The first priests
Pioneers of the faith
There were six in the first group of women ordained priest in the Diocese of Brisbane in 1992.
Photo credit: Michael Stephenson
Kaye Pitman (1936 – )
To give my life to serve God
At the age of 56 Kaye Pitman was one of the six women ordained priest in 1992, the first time it was possible in Brisbane. She was a teacher, student, MOW member and the director of the deacon and priestly formation programs in Brisbane.
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As Kaye Pitman looks back, at age 85, on her vocation as a teacher, she recognises that she has never wavered from the vocation she accepted as her late teens “to give my life to serve God,” even though the words have changed over the years to “being me, loved by God, and sharing that love with others”.
Teaching has been a wonderful occupation, moving through primary teaching, missionary teaching, teacher education in PNG and the Northern Territory, and ministry formation at St Francis College. This has involved different ages, races and various countries. During my study leave from my PNG Teachers’ College, I worked with American Indian students at Calgary University which paid for my MA studies and living conditions. I have been able to maintain a never-waning interest in further study and ways to change, as well as being open to changes in the church and theological studies.
There have always been opportunities to learn more especially regarding computer technology, language learning, extending my woodworking and hobby activities, along with such things as feminist theology, hermeneutics, and church history. When I was working at Batchelor (NT) I followed the issue of women’s ordination, subscribed to MOW and attended relevant conferences, but didn’t expect to be called to ordination.
I retired from my teacher education with aboriginal students when I was 50 and returned to Queensland to enjoy living by the sea, fishing, and being a useful member of the community. But I began taking semester courses with the Brisbane College of Theology through St Francis College! Consequently, I achieved my B. Th., was ordained deacon in 1990, and was priested, along with 5 other women in 1992, as soon as the ordination of women was approved.
I enjoyed a happy curacy at Drayton Parish for 18 months and then was asked to return to St Francis College as “mother” to the deacons who were studying in the deacon formation program. This developed into my developing the priestly formation program, as well as my lecturing in other areas and developing further in the field of feminist theology. Working beside scholars from the three denominations responsible for the Brisbane College of Theology was most rewarding. My 10 years at SFC were exhilarating in so many ways. Being an ordained woman in areas where once we were not accepted was a joy, but also a responsibility. We had dreamed of the needed changes our presence would release, and now I could do something about it. I hope I have. For my sabbatical I travelled around the world meeting as many deacons as I could and collated their working experience, ministry situations, and a fun project of how ordained women chose to be addressed now that we had moved into the esteemed atmosphere of ‘fathers’. (The majority chose to be called by their Christian names after a first introduction of ‘The Reverend …’).
I retired when I turned 65 in 2001, and came to live in the little house I had built in Maleny. It has been a great joy to do locums for many parishes, take retreats and Quiet Days, act as a supervisor and mentor, serve as chaplain to GFS to which I have belonged since childhood, and chaplain for Clergy Spouses. Pre-retirement I served on Diocesan Council for a number of years: post-retirement I served for another 14 years on the Professional Standards Committee. During my time in the Northern Territory I grew to love the desert and the silence that enfolds one, so I have enjoyed leading Arid Zone retreats with Gary Harch, and also visiting people in our Western parishes with Di Murphy, to share the Easter festival with them since 2004. (I retired from this joy in 2018).
I enjoy helping out in my parish now when needed, thankful for the many blessings I have received, and for the energy I still have to preside and preach and to pursue my studies and my hobbies.
Now I am being me, loved by God, and sharing that love with others
Val Graydon (1947 – )
From MOW to MOWatch
Val Graydon is one of the first group of six women who were ordained priest in the diocese in 1992. She reflects on the significance of MOW in the ordination journey. Val was formerly national president of MOWatch, a daughter organisation of MOW which works for the ordination of women in all dioceses.
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Kites, television cameras and a group of protesters is not expected at a service of Ordination in St. John’s Cathedral. This day was different, on the eve of St. Thomas 20 December 1992, the first women were to be ordained Priest in the Diocese. There were six women and seven men, colleagues from St. Francis’ College where we had trained together. The Cathedral was overflowing, a group gathered waiting to voice their objection to the ordination of women. We had been advised of their intention but felt uncomfortable as to how things would unfold. When the formality of the objection did take place, it was dignified and peaceful. I remember feeling the sadness but relief, as they walked out. The service proceeded and was incredibly joyful, the cheers and applause as we left the Cathedral seemed as if it would never end.
Each one of us has a story to tell of our journey to ministry, and the support of the Movement for the Ordination of Women (MOW) is always told with enormous gratitude
My journey to ordination was unexpected. I arrived in Australia as a teenager from London in the mid 1960’s and worked in administration, promotion and marketing for twenty years. I became involved in parish life at Sandgate and when elected Synod representative was amazed by how much ministry took place beyond the parish. I had completed an Arts degree and considering studying theology, and thought perhaps I could volunteer my skills to assist the Diocese in some way. Many people assume that as one of the first women to be ordained my journey had been long and difficult, it wasn’t. My offer led me into the postulant year of discernment, which included the role of Liturgical Assistant at Lutwyche. A year later I moved into College with my family.
