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Uniting gifts for the whole

AS I THINK about the place of women in the Uniting Church today, I find myself reflecting on the number of comments that have been made about the fact that the last Synod meeting appointed a female General Secretary and elected a female Moderator.

I have heard no negative comments, in fact most have been affirming.

Yet I have never heard anyone previously remark on the phenomena that we have had a male General Secretary and a male Moderator.

Aren’t we interesting people?

Women have always had a profound influence within the life of the church.

When I was growing up women were never part of the formal councils and committees of the church.

However they were the backbone of the Sunday School, the teaching of RE in schools, the organisation of social activities and, especially, the fund raising.

Without the deep faith, dedication and hard work of women, the life and mission of the church would have been greatly impoverished.

Women have always influenced the culture and mission of the Church, but had to do so from beyond the formal structures.
It seems that this was true even in Jesus’ ministry.

Luke 8:2,3 tells us that besides the 12 disciples there were many women who shared in Christ’s ministry, but they too did so from the margins.

The Gospel accounts tell us that it was women who first proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus, but they were not believed by the men.

In the book of Acts we come across a number of women who were very signifi cant in the development and growth of the
early church.

It must be frustrating to have so much to offer the mission of Christ, but to be expected to offer those gifts in roundabout ways.

While Paul’s attitude to the place of women in the Church is often debated, it seems that his most profound vision of the new creation wrought by Christ was that all past division and distinctions have been destroyed and all are one in Jesus. (Eph 2)

There is now neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female. (Gal 3)

There are now no longer any racial, social or gender barriers among those who are united in Christ.

Paul calls us to live the new life of Jesus, to be a new creation, a new humanity where no one has to live and serve from the margins.

Sadly even a cursory glance at the history of the Church shows that we fi nd it very diffi cult to live out such an inspired vision.

It seems that all too often we define our own place in the world and in the church by comparing ourselves to others.

We see our differences far more clearly than we see our unity in Jesus Christ.

It may be that having two capable and inspiring women in leadership roles in our Synod is a sign that we are a little closer to this vision of a renewed humanity.

Dr Shirley Coulson (General Secretary) and Rev Kaye Ronalds (Moderator-elect) were chosen by the Synod because we believed that they are God’s gifts for the journey ahead.

During the thousand years of Christendom the Church became used to living from the centre of western society.

We had respect, power and influence by right.

Now we find ourselves on the margins of society.

Occasionally the churches are listened to and we sometimes are included in the formal structures of society but more often than not we lead from the edge.

These days we find ourselves standing with Jesus on the fringes, longing to call people’s attention to the Kingdom of God in their midst.

As we try to understand how we are to live the Mission of Christ in these unfamiliar circumstances, it will be wonderful to be led by those for whom the experience of leading from the edge is familiar.

Let’s rejoice that the appointments of Kaye and Shirley are a sign that some barriers in our midst are being broken down.

But more importantly let us rejoice that they are gifts to help us live as God’s new humanity in circumstances that are not
familiar to those who have learnt to lead from the centre of things.