A Progress Report
On 11 February 2021, Australian Church Women (ACW) celebrates 56 years since this wonderful organisation was inaugurated. Many changes have taken place over these years within both the organisation and society. One change that has had an impact on the membership of Australian Church Women was the rise in mothers returning to the ‘paid’ workforce, particularly in recent years. This dramatically curtailed the amount of ‘free’ time that these women could devote to activities outside of work and family.
Let's go to our old ACW records and see if this change was already affecting ACW in its first years of operation. Towards the conclusion of the first ten years of ACW, we see that it did. Turning specifically to the ACW Working Committee’s Conference Report for 1975, we notice a couple of comments regarding other commitments occupying members’ time and hindering their ability to be effective members.
Also, in this report, we can look generally at what activities ACW was involved in at that time. I find it fascinating to view the activities in the early years of a women’s organisation compared with what takes place later, as they mature.
1975 Working Committee Report:
‘Regular monthly meetings of the Working Committee have been held since the last N.C.M. [National Committee Meeting] The majority of the members of the Committee are also heavily committed to activities within their own denominations and attendance has sometimes been lower than we would have liked. Mrs. Ervyn Whitehead agreed to be Convenor of the Winifred Kiek Scholarship … [The report then lists three members who resigned because of the demands on their time from other commitments.]
‘With 18 months to prepare for the next N.C.M., members hoped to be able to spend some time assisting State Units to become more aware of ACW's role within the world, and this has been achieved to some degree. It has been most encouraging to learn that most State Units have strengthened their ties with their State Councils of Churches, and have in some cases arranged to work together on programmes. We have also been encouraged by requests from State Units regarding church women's relationships with other aspects of community life.
‘The. President, Mrs. Smith and Vice-President Deaconess Norris attended the 27th General Meeting of A.C.C. [Australian Council of Churches] in February, 1975. A report of this Meeting is included elsewhere in these documents.
‘The arrangements necessary for Australian delegates and observers to attend A.C.W.C. [Asian Church Women's Conference] in Bangkok entailed quite a large amount of work, and we were very pleased with the response of member organisations, State Units and particularly the Presbyterian and Methodist churches for their generous assistance with finance.
‘An opportunity to send an Australian representative to the "Family Life Seminar" in Penang arose late in 1974, and although we were disappointed that our representative to the Commission on Christian Education, was finally unable to go, a very able substitute in Mrs. Heather Stevens enabled Australia to be very well represented, and we hope to hear more about this seminar at the N.C.M.
‘This event did highlight one of our chief difficulties – communication. We received notice of the Seminar only days before nominations closed, and in order to give State Units time to submit nominations, we were of course late in advising of our nominee. Insufficient information from A.C.W.C. made it difficult for our nominee to prepare adequately, even allowing for the short time at her disposal.
‘Opportunity has been taken whenever members of the Working Committee have been interstate to make contact with State Units, and in some instances, to attend their meetings. This has been of great assistance in improving communication and understanding of each other's aims. Mrs. Smith also took the opportunity when visiting Sydney and Canberra to speak to State Units there about A.C.W.C. We were particularly pleased that Mrs. Cocks and Mrs. Webber were able to stay in Darwin on returning from Bangkok to report with Mrs. McKenzie on A.C.W.C. and that Mrs. Cocks was also able to stop in Brisbane to do the same.
‘We have been very pleased that a Unit of A.C.W. has been formed in the Northern Territory during our term of office, and look forward to meeting their representatives at the N.C.M.
'It has been good to have the 1975 Winifred Kiek Scholar in South Australia. Unfortunately, due to working commitments*, she has only been able to attend one of our meetings.
‘A Retreat Day held in February enabled members of the Working Committee to review their work since taking office and to plan for the future in what we hope will be a stimulating N.C.M. We believe that God is placing before women in our Churches in particular, opportunities which they have never had before. We pray therefore that we may all continue to be guided to use our abilities to their fullest in His service.’
GWENDA MURCHLAND, Secretary.
I often wonder how many organisations have contingency plans to deal with the lack of growth or a decline in their membership, or dwindling support from those who contributed enthusiastically to their formation. Lots to think about.
The only surprise for me in this 1975 report is that it mentions many of the programmes and projects of ACW but not the Fellowship of the Least Coin (FLC) nor Special Days. Both FLC and Special Days have been a significant part of Australian Church Women since its beginning.
There is a separate five-page report for the FLC and a half-page report for Special Days in the 1975 working documents, but the other programmes and projects mentioned also have separate reports. I am curious as to why this occurred. Either way, I found it an interesting report to read and gained insight into what was going on in ACW in 1975, especially the formation of the ACW Unit in the Northern Territory.
* Emphasis is mine.