The sense of living in a loving community was tangible and very comforting. Help, support and care in times of need, was only one or two doors away.” Friday afternoons were also special as we were required to work in the College grounds, we finished with a drink or two before preparing for the service.
I was Deacon in Maryborough from 1990 and in 1992 was appointed Priest in Charge at Alexandra Hills. Around this time there seemed to be a great change in the designs and colours on vestments. I remember after our retreat as we prepared to go to the Cathedral, it was show and tell time. Joan Pascoe had the most amazing chasuble beautifully embroidered with Banksia, one of many Australian designs both women and men began to adopt.”
After four years at Alexandra Hills I took time out to be with my husband Jack who had been diagnosed with cancer. We travelled for a while and I then return to ministry with Queensland Churches Together. After four years we moved to Tasmania where I took up the role of General Secretary for the Tasmanian Council of Churches. My involvement with the Ecumenical Movement was very rewarding. During that time, I visited the Solomon Islands a couple of times and China, to monitor programs for Christian World Service. After returning to Brisbane in 2006 and two years part-time in Killarney, I was appointed Rector of Chinchilla and Archdeacon of the West. What an amazing and exciting few years that was, the Western Region can only be appreciated if you live there! To be appointed Archdeacon was a privileged as has been the opportunity to serve on Diocesan Council, General Synod and many other committees.
In 1997, I was elected National President of MOWatch and with thanks to a wonderful team of supporters we were able to continue the efforts towards the acceptance of ordained women Priests in all dioceses. As a Priest, it was not always easy to tread the fine line between my role as President of MOWatch and some church leaders. What I do not understand is why that line existed.
I moved back to Killarney after retirement. I have commenced postgraduate study and hope to explore the history of the threefold order: Deacons, Priests and Bishops.
Eileen Thomson (1923–2010)
Educator, social worker, chaplain and priest
Eileen Thomson believed in a sacramental church combining scholarship, history and tradition. As one of the first six priests in the diocese she believed clergy were there to give absolution, celebrate the Eucharist and deliver the message.
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In the early 2000s Eileen Thomson wrote about her path to ordination, commenting that “The Rector (David Thomas) said, ‘Have you thought about ordination to the Diaconate?’ I replied, ‘certainly, but sadly that is for the next generation.’ He responded, ‘Don’t you be too sure.’”
She continued, “The lights really did flash around my head as my longing and various careers came together, followed by feeling calmly settled. The Rector wrote to the Master of Ordinands that night.”
The journey had been a long and winding road; indeed for much of Eileen’s life it was neither sealed nor more than a bush track. The beginnings were traditional; at Kambala and Meriden schools and St Anne’s Strathfield she was fascinated by the prayer book and Bible. Her mother and she referred often to ancestors in ministry including William Tindale and a Bishop Farrar, both martyred.
Eileen learned daily prayer from childhood; simple words thanking God for family, the Lord’s Prayer and reflection on scripture. She took very seriously the saying of the office.
With women barred from ordination, on leaving school in 1943 the way forward was the caring professions of education and social work. She completed a B.A. at Sydney University (remarkable for a woman in the 1940s in itself), a TH.L at the Australian College of Theology and further qualifications at Oxford and William Temple College/Cambridge as a Commonwealth student. In her words, “To change the world” she needed to be part of it. Energetic work in Britain and Australia led her to headmistress level.
She mused to an Archbishop in later years that as headmistress responsible for the life of the school, “one retired priest was needed just to celebrate the Friday Eucharist!”. A broad hint.
In 1962 she married stockman / economist Edgar Thomson. Soon, with four boys under five, faith assumed different dimensions. The road to faith was mostly stopping children crawling under pews at church to entertain the clergyman. Nevertheless her writings at the time demonstrate a strong continuing desire for leadership in preference to the stifling second fiddle life expected of 1970s housewives.
The catalyst for a quickening of the tempo was the sudden death of Edgar in 1976. She moved the family to his home town of Toowoomba for education and commenced as the Senior Social Worker at Baillie Henderson psychiatric hospital, a period she described “as nearest to ‘highways and hedges’”.
With the Church rediscovering and rebuilding the diaconate including embracing women, entering holy orders was a natural progression. With the roadway clear, recognised and understood by the Church hierarchy, Eileen became first a deacon in 1989 before being ordained priest in 1992.
Various roles followed; as Director building up Anglicare Western Region (1999-2004), serving on numerous Government boards, chaplaincy at University of Southern Queensland and working with diverse good groups. At a parish level there came the rota of parish life. Eileen was awarded the Archbishop’s Medal for her outstanding service in the Diocese.
