Serving the Lord: Jane Barker

Jane Sophia Barker (nee Harden) was born in England in 1807. On 15 October 1840 she married Frederic Barker who at that time was serving as a rector in Liverpool, England. They had no children and served in parish ministry together for 15 years until Frederick was asked to be the 2nd bishop of Sydney. They arrived in Sydney in May 1855 and Jane would remain in Sydney until her death 21 years later.

Jane kept a private diary – you can read a section of it at the Moore College library, or the full version at the State Library – along with letters she wrote to her sister.

Jane’s diary and letters to her sister record ordinary life in so many ways yet it is diagnostic about what she thinks is important as they reveal her theology. Two things that I want to briefly touch on are her (i) priority of the preached word of God ; (ii) her good deeds.

Jane’s priority of the preached word of God

Throughout her writings it is clear that Jane is an Evangelical. It is clear she has a personal relationship with God and that she places a great importance in the preaching of God’s word. This is seen in several in ways:

(i) Sermons

Jane often mentions Frederic’s preaching and other clergy’s sermons. She mentions what passage they preached from and she makes comments about what she thought about the sermon. She notices when they preach against false teaching and she’s glad when they do.

(ii) Money for more clergy

Jane also speaks of money needed to raise up clergy, so that they will preach the word of God. She mentions several times of her great desire for good clergy to come from the UK and how painful it is that they don t have more. Both her and Frederic write of her being a spiritual mother to the younger clergy.

(iii) Evangelism

Jane wrote, Frederic finds that no less than 30 stationary clergymen with 30 churches, as well as ten missionary clergyman, are required to meet the present wants of his See. For this a large sum and a large income will be needed, and I hope obtained. What a blessed thing it would be to pour in such a band of faithful ones to evangelize the land. And at another time she wrote how Frederic was keen for German speakers in Berry to be given German Bibles so they could understand God’s word and be saved.

(iv) Encouraging Christian conversation

Jane wrote, I feel it very difficult here to be openly Christian, but hope that lending books will help me on. I try to do this especially in cases of sorrow with a few kind words, which is calculated to pave the way for further attempts. So she hopes to have Christian conversations with others and thinks this will be made easier by lending Christian books to other women.

(v) Church planting

Jane mentions many times of new churches and the need for more new churches to reach people throughout the diocese.

(vi) Sunday School

Jane taught Sunday School and she desired to see people become Biblically literate. She hated that children were taught like parrots to repeat answers without exercising their minds. So she realised that people needed to be individually saved and that they need to know what they believe, and ministry to children is powerful, that they can be saved, and they can and should know God’s word.

(vii) High Churchmanship

Jane speaks against High Churchmanship many times and the troubles that Frederic and her had with many of the High Church clergy.

(viii) She speaks of finding it hard in Sydney

Especially reflecting on the first six months or so, Jane found it very hard at times, but throughout her struggles, she continually makes clear that her and Frederic are in Sydney for God’s purpose, because they were submissive to God’s greater purpose for their lives, we must have patience and try to be busy doing our Master’s work until he bids us rest… . And at another time, Frederic said yesterday that God had brought us into this wilderness to teach us to look to Him for our happiness and to find that He could refresh us with His peace in the midst of so much that was distasteful. Even over the second six months of her first year in Sydney Jane becomes much more positive about life in Sydney. She regains much of her humor as she settles into life in Sydney and she makes the most of the situation God has placed her in. But through good and hard times, she keeps seeing the importance of preaching.

(ix) Prayer

Jane and Frederic had regular prayer meetings at their house with others who thought similarly theologically where they prayed, sang hymns, and read Scripture.

(x) Moore College

Her understanding comes through many times of the need to begin Moore College to train men to have good and right theology. (Less than one year after Frederic and Jane arrived in Sydney, Moore College was opened by Frederic on March 1, 1856. It began with 3 students and a tutor in Liverpool, before moving to its current premises in Newtown). Jane says about the potential graduates,

The word faithfully preached by these excellent young clergyman will, by God’s blessing, soon produce an effect upon the city of Sydney.

(xi) A gift for her husband

The priority of the word of God is also seen in a sweet gift she wants for her husband. She writes to her sister Jessie, I have a little commission for you. Will you purchase for me a Bagster’s Bible like the one you gave me, with a Prayer Book….It is a birthday present for my loved Husband…His dear eyes cannot manage the smaller print.

So Jane’s diary and letters reveal the priority Jane had for the preached word of God. Secondly, Jane’s diary and letters reveal Jane’s good deeds.

Jane’s good deeds

(i) Her visits to the infirmary

After Jane’s first visit she wrote, I hope to go there again for it is good to be near the sick and sorrowful and to sympathize with them and read to them out of the counseling words of Scripture.

(ii) Her regular visits to the School of Industry

Which was a children’s home and provided domestic training for girls aged 4 to 14.

(iii) Education

Jane was someone who was well educated herself, and loved books and in her travel to different parishes with Frederic she saw the need for clergy daughters to be provided with a place of education as some of these clergy were now quite isolated geographically. So she started soliciting help to begin a Clergy Daughter’s School. It began quite small with only one teacher, but that school still stands today and has grown enormously – St Catherine’s School at Waverley. There are women throughout our diocese who are alumni of St Catherine’s, men and women who have served and are currently serving on its council, serving as teachers and staff, and female and male graduates of Moore College who have served and are currently serving as chaplains and Christian Education teachers.

(iv) Visiting

Her visits to her district were not all neat and nice with pleasant cups of tea. At one point she describes a domestic violence scene.

(v) Helper to Frederic

She travelled a lot with Frederic which wouldn t of always been easy in those days, but she does it to be a good helper – language she used of herself – and companion to him, and also to be a source of encouragement to the people in the parishes that Frederic was visiting. Jane recognised that she also played a part in God’s plan of salvation and she had the word of God to share with others. She expresses at times her loneliness of not finding too many women who are similarly like-minded to her, but when she does this, she often remarks on the strength of her marriage to Frederic and the joy they find in each other.

Jane Barker didn t know people would be reading her diary and letters 160 years after she wrote them, but they reveal a woman who is extremely honest yet committed to submitting her life to the purposes of God because of what he did through Jesus on the cross. God’s Spirit worked through Jane Barker to bless the Sydney diocese in so many ways. Much of Jane’s ministry was behind the scenes but also in some upfront ministries. Her commitment to the priority of the preached word of God and the importance she placed on good deeds are a good model to us, whether we re male or female, of a life lived in submission to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

In God’s mercy we have Christian women from the past and Christian women in our own time, women in our own churches and ministry settings, to encourage us to live a life of submission to Jesus Christ. Let’s be encouraged by them to submit ourselves to Jesus and so live our lives as they were created and redeemed to be.

Ms Jane Tooher

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