It has been 25 years since the Most Rev’d Dr Ian George presided over the historic ordination of five women to the priesthood on December 5th 1992 in St Peter’s Cathedral.
Dismissing objections from parts of the Diocese, Archbishop George went on with the ceremony and ordained the Rev’ds Joan Claring-Bould, Sister Juliana SI (Sisters of the Incarnation), Flo Monahan, Sue Pain and Susan Straub. Also ordained were the Rev’ds Michael Austin, Peter Brown, Richard Hayman and Paul Hunt.
The Sunday Mail of December 6th reported: “Almost 1 000 people crammed into the Cathedral to witness … the first ordination to the priesthood of women in Australia since the way was formally cleared for women priests by the Anglican Church’s General Synod in Sydney on November 21.”
Twenty-five years to the day, in a celebration to mark the occasion, three of the original five women – the Rev’ds Joan Claring-Bould, Sister Juliana SI and Susan Straub – concelebrated with the current Archbishop of Adelaide, The Most Rev’d Geoffrey Smith, at a service in St John the Evangelist Church, Halifax Street.
In addition to objectors, this occasion lacked other elements present in the original service. The Sunday Mail noted then that there were plainclothes police in the congregation and bag searches and emphasised the tension and stress “evident in the faces” of the women.
Now retired, Sister Juliana SI said: “It was a very stressful time. We had to prepare for ordination without knowing if it would go ahead. First we had to wait for the General Synod resolution. Then we knew there would be objections, but we didn’t know if there would be a confrontation or how that would play out. The final night before the ordination was particularly tense.”
Describing the ordination service, the Rev’d Susan Straub, now retired, has vivid memories of “a wonderful, affirming experience after the stress of the previous few days: Processing out of the Cathedral through balloons and streamers raining down from the gallery, purple, white and green, the colours of MOW, the Movement for the Ordination of Women.
“People now can barely remember a time when there weren’t women priests, but then it was very new.”
The Rev’d Joan Claring-Bould of Christ Church North Adelaide said: “I think this time it’s important to acknowledge the men who were ordained with us. At the time, they were overshadowed by the historical nature of the occasion. They were very gracious. They spent a sleepless night with us before the service because of the expected objections and they bore the brunt of that stress with us. They were very supportive and have remained good friends.”
Commenting on the role of women priests after 25 years, Sister Juliana SI said: “In the early days, it was difficult for women priests to find properly- paid work or you would have ministry in two or three different places. But that has improved with women being in charge of parishes now. Though, I must say I was blessed in the [male] priests with whom I was Associate Priest in the respect and autonomy they gave me. But perhaps women are still under-represented in senior positions, even after 25 years.”
The Rev’d Claring-Bould said: “There are still places at both ends of the ecclesiastical spectrum where women don’t go: High church and Evangelical. On the whole, they have done a wonderful job in country parishes and in the city. In the city, I really appreciate the complementarity of teams of women and men working together, I think that’s a great advantage.”
The Rev’d Straub said: “For a few years there were those who stayed away or crossed over to another queue to take Communion from a man. However, I am full of thanks to be able to say ‘Thy will be done’ and to have been able to play a part in the great unfolding story of faith in God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
|ADELAIDE DIOCESE BY THE NUMBERS|
|** Active clergy only, Retired and Permission to Officiate not included
Sources: 1991-1992 Diocese of Adelaide Year Book; 2017 Diocese of Adelaide Synod Papers; Diocese of Adelaide