Patricia Allan spoke at the launch Talanoa, Telling our Stories, Kōrerohia o tātou pūrakau:40 years of the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia
The Revd Dr Patricia Allan told the story of how, after 2000 years, women were admitted to the priesthood of some Christian churches. This was first written for the 40 year commemoration, in Christchurch Cathedral, in December 2017. This is an excerpt from her sermon.
You are here today because you are part of that story – my daughters, granddaughters, families, friends and colleagues. Welcome.
‘Women make progress over the dead bodies of their sisters’, theologian Carter Hayward said. We are here today because they were there, fiercely convinced that to be healthy and whole, society and the Christian Church need the full participation of women, as well as men.
I invite you to consider some of the significant people and events that have helped to shape our particular story – yours and mine. People’s names are important, so I’ve included quite a few. You will see that the winds of God’s Spirit have blown powerfully in our lifetime. As a city we are justifiably proud of Kate Sheppard and her cohort of feisty women and helpful, powerful men. But did you know that the first woman to preach in our Cathedral in the Square was Maude Royden, a small, fiery English suffragette and campaigner for the ordination of women to the priesthood? She came here 95 years ago, and according to The Press, the Cathedral was packed out and her message relayed to many standing outside. She sowed the seed, wrote the preface, if you like, of our story.
Of course, women here were already ministering in all sorts of ways. Bishop Julius had invited Deaconess Edith Mellish from England to develop Deaconess training. In 1895 the now Community of the Sacred Name, opened as Deaconess House and many faithful deaconesses and sisters have lived out their ministries in Christ’s name since then; I think of Nurse Sybil Maude, whose pioneering work with the sick continues to this day; I think of Elizabeth Tipping, the first woman elected to our Synod in 1968 – hard to imagine now. I think of the thousands of loyal members of the Mother’s Union and later AAW; I think of the many clergy wives who shared their husband’s ministry, often with little recognition or thanks. Today we salute them all.
It needs to be said that from the beginning some women were opposed to any notion that their sisters could become priests. Even today there are those in our midst who disagree with female priests, let alone female bishops. Many of us could recount stories of how this opposition is played out in subtle and more overt ways. Our own Bishop Victoria knows only too well the power of misogyny. Let’s pause to remember our disappointed and frustrated sisters in the Roman Catholic Church and in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. Let’s remember too that in our increasingly conservative Church, our sisters in the GLBT community mostly remain outside the tent.
As we look back over these 40 years, we realise how far we have come. Thanks be to God. Perhaps we are now in uncertain liminal time, betwixt and between, waiting for that which is yet to be. All our dreams of a wide-open and inclusive church, vibrantly creative, deeply nurturing and sustaining have not yet been realised.
However, we are also an Advent people – with all the hope and anticipation of new birth that this season is about. I suggest that we women are good at watching and waiting, midwifing, then gently tending new life. Let us dare to believe that our creative God is still active in our midst, shaping our stories within the timeless story of the babe in the stable, the One who is the light of the world. May it be so.
You can read all of Patricia’s sermon, plus more then forty other stories, by ordering your own copy of Talanoa, Telling our Stories, Kōrerohia o tātou pūrakau:40 years of the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia
Available from firstname.lastname@example.org $25 plus P&P, or $22 plus p&p, for orders of more than 5.