First Ecumenical Assembly of Asian Church Women Held in Asia
[Updated 6 June 2020]
In 1962, the Australian Council of Churches (ACC) received an invitation from Mrs Louise Paw, of Burma, for an Australian woman to attend a conference of Asian Church Women to be held in the Philippines. Mrs Paw was the Chairman of the East Asia Christian Conference (EACC) Committee on Cooperation of Men and Women in Home, Church and Society. The proposed conference was the second to be held by the Asian Church Women’s Conference, the first being four years previous in 1958 in Hong Kong.
The women who participated in the 1958 Asian Church Women’s Conference were greatly enthused and motivated by the success of their event, and they could see the potential for equipping many church women leaders in Asia through this conference. Ecumenism was not one of the goals for the 1958 assembly, but for the second conference invitations were issued to Asian church women from Protestant denominations, other than Presbyterian and United congregations. As the countries of Australia and New Zealand were members of the EACC, they were also included in the invitation to send a delegate to the women’s conference.
The EACC was asked to sponsor this event and they agreed to the request. The Asian Church Women’s Conference would precede the EACC’s ‘Consultation on the Christian Family and Changing Society’, which was to be held at the same venue in the Philippines.
The women’s conference committee chose the theme of ‘Launch Out Into the Deep’ and Invitations were issued. The invitations declared the uniqueness of this gathering:
‘This Conference is going to be the first of its kind …’ because it would be the first ecumenical assembly of Asian church women held in Asia.
The invitation also asked that the delegates be:
1. actively related to the women’s organisation of the Church where she held membership;
2. one who has not had much opportunity of attending international conferences;
3. an elected representative of the Church’s national women’s organisation.
At that time, Australia did not have a national church women’s organisation and an ad hoc process began to find a representative to attend the conference.
Edna Beales and the ACWC
Marjory Verco was the Promotion Officer of the New South Wales Women’s Inter-Church Council (WICC) in 1962, and she later gave a brief account on the selection of an Australian delegate to attend the 2nd Asian Church Women’s Conference:
Then, in 1962, there came an invitation to the W.I.C.C. (Women’s Inter-Church Council) through the Australian Council of Churches to nominate a woman to represent all Australian church women, to attend the Conference of Asian Church Women. This invitation had been forwarded to the W.I.C.C. of Victoria initially and they had replied “No money to send a representative”. We agreed that this first invitation to Australian church women to share in this Asian Conference must not be rejected. We, too, had no funds but we found Mrs. Edna Roughley [Beales] who agreed to go at her own expense.
The President of the New South Wales Conference of The Methodist Church of Australasia, Rev. Norman Lickiss, wrote to the NSW WICC with his hearty endorsement of Edna Beales. He said:
You can have every confidence that in Mrs. Beales you will have a worthy representative for the reasons I indicate hereunder:
a. Mrs. Edna Beales, more widely known as Edna Roughley, has been a writer to various religious journals for over 25 years, and at present contributes the Women’s and Children’s pages of our weekly publication “The Methodist”.
b. This talented lady has consistently occupied our pulpits in many city and country centres, and has been increasingly in demand as a speaker at Women’s Rallies. In her own Church at Bondi, she was for years the General Superintendent of the Sunday School.
c. Mrs. Beales is also an experienced Scripture teacher in the State Schools, and at present is taking regular weekly classes in Epping and Homebush High Schools.
d. In addition to these activities she has found time to lead a fortnightly Bible Study class in my own Church at Epping for the past two years.
In Mrs. Beales we have a lady of high Christian principles, Missionary outlook, most conscientious and devoted in everything she undertakes, and if appointed as your representative to the forthcoming Conference, will justify the confidence placed in her.
The New South Wales WICC informed the ACC that:
Mrs. Beales has consented to become an associate member of the Council and will be invited to meet the Council at our Community Day on Sept. 28th. Mrs Beales has also agreed to take the time on her return to report on the Conference to any interested Church women’s groups.
In a letter sent in September 1962 to Rev. Harvey Perkins, General Secretary of the ACC, Mrs Beales said: ‘This conference should be a wonderful opportunity for both giving and receiving, and I’m more than happy with the anticipation and thought of it.’
[To date, I have not located any reports in the archives from Edna Beales on the 1962 Asian Church Women’s Conference. If you know the whereabouts of a report from Edna or of any photographs, please email me email@example.com]
Originally, this 2nd Asian Church Women’s Conference was to be held at Baguio City in the Philippines, but was later changed to Thailand due to projected costs exceeding the conference budget. This would not be the first time that a member country would be disappointed at not being able to host the quadrennial assembly of the ACWC, because the anticipated expenses could not be contained within the budget.
Communication between Australia and the EACC, prior to the conference, gives us insight into the revised arrangements for this second assembly.
As you can see in the snippet of text below, Edna also contributed to the Circle of Prayer, the devotional booklet of the Fellowship of the Least Coin. Now I’m on the lookout for a copy of the 1962 Circle of Prayer, and I’m also wondering if Edna may have written something about the Asian Church Women’s Conference in The Methodist publication.
Yes, that is a typo that you can see in the original note about the esteemed contributors to the Circle of Prayer. The first-mentioned of the distinguished women should be Mrs. Shanti Solomon, not Sharti. Also, Mrs. Louise Paw was not the chairman of Asian Church Women, Mrs. Jael Cruz of the Philippines was the 1958–1962 chairman. These are the types of errors that creep into the recording of history that I referred to in my post ‘Uncovering More Facts’ on 29 November 2019.
A Little Bit More on Edna Roughley
Edna Roughley grew up in Bondi, New South Wales, went to school at Methodist Ladies’ College, Burwood Sydney, and attended the Bondi Methodist Church.
Edna was a well-known Australian Christian author, particularly of poetry and children’s fiction, in the 1930s–50s. One of her popular children’s books was Ellice of Ainslie, which she dedicated to her daughter Julie. Edna was the Assistant Editor of the Friends, a children’s missionary newspaper of the Methodist Church of Australasia. Apparently, one of Edna’s pen names was Rosemary. At least two of Edna’s novels, Footsteps and Isn’t Life Queer?, were serialised in the Australian Women’s Weekly in the 1930s. Besides being an accomplished author, Edna was a popular lay-preacher and Scripture teacher.
Edna passed away in 1988 or 1989*. I have not yet determined the exact year because my sources do not agree on the date. It seems that Edna Beales also had a sister-in-law named Edna Roughley, who was married to the brother of Edna Beales, and she may have died about the same time. Perhaps a reader of this post can supply us with the correct details for the passing of Edna Roughley [Beales].
Updated 6 June 2020
*Edna passed away on 16 April 1989. This information came from Edna’s grandson. Thanks Darren, much appreciated.
A photo of the 1962 ACWC Assembly that Edna attended has been supplied by Dr Esther Byu, a past Executive Secretary of the Fellowship of the Least Coin. The photo can be seen on the blogpost of 30 May 2020.