Ballarat Ordinations 2013

Originally published in the newsletter of St Mary’s Anglican Church, North Melbourne.

On 7 December 2013, hundreds of people attended an ordination of two priests and two deacons in Ballarat. Mathew Crane (known to some parishioners) and Geoffrey Humble were ordained to the diaconate, and Anne McKenna and Robyn Shackell to the priesthood. This was a historic occasion, as these are the first two women to be ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of Ballarat after the diocesan synod voted to allow the ordination of women in October.

When Garry Weatherill became Bishop of Ballarat in 2011, introducing the ordination of women was one of his priorities for the diocese. All dioceses in the Province of Victoria now ordain and recognise the ordination of women as deacons and priests. The only Australian dioceses where the ordination of women remains restricted are Sydney, The Murray, and North West Australia.

My previous visit to Christ Church cathedral in Ballarat was also for an ordination, a few years ago. The two services were noticeably different in both liturgical style and mood. As a Melbourne moderate catholic, I was struck by the formality and sombre tone of the earlier event and couldn’t help being aware of the diocese’s status as Victoria’s last holdout against the ordination of women.

This December’s ordination was a joyful celebration not just of these new deacons and priests but of the event’s significance for the diocese. The cathedral was packed with members of the diocese, family and friends of the ordinands, and many who came from across the state to witness this historic event. The procession was led by at least twenty female priests from Melbourne and other dioceses. The mood was light and I saw many in the congregation and the sanctuary breaking into smiles throughout the service.

After the service, many women – especially priests – lined up to receiving blessings from Anne and Robyn. The cathedral hosted a celebration afterwards that recognised the significance of this day in the lives of the four new deacons and priests, as well as for the wider church. While the main reason I went to Ballarat was to support Mathew, who has been a friend for many years, it was also a privilege to be present at this milestone in the life of the church.

Sexuality and theology

Last night I attended a public forum on the new document by the World Council of Churches on The Church: Towards a Common Vision, presented by the Christian Unity Working Group of the Uniting Church and led by Ross Fishburn (a former teacher of mine) and Michael Lockwood. I thought it had been at least a year since I had been to any ecumenical or theological event, and I was reminded later that it had indeed been a year – I was last seen by some CUWG members at their public forum last year.

This event took me back to my time as a hotshot young ecumenist, when I was working toward graduate study in ecumenical theology and sitting on numerous church committees. I forced myself to take a break (a sabbatical, perhaps?) a couple of years ago, primarily due to burnout, but also because I had to accept that my concern for the place of LGBTI people in the church was not merely academic. My reading and my experiences at some major ecumenical forums in 2010 were leading me toward ideas for research on how wider social acceptance of LGBTI people posed challenges for unity among and within different Christian communities and denominations. But before I could start to formulate a theological response to this issue, I had to reach reconciliation within myself as a same-sex-attracted person and a public representative of the Anglican church. I have become more at ease with the former but that has made the latter more difficult for me.

Two years away from academia and from church committees have broadened my experience and given me confidence in myself, some grounding, and some sense of identity. I am about to return to university to study journalism because I want my research to have a wider audience and more direct and immediate impact. I haven’t lost my theological interests though. This isn’t the right time for me or for my corner of the church to initiate serious discussion of sexuality and ecumenical theology, but perhaps in four years, at least I will be ready to start this discussion.