High honours for a
lifetime of liturgy
High honours for a lifetime of liturgy
For Elizabeth Smith, as a young woman in her twenties and first committing her hymns and prayers to paper, hearing them later being sung or prayed by fellow Anglicans would be wonderful recognition of her gift, skill and discipline.
The thought that a lifetime of commitment to liturgical scholarship might one day be recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List was never contemplated. It was unimaginable.
Fast forward almost four decades and Reverend Elizabeth Smith – now ministering in her own inimitable manner in the Western Australian goldfields – is now not only astonished by this wonderful personal recognition, but also recognising another irrefutable statement about the practical strength of women’s leadership in the modern Anglican Church.
Elizabeth J Smith has been appointed Member (AM) of the Order of Australia (General Division) “for significant service to the Anglican Church of Australia, and to liturgical scholarship.”
For most of her adult life, Dr. Smith has been filling gaps and developing a distinctly Australian voice for the Anglican liturgy. She’s also been a member of the Liturgy Commission for a number of decades – the group that helps process and critique her work.
Inclusive language is key, and kicked-started Elizabeth’s work 40 years ago.
“The women’s ordination movement in the Anglican Church was building momentum and the sexist language in many of our hymns and prayers stuck in the throats of people keen to see women recognised as leaders in the Christian church,” she explains.
“In our hymns and prayers, God was always a king and father; human beings were men and brothers; and it was always mankind.
“I always try to be inclusive in my writing and preaching – of women, and of all the other people God loves but the church often overlooks or excludes.
“A Prayer Book for Australia is great, but it can’t possibly cover all the situations when Anglicans want to pray. I aim to fill some of the gaps, and keep developing an Australian voice for Anglican liturgy.”
Elizabeth Smith’s writings aren’t the jumbled pleas for help that likely pass all our lips in times of desperation, nor the inarticulate prayers of thanks we hopefully also expel regularly, and nor are they the practical, unspoken prayers expressed in every act of kindness or compassion.
Instead, they are about the church praying its common prayer, central to all services and all Anglicans. They are certainly heartfelt nonetheless, reflective of the community around her, and deeply rooted in theology.
“I really care about getting the words short, clear, true and occasionally beautiful,” explains Dr. Smith. “And you usually can’t do that off the top of your head – it takes real discipline.
“Writing prayers and hymns is something I love to do. I look for a gap. I look for a need. And the theology that matters.”
So watch out for hymns and prayers focussed on the environment, more about ANZAC Day, or violence against women, and other wicked problems of today and tomorrow.
In the meantime, the local Goldfields community – and the Most Reverend Kay Goldsworthy AO – know Dr Smith is happy to take requests. She wrote ‘Nothing less than love has saved us’ for the Archbishop’s installation service in 2018 and regularly responds to requests from fellow clergy wanting to celebrate anything from a wildflower festival to an event at a local hospital.
For the past five years, Dr Smith has been an avid listener in her new Kalgoorlie community where she’s adapted to a culture that’s a world away from lofty metropolitan cathedrals and it would be optimistic to call the Sunday congregation a crowd.
“So one of the prayer forms I’ve done a lot of are give-away blessings,” she explains. “Short, snappy prayers for sports clubs, parks, pets, the local city council, emergency services and more.
“At the monthly market at Boulder, I’d give away free blessings on brightly coloured paper written in colloquial language for people who don’t really do church and don’t have words they’ve memorised for praying.
“I don’t do fluffy. Sometimes I do slightly humourous, but I don’t do fluffy.
“I want people to say ‘amen!’ Yes! That’s how I feel.”
May the Reverend Dr Elizabeth Smith AM’s writing continue to be inspired – and perhaps challenging – for years to come.
Three other Anglicans named in the Honours List
Ms Donna Shepherd AM, from the Parish of Cottesloe, for significant service to children through international aid organisations. Donna was the facilitator for the Diocesan Mission 2020+ launched at the end of last year.
Mr Ian Kaye-Eddie AM from the Parish of West Nedlands, for significant service to medical administration and to community health. Ian was one of the Archbishop’s Examining Chaplains for a number of years.
Mr Malcolm Seymour OAM from the Parish of Wongan Hills-Dalwallinu for service to agriculture through roles with a range of associations.
The Governor-General announced the Queen’s Birthday 2020 Honours List on 8 June, recognising 933 Australians. View the full list of recipients.