Category Archives: Resources

Resourcing Progressive Ministry and Worship No.9

West End Uniting Church, Brisbane

This church is a safe place for all people to worship, regardless of age, ability, gender, race, cultural background or lifestyle. The church and hall are wheelchair accessible.

They affirm and celebrate the place of LGBTIQ people in the church, and welcome the decision of the Uniting Church Assembly to allow same-sex marriages to be celebrated in Uniting Churches.

To find out more about WEUC click here.

Sunday Service Times

9:30am – Family Worship including children’s activities. Refreshments are served after worship in the hall at the rear of the church.

5:30pm – Contemplation Service (check Facebook/newsletter)

6:30pm – West End Explorers – (2nd & 4th Sundays); check Facebook and newsletters re times/events; or contact: weuc.explorers@gmail.com


Located on the corner of Vulture and Sussex Streets, West End, Brisbane (adjacent to the well-known Boundary Street cafe and coffee strip and a ten minute stroll from South Bank).

Inspired by Jesus’ vision for a world made new, a world where justice and compassion, especially for the marginalised and disadvantaged, are the key values and priorities.

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Resourcing Progressive Ministry and Worship No.8

St Andrews Alphington Fairfield Uniting Church

85 Gillies Street, Fairfield, Melbourne, 3078

Fairfield Uniting Church is a diverse community gathered around the Jesus Story, coming together to break bread, nurture the vulnerable and challenge the status quo.

An ultra progressive congregation….

We are passionate about the spiritual nourishment of children and feel called into the ongoing development of a JUST CHURCH, which seeks justice, mercy and walks humbly with our god.

Minister: Rev Alex Sangster

Services: Every Sunday they gather around the Jesus Story at 10am (85 Gillies St, Fairfield). They are a welcoming and diverse group.

Podcasts:  Messages

Mission: Approach

Faith exploration: Exploring progressive theology

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Resourcing Progressive Ministry and Worship No. 7

Thanks to subscribers for referring churches to us.

Stonnington Community Uniting Church

59 Burke Road
East Malvern VIC 3145

“As a community of faith we are more interested in:

  • exploring life than having the answers to life.
  • being fully human and celebrating the beauty, wonder and mystery of life.
  • valuing life, and every creature as a unique expression of the Divine Energy of life.
  • being companions on the way, listening, learning and helping each other in the journey of life.

Stonnington Community is:

  • A listening Church
  • A helping Church
  • A learning Church

We are a Christian Community committed to following the way of Jesus rather than following religious dogma.”

Worship

“Currently our community meets regularly on Sunday morning at 10.15 am.  Our gathering is traditional in style but contemporary in content. Our public services are a celebration of our experiences of God’s love and goodness to us.

We all come from different backgrounds and experiences of God. Each of us will interpret the foundations of our faith through different lenses. Some interpretations will be helpful while other interpretations may be a stumbling block to us living in the experience of the Divine loving presence. Each generation and community needs to interpret the heart and truths of the Christian life in its contemporary context. To this end we commit ourselves to an evolving liturgy and worship celebration that reflects our contemporary insights and discoveries.”

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Resourcing Progressive Ministry and Worship No. 6

Pitt Street Congregation, Sydney
Uniting Church in Australia
264 Pitt Street, Sydney NSW 2000

A progressive faith community of justice-seeking friends in the heart of Sydney.

Pitt Street Uniting Church, Sydney
The Sunday gathering is vibrant, inclusive, participatory and progressive. Everyone is welcome.

Start your tour of Pitt Street Church and what it has to offer here.

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Resourcing Progressive Ministry and Worship No.5

St James Uniting Church, Curtin, Canberra. ACT


About St James

St James is across Carruthers Street from the Curtin shops but the entrance and parking is at 40 Gillies Street Curtin.

Seeking to discern and follow the ‘way’ of Jesus as a part of the Uniting Church which since inception has seen itself as a ‘pilgrim people’ looking for continuing renewal, open to change and seeking a wider unity.

Thanks to subscribers for drawing attention to this great congregation. This will be a help to the many people who visit Canberra.

When in Canberra you can visit St James for its worship, library and pleasant environs.

The Library collection is one of the best for progressive literature. You can check the catalogue here: St James Library

and some book synopses here: Recent books

Worship is also a great experience: Worship events

Resources:

Forget about the sermons you remember as a child. St James is a safe place to explore history, social context and questions in faith. This is the place where we share the musings, wonderings and questions presented in services by visiting worship leaders and members of the congregation’s preaching roster.

