Today we feature an author whose book was published in 2016. Rev Dr Julia Pitman is a minister with St Paul’s and Armitage Uniting Church, Mackay (Qld), and Adjunct Research Associate at Charles Sturt University. Her book, Our principle of sex equality’: the ordination of women in the Congregational Church in Australia, 1927-1977 was published in September, 2016, by Australian Scholarly Publishing.

When did you start writing and what was the catalyst?
I wanted to be a writer from the time I was in primary school. This is my first book, which began as a PhD thesis at the University of Adelaide in the Department of Politics and History. However, I did not pursue a career as an academic. When I was a teenager I felt a strong calling to ordained ministry in the Christian Church. With degrees in Arts and Theology, I am a Minister of the Uniting Church in Australia. My research and writing, which is now part of my professional development, focuses on the history of the church and its antecedents in Australia.

What inspired ‘Our principle of sex equality’?
At university I was interested in the broad area of gender and religion. One of my PhD supervisors suggested that the topic of the ordination of the first women ministers in Australia had not been explored and that it was a viable topic for me to do.

Describe how you research and the challenges of incorporating research into your story.

principle-sex-equality-pitmanThe research for the book involved drawing on a whole range of historical source materials from manuscripts, minute books and private papers, located in archives in Australia and overseas, to official published documents and secondary literature. In order to focus the research, I learned that it is best to start with a question or hypothesis and then to look for answers. Another supervisor advised me to write down the argument of the thesis and then the research would soon flow from there. After the PhD was finished, I conducted a great deal of further research to convert the thesis into a book.

What book is on your bedside table?
At the moment I am reading Victoria: The Queen by Julia Baird.

If you could trade places for a week with any other person, famous or infamous or unknown, living or dead, real or fiction, who would it be and why?
I would love to go back to Adelaide in 1927 and trade places with the Rev. Winifred Kiek – I’d be the first woman ordained in Australia!

When did you discover the Australian Women Writers Challenge? Do you think the challenge has had any impact on the awareness and discoverability of Australian women writers? Have you personally benefited in any way?
I am a keen supporter of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge. It is a great way to encourage writing by Australian women that otherwise would be neglected. I recently discovered the Australian Women’s Writer’s Challenge as it was advertised by the Stella Prize for women’s writing, but it was the enthusiastic write-ups on the blog ‘Whispering Gums’ that inspired me to become involved. I encourage anyone who is interested to join. I hope that all who take up the challenge to read as many books by Australian women writers as they can will benefit from reading books they simply would not have encountered otherwise.

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Synopsis of ‘Our principle of sex equality’: the ordination of women in the Congregational Church in Australia, 1927-1977

In the 1820s women in the Congregational churches in the Australian colonies were not permitted to speak in church or missionary meetings—they could only whisper the amounts of their offerings into the ears of their husbands or other men who spoke for them. By the 1890s Congregational women held their own missionary meetings, were elected to meetings of their denomination, and were invited to speak in these gatherings on the subject of the role of women in the missionary movement at home and abroad. By the 1920s, inspired by developments in Britain and America, Congregational women advocated the ordination of women to the Christian ministry, and on 13 June 1927 Winifred Kiek, a migrant from England, was ordained in Colonel Light Gardens Congregational Church, Adelaide, South Australia, the first woman ordained in a dominion of the British Empire. Between 1927 and 1977, when the Uniting Church in Australia was founded, fifteen Australian Congregational women were ordained for service in local congregations, the mission field, and theological education. This is their story.

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About: Rev. Dr Julia Pitman is a minister of the Uniting Church in Australia. She holds a First Class Honours degree and a PhD in History from the University of Adelaide and a Bachelor of Theology degree from Flinders University, Adelaide. She is an Adjunct Research Associate of the Public and Contextual Theology (PACT) Research Centre, Charles Sturt University, Canberra. She has served on the national executives of the Uniting Church in Australia and the National Council of Churches in Australia, and the national dialogue between the Lutheran Church of Australia and the Uniting Church in Australia. Her awards include the Travelling Fellowship of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. She has published articles on aspects of the history of women’s ordination, and the history and theology of the Congregational and Uniting Churches in Australia.

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