In essence, eschewing noisy debate Eileen opted for a sacramental Church, scholarship, history and tradition linking. Whether in a church or anywhere else she believed clergy were there to give absolution, celebrate the Eucharist and deliver the message. This was Eileen absolutely!
Pat King (1933–2012)
“I’m the priest”
Among the first women ordained priest in the diocese, Pat King was a gentle, compassionate woman who did not shy away from breaking boundaries. Pat was able to break through traditions that constrained women’s roles.
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Pat King was a woman of “firsts”. She was among the first group of women ordained in the Diocese of Brisbane in 1992. She was the first woman to be in charge of a parish in the Sunshine Coast Deanery, with her induction as Priest-in-Charge of St. Augustine’s, Palmwoods, taking place in 1995. Pat’s journey towards ordination was not always a smooth path, but the quiet courage and determination she held beneath her gentle disposition, reflected commitment and tenacity towards the fulfilment of her vocation.
Pat had the gifts of laughter, friendship and great hospitality, as well as creative ministry and a commitment to an evolving parish community. As a person of faith, compassion, and love Pat delighted in her own family, often reflecting on the precious times shared with them.
There are many stories to be told of the early years for women who became Priests in parishes and the task of breaking through century old traditions. Sometimes, objections were loud and demeaning of women. However, not all were occasions of disruptions and anger. Often, after the initial shock of ‘change’ the (delayed) laughter heralded acceptance. Such was the case when Pat attended a meeting of the men’s group; asked by one of the men why she was there, she simply replied, “I’m the Priest – the Priest can attend all gatherings in the parish”.
At St Francis College, there were two different paths of study and formation for the diaconate and priesthood. Initially, for family reasons, Pat began her training for a non-stipendiary role in the permanent diaconate. She considered that this was preferable as it gave her the flexibility to stay in her own home, which was important at that time.
Sadly, during her studies, Pat’s husband became extremely ill and died within a short period. In the following months she decided to offer herself for the priesthood, now that she would be able to move around the diocese. However, the changes were not straight forward and took time to come to fruition.
After formation and ordination to the priesthood, Pat was appointed Honorary Assistant Curate at St Peter’s Maroochydore, followed by further ministry as Honorary Assistant Curate at St Andrew’s Caloundra prior to her ministry as Priest-in-charge at Palmwoods.
Leah Shaw (1923–2010)
A priest with the wisdom of age
Leah Shaw was one of the first women priests in the Diocese. She was a teacher, finally at Toowong High School where she was Deputy Principal. After she retired in 1983 she joined St George’s church in Mt Tamborine where she became a Lay Assistant. She was ordained priest in 1992, shortly before her 70th birthday.
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Leah Mary Shaw was one of a number of the first women priests who were older and brought years of experience and wisdom to their role as priest. Leah brought a lifetime of her experience as a teacher to priesthood.
Leah was born in 1923 in Brisbane. She attended Brisbane Girls Grammar School before attending Teachers Training College in 1941. Before her marriage in 1948, she taught in various small country schools.
Following the illness of her husband, Robert, Leah returned to teaching at Grovely State School. With the change of the Primary School system in the early 60’s Leah applied to teach at High School and was appointed to Banyo State High School in 1963. In 1964 she returned to part time study at UQ and obtained her BA degree in 1968.
During this time Leah was involved in the Parish of St James, Kelvin Grove. She taught the Junior Choir, Sunday School, Companionship and was a leader of the Senior GFS.
She retired as a Deputy Principal and acting Principal of Toowong High School in July 1983 and moved to Mt Tamborine. Here she became a parishioner in St George’s, Tamborine which was part of the Beaudesert Parish. As women were allowed to become Liturgical Assistants, Leah became an LA. During 1987-88 when the opportunity for women to become ordained as a deacon, Leah approached her Parish Priest and her bishop and was ordained a deacon on St James day at Beaudesert in 1988.
In 1992, she was ordained a priest, just months from her 70th birthday. She ministered as a deacon and a priest firstly at Beaudesert and then Tamborine Mountain. Leah died on 11th May 2010.
Joan Pascoe (1939–2019)
Teacher and priest
Joan Pascoe, one of the first women ordained priest in Brisbane in 1992, was a teacher and missionary in Brisbane and Papua New Guinea.
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The Rev’d Joan Pascoe (b.1939) was ordained deacon in 1991, and was priested in 1992 in St John’s Cathedral Brisbane, with the first women to enter the order in Australia. Joan was a teacher from 1959 until she attended the House of the Epiphany in 1963 to train for missionary service in PNG. She served at Dogura as a teacher for 3 years and returned to Queensland continuing with her career in teaching. Her further tertiary studies led to a Grad Dip in Special Ed. and Bachelor of Education and finally a Bachelor of Theology in 1991.
Joan served in the parishes of Samford, Allora, Biggenden and Nanango.
Joan suffered from the effects of diabetes and was confined to a wheelchair for her later years until her death in January 2019.