I am praying in the next few days for women in the many denominations of the Church, as some of my dearest Australian Anglican friends gather in Sydney for a Movement for the Ordination of Women gathering to mark the 30th anniversary of Anglican women's ordination in Australia. Due partly to family circumstances, neither Penny not I are attending ourselves. To be honest, we were also quite saddned that our offer of hosting an ecumenical communion service at Pitt Street UC was rejected - leaving the conference with no public female-led Anglican communion, due to Sydney diocese gynophobic policies. We had also hoped that, with such Anglican female sacramental leadership, this might be a way of connecting, celebrating, and empowering women from many traditions. It seemed a creative way of both honouring the more militant character of MOW, without which women would all still be waiting, and also contribute to the vital tasks of intersectional solidarity we need today. However we truly and warmly wish everyone well and hope that it may help renew the continuing work of Christian feminism which remains so vital...
As with LGBTIQA+, First Nations, and other struggles, the Churches, like other institutions, are adept at ‘divide and rule’. Of course, progress needs also to include both careful attention to the specifics of particular spaces and patient and determined work within established structures. Yet without a much broader movement and more creative ideas and activities, those who struggle for change are easily exhausted and/or efforts run into the sand. Every day I am thus reminded how too narrow a focus inhibits our own growth. We stand together and we must move in new ways together or we fail and even fall apart.
Some days, as an old historian of part of the movement and an ageing English/Australian participant in some of its more recent stages, I wonder what some of great extraordinary Christian feminist pioneers would be feeling and saying today. They absolutely never believed the movement was about a few places in the boys club for a few, even with the possibility of the odd bishop or the occasional female Prime Minister. It was always about liberation for all, because without everyone’s gifts we can never be free. To get there we also have to live and be what we will be - we have to live courageously, creatively and in ever deepening solidarity with the new and emerging struggles of others. No one Church, no one group, no one tradition, has all the answers and is certainly not the solution.
Christian feminism will never die - but it (like queer liberation) will continue to struggle today, until it renews its connections and is more creative and courageous. I SO rejoice in the equality of women and men in the UCA - one of its truly greatest glories and gifts to the wider Church and world (alleluia) - as I do with the amazing women in so many traditions (and not least my friends who will shortly gather in Sydney - you are stunning ). Even in the Uniting Church however we are far from the true vision of MoW - as we live above all with our colonialist legacies, with our postcode limitations for sexually and gender diverse folks, and with other continuing challenges of race and power. There is no such thing as ‘Christianity in one denomination’, any more than there can be ‘socialism (or whatever we might want to call healthy relationships) in one country’.
Currently, if I see organised signs of what Christian feminism can be in these lands currently called Australia it is in developments (apart, of course, from the Australian Collaborators in Feminist Theologies of which I am a part! ) such as Australian Women Preach - an initiative of Catholic women which refuses to be silent and play by accepted rules, which creates new space and gives voice to new expression, and, crucially, is deeply intersectional. I see this too in the extraordinary and costly ministries of other pioneering women, such as Brooke Prentis, Janice McRandal and others - who know, in the depths of their being, that courage, connection, and creative challenge are our calling and our celebration - and, thank God, I see it in some of my friends who gather this weekend.
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.