A recent women’s leadership conference challenged women to not only identify as but claim their roles as leaders in their churches and communities.
Sycamore Lane, an independent women’s coaching business run by Avondale College of Higher Education alumnus Kylie Cullinan, presented the inaugural Lead Like The Queen, held at the Australian National University’s University House in Canberra. The conference also partnered with Women in Ministry, who support initiatives that build the skills, opportunities and networks for Adventist women in pastoral ministry.
Held over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, the conference focussed on creating a “safe” space to explore the strengths and weaknesses of women in leadership, to share advice on how to work with male colleagues and to learn strategies for building resilience, finding balance, navigating the dangers of leadership and reaching goals.
Speakers and guests also focussed on what organiser Kylie Cullinan called the “forward space”—solutions, vision, “our calling”. But they did not ignore the problems—a Lament Bar created a space for participants to share the challenging experiences of being a woman in leadership. The conference ended with a leadership toolbox session and an interactive session exploring the question, “What is my leadership manifesto?”.
“I’ve journeyed with many women in leadership, women who bring a strong sense of direction to their roles, who are focused, but also women who struggle with confidence, who limit the power of their voice, who are reticent to identify as leaders,” said Ms Cullinan, a Graduate Diploma in Theology graduate in 2000 who is now Director and Leadership Coach at Sycamore Lane. “So, I organised the conference to help women stand, speak and embrace their uniqueness as women in leadership with confidence.”
Michaela Truscott has plans to enter pastoral ministry—she is completing a Bachelor of Ministry and Theology at Avondale College of Higher Education.
“I’m a timid person, so stepping out and leading makes me nervous,” she said. Lead Like The Queen helped her address these feelings, and it equipped her to deal constructively with them. “Now I’m not as afraid to just preach God’s Word in the way He’s calling me to.”
Ms Truscott’s classmate, Aniele Deojee, found the focus on the “forward space” encouraging. “Rather than whingeing, we’ve been positive and proactive, learning how to be good leaders despite the obstacles in our way.”
“My dislike for women’s conferences burns like tabasco sauce in the eye. But I need them. I grow so much. I learn so much,” said another participant.
"My dislike for women’s conferences burns like tabasco sauce in the eye. But I need them."
Lead Like The Queen brought together participants—academics, administrators, artists, educators, health professionals, homemakers, ministers, students and retirees—from across the South Pacific. Facebook Live recordings by Associate Degree in Theological Studies student Tarenne Greenwood broadened the conference’s reach while cloud-based video conferencing reduced its costs—three of the California, USA-based presenters spoke and answered questions live via Zoom.
These “e-guests” included Dr Sandra Roberts, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in southeastern California—the first woman elected to the role in any of the church’s conferences; Dr Kendra Haloviak Valentine from the HMS Richards Divinity School at La Sierra University; and Pastor Chris Oberg from La Sierra University Church, the first woman to serve as senior pastor of an Adventist university church. In an interactive nod, the three provided 10 possible presentation topics from which participants choose three.
Kezie Apps, the National and the New South Wales Rugby League women’s Player of the Year for 2016, general practitioner Sara Townend and Anglicare’s Anne Ponsonby also spoke, while Avondale President Professor Ray Roennfeldt also presented two plenary sessions.
In an exchange of ideas about the needs and the opportunities of Adventist women in pastoral ministry, Drs Steve Currow, Ministerial Association Secretary for the church in the South Pacific, and Lyell Heise, one of the trustees for Women in Ministry, met with the ministers and the students on the Sunday evening of the conference. While highlighting challenges faced by women in ministry across the South Pacific, the exchange also signalled the church’s intention to increase its support for women in ministry.