Woman Goldsworthy, Kay


Written by Nikki Henningham, The University of Melbourne

Born in Melbourne, Victoria, in 1956, Kay Goldsworthy was the first woman to be consecrated as a Bishop in Australia. A pioneer of women's ordination in the Anglican Church, in 1986 she was one of the first women to be ordained deacon and then priest in 1992. In 2008, with the support of the Archbishop of Perth, Roger Herft, she was endorsed as 'one of the best qualified priests to take on this role at this stage' when she became a Bishop in the Perth Diocese (Morris).

There was never a sense that trailblazing would be her fate as she was growing up, although organized religion and faith were important to her throughout her childhood and adolescence. Going to church was 'part of what her family did' and a central part of her social life, through involvement in the Girls' Friendly Society, Sunday School and youth group activities. 'Conversations about God were part of the fabric of her family life … There was always an understanding that "God is"' (Interview). This explains why the concept of the hospitality of God is crucial to her in a theological sense. Religious experience, she says, provides a 'sense of homecoming … Belonging precedes believing' (Interview)

Her faith was a haven of stability as she went through an unsettled time in her teenage years. Moving from the established suburb of Kew to a new housing development in Mooroolbark on the outskirts of Melbourne in her early teens was a shock and a challenge, and not one that she adapted to entirely. In Kew she lived in a 'pleasant cocoon' of extended family in a village atmosphere that no longer existed when the family moved (Interview). She began running with a crowd that her parents didn't approve of, moved schools and discovered that she really wasn't a very good student. Reflecting later in life on why she was a difficult teenager, she believes the fact that studying and learning did not come naturally to her, and she was never taught how to study, was a contributing factor. It gave her the impression that she wasn't 'academic enough' and the self-esteem issues associated with that were significant. She liked school, she just couldn't 'do it' (Interview). So she left at the end of year 11, moved in with her older sister, had a break from the church and lived what she describes as 'her own small life on her own small edge' (Interview). While living this life she worked in retail, discovered feminism and continued to dwell upon her 'innate sense of ideas being important' (Interview).

At this time, she began to feel that she had a vocation in the church, but she had no sense of how this could develop. The life of a nun would not do, because her perception of that life at the time was that it was too separate from society. She made enquiries at Deaconess House in Melbourne at the age of sixteen and she was told to come back when she had completed her secondary studies. She was frustrated by the fact that although there was a clear career path for men in the church, none existed for women. She felt that 'she was being called to something, but didn't quite know what' (Interview). She moved to Brisbane where she got involved with a group called Teen Challenge and went to a rally where she had what she describes as 'a defining moment'. It was, she says, 'definitely a conversion moment … I think I must have been looking for it or hoping something would happen. I think I had been wanting for God for a long time.' So she decided to 'throw in her lot' and make changes to her life (Williams).

After five years living in Brisbane, Goldsworthy returned to Melbourne resolving to begin living her faith seven days a week. She sought advice from her parish priest on how she should proceed. Gerald Beaumont and his family who had been important to her in her teenage years became her mentors, guiding her through the process and encouraging her to formalise her education with the church. Completing much research and stepping through various stages of qualification and acceptance, she enrolled in a Bachelor of Theology at the Melbourne College of Divinity, living at Trinity College. She still struggled with 'learning how to learn' but loving what she was doing helped.

She also struggled due to the lack of women in the learning and teaching environment. Some important men (John Gaden, for instance) provided great support and encouraged her to reach her full potential in the church. But without women role models, she says, it wasn't easy to imagine possibilities. It wasn't until she started mixing with other women who were hoping to establish careers in the church that she understood that there was a movement for the ordination of women. She hadn't realised there was significant feminist theology, and she hadn't known how annoying it would be to see her male colleagues recognised for their skills and qualifications in ways that she wasn't. In 1982, after much contemplation and consideration, she said to herself and others 'I am called to be a priest' (Interview). Working with other women had helped her imagine the possibility and every subsequent step along the way was taken with her calling in mind. The 'wonderfully untidy' Movement for the Ordination of Women provided unyielding support throughout this frustrating period, as women actively sought the right to move into their own appointments as leaders, not assistants to men (Interview).

Goldsworthy was ordained as a deacon in 1986, and served as a deacon and curate in parishes in Thomastown/Epping and Deer Park/St Albans. In 1988 she was invited to be a chaplain at Perth College and moved to Western Australia. It was a period of great frustration and uncertainty. On the one hand, there was a sense that the ordination of women was inevitable, on the other, it seemed to be taking forever. And in the meantime, Goldsworthy and her female colleagues were frustrated that what they brought to ministry was not being fully recognised, as were many of the (male) church administrators, especially in the Melbourne and Perth diocese. As far as Goldsworthy was concerned this was not a matter of abstract principle; it was a practical matter. 'In the church,' she says, 'positional leadership is crucial in ways that it might not be for other organisations. To be a complete leader you need to take on the role of priest.' To be the leader she wanted to be, 'to nurture the best way she could', she needed to be a priest (Interview). In 1992, her need was fulfilled. Since then, she has filled a number of appointments in the Perth Diocese, including Rector at St David's in Applecross, Canon at St George's Cathedral, and Archdeacon of Fremantle. In 2007 she began work in the Perth Diocesan Office as the Archdeacon of Perth, in 2008 she was consecrated Bishop. In 2013 she became only the second Anglican woman to appear on a public nomination list for an election to a bishopric in Australia, in Newcastle, New South Wales. She has achieved much of this while being a wife and mother of twin boys.

When made a Bishop, Goldsworthy expressed her delight that 'leadership in the church could be shared this way' (Morris) and was excited by the new opportunities and challenges the role offered her as a leader. In her previous leadership roles, she was used to a model of shared leadership. She sees her role as a bishop as one more adapted to a model where she 'holds leadership on her own' (Interview) It will call upon a different set of skills. And, as a trailblazer, she is always worried that if she puts a foot wrong, she will set the whole movement back. This, she recognises, is a cross that all trailblazers have to bear, regardless of their calling.

Goldsworthy knows that controversy will always follow her. She believes that she will never be able to convince firm opponents to change their minds through debate, and hopes that the example of women's ministry will over time enable them to see the benefits. She knows, as well, that there is no turning back, and that ultimately the church will be strengthened by women's leadership. 'All the way, I have encountered men who have counted themselves diminished because women have not been regarded as their equals', she says. 'Without women in leadership the church can't reach its full potential' (Interview).

Archival Resources

National Library of Australia Oral History Collection

  • Kay Goldsworthy interviewed by Nikki Henningham in the Women and leadership in a century of Australian democracy oral history project, 7 December 2011, ORAL TRC 6290/27; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection. Details

Published Resources

Online Resources

See also

Digital Resources

Kay Goldsworthy interviewed by Nikki Henningham in the Women and leadership in a century of Australian democracy oral history project
7 December 2011
National Library of Australia
National Library of Australia Oral History Collection