Written for the 100th Anniversay of St Mary's Ladies Guild.
St Mary’s has a significant, although as yet unwritten history of women’s ministry, which has impacted the world. It is fitting that today when we are marking one hundred productive years of the St Mary’s Ladies Guild, to acknowledge some of the women of St Mary’s from the past. Not least among these were the vicar’s wives, whose tireless activities are marked in the pages of St Mary’s chronicles. A window dedicated to one of them – Mrs Emily Macartney – provides the image for the front of our program. It is inscribed ‘This woman was full of good works’. Some of these ‘good works’ included being President of the YWCA for ten years, Secretary of the Mother’s Union at St Mary’s, President of the Boarding-Out Committee of Caulfield, Secretary of the British and Foreign Bible Society, Member of the St Kilda and Caulfield Benevolent Society.
Notable women missionaries have gone out from St Mary’s, including the three China martyrs Nellie and Lizzie Saunders and Mary Gordon, who had been parishioners here and missionaries in training before leaving Australia. Years before, Sarah Davies had been sent out from St Mary’s as the first Australian missionary to India in 1875, and Anne Slaney followed her in 1876. Later missionaries linked with the parish were K. Nicholson who served for many years in China, and Miss E. Macfie in India. Two Furpheys, missionaries to India, were linked to St Mary’s: first Lottie Furphey and then after her Charlotte Furphey. Women have also served in ministry positions in the parish, such as the deaconess Alice Crabb and the organists F. Dixon and Helen Slaney.
The noted Victorian vicar of St Mary’s, HB Macartney, was undoubtedly a remarkable catalyst for the ministry of women. He was a vigorous and effective sponsor of women’s missionary agencies such as the Zenana missions. These had been formed and run by women because male-dominated agencies would not release single women to go as missionaries.
Macartney handed over his teaching slot at the first Australian non-denominational Christian conference, which he hosted here at St Mary’s in 1874, to read a sermon which he had commissioned from ‘a lady’ entitled “The Right of Holiness Purchased by the Cross, co-equally with the Right of Salvation.” Also included by Macartney in the conference proceedings, though not delivered, was another address by a woman entitled ‘Consecration’. As is often the case with women in ministry, the identities of the authors of these addresses remain unknown.
St Mary’s congregation had a passion for reaching women. A successful week-long Mission to Women was held in 1894 at the church. This featured Mrs Walker, who was the ‘Lady Missioner’ of the International Christian Police Association.
Among the very many women of note linked to the ministry of St Mary’s, the story of Emilia Baeyertz is perhaps the most fascinating. A convert to Christianity from orthodox Judaism, Emily was called into evangelistic work by the Revd HB Macartney in Caulfield.
At first Baeyertz tried reaching Melbourne’s Jewish community, but was regarded as an apostate by them and even received death threats, so she turned her attentions to gentiles. At one point, frustrated with her lack of effectiveness, she set aside a week to seek for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to empower her. During this time she became deeply convicted of the ugliness of sin, and soon after began immediately to see many conversions.
Ministers started to offer her invitations to speak, but she declined them all because she was not sure if it was right for her to address mixed meetings. As she reflected on this a great darkness came over her. However, a book by Elizabeth R. Cotton, the temperance preacher, convinced Emily to go ahead.
A key incident in the book occurs when Cotton, who had been preaching to young achoholic girls, and providing coffee houses as safe alternative places for them to gather in, was asked if the girls’ parents could attend too. Cotton refused. One of the fathers came to complain, and Elizabeth replied: “The reason is just this: people say it is not right for women to teach men.” The father responded: “I thought that was it, and I have been looking my Bible right through to see whether that be true; but it ain’t. There was the ’ooman of Samaria, she told the men; and Mary Magdalene, she ran to tell the men… And this is what I think, Miss, if a man don’t know, and a ’ooman do know, she ought to tell he, and it’s very wrong of you not to tell we.” Elizabeth Cotton came to regard this request as a “Macedonian call” to “come over here and help us.” So she relented. She told God that “she was willing to be misunderstood by all the world if only she had His smile, that she would go anywhere, and do anything for Him”.
After reading Cotton’s book, Emilia Baeyertz accepted her first invitation to preach to a mixed crowd, and was daunted to find the large church packed with hundreds of people, including three ministers. When she got up to speak the results were astounding as the church’s two vestries overflowed with new believers. Emilia went on to become a highly successful evangelist in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, Queensland, and Western Australia, as well as across the United States, Canada, Ireland, Scotland and England.
St Mary’s has a unique spiritual legacy. This church has blessed and enabled the ministry of remarkable women who have gone out and impacted the world. But in naming some of these women today, we also remember that through a century marked by many difficulties – including two world wars, a great depression, disasters such as the great influenza epidemic, and a period of the most far-reaching social changes imaginable – the ministry of women within our parish has continued uninterrupted. Steadily, fruitfully, the women of St Mary’s have built community, cared for each other and for their families, taught and nurtured each other in faith, and been a committed and faithful witness to their Christian faith. For this light shining we are proud and pleased to be giving thanks to God today. May the ministry of women in this place be sustained with joy and conviction until Christ returns!