Celebrating two Aussie women serving our church

This International Women’s Day, Eternity is pleased to feature two Australian women who are doing effective kingdom work with grace, humility and passion.

Erica Hamence: Providing practical help to Christian women facing domestic and family violence

In her pastoral work as Associate Minister at St Barnabas Anglican in Sydney, Erica has often seen Christian women wrestle with the experience of domestic and family violence.

“I meet with too many women who are processing the decisions before them – do they leave or stay? If they leave, how? And how do they think about that from a Christian point of view?”

Erica says many Christian women experiencing domestic violence “feel in their bones that they cannot stay, but they also fear that their churches will not understand and will not support them to leave.” The question of how to keep herself and possibly her children safe is also paramount.

Talking through those sorts of questions with women gave Erica a sense of the difficult situation they faced and a determination to do whatever she could to ensure they had every available resource to support them as they made some of the biggest decisions of their lives.

So, when the opportunity came to develop a UK resource specifically designed for women experiencing domestic and family violence for an Australian audience, Erica was “all in”.

“There are many unique and complex questions that Christian survivors of abuse have to face …” – Erica Hamence

Renew: An Australian Guide for Christian Women Survivors of Domestic Abuse is a practical resource for women who encounter domestic abuse. Each chapter in the handbook deals with a specific topic and provides links to further resources.

“I was involved with Renew from the beginning,” Erica says. “There was a team of us – initially Lynda Dunstan and Robyn Boosey – who worked together to get the license to reprint it and edit it for an Australian audience, and who had a vision for how it might fill a gap for Australian Christian women.”

A project team of remarkable women formed, including Banksia Women’s Keely Oste. Lynda took on the role of editor. Erica rolled up her sleeves, sourcing contributors, setting chapter parameters, editing them, and writing one or two of her own.

So, what’s so special about Renew? Erica explains that the handbook is a unique resource that combines best practice domestic and family violence resources with the Christian faith.

“There are many unique and complex questions that Christian survivors of abuse have to face, through absolutely no fault of their own – not the least of which is the terrible choice of whether to leave and rebuild their lives. They need to know that God is with them, and for them, and that their decision is right,” she says.

Regardless of the choice they make, Renew prioritises women’s safety when providing practical help.

“Lots of the practicalities of leaving are overwhelming – what do I do about my mortgage? What about childcare arrangements? How do I keep myself safe whilst co-parenting? In a pastoral situation, just laying all of these things out all at once can be really disempowering. But having them laid out in short chapters that can be dipped into as and when needed is a much more helpful resource to have on hand.”

Erica says one of the most significant vulnerabilities for Christian women dealing with domestic and family violence face is church teaching that can be understood as prohibiting the steps a woman might take to be safe or de-prioritising safety in preference for other values. Another is that they may experience spiritual abuse and find themselves trying to reclaim their faith after aspects of it have been weaponised by their abuser.

“If anyone can embody the resilience, creativity and courage that the church needs to navigate our complex world, it is abused women.”

Despite working in an area that can be dark and disturbing, Erica is strikingly hopeful about the church’s potential for addressing the problem of domestic and family violence and is inspired by survivors. After all, if the church can learn to honour and listen to abused women, they will be a vital part of the church’s future.

“If anyone can embody the resilience, creativity and courage that the church needs to navigate our complex world, it is abused women,” she says.

Erica would love to see the church learn from women who have experienced domestic and family violence, and learn enough about the nuances of how it expresses itself in a faith context to be able to identify it, protect against it, teach against it, and partner with the women affected by it.

“I am constantly blown away by victim survivors’ graciousness with a church that often doesn’t understand or speak to the challenges they face, and their courage in facing those challenges anyway,” Erica says.

“Women survivors are some of the most impressive people I know, and I think the church (and the world) would be enriched by knowing them and honouring them.”

Renew: an Australian Guide for Christian Women Survivors of Domestic Abuse is a resource for Christian women survivors of abuse, including those trying to decide about leaving, those trying to find ways of being safer and those who have already left. It’s also for the people supporting them, including ministers and friends.

Renew is available from Anglicare here.

Bree Mills: Champion of Aussie churches – big and small

Bree Mills is a breath of fresh air in a time of abundant negative news regarding the church.

“As the church is re-emerging after Covid, we know that things have changed. I’ve changed,” Bree says.

“The exciting thing is that God has not changed. He is still at work and doing some incredible things across Australia!”

If anyone has their proverbial finger on the pulse of Australian churches, it’s Bree.

Bree is a doctoral student in the area of Missional Leadership, focusing on innovative leadership, having already completed a Master’s of Missional Leadership, focusing on missional culture change in existing churches and in the Australian context.

And, with a passion for raising women for church planting, she has partnered with women worldwide to launch The Company, a network to support women in church planting.

The Exponential team has a bold vision – to see 1000 new churches planted annually in Australia.

Bree is also a ‘Leadership Acceleration Catalyst’ as part of Exponential Australia – an organisation that helps denominations and churches raise up leaders for church planting.

The Exponential team has a bold vision – to see 1000 new churches planted annually in Australia – and a range of events and resources designed to help church leaders thrive.

This might sound like a daunting goal to some Christians – many of us have grown weary of all things “big” regarding the church – but Exponential is no cookie-cutter, mega-church-franchising, church-planting movement.

Exponential is dedicated to championing missional churches of all sizes and shapes, across all denominations and movements. And that’s why Bree Mills is such a great fit for Exponential.

As a founding partner of Micro Churches Australia, Bree is incredibly passionate about Australia’s small churches.

Established in 2021, Micro Churches Australia aims to serve the growing community of “micro church” leaders and networks leading intentionally smaller, different churches.

(Sidenote: what is a micro church? “A micro church is a small, Jesus-centred community empowered by the Spirit, creatively engaging a particular network or neighbourhood, in times of worship, community, and mission, to make disciples and multiply communities in partnership with others to the glory of God. Micro churches exist all over Australia, within many different denominations and traditions,” explains the organisation’s website.)

“God is doing some beautiful and unique things across Australia.” – Bree Mills

But the subject of micro churches isn’t merely academic for Bree – it’s personal.

An ordained Anglican minister until the end of 2020, Bree was the Senior Associate Minister at Glen Waverley Anglican Church in Melbourne, where she pioneered a network of missional communities alongside a contemporary Anglican Church.

These days, though, Bree is part of a new micro church network church plant in Melbourne, along with her husband and kids, and helps lead a community called The Village.

Throughout March, Bree is thrilled to be joining guest speakers Ed Stetzer and Bishop Ric Thorpe and Dave Ferguson for a series of Exponential regional events across Australia, designed to equip and encourage leaders, teams and attendees of all types of churches.

“I’m excited to share some of what I’ve been noticing in the Australian context and what we are seeing happen through micro churches and the partnership of some of these smaller forms of church with traditional churches,” Bree says.

“God is doing some beautiful and unique things across Australia.”