Libby Gilchrist
The Tapestry: One Woman's Journey to Priesthood
Ark House Press, Mona Vale, NSW
ISBN-13:978-0648263951

The Tapestry 

 

"[W]hile this book is at its essence a personal story, it's also illustrative of a bigger story within the church. And for that reason, it's a good read not just for people facing their own struggles as they try to climb metaphorical mountains, but for anyone involved in church leadership."

For 20 years, Rev Libby Gilchrist was a key figure in the battle for the ordination of women as priests in the Anglican Diocese of Wangaratta. It was a battle that took an immense toll but one which also gave her considerable insight into her own faith.

This book is the story of that struggle, told in part through the imagery contained in a tapestry that she made at the halfway point as part of her theological studies (hence the title) in a bid to better understand what she had gone through (and what was yet to come).

Gilchrist traces her conscious spiritual journey to the priesthood back to 1985 when, on a break in Sydney away from her family who lived near Wangaratta, she encountered God in what she describes as a dramatic “rainstorm” experience: “I had fallen in love with a God who had touched my heart in such a profound way that my life spun in multitudinous dizzy turns, and was never the same again.”

The nagging sense that she was called to ordained ministry came later that same year but it was another year before she started talking to her mentor Rev Ian Crooks about the possibility of study and began the 20 year road towards her ordination as a priest.

The setbacks, road-blocks and people who showed outright hostility toward the idea were numerous. While other Anglican dioceses were seeing change with regard to the ordination of women priests (Perth the first Australian diocese to ordain women priests in 1992), Wangaratta was not – and Gilchrist outlines in painful detail the journey she had embarked upon to see that changed.


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In large part the book could be considered a lament - the grief and anger is at times palpable - but it's also a celebration of determination: having felt what she was convinced was a call from God, Gilchrist, despite many times despairing of ever seeing a result, would see it through. And there are moments of great joy and satisfaction, such as when Gilchrist established a Hospital Chaplaincy Programme in the Albury-Wodonga region, and the support she received from women in a "spiritual bookclub" known as 'Building Bridges'.

It also shows all too plainly the human frailty of those in the church and the flawed witness that we - by we, I mean the church at large – can give in our failure to show the love and compassion that Christ exhorts us to as we navigate what can be divisive issues.

For while this book is at its essence a personal story, it's also illustrative of a bigger story within the church (and not just the Anglican denomination). For that reason, it's a good read not just for people facing their own struggles as they try to climb metaphorical mountains, but for anyone involved in church leadership.