We arrived at the Jasper Hotel in downtown Melbourne at midday on Friday and found that already the organising committee were 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 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 dramatised reading of John chapter 4 by Rob Turnbull ………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 today, 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
*Equality and justice on the global scene
During the day we had 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.
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 www.cbe.org.au 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 half-way through this experience as it is a long weekend here in the state of Victoria so we’ll write another report on Monday afternoon after several more workshops and challenging keynote speakers.
In this Australian conference there has been a strong emphasis on justice issues both locally and on the world scene. The organisers of this weekend, were determined that the subject matter would be far broader than just the ordination of women. The perception is often expressed that because there are now many ordained women in some denominations, the whole gender equality issue is ‘done and dusted’ Through the variety of group discussions, this aim was certainly achieved. Topics ranged from what it means to be a young woman in Australian church culture to how we can help women to feed their families in Afghanistan; from how churches welcome people with disabilities to helping women who are suffering abuse in Christian homes.
Overload was an oft-repeated word as delegates moved through three workshops and at least one plenary session each day. The morning and afternoon tea times went all too quickly and conversations had to hang in the air while we rushed off to the next session. With so much information and interaction, surely the cause for biblical equality will benefit enormously and each participant will take away a lot of literature and new information to encourage them to ‘not grow weary in well-doing’
There are recordings available for most of the conference sessions and these can be ordered through the Australian website mentioned earlier. Kevin Giles wrote a study book for release over this weekend and every delegate received a free copy of “Better Together” – they sell for $14.95 AUS and can also be ordered from the website. Attendees from Victoria were encouraged to join the CBE chapter and folks from other states and New Zealand are now considering beginning chapters among their friends and colleagues.
Our final session was one of the highlights as Cheryl Catford spoke on “Riding the Third Wave” Biblical Equality in the Twenty-First Century”.
After giving an excellent summary of the first and second waves of feminism, we were made aware of what is typical of a young woman’s expectation now. This pointed up how we as Christians have been so influenced by the culture around us through magazines, TV and the media and trying to assimilate this with biblical equality has caused a lack of definition and also given rise to a resurgence of more ‘conservative’ trends in church life.
We were reminded that it is biblical values and principles which should be guiding our lives and not our responses to the waves of change and cultural shifts, even within the church scene. The whole message was one of hope and encouragement to ‘get on our boards’ and be in the action, believing that God is in control and that his Holy Spirit within us will empower us to face the challenge of the coming waves, whatever form they may take. Each one of us will take from the conference a personal challenge to be more proactive in a Christ-like manner and to watch God at work.
Looking forward to reading other comments from those who attended and their sharing of how they were impacted by the whole event. Even if there are some questions still unanswered, please feel free to express them and perhaps we can listen to one another and grow together in understanding.
PS: Mimi said to say that the food was great too!!