Birth of the ACT Unit
I like to look at past minutes of Australian Church Women (ACW) because they are historical documents that record an on-the-spot view of the herstory of ACW, in chronological order. Minutes may not be easy reading, when compared to magazines or newspapers, but they are a vital primary source whereas oral accounts can become distorted over time. It’s like when someone claims to be related to the royal family because their ancestor lived in a castle. However, when that claim is investigated, it is discovered that several generations earlier they did have an ancestor living in a castle, but this person was actually employed as a servant in the royal household. Quite a different story to the one they believed. As minutes note what occurred and when, they reveal the facts of a situation or event.
This week, I’m looking at another set of minutes that record another important phase in the early membership of ACW. I’m referring to the formation of the Australian Capital Territory Unit of ACW. The minutes from the annual National Committee Meetings of 1965–67 briefly record this, and the ACW activities that the ACT women were participating in. I’m sure that a very interesting official history has been compiled of the ACT Unit of ACW, but the brief overview from these national minutes also interests me.
Starting with a paragraph from the February 1965 minutes, we read:
‘Mrs. Stirling [Churches of Christ] spoke of the developments towards the formation of a Unit in the A.C.T.
The holding of the World Community Day in 1964 had been initiated by the Women’s World Day of Prayer Committee. This had been followed by a visit to Canberra by the Rev. H.L. Perkins who had spoken of the development of Australian Church Women. At the present time women’s groups were being approached for permission to change the name of the committee from the Women’s World Day of Prayer to a Women’s Inter-Church Council. Replies are only now being received. Mrs. Stirling said that she was glad the A.C.T. was able to be present at this National Committee meeting to gain further understanding of Australian Church Women.’
Then on page seven of those same national minutes, under the heading of State Units, it was noted:
‘2) Resolved that we note with interest the formation of an Interim Committee in the A.C.T. and encourage this group to go ahead with their plans for an inter-church/council.’
In the 1966 national minutes, page 14, again under the heading of State Units, it was recorded:
‘On July 27  the Constitution of Canberra Church Women was ratified, and they became the Unit of Australian Church Women in the A.C.T.’
And ten pages further on, we read:
Special Days: As Friday has not brought a large response from the women of the A.C.T., we think that perhaps another day may be more suitable. In the event of night services being held, we favour Thursday to Friday, as Canberra has late night shopping on Friday nights.
It has been suggested that we may get more women to attend if we have smaller meetings in more areas.
All are in favour of discussion groups which have been approached with great enthusiasm by those attending.
‘Orders of Service: Most agree that the Orders of Service were excellent, but that care should be taken to choose suitable hymns that are wellknown [sic] to all churches and that tunes should be suggested at all times.
We are prepared to send all the offerings to Australian Church Women, subtracting only those expenses necessary to cover costs of Orders of Service and any other material from Australian Church Women pertaining to the Special Day.’
‘FELLOWSHIP OF THE LEAST COIN.
We have had very good response from the churches with regard to the Fellowship of the Least Coin.
‘WINIFRED KIEK SCHOLARSHIP.
We are quite happy with your arrangements for the Winifred Kiek Scholarship.
May Goudie, Honorary Secretary.’
At the 1967 National Committee Meeting, the ACT Unit reported on their first year of operation:
‘Canberra Church Women has now been in operation for a full year and we are happy to say that most of the Protestant Churches have affiliated with us. There are about forty churches in the ACT with women’s groups, with whom we correspond.'
‘1. We have been able to successfully observe Fellowship Day and World Community Day. These Services followed by the discussion groups have not been large in number, but those who have taken part show a lot of interest and get a good deal of help and inspiration from them. Some thought the Services were too long with too much liturgy, taking up time which could be better used in the discussions. Also we would appreciate the questions being simple and to the point. Our Leaders have appreciated the pre-training and preparation before the Day.
‘The ladies of the A.C.T. also participated in the observance of the Women’s World Day of Prayer Services which Canberra Church Women organise. Four services were held at four different centres, two in the morning and two at night. We had two speakers, who each took a morning and evening Service.
‘So far we have not been able to find a more suitable day than Friday. Fellowship Day and World Community Day are both morning Services running into lunchtime.
‘2. Fellowship of the Least Coin was again received this year. Most of the affiliated churches have had group collections.
‘3. Winifred Kiek Scholarship. Gradually we are beginning to get an interest in this Scholarship. It was a great privilege for us to be able to meet and entertain Miss Sabita Swarup [https://www.acw.org.au/post/a-transformed-life] for three days in November. No doubt this will enlarge the interest and enthusiasm of the members towards future holders of the Scholarship.
‘4. Since the formation of Canberra Church Women we have gradually increased the representation from the Churches. Canberra Church Women holds approximately four meetings a year and, as Canberra grows, so new Churches are formed and we endeavour to make contact with the women’s groups as soon as we hear of their formation.
‘After each meeting a letter is sent to all representatives or groups, informing them of what has been done and what will be happening prior to their next meeting.
The first members of the ACW Unit in the ACT were like so many of the founding members of our other ACW Units. They were intentional in their promotion of ACW and had an organised and targeted approach to the churches and church women in their communities. Their methods are just as valid today, although we use different modes of communication in our techno-centred world.
Our National ACW minutes show us again that the women who founded ACW were not timid in establishing a forum for all church women, and how they did this reveals that they were also risk takers.