Aaron HarperWrestling With GodHow Should We Pray – Exploring Prayer Within A Progressive Christian Framework, Come as we are liturgy & word, What Is Our Prophetic Progressive Christian Voice, Come as we are liturgy & word, Liturgy – Celebrating Progressive Christianity – Internet Version, Reading – Recognition and Respect – Justice for Aboriginal Peoples, Celebrating Father’s Day

Piers BoothA new beginning at St James, ; elephant & mouse; A call to action 14.4.13

Ruth Doobovthe new reformation,

Jenny JarvisThe Prodigal Son, Liturgy and sermon 28 July 13

Guest speakersPalm Sunday Luke 19 28-40, 2013 05 12 John 5 1-9 sermon, Free for all – Jan Huggett. I am notes for sermon

Jean ShannonRock soup, Soul Breathing ,a round tuit, When we have the keys (reader’s v), It ain’t over yet liturgy, Baptism Liturgy 7 July 2013 final, The shape of our belieiving

Red Wings is their local magazine where they review new media and information as well as explore contemporary issues. Poetry, graphics – you never know what’s going to fly out of Red Wings:Red Wings Issue 1 Jan 13 final, Red Wings Issue 5 Nov 2012l,  Red Wings Issue 4 Aug 2012 final , Red-Wings-Issue-2-Mar-13-final.pdf, Red Wings Issue 3 May 13 final pub,, Red Wings Issue 4 July final, Red Wings Issue 5 Sep final (2)LiturgiesMD’s Liturgy for 22 June 13, 1 Sept 13 liturgy, Liturgy 8 Sept 13t

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Resourcing Progressive Ministry and Worship No.4

Thank you to UCFORUM subscribers who recommended Wembley Downs UC

130 Calais Road, (cnr of Minibah Street)
Wembley Downs, Western Australia.
Phone 08 9245 2882
Ten kilometres northwest of Perth city centre,
set amongst the suburbs of City Beach, Churchlands,
Scarborough, Wembley Downs and Woodlands

Wembley Downs Uniting Church 

WORSHIP SERVICES are held in our multi-purpose building, the normal time for all services is 9.30 am, Second Sunday services are followed by sharing time and a sausage sizzle, on 5th Sundays, we share a combined service with Wembley Downs Church of Christ at 9.30am, the venue being each of the two church buildings alternately.

“A place for radical Worship and a place for Radicals to Worship”

that seeks to be a community of Christian people who:-

  • follow the way of Jesus, allowing his gospel to inform how they lead their lives in a changing world
  • welcome all, regardless of race, age, or gender
  • join together regularly in worship and activities which enable them to live out God`s love in the world
  • recognise that every person is unique and encourage all to share their wisdom and gifts
  • affirm, support, nurture and accompany each other on their spiritual journeys
  • are committed to living out their faith by serving wherever called.

Worship at Wembley Downs is multi-faceted. The first Sunday in the month is dedicated to diversity. On the second Sunday, we seek simplicity. On the third Sunday we have our Liturgical Service. On the fourth Sunday we push the envelope and go beyond the boundaries.

The word “Radical” is derived from the Latin word for “root”. On this fourth Sunday, we return to the root of our faith and seek to re-narrate it for our day and generation. We run the risk of irrelevancy if we look back and speak of a world that has gone.”

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Resourcing Progressive Worship and Ministry No.3

Thank you to UCFORUM subscribers who recommended:

St Mary’s in Exile, South Brisbane.

St Mary’s in Exile is an inclusive community, grounded in the teachings of Jesus and the transformative spirit of Christ. The community emphasis is on working towards peace and justice for all and supporting community members in their ongoing spiritual growth.
The community is inspired by the quote from Micah ‘to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God’. St Mary’s in Exile community welcomes people from all faiths and denominations  who wish to participate in our collective faith journey. St Mary’s in Exile is a vibrant, diverse community comprising people of many faiths and traditions. Between 300 and 500 community members participate in weekend liturgies, including people from a wide range of suburbs, coastal, regional and rural locations. The community regularly welcomes interstate and overseas visitors and over 1200 people maintain connection via our community’s eNews. Spiritual and social events are also held throughout the year.
Spiritual Practice

In addition to liturgies, community members can participate in meditation and mindfulness practice, spiritual retreats, community building activities, action for social justice, and ‘Cluster’ groups.

