Australia’s first female Anglican Archbishop, Kay Goldsworthy, says her first strong experiences of the power of God were through the charismatic movement, but she left it because its leaders made her feel she was not a good enough Christian.
Goldsworthy, 61, whose appointment this week as the new Archbishop of Perth represents a historic milestone in the Anglican church in Australia, walked away from the Anglican church as a teenager living in Melbourne.
“I’m what you call a cradle Anglican, so I grew up going to Sunday School and being in the Girls Friendly Society, but I left church for a while because I couldn’t work out how it made sense for me, how God made sense, how Jesus made sense – in some ways how the church made sense,” she tells Eternity.
After spending some time in typical teenage rebellion, the future Archbishop was converted at a Teen Challenge conference in Queensland as she responded to a sermon by its leader, Charles Ringma.
“I came back into church with quite a strong renewing, reawakening experience through the charismatic movement when I was 18.” – Kay Goldsworthy
“That was very powerful for me. I remember thinking ‘you know about a relationship and you’re not trying to sell me something’,” says Goldsworthy, who is the current Bishop of Gippsland, in Victoria.
“I came back into church with quite a strong renewing, reawakening experience through the charismatic movement when I was 18.
“It was important because it was a strong experience at a time when I probably needed a strong experience of God. I think that it was absolute commitment … but it didn’t like to be questioned too much.”
Goldsworthy “came home” to the Anglican church a few years later because “there was a sense that I received from some of the young leaders of the church that I was in that I wasn’t looking like a good enough Christian girl,” she says.
“Coming back to the Anglican church was like coming home.” – Kay Goldsworthy
“So for me coming back to the Anglican church was like coming home, where I felt I could really could be me and unfold into me, but that charismatic experience was a really important one, so I don’t discount that at all. It was a really important time for me.”
Goldsworthy says she had first offered herself for ministry at the age of 16, but was told she was too young. “I had no idea what it was that I wanted to do in ministry; I just knew that I wanted to serve God every day of the week … I wanted to have the fruit of the spirit … I had a real desire that that was what I might show forth.”
As a pioneer of women’s advancement into leadership of the Anglican church, Goldsworthy says she feels “incredibly blessed to be in the company of other women and men who have been part of this time in history and I hope that I’m a blessing in the life of the church in this point in history as well.”
After becoming one of Australia’s first female deacons in 1986, she was among the first ten women to be appointed priests in March 1992, then in 2008 she was consecrated as Australia’s first female bishop. Now, as the most senior female Anglican in the nation, she admits that it hurts her that she is barred from performing certain religious duties in some dioceses around the country.
“I’d love to say I’m always gracious but that may not be exactly how it is,” she says, when asked how she feels that some Christians don’t support her leadership role.
“I found that over years a source of disappointment and some pain because I’m a woman and as a woman God has called me into ministry and the church affirmed that call and I exercise it.”
“I don’t see the Anglican church in this country changing its understanding of marriage.” – Kay Goldsworthy
As someone on the liberal end of the theological spectrum, Goldsworthy is the first state-level leader of the Anglican church to have indicated support for same-sex marriage, albeit couched in diplomatic language.
“What I’ve said is that I’m on the inclusive end of that debate … [but] I recognise that this is a matter that will be decided by the government changing laws about marriage and I don’t see the Anglican church in this country changing its understanding of marriage,” she says.
“But what I do believe is that there are a lot of Christians who are saying ‘we need to look at this again, we need to consider what we believe about marriage and what’s possible and how do people for whom marriage is not possible, how do they live a life in which those things which we might believe God desires for all human beings, that we are capable of being in relationships of trust and care’.”
She compares the debate about same-sex marriage with the decades-long debate about the place of women in church leadership.
“It draws us back to how is it that we consider the scriptural approach? How do we interpret it, how does it interpret us, what does it lead us into? I know there are many people for whom this is a huge challenge and it’s a challenge for us and so it is an ongoing debate.”
“Do I believe in the resurrection? Yes.” – Kay Goldsworthy
Asked what she preaches about what happens after death, whether she believes in heaven and hell, she does not answer directly but says:
“Do I believe in the resurrection? Yes. Do I believe in things which I say in the creed Sunday by Sunday? Yes. Do I believe that God came to us in human form in Jesus? Yes. And showed us the way of his love and gave himself for us. Do I believe that he died for us? Yes. Are these things I preach? Yes.”
The Anglican Church in Perth has been without a leader since December, when Roger Herft retired early in response to pressure over his handling of historic sexual abuse cases in the Newcastle diocese.
Goldsworthy says she wishes these were not the circumstances in which she was taking over, but she believes every Christian has a responsibility for rebuilding trust in the church, which has been so damaged as a result of the sexual abuse scandal.
“I think that’s a shared responsibility – it’s not simply mine, it belongs to all us. This is about every church across the country, every denomination. I might say I wish it was a different time, but it isn’t, and this trust, I hope, might be built.”
“I’m kind of looking forward to the Dockers going well next year … and it was very chilly yesterday where I was and I was thinking I’m not going to need as many coats!” – Kay Goldsworthy
Asked if she supports financial recompense for survivors of child sexual abuse, she prevaricates.
“When the Royal Commission will bring down its final report, I think by the end of the year, there will be recommendations and that will be part of what’s considered. I know at our general synod (church council) next week one of the issues on the agenda is that of redress, so it will be considered next week by Anglicans around the country,” she says.
“I think that the way that we are being called to practise redress there is a need for us to do what is required – we need to respond absolutely appropriately. I mean, there is often a financial component to that but that is not the only component.”
The first thing she intends to do after being installed in February is to see what is being done in the diocese to care for and minister to victims of family violence.
“Across Australia, across the world, what we are aware of is that one in three women will be abused in some way, will meet violence of some sort,” she says.
“I think anybody that has been in ministry for any length of time is aware of how easy violence is and the incredible damage that it does in home and family, particularly to women and children and the long-term impact of that.”
She says it will be a wrench for her and her husband to leave Gippsland but she is looking forward to returning to Perth, where she was previously assistant bishop.
“I’m kind of looking forward to the Dockers going well next year and things like that. We are looking forward to reacquainting ourselves with old friends – and it was very chilly yesterday where I was and I was thinking I’m not going to need as many coats!”