I love the word bonkers. My mum used to say it all the time, and I just don’t seem to hear it often enough anymore. That was until Julia Baird used it in a piece for The Sydney Morning Herald, to describe the position many Sydney Anglicans hold regarding the role of women in the church. Yet I want to suggest the reason people hold this view isn’t quite as muddled headed as Baird might presume.
The Sydney Anglican church encourages women to serve in many different ways. Therefore it was disappointing to discover that Baird overlooked a particularly important motion in the Synod papers designed to empower women.
This motion, passed without objection, recognised the thirtieth anniversary of women being ordained in the diocese. It was a celebration of how women contribute to the life of the church. And contribute they do. Women are appointed to various positions of leadership, influence and service across the diocese.
In my capacity as Archdeacon for Women’s Ministry I am part of the senior clergy team comprising the Archbishop, the assistant bishops and myself where I am given every opportunity to share my thoughts and influence decisions. I chair committees and participate in the training and discernment of ordination candidates. It is also my privilege to support and witness the vast array of women, hundreds in fact, who are humbly, wisely and strategically offering themselves to serve in ways that contribute to both church and community life.
All this is to say that women in the Sydney diocese are far from silenced. The argument that women not being able to preach to mixed congregations or be the senior minister of the church means they are therefore silent, downtrodden and without a voice simply doesn’t add up. Nobody denies women have a vital role to play in the life of our church. On the topic of women preaching, it has always been the case that they can preach to mixed congregations, should they and the church they serve in seek them to fulfil this role.
These decisions are based on an understanding of what the Bible teaches. Calling those who uphold these beliefs bonkers doesn’t lessen the reality of this being a legitimate way of expressing our faith. Additionally, the tragedy of this polarisation is it ignores the hundreds of women, both lay and ordained, who are theologically trained, deployed across the church, leading ministries, using their skills for church governance, and doing amazing faithful work among the vulnerable, the marginalised and weak.
By all means, let’s keep examining the Bible and keep talking about how women may appropriately serve in the church. However, as we do so let’s not fall into the trap of assuming that women are not already participating influentially or effectively in the life of the church.
The Venerable Kara Hartley is the Archdeacon for Women’s Ministry for the Diocese of Sydney.
Illustration: Visit Sydney.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.