Social Activities and Pastoral Care
St Mary’s in Exile aims to build community through connecting the spiritual, social, pastoral care and social justice focus of the SMX community. Community members coordinate regular social activities including morning teas, dinners, spiritual and cultural events, support for social justice actions, and pastoral care for people experiencing illness, grief or difficult times.
Cluster Groups
These are small groups across Brisbane that meet at various times during the year. Cluster Groups gather to discuss matters of common interest, or of interest to the broader St Mary’s in Exile community including books, social justice issues and general topics of interest. Individual group’s activities vary from social ‘get-togethers’ to theological discussions and spiritual reflection. Cluster Groups are held in Northern, Southern, Fairfield, Windsor, Paddington, Tarragindi and Redlands Bayside regions, in addition to the ‘Perfect Brilliant Stillness’ group. For information about joining an existing cluster or hosting a new cluster group, send us a message via the Contact Us page on this website.
Social Justice
A key aspect of St Mary’s in Exile is the community’s emphasis on social justice focusing on partnership with, and commitment to Micah Projects and the relief of homelessness, support for organisations and individuals assisting refugees and asylum seekers, advocating on environmental and other social justice issues, and supporting various programs that assist vulnerable people at home and in other countries.

For more information contact:
Mark Chalmers  For more information contact:  0401 684 782

Liturgy Times
Saturday: 6:30pm / Sunday: 9am & 5pm TLC Building, Lvl 2, 16 Peel St, Sth Brisbane Q 4101

To read recent homilies go to:  Homilies

Resources:

To enquire about book lending go to: https://stmaryssouthbrisbane.com/book-collection

For other resources go to: https://stmaryssouthbrisbane.com/resources

We welcome further recommended sources of ministry and worship resourcing in Australia and New Zealand.

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Resourcing Progressive Worship and Ministry No.2

Our UCFORUM subscribers have recommended:

St Andrew’s on The Terrace, a lively and active faith community in central Wellington New Zealand. They value being progressive, inclusive, intellectually engaging and spiritually aware. This a Presbyterian Church with links to the Uniting Church in Australia.

The aim of the congregation is to create a lively, open Christian faith community, to identify a spirituality which ‘works’ in the 21st century, to act for a just and peaceful world, to be active agents and facilitators of progressive spirituality and social justice.

This a community which encourages theological reflection that is intellectually engaging and spiritually nourishing.

They place high value on
Openness: we are inclusive.
Exploration: we encourage journeys of discovery, spiritual and otherwise.
Justice and peace: we strive for social justice.
Integrity of creation: we respect the whole of creation.
Stewardship: we nurture and care for our human, spiritual and physical resources.

Visit the 10am Sunday morning celebration or explore their website for lots of great ideas for progressive practitioners.

Thanks for letting us know about recommended progressive communities.

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Resourcing Progressive Worship and Ministry

With the growth of Progressive Christianity throughout the world, the call for resourcing progressive ministry is also increasing. An enormous amount of the materials has been developed in the USA and UK and now for some years from Australia. We regularly post about new Books but we have decided to also inform about sources for resources with an emphasis on Australian produced or sourced Ideas and Materials. We welcome information from our large following that can be shared with others who are regularly asking us to point them in the direction of congregations and resources for small groups who can’t find a suitable place to fellowship.

Today we recommend visiting Pilgrim Uniting Church in Adelaide either physically or online.

They offer several types of worship:

https://www.pilgrim.org.au/worship/index.php

You can explore their worship resources at – http://pilgrimwr.unitingchurch.org.au/

Explore their groups at – https://www.pilgrim.org.au/groups/index.php

including progressive discussion and reading groups.

Listen to messages at – https://www.pilgrim.org.au/listen/index.php

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Women In Ancient Christianity: The New Discoveries

Thank you Paul Wildman for passing on this article from:

FRONTLINE investigative journalism

Women In Ancient Christianity: The New Discoveries
Scholar Karen King examines the evidence concerning women’s important place in early Christianity. She draws a surprising new portrait of Mary Magdalene and outlines the stories of previously unknown early Christian women.
by Karen L. King
Karen L. King is Professor of New Testament Studies and the History of Ancient Christianity at Harvard University in the Divinity School. She has published widely in the areas of Gnosticism, ancient Christianity, and Women’s Studies.
In the last twenty years, the history of women in ancient Christianity has been almost completely revised. As women historians entered the field in record numbers, they brought with them new questions, developed new methods, and sought for evidence of women’s presence in neglected texts and exciting new findings. For example, only a few names of women were widely known: Mary, the mother of Jesus; Mary Magdalene, his disciple and the first witness to the resurrection; Mary and Martha, the sisters who offered him hospitality in Bethany. Now we are learning more of the many women who contributed to the formation of Christianity in its earliest years.

