First they came for the #christianwomen

It’s been a tough time for Canadian Christian Blogger Sarah Bessey after she started a post on Twitter called #thingsonlychristianwomenhear. For more information go to her website at http://sarahbessey.com Some of the responses have been pretty shocking. A second more positive hashtag has started #thingschristianwomenshouldhear- which I think has had slightly less impact!

I feel very blessed at the moment to be working with a largely female leadership team in a church which at one point would not have welcomed women at all in these roles. Times change and our attitudes sometimes take a bit longer to move along than we’d like. While it’s easy to point the finger at men, we ladies can be just as resistant to change.

Sometimes it’s hard for women who’ve been denied opportunities themselves to see your role positively and sometimes women who’ve spent a lifetime serving others, cannot see a way forward to putting themselves in the spotlight and can’t understand others stepping forward. Others just like hearing a male voice, or can’t imagine it being any different.

Since I’ve been working in the church recently though it’s been those women who’ve had leadership experience and success in other walks of life that have been the ones to step out and meet me on my journey. One of my informal life-coaches at the moment, herself in her 70’s and battling cancer, Mrs Marj has been a senior lecturer and run her own business and is now in charge of the church hall. She’s constantly telling me off for not believing in myself!

I think that we all have a responsibility to be good sisters to one another and be kind if someone in authority is reacting angrily, or allowing their buttons to be pressed, because really that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Changing attitudes and prejudices takes generations to achieve. We can have confidence that God himself is a feminist, as he created men and women in his image:

“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1 v27

That’s why I think when Donald Trump’s travel ban came into force, people united across religions, and ethnicities, sexual orientation and gender waving banners that quoted Niemoller, a Lutheran pastor in the second world war. They united in fear that decades of progress in building a tolerant equal society would be rolled back if Trump is allowed to play the race card against his own citizens.

Niemoller himself anti-Communist, was grudgingly in support of the Nazis when they first took office, however he quickly became a vocal opponent and survived incarceration in a concentration camp to carry on as a prominent member of the church in the 1950’s. His words were part of a speech challenging the church into political resistance, but are now used as a poem more generally. Let’s hope the parallel with the church and Donald Trump is not the same..

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

So let’s take this learning from the atrocities of the 1940’s and apply it today- how can we support and enable women to lead in our churches? Well one way might be to start praying- we know as Christians this can move mountains. Certainly blaming women themselves for being angry is not particularly constructive, more of a “calm down dear” sort of reaction!

So here’s my prayer for working women everywhere

God Our father help us as a church to support women who have responsibilities outside the home

When we care for others, we ask you make it known that you care for us deeply

Whey we can’t juggle everything to the high standards we’d like to achieve, we ask you would gently confirm that you know us better than we know ourselves

When we need to rely on others for help and support, we ask for your protection on relationships that hold everything together.

We thank you for all the people who champion our families.

Help us realise we are not alone, and can accept help gracefully. 

Show us how important the work is you’ve asked us to do, especially when it seems to get in the way of family life

When we get it wrong, help us to remain in your love, to acknowledge our sin, and to seek your forgiveness.

When others oppose or persecute us, help us to rest in your love and gain your peace and not to bear grudges or keep secrets.

When things go well, help us to celebrate and live life abundantly

We ask this in your name, for us and all our sisters 

AMEN

 

Lurking

So I’ve given up Facebook for Lent, but have actually given up posting on Facebook rather than checking it out. This is technically known as lurking. I’ve failed on a few occasions to resist the urge to press “share”, but overall I’ve found it a good discipline to self-edit my online presence a bit more than normal. I’ve never tried this before, normally I give up chocolate or biscuits and fail completely!

I’ve also just been on a silent retreat with college, where I was unable to “share” with the group my insights and thoughts and had to restrict myself to my own company. I got through it with lots of walks, reading, painting and sleep, but again it was helpful to notice how compulsive I am as an Extrovert in just sharing whatever is currently in my head on any given day!

Lurking it seems to me has some benefits. Rather than responding and sharing immediately I can think it over and reflect on what is happening. Is this me and my friends freaking out, or are we actually in the middle of something bigger that is going on. Does everyone want or need to know my political views? Maybe I should save that for Twitter?

