Good Samaritan Sister Elizabeth Delaney has been appointed General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA), an ecumenical organisation that brings together a number of Australia’s Christian churches in dialogue and practical cooperation.
Elizabeth is the third woman and the first Catholic to be appointed General Secretary, a role traditionally held by church ministers. Her immediate predecessor is Uniting Church Minister, Reverend Tara Curlewis.
“I’m very excited about taking on the role, while recoginsing that it will be very challenging,” Elizabeth told The Good Oil. “I’m passionate about ecumenism, so this is a great opportunity to take on a new role – a role that hopefully serves ecumenism well.”
For Elizabeth, ecumenism is “very much about relationships”.
“If we’ve got good relationships, we can listen to each other, come to understand each other more, and act and pray together,” she explained.
Elizabeth is also “delighted” to be the first Catholic in the role.
“We’ve had two Catholic Presidents [of the NCCA] before – Bishop Michael Putney and before that Archbishop John Bathersby – and of course, many of the other bishops, priests and laity over the years have promoted ecumenism very actively. Bishop Bede Heather was right at the heart of ecumenism and the formation of the National Council of Churches.
“They’re wonderful people whose example and commitment I’ve very much appreciated, so it’s great to follow on from them,” she said.
Elizabeth recognises that the General Secretary position is a “broad” role – “I still need to get my mind around all aspects of it” – but she is looking forward to working with the NCCA President, Reverend Dr Mike Semmler, the NCCA staff (of whom there are about 25), and the many NCCA commissions and networks.
According to Interim General Secretary, Bishop Philip Huggins, who has known Elizabeth for over 10 years through shared interchurch activities, including the Executive of the NCCA, she is “an answer to prayer!”
“As the next General Secretary of the NCCA, she brings just what is next needed,” he said.
“She has a wonderful ecumenical mind and heart, abundant emotional intelligence and a kindly, gracious way with people.”
Bishop Huggins said “the wider ecumenical family will soon too, like those who know her well, see Elizabeth as a real answer to our prayers for the flourishing of our NCCA.
“She can be assured of our prayers and strong support in this time of transition.”
Elizabeth is grateful for the encouragement and support she has already received, particularly from her Good Samaritan Sisters.
“So many people have been marvellous – in congratulating me, but assuring me of prayer and any assistance,” she said.
“I’ll be depending on the prayers of many Good Sams in fulfilling this role.”
Over the past ten years, Elizabeth has worked in the secretariat of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference. Most recently she was Executive Secretary for Church Life – a broad-ranging role covering relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, ecumenism and inter-religious relations, canon law, and doctrine and morals.
Elizabeth will begin her three-year appointment in January 2015, based at the NCCA’s office in Sydney. Her installation and commissioning is planned for early March.