Woman Alfred, Elizabeth
- Deaconess and Priest
Written by Shurlee Swain, Australian Catholic University
Elizabeth Alfred was born in January 1914. In 1944, after completing three years training at the Anglican Deaconess House in Melbourne, she was sent to St Mark's Fitzroy as a trained woman worker. Three years later she transferred to the Mission of St James and St John to continue her ministry in the inner city. Although she rose to the position of head deaconess in the Diocese of Melbourne she was acutely aware of being constrained by gender. Addressing the General Synod in 1978 she declared: 'If I had been born a boy I would have been allowed to test my vocation 40 years ago' (Sydney Morning Herald, 19 August 1981).
Alfred was active in the campaign for women's ordination from its earliest days. When the Lambeth Conference ruled that deaconesses were equivalent to male deacons she called upon the local Anglican church to accept this interpretation. After meeting some ordained women during a trip to Canada and the United States in 1975 she approached Archbishop Woods to discuss her vocation. Described in 1977 as 'the most popular Anglican woman in Victoria' (Sydney Morning Herald, 16 October 1985), her support for the cause was important, making it difficult for opponents to depict the campaign as a product of external feminism. Describing her motivation for campaigning for ordination she declared: 'This is the way God is leading the church at this time and the way he is leading me' [Age, 10 July 1979].
By 1979 Alfred had the qualifications required for ordination and in her capacity as the first female Anglican chaplain at Melbourne's Royal Women's Hospital was doing the same work as a priest but continued to be excluded from presiding over communion. Aged 65 she found the campaign frustrating. When the Melbourne Synod finally voted to support female ordination in 1981 she 'felt like cheering ... but nobody else got up' (Sydney Morning Herald, 19 August 1981). More delays followed but when the first ordination of women deacons took place in 1986 she was the first to go forward. Ordination to the priesthood followed in 1992.
Approaching her 100th birthday Alfred remains active in the life of her local parish and was a guest of honour at the ceremony celebrating twenty years of women's ordination in Melbourne in 2012.
Additional sources: Biographical cuttings on Elizabeth Alfred, priest, containing one or more cuttings from newspapers or journals, c. 1900 - c. 2000, 1710608; National Library of Australia.
National Library of Australia
- Alfred, Elizabeth, Called to serve : the spiritual journey of Elizabeth Alfred, The Reverend Elizabeth Alfred, Melbourne, Victoria, 2001. Details
- 'Churchwomen pray for equality', The Age, 10 July 1979, p. 6, http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1300&dat=19790710&id=ZOBUAAAAIBAJ&sjid=jZIDAAAAIBAJ&pg=4215,3542964. Details
- Gill, Alan, 'Four years on, and still no woman in an Anglican pulpit', The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 August 1981, p. 4, http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=-qhWAAAAIBAJ&sjid=_eYDAAAAIBAJ&pg=6810,8030031&dq=deaconess+elizabeth+alfred&hl=en. Details
- Gill, Alan, 'How Melbourne will get its first women priests', The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 October 1985, p. 21, http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=cDZWAAAAIBAJ&sjid=KugDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5519,179596&dq=deaconess+elizabeth+alfred&hl=en. Details