Anthea McCall: A theologian deeply grounded in reality with all its joys and messiness

Rev Anthea McCall, 1 June 1961 – 28 April 2022

There was something about Anthea McCall. Something impossible to describe or pin down; something that stemmed from her deep love for Jesus, her confidence in the Gospel and transparent desire to share it; something to do with her zest for life and seriously mischievous sense of fun.

Anthea’s siblings, Belinda and Geoff, remember free-range childhoods in coastal and regional NSW and Sydney. They speak of Anthea’s love of learning, fun-loving spirit, sense of adventure, and gift of friendship as a child. Anthea, winsome, generous and encouraging, gathered friends from every phase of her life. Her primary school spelling prowess was a foretaste of later linguistic achievements, French, German, Italian and, of course, New Testament Greek!

Anthea wrote of coming to faith. “I ended up in St Philips (Anglican Church, Caringbah] after the minister took my father’s funeral. I was 22 and had never been to any church. It was there that I first heard the gospel, was nurtured in spiritual disciplines of Bible reading, prayer and Christian witness, received strong Bible teaching and caring Christian fellowship, and was encouraged to develop gifts for service in the world.”

Graduating from Sydney University in 1984, Anthea taught languages in secondary schools before training for Christian ministry at Moore College. She then worked in student ministry with the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students. In 1998, Anthea joined the team at St Hilary’s Anglican, Kew, where she served in a variety of ministry roles. Although her ministry was in full swing before her ordination as deacon and then priest in 2001, ordination “confirmed and enhanced her ministry, gave her confidence, and enabled her to carry out wholistic pastoral ministry from cradle to grave.”

Anthea ensured that Ridley “was deeply grounded in reality with all its joys and messiness” and did not have “its head in the theological clouds.”

Anthea joined the faculty of Ridley College in 2007, teaching New Testament and Greek and serving as Dean of Students and Associate Dean of the Anglican Institute. Anthea’s leadership was extremely influential when she was the only woman on faculty. Richard Trist, also appointed to faculty in 2007, explains how Anthea was ideally suited to the task. “As an ordained woman with parish experience, Anthea shaped the lives of those seeking ordination in the Anglican church.

Confident in who she was, she recognised different views on women’s ordination but rose above them to see each ministry candidate for who they were and help them in their formation. Many of those unsure about women in ordained leadership would have rethought their views after seeing Anthea in operation and hearing her preach and teach with such clarity and conviction.” Brian Rosner, Principal since 2012, values Anthea’s influence on the culture of the college Ridley. “For Anthea, relationships and pastoral care and the development of empathy were not optional extras, but central to life and ministry.”

Passionate about preaching, Anthea joined the organising committee for Ridley’s annual Preaching Conferences, conferences few women attended at that time. Encouraged by a fabulous evening event for women, Anthea initiated the Women’s Preaching Network in collaboration with Hannah Craven and Karen Morris. Anthea threw her support behind related projects, including the Evangelical Women in Academia Conferences run by Jill Firth, Diane Hockeridge, Denise Cooper-Clarke and others. Anthea ensured that Ridley “was deeply grounded in reality with all its joys and messiness” and did not have “its head in the theological clouds.”

Anthea loved her work. Diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2016, she continued at Ridley until 2020 when she reluctantly retired. Her siblings speak of Anthea’s love for God and God’s word, for her family and friends: “Anthea was called by God and she answered, not half-heartedly, but with all her heart, her mind and her soul.”

“Anthea was called by God and she answered, not half-heartedly, but with all her heart, her mind and her soul.”

So what was so special about Anthea? According to Peter Corney, Vicar of St Hilary’s (1975-1999), “Anthea’s only agenda was to see people come to Christ and grow in Christ. She was highly relational and pastorally sensitive, relaxed about potentially divisive issues, consistently positive and constructive with a quirky sense of humour. Anthea had no axes to grind.”

For Paul Perini, Vicar of St Hilary’s (1999–2008), encouraging Anthea to join the Ridley faculty “was a no-brainer.” “Anthea was a gifted teacher and a linguist who held a reformed understanding of the faith. Her humility and her humour were great strengths in a tertiary setting. We needed, and still need, women in our theological colleges.”

Peter Adam, Principal (2002–2012), offered this tribute: “Anthea was a remarkable preacher and teacher, servant-hearted, full of gospel clarity lived and spoken with winsome enthusiasm. She had no chips on her shoulders, just a straightforward passion to serve Christ, his gospel, and his people. Appointing Anthea was one of the best things I did at Ridley!”

Andy Abernethy, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College, wrote: “Anthea never tried to fit the mould. She was a woman in spheres dominated by men, a relational pastorally minded teacher in a sphere of relationally stunted academics.” Diane Hockeridge, Educational Designer at Ridley, remembered: “Always a careful listener, Anthea would sometimes have this shrewd look in her eye before coming out with something either incredibly helpful or quite hilarious.”

I knew Anthea through a friendship circle that evolved from a group of church friends and endured for over 20 years. We gathered to pray with Anthea following her diagnosis. Anthea spoke of her absolute assurance of salvation and of her fear of dying. She asked us to pray for a miracle cure—and we did. Anthea loved life. She wanted to live! The miracle for which she longed didn’t happen in the way that we’d hoped, but it did happen. How privileged we were to accompany Anthea as she approached death with courage and confidence, relishing life and rejoicing in Jesus until the end.

Anthea’s funeral was a joyous celebration of her life and of God’s love. Her music choices—including Getty Music’s “In Christ Alone” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow!”—reflected her joy in Christ and her fun-loving spirit. Peter Carolane, Anthea’s friend and Minister at Merri Creek Anglican, drew on Romans and John 20 to suggest we follow three of Anthea’s ‘rules of life.’ He urged us to: preach the Gospel with confidence; allow God’s love for us to overflow in our love for others; and rise to any challenge sure in our identity and calling in Christ. Amen.