Skip to main content

Wellington Christian Feminists

1977 – 1990

This essay written by Rose Lovell-Smith was first published in Women Together: a History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand in 1993.

Lyndel Borrie, Margie Lovell-Smith and Nicky Chisnall started Wellington Christian Feminists in June 1977, when they invited friends and contacts 'to further clarify our thoughts and understanding of Christianity, drawing on our experiences as women, and the writing of women theologians'. [1] The core membership settled at about ten, though many more women came to one or two meetings. All were Pākehā and well educated; an increasing number came to identify as lesbian. Members had diverse religious origins, ranging from Catholic to Baptist, Quaker to Pentecostalist, but with a common past of serious, continuing commitment to faith.

Early meetings, based on reading Mary Daly's Beyond God the Father, introduced a radical feminist critique that eventually caused many of the women to move on to a 'post-Christian feminist' position. Strongly committed to contacting other Christian feminists, who often felt extremely isolated within their churches, the group took every opportunity to educate and learn from a larger circle of women, running seminars, courses, weekend conferences, and a workshop at the 1979 United Women's Convention in Hamilton. Members took part in broader-based meetings too, including an 'exodus' to Paraparaumu in 1979 to meet a sister group from Auckland, and contributed to the three Women in Ministry conferences. Such occasions formed the basis for what became a national feminist spirituality network, supported and kept in touch by Vashti's Voice, the magazine produced from November 1978 by Mitzi Nairn and others in Auckland.

At a 1981 weekend, visitors from Christchurch joined in a women's ritual. Amid misgivings and hot debate, experiments in creating rituals followed. Meetings were often held out of doors, adjusting traditional celebrations to the southern seasons. The winter solstice became a special festival night, involving fire, candles, flowers and a shared meal. Offerings – ranging from flowers and chocolates to a handwritten poem or reading – were often shared round the circle.

Even ordinary meetings acquired a ritual character, as a 'round' – each woman speaking in turn – became usual, and as reading and discussion lessened in proportion to time spent in care and support. The group listened to each other's stories and shared the freedom to talk, in the context of their spiritual lives, of sexuality, sexual experience, male abuse, birth, abortion and child rearing, protesting the Springbok Tour in 1981, and seeking ordination. Not surprisingly, there were often disagreements, tears, a sense of lost time or dissipated purpose. However, for many of the women these meetings replaced the church they had left, as they identified and disowned the patriarchal basis of their faith.

The group ceased to meet in 1990, though friendship and shared memories brought it together on occasions such as a former member's funeral. For a decade its members experienced the group as central to their lives, offering education, support, consciousness-raising and ritual, in a genuine experiment with a new form of feminist religious life and commitment. The effects of such groups, which formed all over the country in the 1970s and 1980s, could be seen in the gradual, halting adjustment of mainstream churches and theological training to feminist pressures and concerns.

Rose Lovell-Smith


[1] Letter of invitation, June 1977, WCF Scrapbook.

Unpublished sources

Joy Anderton, Cathy Benland, Fiona Campbell, Judith Dale, Margaret Lovell-Smith, Judith Miller and other group members, personal communications, 1992

Wellington Christian Feminists collections of memorabilia, in possession of Margaret Aitken, Lower Hutt and Margaret Lovell-Smith, Christchurch

Wellington Christian Feminists Scrapbook, formerly in possession of Judith Dale, whereabouts unknown

Published sources

Vashti's Voice, 1978–1992