Perhaps most surprising, however, is that the stories of women we thought we knew well are changing in dramatic ways. Chief among these is Mary Magdalene, a woman infamous in Western Christianity as an adulteress and repentant whore. Discoveries of new texts from the dry sands of Egypt, along with sharpened critical insight, have now proven that this portrait of Mary is entirely inaccurate. She was indeed an influential figure, but as a prominent disciple and leader of one wing of the early Christian movement that promoted women’s leadership.

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Certainly, the New Testament Gospels, written toward the last quarter of the first century CE, acknowledge that women were among Jesus’ earliest followers. From the beginning, Jewish women disciples, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, had accompanied Jesus during his ministry and supported him out of their private means (Luke 8:1-3). He spoke to women both in public and private, and indeed he learned from them. According to one story, an unnamed Gentile woman taught Jesus that the ministry of God is not limited to particular groups and persons, but belongs to all who have faith (Mark 7:24-30; Matthew 15:21-28). A Jewish woman honored him with the extraordinary hospitality of washing his feet with perfume. Jesus was a frequent visitor at the home of Mary and Martha, and was in the habit of teaching and eating meals with women as well as men. When Jesus was arrested, women remained firm, even when his male disciples are said to have fled, and they accompanied him to the foot of the cross. It was women who were reported as the first witnesses to the resurrection, chief among them again Mary Magdalene. Although the details of these gospel stories may be questioned, in general they reflect the prominent historical roles women played in Jesus’ ministry as disciples.

WOMEN IN THE FIRST CENTURY OF CHRISTIANITY

After the death of Jesus, women continued to play prominent roles in the early movement. Some scholars have even suggested that the majority of Christians in the first century may have been women.

The letters of Paul – dated to the middle of the first century CE – and his casual greetings to acquaintances offer fascinating and solid information about many Jewish and Gentile women who were prominent in the movement. His letters provide vivid clues about the kind of activities in which women engaged more generally. He greets Prisca, Junia, Julia, and Nereus’ sister, who worked and traveled as missionaries in pairs with their husbands or brothers (Romans 16:3, 7, 15). He tells us that Prisca and her husband risked their lives to save his. He praises Junia as a prominent apostle, who had been imprisoned for her labor. Mary and Persis are commended for their hard work (Romans 16:6, 12). Euodia and Syntyche are called his fellow-workers in the gospel (Philippians 4:2-3). Here is clear evidence of women apostles active in the earliest work of spreading the Christian message.

Paul’s letters also offer some important glimpses into the inner workings of ancient Christian churches. These groups did not own church buildings but met in homes, no doubt due in part to the fact that Christianity was not legal in the Roman world of its day and in part because of the enormous expense to such fledgling societies. Such homes were a domain in which women played key roles. It is not surprising then to see women taking leadership roles in house churches. Paul tells of women who were the leaders of such house churches (Apphia in Philemon 2; Prisca in I Corinthians 16:19). This practice is confirmed by other texts that also mention women who headed churches in their homes, such as Lydia of Thyatira (Acts 16:15) and Nympha of Laodicea (Colossians 4:15). Women held offices and played significant roles in group worship. Paul, for example, greets a deacon named Phoebe (Romans 16:1) and assumes that women are praying and prophesying during worship (I Corinthians 11). As prophets, women’s roles would have included not only ecstatic public speech, but preaching, teaching, leading prayer, and perhaps even performing the eucharist meal. (A later first century work, called the Didache, assumes that this duty fell regularly to Christian prophets.)

MARY MAGDALENE: A TRUER PORTRAIT

Later texts support these early portraits of women, both in exemplifying their prominence and confirming their leadership roles (Acts 17:4, 12). Certainly the most prominent among these in the ancient church was Mary Magdalene. A series of spectacular 19th and 20th century discoveries of Christian texts in Egypt dating to the second and third century have yielded a treasury of new information. It was already known from the New Testament gospels that Mary was a Jewish woman who followed Jesus of Nazareth. Apparently of independent means, she accompanied Jesus during his ministry and supported him out of her own resources (Mark 15:40-41; Matthew 27:55-56; Luke 8:1-3; John 19:25).

