Australian Church Women (ACW) is fortunate to hold some great testimonies in our National Archive, especially from our earliest members. Today, I’m presenting one from Marjory Verco, a founding member of ACW who served as one of the two vice-presidents on our first national committee. Not only is her account of the beginning of ACW very interesting, but her brief comment about her mother’s generation also stood out to me. Marjory's remark echoes a lament frequently heard from younger women when they are asked to consider participating in a women's group that they think is for older women. A view that often prejudices the longevity and ongoing effectiveness of an organisation. I’m sure most of us have held a similar view of at least one activity that our mothers or grandmothers were involved in, and it flows down to how we see church life in today's world. Here is Marjory’s story, and how her perspective was turned around and she became an influential force in the formation of Australian Church Women:
MY PART IN THE BEGINNINGS OF A.C.W.
‘For me, it all began in 1958 when my husband and I visited [the] U.S.A. for three months. The chief purpose of our visit was Education*, but as well as this we took every opportunity to visit churches and especially Christian Education groups. We were particularly impressed by the reality of religion in the lives of most American families — they talked about their faith in general conversation, they went to church and Sunday School together as families.
‘I found the Churches of Christ Christian Women’s Fellowships were a vital part of the women's lives. But, more than this, I found these local fellowships were part of a much greater fellowship — United Church Women of U.S.A. Together, women from many different denominations were involved in intense and vital study programmes of current interest e.g. the Middle East, South-East Asia. The fact was that, by pooling their resources, U.C.W. were able to call on the best brains to produce magnificent resource material for these studies. After visiting Friendship Press in New York, I returned home laden with samples and inspired to try Australian church women to enter into similar worthwhile study programmes.
‘On our way home, my husband and I resolved —
firstly, to extend our Christian experience to everyday activities — make our Christianity live! No longer must it be a comfortable family experience pigeon-holed for Sundays!
secondly, to seek every opportunity to work for the greater co-operation of Christians in Australia.
‘On arrival home we found a letter from the Billy Graham Crusade Office inviting us to train as counsellors for the Crusade of 1959. This we could not refuse in view of our resolutions.
‘My husband served as President of the N.S.W. Conference of Churches of Christ 1959–60 and I was given the opportunity of telling many women's groups of my experience with U.C.W. of U.S.A.
‘I was invited to serve on the Women’s Follow-up Committee of the Billy Graham Crusade with dedicated women representing many denominations—a most enriching and inspiring experience!
‘At our last meeting (the Follow-up Committee, of necessity, had to be disbanded) there was a note of sadness, but I remember Major Jean Coleman [of The Salvation Army] saying "we could continue this experience if we were all to become involved in the Women's Inter-Church Council [W.I.C.C.]."
‘I knew of the Council's existence through my Mother's involvement, but thought no more about it until, in 1961, I was invited by the Churches of Christ Christian Women's Fellowship of N.S.W. to accept nomination as President-Elect of the Women's Inter-Church Council.
‘This was a surprise as I was only 46! The members I knew were Mother's contemporaries! Then I recalled Major Coleman's words and my resolves.’
Marjory accepted the nomination and after an initial period of discouragement of her idea to form a network among the church women of Australia, she persisted and went on to become a founding member of Australian Church Women. Subsequently, Marjory influenced her family and a new generation of younger women to take part in serving Jesus through this wonderful organisation. Continuing with her account of this chapter in the herstory of ACW, Marjory tells us:
‘As an Executive Member, I mentioned my contact with U.C.W. of U.S.A. and asked if we might contact other states to see if we could set up some link among the church women of Australia. The response was not encouraging, but I did not accept this as final.
‘Then, in 1962, there came an invitation to the W.I.C.C. 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.l.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 who agreed to go at her own expense.
‘This incident emphasised the fact that distances were shrinking between states and countries. This invitation would be repeated and we must be more prepared and organised to accept such in the future.
‘Other younger women had joined the Council; among them, Reta Farr, who served as President, representing the Congregational Women's Fellowship and Edna Baker (Salvation Army) and Norma Lilley (Methodist) both of whom served as secretaries. Many of us were not only concerned with the extension of co-operation of church women at the national level, but also at the local level — many women knew nothing of the W.I.C.C. and were not participating in any inter-church fellowships in their districts.
‘This latter concern prompted Edna Baker (Secretary) and me (now President) to seek an appointment with the Revd. Clive Harcourt-Norton, Secretary, N.S.W. Committee of Australian Council of Churches, early in 1962. Our aim was to begin our local contacts through the few Inter-Church Councils set up by A.C.C. At this interview Mr. Harcourt-Norton told us that at the A.C.C. Annual Meeting in February, 1962, Mrs. Mabel Wyllie had been commissioned to investigate the possibility of linking the church women of Australia in some way. We were delighted and so contacted Mrs. Wyllie immediately. We agreed to meet Mrs. Wyllie and Col. Bell (Federal Liaison Officer of the Women's World Day of Prayer) to discuss further action. It was agreed to call a Consultation of Church Women immediately. A representative from each Christian Denomination, the Y.W.C.A. and the Women' s World Day of Prayer in N.S.W. was invited and we were also delighted to have Mrs. Faichney, President of W.I.C.C. of Victoria present.
'Mrs. Wyllie explained her commission from the A.C.C. and, as President of the N.S.W. W.I.C.C., I had the task of expressing our concern to seek to promote the co-operation of church women at every level — local, state and national. I was also able to tell of my experience with U.C.W. in U.S.A. and prove that this co-operation was very worthwhile. Each member of the Consultation was then invited to speak and state the reaction of the group she was representing. The response was exciting and inspiring, the only disappointment being that Col. Bell stated she thought the W.W.D.P. Committee would prefer to remain independent. From my memory, Mrs. Commissioner Coutts supplied the necessary inspiration to go ahead. She reminded us of Christ's prayer "that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou has sent me".
‘At this Consultation it was agreed to set up an Interim Committee to work on the possibility of linking church women more effectively at every level. The members of the first Interim Committee were —
Mrs. M. Wyllie (Chairman)
Head Deaconess Mary Andrews (Vice Chairman)
Mrs. M. Verco (Vice Chairman)
Mrs. L. Lilley (Secretary) — later
Lt.-Col. H. Cross, Salvation Army (Secretary)
Mrs. K. Dey (Treasurer)
Mrs. H. McPhee (Y.W.C.A.)
Mrs. N. Barrett (Methodist)
Miss Thelma SkiIler (Executive Secretary A.C.C.)’
Marjory’s herstory of ACW will continue next week. This two-part account is particularly relevant at this time because this is the 52nd blog post on our Herstory of ACW Blog, which also began as a step of faith and taking a risk. This two-part posting at the end of one year of blogging and the beginning of a new year of blog posts gives a good overview of the founding of ACW. It is also a reminder of who we are in the name of Jesus and to heed the call to take risks to proclaim the Word of our Saviour in our words and actions.
* Marjory’s husband was David Verco, an educator, and he became the Director-General of Education New South Wales from January 1969 to July 1972.
I have previously made a request for a group photograph of the first National Committee of Australian Church Women. If you know of one, or any photos of the members of that first national committee that we are able to add to our ACW records and website, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org