Time for a woman Moderator? – Marg Schrader

Marg is a retired minister living in Waikanae

I woke with a sense of call last Tuesday. The context was my concern that in the 117 years since our first moderator, there have been only four women moderators in a church that has far more women than men.

Joan Anderson, an ordained elder 1979.
Rev Margaret Reid Martin in 1987.
Rev Marg Schrader 1995.
Rev Pamela Tankersley in 2006.

I thought, OK God, I will write a letter stating the facts, but the sense of call continued to grow.  So I began by ringing people including Steve Taylor of KCML, and Margaret Garland, as a part of a group overseeing research on women’s experience of ministry within the PCANZ along with Dr Vivienne Adair, the researcher.

The two words that stuck out for me were ‘call’ and ‘mother.’  That led me to remember my call to being moderator.

I was sitting in Assembly as Margaret Reid Martin broke the bread. That little familiar voice inside me said ‘you will be doing that one day.’ I did nothing. I certainly did not talk about it and I do not remember praying about it.

Then in the 1993 Assembly, with a gracious male moderator, there was a gentle, if silent, uprising from the women around me about the use of the word ‘Father’ as seemingly the only word to describe God and ‘men’ to describe us all.
The moderator had asked me to take worship the next evening and I was well-prepared with what I wanted to say all typed out.  But I woke the next morning with a sense that I had to throw that out, go for a long walk, and listen more deeply to what God might want to say to the church.

So, aware that I was treading on ground that for some was anathema, and for others dangerous, and yet for others very healing, I began to speak about how God comes to us in very many ways, and for those of us who have been abused by our fathers, or by other men in positions of power, ‘Father’ or other male images may not be the most healing word.

I then spoke of the many ways that women had come to name God, (mostly Biblical) as I had discovered in my work as a spiritual director and sexual abuse counsellor. We then went on to explore how we as church leaders could be more inclusive of those for whom God was very real. but needed different images and metaphors to describe God

At the next break a few people came up to me and said ‘Marg you need to be our next moderator.’ I immediately remembered the call of six years before. Suffice to say that I was soon nominated and then inducted in 1995.

One strong memory on that first day was as the call ‘Moderator’ came and everyone stood for me and I thought ‘Oh dear, I have forgotten to read the Book of Order!’  Thank God for Michael Thawley, the then Executive Secretary!

The word ‘mother’ came out of Vivienne’s research and I remembered at the Assembly a couple of people said ‘Marg you are the mother of the church.’ I felt very strange, not sure what that meant. and it did not fit my sense of what moderators do.

But today I recalled the Homosexuality debate, where we were at our most broken and most pained. My theme had been One Bread One Body, and a group of women were at the back of the hall baking bread. I called the debate to a halt and said, ‘When I am driving the car with the children in the back and they begin to fight, I usually pull up and suggest they work it out, and when there is peace we will continue.’  So I called the women forward with the piping hot bread, called the Assembly to some silent prayer, spoke a few words regarding Jesus ministering to the very broken body of his disciples, and then suggested people got up, and when they were ready take some bread, they offer it to someone who they felt called to serve. It was a healing moment.

A few months down the track I called a five-day retreat at the Home of Compassion and invited some strong leaders with disparate views to come and talk and pray together. We used a family therapy model where, as when working with a family in pain, we were all asked to share our history about how we had got to stand where we were, our own experiences, and our understanding of the scriptures.

Many of us cried as we shared our stories and heard others. We all came to a place where we thought we would suggest the next Assembly give parishes the opportunity to either call or not call a homosexual person. Unfortunately, when we went back home and shared where we had got to, there was a sense from some that we had all been brain-washed! So it never got to Assembly.

Then, this morning, Friday, I woke knowing it would be good to go see the film Mary Magdalene again. What an amazing film!
Mary, deeply in love and in touch with God, and with a growing understanding and relationship of Jesus and his ministry, faced the fear and antagonism of the men as they fearfully worried about ‘what people might think’ as they saw her with them, and their finding it very hard to believe that her compassionate response to so much was indeed God’s way.

I also discovered that it was Pope Gregory in the C6 who called her a whore, and Pope Benedict in 2016 who called her ‘The apostle to the apostles.’ These things sometimes take a long time!

I am aware that my stories are my stories and every woman is different and has different gifts to offer just as every man has.  But I ask will you please pray about whether this is the time for another woman to be called to this task for our national church.

5 thoughts on “Time for a woman Moderator? – Marg Schrader

  1. Thanks Margaret, time indeed… but only with the right Moderator of God’s anointing with no room for tokenism which unfortunatey is still rife in our church. A great reflection!
    Helen Wallis


  2. Amongst Southern Presbyterians I note a similar lack of diversity coming through into leadership. Synod and Presbytery are often dominated by men nearing retirement with leadership recycled between them.
    We lack younger voices, diversity of ethnicity, and in Synod especially it seems few women taking leading roles.
    It seems we need to be intentionally identifying younger leaders from amongst the current under represented groups, provide opportunities for them, and then get out of the way to allow them to come through.


  3. There is pressure in society to have more women in leadership roles as CEO’s and on Boards etc. In our Regional Presbyteries we have had competent women moderators. However, must the church follow society by appointing women in leadership roles?
    Surely the position of moderator should be based on calling and abilities. Whether the person is male or female should not be the deciding factor but whether the person has the qualities for leadership.


  4. Kia ora Marg, I believe part of the call process is to identify the variance required and have equitable representation regularly, so I agree with you. I, like Ian, think we should identify people very early on, nurture, mentor, give them the opportunity for specific learnings and experiences. Spending time(ie. years) in creative environments outside of our regular NZ nuance could be one of those invaluable experiences along with specific schooling to enhance the attributes for great leadership. Some organisations would call it a succession plan.


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