It’s human to want to share and be part of the conversation, and in my work in the church I’ve set up a weekly drop-in so anyone who needs some company can come and have a coffee. We’ve also arranged for someone to come in and do some crafts with us after Easter, so I’m really looking forward to doing some of the stuff normally reserved for the kids!

I’ve also noticed recently how lucky I am to have the company of my family. Not always in conversation with them, (often this is really exhausting!) but like now as I write this, they are all off somewhere doing their own thing, so we are together but not really having to chat.  I think when you live alone this is the hardest part is not being quiet with anyone else. On my retreat I found the presence of my colleagues on the course really reassuring, even though we couldn’t speak to each other.

This morning at church I gave a card to lady I’m supporting who literally has noone. Her husband died at the end of last year and she has no parents, children, brothers, sisters or anyone living near her at all. It’s quite rare to meet someone in that situation, but it does happen. I have never felt so happy to give someone a mother’s day card! I can’t be with her as much as she’d like as she really would like someone as a companion 24/7 as she’s not used to being alone, but I am trying to find other people to support her, so that’s not always the case.

As a vicar, there will be a large amount of being around, rather than saying or doing much, and purposefully lurking in places where people may want a chat. In my faith journey, there’s always been times when  I’ve had to take a step back to hear from God, and part of my challenge now is to create quiet times in and amongst the madness of work, study and family life. I’m following another blogger who has just recently posted on this here.. http://lifebynaomi.com/faith/how-to-find-time-for-a-quiet-time

Right when he knew he was about to be betrayed, we hear in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus took himself to a garden and prayed through the night, so late that the disciples all fell asleep. That fervent desire to be in conversation with God, is often easier when we have an urgent request, but God really desires us to speak to him alone all the time, not just when we are after something. Jesus regularly speaks from God because he is in constant dialogue with the father.

So it’s worth doing a bit of lurking around with God, he won’t pass up the opportunity to hang out with you, and any prayer you speak will not be wasted, regardless of how daft you feel doing it. The presence of God, like that of my family and friends is often something I sense but can’t quite describe why it’s important or helpful. When I get chance to really acknowledge it, and praise him for his love, it becomes more of a conversation to treasure and remember.

This Easter I’m going to be away again at college and will miss putting up all the decorations in Holy Week and being part of my church family at that time, but I am looking forward to being free to worship God with other Christians that week, when normally I’d be with the family or at work. The more time I spend lurking with other people the more opportunity there is to give and receive God’s love, which ultimately what it’s all about.

1 John 4 v 7-8

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

Facetime

I’ve just watched a youtube clip at the end of this blog and realised that alot of it could apply to me. Since quitting my job last year and starting college I’ve been working from home alot and spending time chatting on Facebook has been a lifeline. However I’ve also got a bit too reliant on my phone for everything. So I end up constantly checking it for messages, not just texts but emails, What’s App, voicemail, Facebook alerts, Twitter, I can literally lose hours without really knowing what I’ve done with my time. When my phone was out of action I was like some kind of addict, waiting for my next fix!

I know alot of my friends feel the same but are too embarressed to admit it! Also I know friends who hate how their lives don’t measure up to the Facebook status of someone they went to school with, their ex-colleague who has won an award, their mum’s fantastic holiday, all these things can wear down your self-esteem if they coincide with a really boring day at work or the kids having a big bust-up. That’s why it’s good to take a holiday from social media every so often, sadly most of us can’t switch off entirely but it’s about how much you rely on an alert popping up to distract you from the housework, the homework the kids need to do, the conversation you should have with your spouse, the prayers you could be committed to doing every day.

So for Lent I’m not sharing on Facebook, I’ve deleted Candy Crush (Again!) and I’m trying to remember what it’s like to sit in a room waiting for someone and just stare at the walls, without looking to my phone to keep me company. I’m going to switch off my phone before a lecture starts, and I’m looking forward to a retreat in a few weeks when on my course we get to be silent for 48 hours ( never thought I’d say that!)

I’m also going to try and get in touch with as many people as possible to have real conversations. I know it’s hard to fit in, but a chat on the phone, or a cup of coffee, or just remembering to ask about someone’s family member are really important in life, and it’s so easy to neglect all this, if an important deadline looms, or a great photo selfie opportunity arrives they can easily get put off !

