Q&A with new St Francis College Principal, theologian, mother, gardener and second-generation priest, The Rev’d Dr Ruth Mathieson
Meet Ruth Mathieson and find out about her call to the priesthood, current projects, recent role highlight, thoughts on Reconciliation and “Being Together: Embracing Joy”, faith journey, favourite scripture and what she enjoys doing in her free time
Where do you currently live and where do you worship?
I live on the beautiful bushland grounds of St Francis College. Since commencing in the role mid-year, I have been worshipping with The Parish of Milton community in the College’s chapel on Sundays. I have recently started worshipping with additional parishes across our Diocese, and getting to know more people.
How long have you been involved in the Anglican Church and in what roles?
I grew up in the Anglican Church attending church, Sunday School and GFS in my childhood and then teaching Sunday School and attending Youth Group in my teenage years. I was involved in the young Anglican Synod movement in the Diocese of Adelaide and the South Australian Council of Churches as a young adult. As a young teacher I participated in Parish life by serving, singing, coordinating musicians, leading youth group and Lent Studies and being a member of Parish Council. Following ordination in the Diocese of Adelaide I ministered in the parishes of Glen Osmond, Parkside, Elizabeth and Semaphore and as a chaplain at St Columba College and Trinity College. I completed two terms as an Archdeacon, first in the north of the Diocese (2006-2010) and then in the southwest (2018-2022).
What is your current role and what does your role involve?
I am the Principal of St Francis College and the Executive Director of the Ministry Education Commission (MEC), which includes FormedFaith, Anglican Youth Children and Families (AYCF), Spiritual Direction formation, the Roscoe Library and Baroona Farm. At St Francis College we also host the formation and graduate clergy program. My role involves being a theological educator – I teach in the area of the New Testament. On a day-to-day level I also work at an operational level to oversee the MEC’s staff and ministry functions.
What activities are you currently engaged in?
One of the main projects I am currently working on is contributing to the writing of the new curriculum as we prepare to teach within the University of Divinity in 2023. My days are framed with Morning and Evening Prayer in the College’s Chapel of The Holy Spirit. My days variously involve meetings, lecturing and supporting MEC staff, as well as working alongside other Executive Directors and Episcopal leaders of the ACSQ.
Why and when did you become drawn to ordained ministry?
My call was always there, but the appropriate time to explore my vocation came after I gained experience working as a teacher. I had grown up in a clergy household and needed to know what life was like outside of living in the rectory. I attended the Selection for Ordination weekend in 1992, just prior to the first ordinations of women to the priesthood in the Anglican Church of Australia and was accepted as an ordination candidate the following year.
What advice do you have for people discerning ordained ministry?
To sit with it, to pray about it and to talk about it with a trusted person. People considering ordained ministry benefit from having a spiritual director.
What do you enjoy most about being a priest?
Celebrating the Eucharist is a real joy – the depth of which I realised when I returned to ministry following a couple of months off on maternity leave. In parish ministry I loved building connections with the wider community. As a school chaplain, I loved the challenge of sharing the gospel with different cohorts in the community – from Godly Play with the pre-schoolers to deeper theological conversations with staff and senior students.
What has been one of the highlights of your St Francis College role so far?
Celebrating the signing of the Collegiate Agreement with the University of Divinity on Friday 30 September with a Eucharist and Public Lecture, given by Professor Peter Sherlock, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Divinity. Many conversations and connections were made during his three day visit.
What are your plans and goals for the next 12 months?
My primary goal for St Francis College in the next 12 months is to ensure that our transition to the University of Divinity goes smoothly. My primary goal in the Ministry Education Commission space is to commence a process of strategic planning for continuing youth, children and families ministry in our Diocese, as the new Director of AYCF, Elissa Cotroneo, begins in her role.
Can you tell us a little about your personal faith journey?
My father was an Anglican priest, so we moved around a lot while I was a child, and the church community became my extended family because we didn’t have extended family around in the various parishes where my father served. My mother fostered and inspired my faith from a young age through bedtime prayers and her really deep faith and trust in God, which were shaped by growing up in Germany during the Great Depression of the 1930s and the Second World War. She was Lutheran and one of 11 children. She tells a story about how when in her late teens, towards the end of the war, her mother handed her some potatoes that were sprouting in the cellar and asked her to go and plant them in the family allotment by the Danube. When she arrived at the allotment, she encountered some German soldiers who were intent on blowing up the road bridge to slow the advancement of the Allies. They tried to send her home for her own safety, but she quoted Martin Luther and said that the food needed to be planted regardless, even if the potatoes were eaten by others. After the war, she trained as a missionary and served with the Lutheran Mission in Papua New Guinea for nine years.
What person of faith inspires you the most and why?
Archbishop Desmond Tutu because he engaged with people who were committing the worst of what we are humans can do to each other, but had such joy in his relationship with God and zest for life, which bubbled out with his the amazing laugh.
What is your favourite scripture and why?
Psalm 139 because I love the idea that we are held in God’s love from the womb onwards.
2022’s Diocesan theme is “Being Together: Embracing Joy”. What are some practical ways that we can celebrate the way differences help to make us whole and the importance of diversity in our unity?
The On Earth festival, which was held at St Francis College on Saturday 8 October, had the theme “Embracing Joy”. People gathered to eat, dance, sing, plant, learn and create together.
Why is Reconciliation with First Nations peoples important?
Makarrata is a word in the Yolngu language that means “a coming together after a struggle, facing the facts of wrongs and living again in peace.” Makarrata is just as important for those of us who have benefited from colonialism in this country as it is for our First Nations peoples. It is only by engaging in meaningful Reconciliation and Makarrata that we can live our lives in truth and integrity.
Why is the Uluru Statement From the Heart important for Anglicans?
The Uluru Statement From the Heart’s two reforms – the Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution and the Makarrata Commission of truth telling and Treaty – continue the important work begun by the successful 1967 Referendum, which meant our First Nations peoples were counted in the Census for the first time.
What is the kindest gesture you have ever received or witnessed?
I know a rough sleeper who sat and prayed with a cantankerous rough sleeper on a strip of land by a railway line while waiting two hours for an ambulance that came too late.
If you could have a billboard with any text on it?
“God loves everybody – no exceptions.”
What book have you given away most as a gift and why?
The Gospel of Luke because it contains some of my favourite stories of Jesus and it’s helpful for people to read one story of Jesus from cover to cover.
What do you do in your free time to recharge and relax?
Read, garden and walk.
Where do you do your best thinking?
While walking along the Brisbane River.
What is your earliest memory?
Meeting my cousins in Germany when I was a pre-schooler.
If you are having a bad day, what do you do to cheer yourself up?
I go and pull out weeds in the garden or cook with whatever ingredients I have so I don’t need to go shopping first.
What is the funniest thing that happened to you recently?
Arriving in Brisbane and hearing the shrieking cry of the curlew in the night for the first time was so distressing I nearly rang the police.
If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would that be?
Pasta – any way it comes.
What day would you like to re-live and why?
My ordination day. There had been a heatwave in Adelaide and the rain had come while we were in the Cathedral. We came out to pouring rain and I was soaked to my skin. In a place where rain is rare and valued – in the driest state on the driest inhabited continent – it was a sign of God’s abundant blessing.Jump to next article