Julia Pitman has recently published an excellent study of the ordination of women in the Congregational Church in Australia during the fifty years between the ordination of the first female Congregationalist minister in Australia in 1927 (Winifred Kiek in Adelaide) to the union of the majority of the Congregational Church with the Methodists and most Presbyterians in 1977 to form the Uniting Church in Australia. (This book is based on her Ph.D. dissertation from the University of Adelaide.)
This is a significant study for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it details the process of the church receiving the ministry of ordained women in the context of a church in which the ordination of women was not a controversial issue. In many denominations, the question of ordaining women was the occasion of a major (and long-running) denominational fight, frequently resulting in an institutionally-divided church. This was not the case within Australian Congregationalism (nor within any other mainstream Congregationalist group overseas).
Secondly, the author does not limit her attention to the actual process by which the female candidates were ordained, but spends a significant amount of time describing the actual ministries in which these women were engaged.
Thirdly, given that Congregationalism in Australia was a small denomination, the author was able to take an Australia-wide view in her study, rather than confine her focus to a single state or region.
Fourthly, given Dr. Pitman's theological expertise and depth of ecumenical involvement, she was able to present the theological dimensions to the relevant issues, rather than merely treating the question of women's ordination as an issue of social progress.
This is a well-written book, which I'd strongly recommend to anyone interested in:
- the role of women in faith communities, particularly within the Christian churches,
- Australian church history,
- the history of Congregationalism.