First woman minister
19 March, 2023, 5:13 pm
ONE of Fiji’s most notable female figures, Mary Mills, was regarded as the first woman to be ordained as a minister in the Methodist Church of Fiji. When she was ordained in 1983, she had just completed her undergraduate studies in divinity.
The Fiji Times, in an article published on April, 5, 1984, recorded her experiences and challenges leading up to the moment she was ordained. Miss Mills, who was 68 years old, had worked as a youth worker, elementary and secondary schoolteacher, Christian education specialist and librarian before “retiring” at the age of 60.
“My grandparents and parents were strong, healthy people and were active into their 70s,” she said.
“I also decided to do something of value between the ages of 60 to 70.”
Ms Mills previously served as a lay preacher and was well-known to English-speaking Methodist Church congregations in Fiji. She was allowed to perform services that were not possible for a lay person after receiving her ordination that year, including communions, baptisms, marriages and funerals.
Ms Mills believed it was still possible to enter a new area of work. “I believe God has his own timing for your life. This is an opportune timing and an unexpected opportunity to study and consider the ministry.”
When the door opened for her, she entered and said that when one individual was able to lead the way, others would follow. Young Fijian women studying at the Pacific Theological College were inspired by her story to become church ministers.
Ms Mills thought it would be beneficial for Christian women and the church to include more women in the ministry and was confident that one day women would be widely accepted as pastors. She had a busy agenda for the entire week even though she was old. With a team, she would visit Veiuto Primary School once a week to provide Christian education.
She was also a part-time volunteer worker at the HART (Housing Assistance and Relief Trust) villages, and said the church had a definite responsibility towards the less fortunate people in the community.
At the HART village in Makoi she ran typing classes in the morning and worked with children’s groups in the afternoons. She entertained the children in five group meetings with sing-along, music lessons, talks on hygiene and citizenship and so on. “The children really look forward to the meetings at the HART Community Centre.”
In 1974, Ms Mills served as the acting president of the women’s children temperance union, a global organisation of women that had been around for more than a century.
“It began because of women’s interest in fighting against drunkenness and all the evils that are associated with it, also in drug problems and the status of women.
“We see liquor affecting many countries. When the money is diverted to drinking it is the family at home and children’s education that suffers.”
The Fiji Christian Temperance Union was called the Home Protection Organisation. Arguments after drinking not only devastate family budgets but also relationships between husband and wife and the security of children.
“The fights and arguments caused by drinking are in fact responsible for delinquent children.” Miss Mills said her team would make time to visit schools and speak to students about the negative consequences of alcohol.
In 1974, she travelled to Norway and participated in a conference of the World Women’s Christian Temperance Union — the first Fijian representative to attend a WCTU convention. Since then, several deaconesses from Fiji had attended these conventions which were held every three years in different countries. Born in Queensland in a small town called Crow’s Nest, Mary Mills spent most of her life in Brisbane.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from Queensland University, she carried out youth work for 13 years and taught briefly at a primary school before working full time with WCTU for seven years.
She went back to being a high schoolteacher for three years and a librarian for 10 years at Queensland University before
coming to Fiji in 1969. Ms Mills joined the USP library when it was in its formative stage and saw the rapid development of the present library.
Her contract expired after six years when she was nearing 60 years of age in 1975.
“In Fiji I had an added benefit of being able to attend lectures at the Pacific Theological College, and to make use of their library.”
She studied wide ranging subjects related to all aspects of Christianity in the New and Old Testaments and also studied Greek, pastoral care, Christian education and Hebrew theology.
Ms Mills obtained good marks in all her subjects and said she enjoyed studying. She finally received her ordination as a church minister after six years of probation.