Although other information about her is more fantastic, she is repeatedly portrayed as a visionary and leader of the early movement.( Mark 16:1-9; Matthew 28:1-10; Luke24:1-10; John 20:1, 11-18; Gospel of Peter ). In the Gospel of John, the risen Jesus gives her special teaching and commissions her as an apostle to the apostles to bring them the good news. She obeys and is thus the first to announce the resurrection and to play the role of an apostle, although the term is not specifically used of her. Later tradition, however, will herald her as “the apostle to the apostles.” The strength of this literary tradition makes it possible to suggest that historically Mary was a prophetic visionary and leader within one sector of the early Christian movement after the death of Jesus.

The newly discovered Egyptian writings elaborate this portrait of Mary as a favored disciple. Her role as “apostle to the apostles” is frequently explored, especially in considering her faith in contrast to that of the male disciples who refuse to believe her testimony. She is most often portrayed in texts that claim to record dialogues of Jesus with his disciples, both before and after the resurrection. In the Dialogue of the Savior, for example, Mary is named along with Judas (Thomas) and Matthew in the course of an extended dialogue with Jesus. During the discussion, Mary addresses several questions to the Savior as a representative of the disciples as a group. She thus appears as a prominent member of the disciple group and is the only woman named. Moreover, in response to a particularly insightful question, the Lord says of her, “´You make clear the abundance of the revealer!'” (140.17-19). At another point, after Mary has spoken, the narrator states, “She uttered this as a woman who had understood completely”(139.11-13). These affirmations make it clear that Mary is to be counted among the disciples who fully comprehended the Lord’s teaching (142.11-13).

In another text, the Sophia of Jesus Christ, Mary also plays a clear role among those whom Jesus teaches. She is one of the seven women and twelve men gathered to hear the Savior after the resurrection, but before his ascension. Of these only five are named and speak, including Mary. At the end of his discourse, he tells them, “I have given you authority over all things as children of light,” and they go forth in joy to preach the gospel. Here again Mary is included among those special disciples to whom Jesus entrusted his most elevated teaching, and she takes a role in the preaching of the gospel.

In the Gospel of Philip, Mary Magdalene is mentioned as one of three Marys “who always walked with the Lord” and as his companion (59.6-11). The work also says that Lord loved her more than all the disciples, and used to kiss her often (63.34-36). The importance of this portrayal is that yet again the work affirms the special relationship of Mary Magdalene to Jesus based on her spiritual perfection.

In the Pistis Sophia, Mary again is preeminent among the disciples, especially in the first three of the four books. She asks more questions than all the rest of the disciples together, and the Savior acknowledges that: “Your heart is directed to the Kingdom of Heaven more than all your brothers” (26:17-20). Indeed, Mary steps in when the other disciples are despairing in order to intercede for them to the Savior (218:10-219:2). Her complete spiritual comprehension is repeatedly stressed.

She is, however, most prominent in the early second century Gospel of Mary, which is ascribed pseudonymously to her. More than any other early Christian text, the Gospel of Mary presents an unflinchingly favorable portrait of Mary Magdalene as a woman leader among the disciples. The Lord himself says she is blessed for not wavering when he appears to her in a vision. When all the other disciples are weeping and frightened, she alone remains steadfast in her faith because she has grasped and appropriated the salvation offered in Jesus’ teachings. Mary models the ideal disciple: she steps into the role of the Savior at his departure, comforts, and instructs the other disciples. Peter asks her to tell any words of the Savior which she might know but that the other disciples have not heard. His request acknowledges that Mary was preeminent among women in Jesus’ esteem, and the question itself suggests that Jesus gave her private instruction. Mary agrees and gives an account of “secret” teaching she received from the Lord in a vision. The vision is given in the form of a dialogue between the Lord and Mary; it is an extensive account that takes up seven out of the eighteen pages of the work. At the conclusion of the work, Levi confirms that indeed the Saviour loved her more than the rest of the disciples (18.14-15). While her teachings do not go unchallenged, in the end the Gospel of Mary affirms both the truth of her teachings and her authority to teach the male disciples. She is portrayed as a prophetic visionary and as a leader among the disciples.

