The Revd Melissa Clark found the inspiration and confidence at Trinity College to pursue a leadership role in the church, and now she’s hoping more women will follow.
Melissa Clark graduated from the Trinity College Theological School with a Bachelor of Theology in 2015 and was ordained a priest just a few weeks later. Going on to become Priest-in-Charge in the Anglican Parish of Woodend-Trentham – and becoming the first woman to do so – was triumphant, as it’s a role Melissa never could have predicted earlier in her life. ‘I spent a few years thinking "I couldn't do that job, I'm not worthy of that job",’ she remembers. ‘Now I think, how did this great blessing happen?’, adding, ‘It’s actually funny to call it a job, because really it’s just my life.’
Melissa had found that Trinity College offered a supportive environment, and the faculty encouraged both women and men to pursue their leadership aspirations if they felt that was their calling. ‘Dorothy Lee was the Dean [of Trinity’s Theological School] during my time studying and, for me, that was a big thing in letting women know that we weren’t just going to end up looking after the Sunday School if we studied theology. We knew we’d be supported to go and lead a community.’
Melissa says another Trinity alum played a part in helping her realise her calling – the Most Revd Kay Goldsworthy AO, who became the first woman to hold the title of Archbishop in the Anglican Communion when she was installed as Archbishop of Perth in 2018. ‘I always used to appreciate seeing [Kay’s] portrait in Trinity’s dining hall. She was an inspiration to me, knowing her story and knowing that she was amongst the first women priests, the first bishop and the first archbishop,’ says Melissa.
Melissa knows that the road wasn’t easy for Archbishop Kay on her rise to leadership in a male-dominated realm, and is grateful to the women who went before her and fought faithfully.
Now, having carved her own leadership path, Melissa is of the view that there needs to be ‘more chicks in collars’, and encourages other women to consider ordination. ‘I’d say just keep at it and listen to your heart because your heart will tell you where you need to be.’
For Melissa, giving her service to the distinct communities of Woodend and Trentham gives her great satisfaction and she enjoys the diversity of the role. ‘The busyness of ministry means that one day you'll be doing a funeral, and the next day you might be helping an older person fold their washing because they’ve broken a hip. That's what ministry is like in two small country towns,’ she says.
‘With all that, being invited into people’s lives and assisting them with some of the basics of life, it can be easy to forget that you're actually not a social worker and you're not a counsellor, but you're a priest and your job is to pray. To pray with and for the people that you're looking after, and of course to sometimes remember to have your own self take a backseat and let God lead the way, because if you do that, I don’t think you’ll ever go wrong.
‘At the end of the day, it's God's work that we're doing.’