Sydney, women and the next 50 years
I have just begun in the role of Archdeacon for Women’s Ministry after serving in ministry among the people at Crossway Anglican Church at Carlingford. While it’s been very difficult to move away from local church ministry I am looking forward to serving across our city. I am a Sydney girl born and bred. I love this city.
Recently I was flying back into Sydney after a holiday and while it might have been the anticipation of uncurling myself out of my seat, I really felt the excitement of arriving back in my city. I was sitting next to two girls from France who had never been to Sydney before and I was excitedly telling them all the great things about Sydney – possibly overwhelmed them. I have often thought that if I wasn’t in vocational ministry I would love to be a tour guide of some kind through Sydney. I know I love trying to help tourists when I see them trying to make sense of their maps. I love this city.
But as I reflect on Sydney, I ask myself: what kind of city are we? There are so many answers to that question. I guess what comes to mind first is that we’re a changing city. And what changes we’ve seen and continue to see! Even as I reflect on the Sydney of my childhood and the Sydney of today, there are a multitude of changes. There the general changes that have occurred being part of the Western world, living in the light of the ’60s revolutions, of technology revolutions, of feminism, postmodernism, individualism, relativism… and on it goes. The effect of these have shaped and changed us in ways we probably aren’t even aware of. They have permeated and got under the skin of our city. It’s now the air we breathe. And depending on where you live in our city, you will have seen other kinds of changes.
In the suburb where I live I am witnessing the demolition of streets full of houses to make way for home units. We are seeing rapid change. I guess one of the most obvious changes is through multiculturalism – the arrival of so many different people from different cultural and faith backgrounds. We heard about it a lot at Synod this year and what a blessing it’s been for us. Such an ethnically rich, diverse city we live in. And it will only continue.
China and India now dominate the countries of origin of those arriving in our country – more than 300,000 people between 2006 and 2011. In the middle of these kinds of changes we feel and are experiencing the change of thought, beliefs and understanding to the point where – whether it’s in the public sphere like Q&A or in the letters section of the paper, or fighting for Scripture lessons in our schools, or privately in our conversations with friends over coffee – we feel and are in the minority. On my recent holiday I visited a friend in Italy. We travelled to Florence together and saw Michelangelo’s great statue of David. It was quite breathtaking. I can’t do it justice. But as I stood and admired the incredible craftsmanship of this Renaissance artist, I overheard a young girl (American I think) say to the person she was with – “So who’s David?”.
I think I’m right in saying that my generation was really the last generation in Sydney to be sent to Sunday school. I have clear memories as a young child of coming out of Sunday school and seeing a line of cars parked down the street – parents who had been at home reading the paper and were now coming to pick their children up. Imagine that happening today: a parent coming, dropping off their child and driving off. Sydney is anything but a stagnant city. Never has been, never will be. And this sea of change has also had its effect on women in Sydney.
The way we approach education, relationships, family, work has changed so dramatically, even in my lifetime. We exist and participate in a relationship landscape that is confused and under debate, and where marriage either isn’t sought or no longer provides the certainty it once offered. There’s an intellectual environment which suggests that not using educational and vocational training throughout our lifetime is negligent and an economic climate that necessitates both parents working while managing family life.
For Christian women who have service to Christ, our families and our church as the dominating framework, there is simply a complexity to our existence, often resulting in great tension. The common question “Is it possible to have it all?” rings loud and true. And for many this leads to guilt and pressure to ‘manage it all’. As changes take place for women these eventually permeate and impact life and ministry in our church. They must. They do. The tension women in my church seem to be facing is having enough time, not just for family (which is where the greatest strain seems to be located) but for ministry, for building and strengthening relationships in church, and for witnessing in their communities. I don’t know if these are the tensions in your church…but I wonder what effect will the busyness and complexity of women’s lives have on local church ministry and evangelism? For if we look over the history of ministry in Sydney, women have played such an important role.
Ministry by women and for women, in a variety of capacities, is part of the DNA of Sydney Anglican church life. Women in ordained or appointed ministry have had a very long and distinguished history in Sydney, notably through the Deaconess movement in the earlier 20th century. Deaconesses served in a variety of contexts throughout the Diocese, including the responsibility to visit women and families and run Sunday Schools. Currently we have many women training in our colleges. It’s so exciting to see women putting up their hand to be training for vocational and lay ministry, full or part time, in a variety of roles and contexts. Women involved in lay ministry also have a long and distinguished history in Sydney churches, particularly through the ministry of Mother’s Union, caring for women in hospitals, families in prison or the courts, as well as what we commonly think of as ‘women’s ministry’ – Bible studies, women’s events, conferences, reading the Bible oneto- one, exercising ministry based on Titus 2, women sharing the gospel with friends, neighbours and colleagues.
It is a great, exciting work and we must be very thankful to God for the thousands of women serving in our churches. Yet if it’s true our city will be changing in the size and make-up of its population over the next 20, 30 and 50 years then it is clear that not only are the women already involved in ministry needed to continue and build on existing work, but new workers are needed to play a role in turning outward toward the community.
Now is not the time to pull out of ministry, to be so busy to not have time for developing non-Christian friends, for meeting with one another to encourage and pray and remind one another of God. Now is not the time to shrink back in being a voice in the community. This is absolutely the time to be bold, be available and be willing. Now is the time to keep holding out the unique and incredible claims of Jesus. For if we don’t, who will? Acts 4:12 says: “And there is salvation in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved”. There is no other name. And our job is to tell people about his name. A name that is becoming less familiar, less adored, a name that to many, I know, means very little. But they need to know his name. They need to hear of his love and forgiveness, to hear of their sin and his salvation. They need to believe in him, to trust and adore him for their lives.
And so we need to be willing, in our changing city, to take the name of our Lord, king and saviour to our city. How will we, as women in particular, do that? In some ways, just as we have been doing it. But hopefully also in new, imaginative ways. There are times, for example, due to cultural sensitivities, when work among women of some ethnic groups must and can only be done by women. How will we break into these cultural groups? Who can break into these cultural groups? Imaginative development of ministry by women and among women is needed so as to reach the growing unreached. Now is not the time to shrink back.
We can only look forward to see how God will use women in the future for the growth of his kingdom. This is what I am giving my mind to within our framework of the complementary position of Scripture, in consultation with those who similarly are keen to explore how to enable, train and recruit women for this work. I am so keen to see women think creatively and sacrificially about how they can be more available – available to connect with other women at church, to connect with other women in our suburbs. Not because we are trying to build our numbers but because we care deeply and rightly for those who without Christ face God’s eternal judgement.
I’m keen to see young and older women, married and unmarried, taking time for theological equipping, either at college or through external studies courses, to contribute to the teaching and discipling of women in their church. I’m just so keen to see women persevere in their faith, certain and confident that their salvation is secure because of the death of Jesus. And I love to think that it might be possible for every woman in Sydney to have what I and other Christian women have: forgiveness of sins now and hope of eternal life in the presence of our great God to come.
I trust you too are keen for these things. I trust and pray you will partner with me in this work.
This text is taken from a speech given at an ACL women’s dinner during Synod 2012.