OTHER CHRISTIAN WOMEN

Other women appear in later literature as well. One of the most famous woman apostles was Thecla, a virgin-martyr converted by Paul. She cut her hair, donned men’s clothing, and took up the duties of a missionary apostle. Threatened with rape, prostitution, and twice put in the ring as a martyr, she persevered in her faith and her chastity. Her lively and somewhat fabulous story is recorded in the second century Acts of Thecla. From very early, an order of women who were widows served formal roles of ministry in some churches (I Timothy 5:9-10). The most numerous clear cases of women’s leadership, however, are offered by prophets: Mary Magdalene, the Corinthian women, Philip’s daughters, Ammia of Philadelphia, Philumene, the visionary martyr Perpetua, Maximilla, Priscilla (Prisca), and Quintilla. There were many others whose names are lost to us. The African church father Tertullian, for example, describes an unnamed woman prophet in his congregation who not only had ecstatic visions during church services, but who also served as a counselor and healer (On the Soul 9.4). A remarkable collection of oracles from another unnamed woman prophet was discovered in Egypt in 1945. She speaks in the first person as the feminine voice of God: Thunder, Perfect Mind. The prophets Prisca and Quintilla inspired a Christian movement in second century Asia Minor (called the New Prophecy or Montanism) that spread around the Mediterranean and lasted for at least four centuries. Their oracles were collected and published, including the account of a vision in which Christ appeared to the prophet in the form of a woman and “put wisdom” in her (Epiphanius, Panarion 49.1). Montanist Christians ordained women as presbyters and bishops, and women held the title of prophet. The third century African bishop Cyprian also tells of an ecstatic woman prophet from Asia Minor who celebrated the eucharist and performed baptisms (Epistle 74.10). In the early second century, the Roman governor Pliny tells of two slave women he tortured who were deacons (Letter to Trajan 10.96). Other women were ordained as priests in fifth century Italy and Sicily (Gelasius, Epistle 14.26).

Women were also prominent as martyrs and suffered violently from torture and painful execution by wild animals and paid gladiators. In fact, the earliest writing definitely by a woman is the prison diary of Perpetua, a relatively wealthy matron and nursing mother who was put to death in Carthage at the beginning of the third century on the charge of being a Christian. In it, she records her testimony before the local Roman ruler and her defiance of her father’s pleas that she recant. She tells of the support and fellowship among the confessors in prison, including other women. But above all, she records her prophetic visions. Through them, she was not merely reconciled passively to her fate, but claimed the power to define the meaning of her own death. In a situation where Romans sought to use their violence against her body as a witness to their power and justice, and where the Christian editor of her story sought to turn her death into a witness to the truth of Christianity, her own writing lets us see the human being caught up in these political struggles. She actively relinquishes her female roles as mother, daughter, and sister in favor of defining her identity solely in spiritual terms. However horrifying or heroic her behavior may seem, her brief diary offers an intimate look at one early Christian woman’s spiritual journey.

EARLY CHRISTIAN WOMEN’S THEOLOGY

Study of works by and about women is making it possible to begin to reconstruct some of the theological views of early Christian women. Although they are a diverse group, certain reoccurring elements appear to be common to women’s theology-making. By placing the teaching of the Gospel of Mary side-by-side with the theology of the Corinthian women prophets, the Montanist women’s oracles, Thunder Perfect Mind, and Perpetua’s prison diary, it is possible to discern shared views about teaching and practice that may exemplify some of the contents of women’s theology:

• Jesus was understood primarily as a teacher and mediator of wisdom rather than as ruler and judge.
• Theological reflection centered on the experience of the person of the risen Christ more than the crucified savior. Interestingly enough, this is true even in the case of the martyr Perpetua. One might expect her to identify with the suffering Christ, but it is the risen Christ she encounters in her vision.
• Direct access to God is possible for all through receiving the Spirit.
• In Christian community, the unity, power, and perfection of the Spirit are present now, not just in some future time.
• Those who are more spiritually advanced give what they have freely to all without claim to a fixed, hierarchical ordering of power.
• An ethics of freedom and spiritual development is emphasized over an ethics of order and control.
• A woman’s identity and spirituality could be developed apart from her roles as wife and mother (or slave), whether she actually withdrew from those roles or not. Gender is itself contested as a “natural” category in the face of the power of God’s Spirit at work in the community and the world. This meant that potentially women (and men) could exercise leadership on the basis of spiritual achievement apart from gender status and without conformity to established social gender roles.
• Overcoming social injustice and human suffering are seen to be integral to spiritual life.

