First published on smh.com.au but expanded and published here by permission.
My favourite moment of my favourite musical comes when Les Miserable’s protagonist breaks into his moment of existential crisis. “Who am I?”, he lyrically wails.
As I read Julia Baird’s latest offering about the caricatured, oppressed, silenced and invisible women of the Sydney Anglican Diocese (“In praise of the oddities and outliers resisting bonkers fundamentalism in Sydney”, SMH Oct 26th), I found myself having my very own Jean Val Jean moment (though, sadly, without the accompanying symphony). Who am I? I’m an ordained member of the Sydney Anglican clergy. But I’m also a woman.
Yes. That’s right. I’m one of those mythical figures. A female member of the Sydney Anglican clergy.
Of course, in being that, I’m also many other things. I’m a pastor who has worked in four different Anglican churches. I’m a student who has two bachelor degrees (including one from the main theological college of the Sydney Anglican diocese) and who is almost ready to submit her PhD (through another Anglican theological college). I’ve also served as a former member of faculty and a lecturer at Youthworks College (another Sydney Anglican institution). I’m a long serving member of Anglican and other Christian boards. I’m a past member of the Sydney Anglican Synod and a current member of the General Anglican Synod. I’m a Bible teacher who has spoken at countless Christian events and church services. I’m the creator and chair of a new but already significant Christian ministry which, in the eighteen months since its inception, has run four conferences in Sydney, interstate and overseas. I’ve spoken at all of them. I’m a leader in my theological research field. I’m a writer of Christian resources. I’m a senior research fellow with an Anglican affiliated women’s ministry organisation.
Who am I? I am certainly not the Anglican woman that Julia Baird contends suffers from immense cognitive dissonance at the hands of those “bonkers”, patriarchal fundamentalist Sydney Anglican men. In fact, if I am to suffer from any cognitive dissonance it will be at the hands of Baird herself.
You see, far from subjugating, oppressing and silencing me, Sydney Anglican men have played a crucial role in encouraging, equipping and supporting me to become all the things I am today. Certainly, there have been a significant number of very important female Christian mentors in my life. But it was a Sydney Anglican man who first encouraged me to consider pursuing full-time Christian ministry. It was a Sydney Anglican man who ordained and licensed me as a member of clergy. It was Sydney Anglican men who recruited me to the various committees and councils I am on. It was a Sydney Anglican man who emailed me out of the blue to suggest I undertake a PhD in theology. It is Sydney Anglican men who have encouraged and helped facilitate my return to full-time theological study. It is Sydney Anglican men who contact me nearly every week asking for advice on how they can do a better job in their churches in my area of research. It is Sydney Anglican men who ask if I’m available to visit their church services on Sundays to share some of the results of my labour with their congregations.
Who am I? I am a woman who is tired of being caricatured, oppressed, silenced and made to feel invisible. But not by Sydney Anglican men. By others such as Julia Baird.