The only remaining female Presbyterian minister in Australia, Joy Bartholomew, is reasonably confident her Church will again allow women to lead congregations.
She has been the senior minister at Canberra's Presbyterian Church of St Andrew since November 1999. As well as ministering to the congregation of about 500 who attend the Gothic landmark church in State Circle, she was a little surprised at the national emphasis of her work. This included her preaching at St Christopher's at a parliamentary church service.
The daughter of Christian missionaries, she was born in Khartoum, Sudan, where she lived until aged seven. Her parents were with the Sudan Interior Mission. They were linguists who translated the Gospel of Mark into the Mabaan language.
''One of the thrills for me is in the last 12 months we have a young man from Southern Sudan who has become a member of the congregation here,'' she says. ''That is a link back to my childhood.''
On the family's return to Australia her father became a Presbyterian minister and served in several parishes in rural NSW. After retirement he continued to serve as a minister in South Australia.
Her schooling was initially near Lismore then to St George Girls High School in Sydney. Her tertiary education was at Sydney Teachers College and Sydney University.
She then worked as a teacher for six years at Heathcote High School, then on Sydney's southern limit.
''I loved it. I was a supernumerary in the school so I got all the jobs no one else wanted but got real experience working across the ability levels of students. I ended up teaching largely geography and commerce up to matriculation level.''
She then went to bible college in Melbourne. ''I had always been interested in furthering my knowledge of the Bible and theology. I did three years getting a bachelor of divinity from Melbourne College of Divinity. Then decided I wouldn't be going as a missionary overseas.''
Instead she went full-time into the Presbyterian Church. ''Initially I was called a home missionary because there weren't any women as ministers at that time.''
After three years at St Andrew's Wagga Wagga, she went to Epping where she was ordained in 1976.
At that time the Presbyterian Church was torn over whether to join the Uniting Church in Australia. Mrs Bartholomew says she was not greatly affected by this because the churches where she served were traditional Presbyterian where people did not feel a need to join the Uniting Church.
''For me it was not a particularly traumatic time but I have since realised that for a lot of people it was a very difficult time making a choice.''
While in Wagga she met Arnold Bartholomew who was doing his preliminary training for the ministry. They were married in 1975 at Kyogle where her father was the minister.
After her ordination she served for a short time at West Wyalong, then to Newcastle where Mr Bartholomew was ordained in 1979.
''I worked as a chaplain to the University of Newcastle,'' she says.
They then served for 15 years at Corowa on the Murray River before moving to Canberra in November 1999.
She is not entirely sure why she was called but says St Andrew's has always been a bit left-field. ''I think having a woman as the minister would have appealed to some of the congregation because they very much supported women in ministry in leadership in the Church which the Church as a whole was moving away from.''
In 1991 the Australian Presbyterian Church reversed its decision for women to be ordained.
At St Andrew's, Mrs Bartholomew is the senior minister. ''I get all the administrative and paperwork tasks as well as the normal ministry tasks.''
Mr Bartholomew is the minister for pastoral care. ''We always say he gets called to the hospital in the middle of the night and I can sleep in.'' She laughs slightly and says, ''From my perspective it is a good balance.''
The move to Canberra was timely for the education of their three sons; Ian, Peter and John, all of whom remain active members of St Andrew's.
Ian, a qualified lawyer in the public service, and his wife are elders.
Peter, who has Down syndrome, loves singing with the church's music group and on most Sundays is the flagraiser. He is a kitchen hand at Wagamama in Civic.
The youngest, John, is studying for a doctorate in laser physics at the Australian National University. He deals with a world which his mother says she cannot comprehend.
In a cruel twist of fate, when in Newcastle the family lived close to an early intervention centre for Down syndrome. But at Corowa, where Peter was diagnosed with the condition, the nearest early intervention centre was in Wagga Wagga, more than two hours' drive away.
''We were quite sure the move to Corowa was the right thing to do - that this is where God wanted us to minister. But it raised more challenges.''
They had believed Peter was very precious, ''and we had been given the responsibility of caring for him and developing his potential.''
Then there was the anxiety of not knowing whether their third son would have Down syndrome. There was a 50 per cent chance he would. ''We were just hoping we could handle whatever the challenge would be with God's help.
''The fact that he was born without a disability was like a bonus that we didn't have the challenge some families have of bringing up more than one child with a disability.''
As the only female minister in the Presbyterian Church in Australia, she is obviously disappointed no women can be ordained at present. Positively for St Andrew's, which Mrs Bartholomew says has many very capable women in leadership, several moves to prevent women being elders have failed.She says after the inauguration of the Uniting Church, the Presbyterian Church had a need for more ministers. ''Some saw the theological stance of the Presbyterian Church as being much more conservative than it had been.''
They joined and were welcomed but moved the Church to a much more conservative position. Also the training of clergy at Sydney's Anglican Moore Theological College and later at the Presbyterian college had produced clergy with a more conservative theological outlook. Some people had also joined from the Presbyterian Free Church and the Westminster Presbyterian Church.
She expects that with time, the ban on women being ministers will be reversed, though the title might be different.
The objection to female ministers is primarily based on St Paul's edict that women must not be head of men. Mrs Bartholomew says the biblical principle is that women and men should work together to honour God and to bring His will into the world.
''Largely I haven't been attacked or treated badly but I have really felt it hurtful when I have seen other women who felt a call to ministry who needed to leave and join another denomination to fulfil their God-given calling and women who were elders feeling attacked in more recent times.''
One of her responsibilities is oversight of the upkeep of the magnificent sandstone St Andrew's building.
''We are very grateful to those in past generations who saw to its construction and to the beauty of the windows.''
But the need for upkeep was constant. ''Sandstone in Canberra was not perhaps the wisest building choice even though it looks good.''
She does not know how much longer she and her husband will lead St Andrew's, though they have decided to remain in Canberra where their three sons live.
Of the inimitable Hector Harrison, St Andrew's minister from 1940-78, she says, ''I don't think we will emulate Hector's 38 years.''
Despite a general decline in active church membership, she says Christian faith remains relevant.
''I believe we have moved from a time when people just attended church and its activities purely for social reasons.''
Those who now attend are probably more committed to expressing their faith in daily life.
Predominantly, members are in the older age group, when thinking about life and mortality comes to the fore. ''We see people coming back in their more senior years. Their faith commitment has been there right through and their worship practice is reactivated.''
Of course, the Church would want people to maintain their commitment. ''The challenge is to make faith practice relevant in that in-between age.''
For some people their faith becomes relevant at major life events such as birth, marriage, crises and death.
Graham Downie is Religion Reporter