Women were also actively engaged in reinterpreting the texts of their tradition. For example, another new text, the Hypostasis of the Archons, contains a retelling of the Genesis story ascribed to Eve’s daughter Norea, in which her mother Eve appears as the instructor of Adam and his healer.

The new texts also contain an unexpected wealth of Christian imagination of the divine as feminine. The long version of the Apocryphon of John, for example, concludes with a hymn about the descent of divine Wisdom, a feminine figure here called the Pronoia of God. She enters into the lower world and the body in order to awaken the innermost spiritual being of the soul to the truth of its power and freedom, to awaken the spiritual power it needs to escape the counterfeit powers that enslave the soul in ignorance, poverty, and the drunken sleep of spiritual deadness, and to overcome illegitimate political and sexual domination. The oracle collection Thunder Perfect Mind also adds crucial evidence to women’s prophetic theology-making. This prophet speaks powerfully to women, emphasizing the presence of women in her audience and insisting upon their identity with the feminine voice of the Divine. Her speech lets the hearers transverse the distance between political exploitation and empowerment, between the experience of degradation and the knowledge of infinite self-worth, between despair and peace. It overcomes the fragmentation of the self by naming it, cherishing it, insisting upon the multiplicity of self-hood and experience.

These elements may not be unique to women’s religious thought or always result in women’s leadership, but as a constellation they point toward one type of theologizing that was meaningful to some early Christian women, that had a place for women’s legitimate exercise of leadership, and to whose construction women contributed. If we look to these elements, we are able to discern important contributions of women to early Christian theology and praxis. These elements also provide an important location for discussing some aspects of early Christian women’s spiritual lives: their exercise of leadership, their ideals, their attraction to Christianity, and what gave meaning to their self-identity as Christians.

UNDERMINING WOMEN’S PROMINENCE

Women’s prominence did not, however, go unchallenged. Every variety of ancient Christianity that advocated the legitimacy of women’s leadership was eventually declared heretical, and evidence of women’s early leadership roles was erased or suppressed.

This erasure has taken many forms. Collections of prophetic oracles were destroyed. Texts were changed. For example, at least one woman’s place in history was obscured by turning her into a man! In Romans 16:7, the apostle Paul sends greetings to a woman named Junia. He says of her and her male partner Andronicus that they are “my kin and my fellow prisoners, prominent among the apostles and they were in Christ before me.” Concluding that women could not be apostles, textual editors and translators transformed Junia into Junias, a man.

Or women’s stories could be rewritten and alternative traditions could be invented. In the case of Mary Magdalene, starting in the fourth century, Christian theologians in the Latin West associated Mary Magdalene with the unnamed sinner who anointed Jesus’ feet in Luke 7:36-50. The confusion began by conflating the account in John 12:1-8, in which Mary (of Bethany) anoints Jesus, with the anointing by the unnamed woman sinner in the accounts of Luke. Once this initial, erroneous identification was secured, Mary Magdalene could be associated with every unnamed sinful woman in the gospels, including the adulteress in John 8:1-11 and the Syro-phoenician woman with her five and more “husbands” in John 4:7-30. Mary the apostle, prophet, and teacher had become Mary the repentant whore. This fiction was invented at least in part to undermine her influence and with it the appeal to her apostolic authority to support women in roles of leadership.

Until recently the texts that survived have shown only the side that won. The new texts are therefore crucial in constructing a fuller and more accurate portrait. The Gospel of Mary, for example, argued that leadership should be based on spiritual maturity, regardless of whether one is male or female. This Gospel lets us hear an alternative voice to the one dominant in canonized works like I Timothy, which tried to silence women and insist that their salvation lies in bearing children. We can now hear the other side of the controversy over women’s leadership and see what arguments were given in favor of it.

It needs to be emphasized that the formal elimination of women from official roles of institutional leadership did not eliminate women’s actual presence and importance to the Christian tradition, although it certainly seriously damaged their capacity to contribute fully. What is remarkable is how much evidence has survived systematic attempts to erase women from history, and with them the warrants and models for women’s leadership. The evidence presented here is but the tip of an iceberg.