Anglican Deaconess Ministries (ADM) is a Sydney-based foundation of Christian women supporting women involved in kingdom work. TGCA head of operations, Sarah Kuswadi recently spoke to ADM staff member, Dr Katrina Clifford about her involvement.

SK: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what it is you do with Anglican Deaconess Ministries?

I’m married to Tim, and we have three kids, aged 12 down to 1. We go to church at St Marks Anglican in Pennant Hills. I love Jane Austen, baking, and tea. I’ve been at ADM now for about nine months, hired to start this new program called The Greenhouse. Before that, I was one of the deans at Robert Menzies College, a Christian residential college at Macquarie University. I loved it. I loved getting to know the students; investing in them; seeing them grow and develop; training them in leadership; providing them with care and a listening ear. And I loved being part of the college community and thinking strategically about how to grow and strengthen that community. 

The Greenhouse is a new program designed to support Christian women in all the different spaces and contexts in which God has placed them.

Now I manage The Greenhouse, a new program that’s designed to support Christian women in all the different spaces and contexts in which God has placed them. We’re providing training that’s tailored specifically to the needs and requirements of women, and we’re building networks of women in different industries, ministries and life stages. 

ADM ran a number of Listening Forums in the past couple of years and heard over and over again that women were feeling isolated—not lonely, per se, but that there were significant parts of their lives in which they felt the need for greater peer support, for more relationships of mutual encouragement, particularly in parts of their lives (such as their work) that their local church isn’t well-equipped to provide. The Greenhouse has been established to try to meet this need. 

SK: What are your short and long-term hopes for Greenhouse Guild?

Greenhouse Guilds are the core building block of The Greenhouse. They’re small groups of 8-12 women who have something significant in common—they work in the same industry, or have similar key relationships, or are passionate about the same issues, or serve in the same ministries in different churches. They meet monthly to support, encourage and challenge each other to grow and develop as Christian women in the particular spaces in which God has placed them. 

Short-term, my hope is that the women who join a guild will find like-minded Christian women with whom they can connect in a deep way. I hope that they will be able to provide each other with genuine understanding of their particular life situation and spur one another on to live lives that more fully reflect Christ and seek to serve him and his world in their contexts. 

Dr Katrina Clifford, Program Manager of The Greenhouse

Longer term, I genuinely hope that guilds will change the world! I hope that they will be places where women will grow in their faith, their love of God and of others, and their skills and abilities. I hope that the guilds will be places women will invest in, such that they can be more excellent teachers, or accountants, or play group leaders, or chaplains, or foster parents, and so impact the world for Christ by really using the gifts and opportunities he gives us to the best of our abilities.

SK: What is your background, and what is something that’s unusual about that?

I’m not one of those people who knew what they wanted to do with their lives when they left school, or who has had a simple and straightforward career path since! But looking back on twenty years of working, two themes emerge: I like working with and investing in people, and I like books. So I’ve worked in student ministry, in university teaching, and in a residential college—all of which were about looking after and helping young people grow and develop. And I’ve worked in a bookshop, and done a PhD in English literature, and taught English at university, and been involved with book reviews and book clubs in the media. What I find unusual is that I’ve managed to find a series of jobs that allowed me to do both those things—including this one! 

It has also been pointed out to me that, while falling in love with Jane Austen in high school is pretty typical, going on to do a PhD on Austen and delivering lectures and courses on her and her works is not such a common path to follow! It’s been a delightful one, though.

SK: What appealed to you about the role at ADM?

So many things. I love investing in people, and building them up, and helping them grow. I love Christian women, and I’m particularly passionate about raising up women who can use the gifts and opportunities God has set before them. I love growing communities and watching people connect with each other in positive and life-affirming ways. I love talking to different people and finding out who they are, what they do, where God is leading them. This job lets me talk to LOTS of women, all of whom are just fascinating. 

I love investing in people and building them up.

And I love starting new things. There’s something very exciting for me about spotting a need, a gap in what’s available, and thinking, “I could do something about that!” and then brainstorming and thinking and planning and praying, and gradually seeing a new thing take shape. And it’s been lovely to see women connecting with the idea of The Greenhouse and being excited to be part of this new program we’re establishing.  

SK: Can you tell us about some things that you have learnt recently in your role?

Most of what I’ve been learning is how to use technology better—though I suspect that’s not what your question is asking! But I’ve certainly been reminded of a few things. 

First and most importantly, that this is God’s work, not mine; that he is the one who will bring the growth and it won’t always look the way I’m expecting or planning it to. These are his women, not mine, and he loves them more than I ever could and wants them to grow in him and depend on him, not on me! 

I’ve also been reminded that his timing is not my timing; as I may want things to happen faster (or slower!), his plans are higher than my plans. It’s also been really encouraging to experience women’s willingness to get involved and help. My colleagues here at ADM are a constant source of encouragement, but I’ve been genuinely stunned by the range of women who have been willing to speak at an event, or coordinate a guild— without me having to talk them into it. I have learned that it’s always worth asking because you never know what work God is doing behind the scenes in that person’s life. 

SK: Is there a Bible verse that you often come back to for encouragement?

I’ve been reflecting recently on Psalm 27, one of my favourites. It can be easy in the busyness of life—and it’s been a busy time getting The Greenhouse up and running!—to get carried away by all the tasks that need to get done. And so I come back to Ps 27:8: “My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek.” 

That helps me to lift my eyes again to him; to feel the great goodness of being included in his plans for the world, which are so much bigger and better than my own plans. The way the psalm finishes, exhorting patient dependence—”Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord”—has been resonating with me in my impatience and desire to do things faster and sooner.  

SK: How can people get involved?

Our website has lots of information: https://www.deaconessministries.org.au/the-greenhouse 

One easy way to get involved is to come along to our monthly gatherings. They happen one evening in the last week of the month, and feature interesting speakers on a range of different topics. At the next one, happening on 22nd February, Jessica Carroll Smith will be talking about how a well-ordered life can help us better steward our time, opportunities and gifts for God’s glory. Gatherings happen both in person and online, so you can zoom in from wherever you are in the world.

If women are interested in being in a guild, we have some starting up now for: 

  • birth workers; 
  • higher degree research students; 
  • women who work in pastoral care and mental wellbeing roles;
  • play time leaders; 
  • women who work with clients who experience trauma; 
  • readers; 
  • mentors; 
  • working mums; 
  • regional ministry workers; and 
  • chaplains and spiritual care practitioners. 

And, coming soon: 

  • primary school teachers; 
  • high school teachers; and 
  • university ministry workers. 

We’re hoping to start up a new group every six months, gradually building what we are able to offer to meet the needs of more and more Christian women. To join a guild, you need to become a member of The Greenhouse, which you can find out about here: https://www.deaconessministries.org.au/the-greenhouse

Or email me for more information or to suggest a new guild you’d like started up: [email protected] 

That looks like it’s probably plenty of information, but there’s a bit more here if useful: https://www.deaconessministries.org.au/news/dr-katrina-clifford-announcement

Important to note: while The Greenhouse is connected to Anglican Deaconess Ministries, you don’t need to be Anglican to join—anyone who identifies as evangelical will find their people here. And you don’t need to be based in Sydney (where our office is). We’re hoping that Christian women across Australia will connect with us, and through us, connect with others to form a community where we are all seriously supported to live our lives for Jesus.