodhew who created the role, though it was preceded by Archbishop Robinson’s appointment of a Co-ordinator of Women’s Ministries. The Rev Maureen Cripps held this position for two years before retiring due to ill health in 1993. 

In his presidential address in 1993, Archbishop Harry Goodhew announced that, with a view to advancing the ministry of women in the Diocese, I have appointed the Reverend Dianne Nicolios as an Archdeacon with special responsibilities for women’s ministry. She has an extensive job description, which includes the support and encouragement of women both ordained and non-ordained.

As the current Archdeacon for Women’s Ministry, these words resonate for me. It was an “extensive job description” then and remains so today, but even though the shape of the ministry has changed over the decades as our culture and churches have changed, the gospel of Christ remains the same. 

It is difficult to highlight in a brief article all the ways God used this role for his glory, or give due thanks for my predecessors’ work, but I hope this overview will go some way to doing so. 

A role with many faithful women

Before becoming Archdeacon for Women’s Ministry, Di Nicolios had been an assistant minister at Annandale and a chaplain at Deaconess House, where single women were enrolled and lived while studying at Moore College. There was then, by circumstances and design, a strong connection between the training of women for ministry and the role of the Archdeacon. 

In reflecting on her time as Archdeacon, Di says, “I had no idea what challenges and what special times lay ahead, so it was a steep learning curve”. Part of that learning included creating opportunities for women to meet, usually over a meal and with a guest speaker. This led to SWIM – Sydney Women in Ministry – which was in many ways a precursor for the later growth in the conference movements among women.

Advancing the ministry of women also included regularly visiting those serving in vocational ministry, listening to them and hearing “wonderful stories of the work they were doing under the Lord’s hand of blessing”, as well as some of the disappointments and hardship they experienced. 

In 2002, the Rev Narelle Jarrett was appointed as Archdeacon following Di’s move to Melbourne. At the time Narelle was the principal of Mary Andrews College (previously Deaconess House) – which she continued to do until 2007, when she moved into the Archdeacon’s role full-time. So, for the best part of five years Narelle had the dual role of responsibility for the theological formation of women for ministry, and supporting them in the local church. 

Narelle continued Di’s work in many ways, maintaining the patterns of visiting and gathering the diaconal fellowship, and expanded the team to include five more women (the Rev Jackie Stoneman, the Rev Sarie King, Jane Tooher, Lesley Ramsay and Christine Jensen), who were each tasked with different portfolios. 

She was intentional in seeking advice and input from women about how best to support them, as she recognised that many of the old styles and patterns of ministry were changing. Some of these changes included the growth of team ministry in the local church. As roles like children’s ministers or women’s ministers were on the rise there was an increasing number of stipendiary lay ministers, many of whom were women. While the Archdeacon remained committed to seeing women step forward for ordination as deacons, there was also a growing and significant work to be done among those who weren’t necessarily part of a cohort that had studied together at Moore College.

What does it mean to advance the ministries of women?

Fast forward 30 years, and the question remains: what does it mean to advance the ministries of women in the Diocese? I believe the effectiveness of the Archdeacon for Women’s Ministry is found in partnership, which happens when we truly embrace the biblical picture of men and women contending side by side for the gospel. This is Paul’s language in Philippians 4:3 in describing his relationship with Euodia and Syntyche. Truly advancing the ministries of women in the Diocese will mean hundreds of mission-minded and servant-hearted teams of men and women, modelling to their congregations and the world the beauty and benefits of God’s design of men and women living and serving together. 

I appreciate the partnership my role gives me with our rectors. I have spent the past few years listening and speaking with them, and will continue these conversations in 2024 as we explore how to create opportunities for women to serve in formal ministry roles in their context. It’s exciting to see how our rectors are recognising and harnessing the gifts God has given the women in their church for gospel work. 

Truly advancing the ministries of women in the Diocese will mean hundreds of mission-minded and servant-hearted teams of men and women

I genuinely love the partnership I have with women across the Diocese. The opportunity I have to meet, support and encourage them in their vocational ministry remains a key plank and joy of my work as Archdeacon. Our Diocese recently ordained four more women as deacons, and many others are seeking God’s guidance as to whether this is an appropriate pathway for them. I am extremely thankful to God for the hundreds of women who, every day, walk into nursing homes and hospitals, train the kids’ church team, run youth groups, are chaplains in our schools, oversee the discipleship of women, engage in significant evangelistic opportunities each week and, in many other contexts, teach the Bible and proclaim Christ among the community. 

It's impossible to capture the privilege of serving as the third Archdeacon for Women’s Ministry. The opportunities are beyond one person’s capacity. So, I am very thankful that in the past two years, we have been able to expand the work. I am accompanied by Jenny Salt in thinking about how to promote the blessings and benefits of women in ministry, contending for the gospel side by side in partnership with men and joyfully making the most of that “extensive job description”.