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Girls’ Friendly Society: history, origins and now


“GFS – An Anglican Ministry in our Diocese supports a range of initiatives, locally and internationally, by providing grants for parishes; bursaries for St Francis College students; financial support for Ichthus Camps; and funding for a chaplain one day a week at Queensland Children’s Hospital,” says GFS – An Anglican Ministry Office Administrator, Margaret Humphries

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GFS – An Anglican Ministry (formerly known as Girls’ Friendly Society, nationally) was founded in England in 1875 within the Anglican Church by Mary Elizabeth Townsend, an Irish clergyperson’s daughter. She started GFS out of concern for the welfare of young women and girls from the country who moved to the cities for work. These young women and girls were vulnerable to exploitation as they usually had no family or other networks in the cities to support them. GFS helped connect them to women ‘associates’ who offered spiritual, practical and housing support.

The first Australian branch was launched in 1879 in Adelaide. The first Brisbane branch was launched in 1882 and other branches were established throughout the nation by 1901. In the early days, branches offered accommodation through hostels and spiritual guidance to members. GFS activities then broadened to include camps and leadership courses.

Last year, Diocesan Archivist Michael Rogers wrote an interesting feature about dedicated local Anglican Eliza Tritton OBE, who started GFS in the Parish of Clayfield in 1907:

“Eliza established the parish branch of the Girls’ Friendly Society (GFS) where she encouraged the learning and development of the young members through social events and lending them books from her own library. The indefatigable Eliza regularly organised fetes and dances with the other ladies of St Colomb’s, Clayfield and other members of the GFS.”

Eliza Tritton in 1951 (State Library of Queensland)

In the 1990s GFS commenced KidsPlus+TM to accommodate both boys and girls attending branches. Then, in the early 2000s, the name changed from Girl’s Friendly Society to GFS – Anglican Ministry in Australia. The GFS Australian President is Suzanne Claire and the Brisbane Diocesan Chair is Lesley Briggs.

There are currently 20 branches in the Anglican Church nationally. There are two children’s branches in our Diocese – KidsPlus+ in the Parish of Bundaberg and GFS and KidsPlus+ in the Parish of Clayfield. There are also two Townsend (adult) branches in our Diocese, with Headquarter Fellowship Branch meeting monthly in a Chermside café and South Side Townsend, consisting of women and men, meeting every two months in different members’ homes. There are other members who do not belong to a branch. GFS Brisbane also supports a children’s branch in another Diocese.

GFS – An Anglican Ministry met at St Francis College on 17 October 2021

The children’s branches run arts and crafts, games, singing, drama, cooking, sleepovers, spiritual development, church parades, outings, camps and parent evenings. The Townsend branches are fellowship groups, with many long-term members, including three women who have been GFS members for 80 years, these being Iris Dean (who is a current branch member), Ailsa Skippen and Gwen Mullins.

We also have two outreach groups that meet twice a year. One of these is a social event of past and present members and the other is the GFS World Day of Prayer on (or around) 29 September, to coincide with the Feast Day of St Michael and All Angels, at a local parish. Services are prepared by GFS countries worldwide. Following the service those attending enjoy lunch and fellowship. GFS – An Anglican Ministry will be celebrating 140 years next year in our Diocese.

On 29 September this year the GFS World Day of Prayer was held at St Augustine’s, Hamilton. The service was followed by lunch at the Hamilton Hotel. The service was prepared by GFS Sierra Leone. GFS Brisbane Chaplain Emeritus The Rev’d Kaye Pitman led the service, with 27 past and present members in attendance. A number of 14-year, 21-year and 50-year badges were awarded and one member received an 80-year membership certificate.

Fourteen members attended a personal development and reunion event with past and present Toowoomba members on the weekend of 8-10 October. The theme for the weekend was “Women of the Word”. The event was capably led by Diocesan Chair Lesley Briggs and Leader Training Officer Chris Rooney. Rachel Jimma, with husband Bishop Daniel Abot in support, was our guest speaker. She spoke of her life and faith journey and joined members at a superb lunch provided by the St James’ Toowoomba catering team. In the afternoon members visited the local parks to admire the spring flowers, returning later to St James’ for a liturgy before dinner. Most members attended St James’ for the 7.30 am service on Sunday before returning home.

GFS – Anglican Ministry in our Diocese supports a range of initiatives, locally and internationally, by providing grants for parishes; bursaries for St Francis College students; financial support for Ichthus Camps; and funding for a chaplain one day a week at Queensland Children’s Hospital.

GFS Papua New Guinea receives Leader Training support from The Rev’d Canon Cheryl Selvage (GFS Brisbane Chaplain) and The Rev’d Sue Wilson when travel permits. Townsend members also support the work of Anglicare, donating toiletries and cleaning products.

GFS is worldwide and the current GFS World President is Thembeka Pama from South Africa. GFS Brisbane/Australia supports the WORLD PROJECT 2021 – 2023 (GFS Skills Acquisition For Disadvantaged Young Women In Cameroon). The Travel Fund assists one delegate from majority world (developing) countries without adequate funds to attend World Council every three years. We also support the World Emergency Fund, which has strict guidelines ensured by the World President, with monies approved by the Archbishop of the GFS country which suffers an emergency situation. This was, for example, used by GFS Japan following the 2011 Tsunami.

The GFS Motto is to: “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the Law of Christ” (Galatians 6.2).

GFS is a not-for-profit organisation made up of people belonging to a Christian community locally, nationally and globally.

Editor’s note: If you would like to join GFS – Anglican Ministry, please contact the office administrator Margaret Humphries via For more information, please visit the GFS Brisbane website.

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