We arrived at the Jasper Hotel in downtown Melbourne at midday on Friday, and found that already the organizing committee was hard at work preparing to receive those who would come early to register for the first CBE conference in Australia. This was the culmination of a year’s hard work by a dedicated group who had prayed for at least 200 people to participate.
By the time the first people came through the doors, there were already over 220 names registered, and the steady stream of eager people was so heartening to see as the time for the first meeting approached. A perceptible feeling of anticipation could be felt as folks chatted over cups of tea and coffee, meeting new and old friends, and asking the common question of “Well, what brings you to this conference?” Africa, New Zealand, Asia, and America were represented, as well as Australians from several states.
The first meeting for the conference included a welcoming address from General Eva Burrows (retired) from the Salvation Army in Melbourne who was so inspiring, and exemplified what one dedicated woman could achieve for God. We also were amazed by a dramatized reading of John Chapter 4 by Rob Turnbull—it was very powerful to hear the story of the “Woman at the Well” read aloud. Graham Cole gave the keynote address on the biblical ideal of “Better Together,” which is the theme of the conference.
By the time the first session began Saturday, the crowd had grown, and it was to a packed room that Funmi Para-Mallam spoke on “Women and Girls in Africa: Issues, Challenges and Ministry Strategies.” We heard the history of women in Africa and how the religious culture maintains the oppression of women in both subtle and overt ways. Funmi is actively involved in interventions to bring about gender equality in her country, which is also experiencing great persecution and bloodshed.
From the outset, we could see that this conference would be looking at the issue of Biblical Equality from three perspectives: the biblical and theological framework for equality, gender in the Australian church and culture, and equality and justice on the global scene.
During the day we had the opportunity to attend three electives within these three streams and the general consensus was that there was never enough time to fully discuss the issues and share experiences—there was simply too much to absorb!
The conference dinner featured the presentation of awards to three students whose papers on biblical equality had been chosen from a large number of entries. These papers can be read on the Australian CBE website. The speaker for the evening was Jessie Taylor, a young woman who has a passion for social justice and is particularly concerned with the plight of refugees. Photos taken at some risk in detention camps gave occasion for us to see “refugees” as real families and particularly the pain of parents as they mourn the loss of ability to provide for and protect their children. Again, we were reminded that biblical equality is concerned with far more than the sanctioning of women in the pulpit.
As people shared their last cup of tea or coffee before going their separate ways for the night, there was already conversation about the next CBE conference to be held in Australia—such was the enthusiasm. We are only halfway through this experience as it is a long weekend here in the state of Victoria, so we’ll continue our report after several more workshops and challenging keynote speakers.
Check out Part 2 for more conference updates!