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Revd. Tricia Carter reflects on the 40th anniversary of the Ordination of Women
On the first Sunday in Advent we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women to the priesthood in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and the Pacific.
On 3 December 1977 the Bishop of Auckland ordained Jean Brooks, Wendy Cranston and Heather Brunton to the priesthood and in doing so we joined only three other provinces within the Anglican communion to ordain women.
As we celebrate this milestone in our cathedral, it is important to remember that in many parts of the Anglican communion the opportunity to express ministry is limited. Women have always been leaders in the mission of God. Scripture is full of such examples. Women were at the foot of the cross when Jesus died and were the first witnesses to the resurrection. Early Christian art found in the ancient catacombs depicts women sharing and leading the Eucharistic meal. As the early church was spreading its mission it was often wealthy women who were the benefactors to establish communities of faith and women who led them.
My own journey towards ordination came as a call while still very young, and where there were no examples of women priests. When as an adult I expressed that sense of call to my parish priest, I was told, that my job was to be a wife and mother and that was the best calling on my life. Fortunately, these were roles I was very happy with but failed to see why they precluded me from exploring ministry.
I began to study theology as part of a local EFM group as a way to explore my sense of call. I later found a more encouraging priest who offered me support to continue that exploration, and so in the late 1980s I began a formal discernment process with the Diocese of Auckland. Despite women having been in ordained ministry for over 10 years by this time, I was still treated as a bit of a novelty. It was to be a further five years before I was finally accepted into theological college to train as a priest.
I was finally ordained in St Peters Cathedral in Hamilton on 7 December 1996 by Bishop David Moxon. Since then I have served in parish ministry, both in the Diocese of Auckland at Balmoral, and in the Diocese of Waikato and Taranaki in Otorahanga, Waitara and Fitzroy, and as a Ministry Development Officer across the region. I was Archdeacon of Parininihi until my retirement, and represented this diocese on a number of provincial and international committees.
This journey has not been without cost. We may see women priests as normative now but that was not so in my early ministry. I remember clearly the day a man accosted me in a supermarket and shouted at me 'don't you know you are an abomination to God?' referring to my clerical collar, or the couples that refused to be married by a woman and wanted a real priest.
The pain of those encounters is always balanced by the opportunities to serve God as a priest and the privilege of sharing in the sacred moments of peoples lives. I recognise that I have been afforded many opportunities and for that I am truly grateful to God and this Church.