So I’ll be updating on here how I get on, but in the meantime I wish you all a happy Lent…. picture courtesy of http://nataliewarnert.com

 

Sweet-talking daughter of a Preacher woman

I always sing this version when I hear the lyrics to Preacher Man, originally by Dusty Springfield and brought to fame by Aretha Franklin…it doesn’t scan as well to the music but it always brings to being a teenager, and the sheer joy and naughtiness possible if your mum is a  religious leader, from getting away with something you weren’t supposed to be up to, without anyone in the wider community hearing about it! I don’t think I was a particularly rebellious child but when I left home I lost my way a bit, through the sheer freedom available in comparison to living with christian parents in a visible way in a village community.

It was really weird for me to see mum going through the changes that happened to her as she became a preacher when I was in my teens, and at that stage of life I guess I wasn’t really all that interested in religion. I did find it embaressing at times that mum was up the front talking, but if I’m honest  I was also secretly really proud. Certainly my friends mums didn’t seem to have so many opportunities to share their point of view in public!

I did what my children do now which is sort of get jealous if i felt that mum’s work was taking over time when she’d normally have been around, but at that stage of my life I was much more interested in my friends than my family anyway!

Since I’ve started ordination training myself, me and mum have become really close as it’s been amazing to be able to swap notes, and she’s been able to tell me – this is normal- you are doing great- don’t worry it won’t be like this forever- with some confidence!

It’s also made us reflect on how things have changed. Some of the barriers mum faced just aren’t there anymore, but some really are the same!

I’m still not quite sure how listening to mum preach or seeing her wearing robes in church affected me, I don’t think I remember alot to be honest. Of course becoming a vicar didn’t happen overnight and before she was ordained church had become a big part of our lives. I definitely remember when I was still at primary school spending alot of time playing in the graveyard with other church children, whilst mum did lots of boring chatting!

Anyway… if you are the daughter of a preacher-woman, sweet-talking or otherwise, we would really love to hear from you. We are thinking about gathering together some of these experiences to help us reflect on women’s ministry in the church today.

Following a letter in the church times, mum a retired non-stipendary priest in the York Diocese, has had around 15 people get in touch, so we are off to a good start. Please do pass on her contact details if you know someone else who may be interested suenightingale3@gmail.com

2 Timothy 1 v5 “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.”

Guest blogger Naomi shares about belonging to church small groups

When I look back on my journey as a Christian, something that really strikes me is how essential being part of a church small group has been for my own development. Yes, of course, there’s the growing I did in my own individual prayer life, my Bible study and my faith. There’s the teaching I received and the activities I was part of as part of a big church. But central to both of those aspects, and critical for me, was the part I played in a small group.

 

A small group usually meets midweek. It is usually has 5-15 members, who commit to studying the Bible and praying together. Almost all churches have them, and I highly recommend getting involved in one.

 

My first small group was a mixed group of us in our early twenties. We were all in a similar position: starting out in our careers, navigating that difficult path of working out who our ‘adult’ selves were. Most of us were looking for ‘the one’ (although no marriages actually resulted from that group!), and all of us were looking to grow in our faith.

 

For many of us – myself included – it was the first time that we’d led a Bible study session, or actually gone out to serve others. Having very few commitments, our attendance was good. We had our highs and our lows, but there were some really strong friendships formed.

 

After a few years, our small groups in our big church were shuffled around. I found myself co-leading an all-girls group. Again, this was an amazing time of growth and deepening for me in my faith. We explored the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and I was amazed by the wisdom and maturity of women my own age. Once again, really close friendships were formed, and some of these women are my closest friends today.

 

When Tim and I got engaged, we started attending a small group together. This was a different group altogether – several couples and some single people, ranging in age from early twenties to early eighties. This group was really lovely, and supported us hugely as we stepped into married life together.

 

Again, after a few years, we were shuffled around. We joined – and eventually came to lead – another small group. This was another mixed group, some single, some married, some dating, and again, these people became some of our closest friends. They supported us through Ben’s birth and the transition into parenthood – and didn’t complain too much when he threw up all over them.

 

When we moved away from our city, I felt the loss of our small group keenly. Even more so than the wider church – perhaps because our church was so big – they were my community. As a Southerner up North, they were my family. They were the ones I could pray with, laugh with, hang out with and learn with. That’s where I grew the most.

 

We have a brilliant small group now. It’s taken a while to settle in. It always does. You have to be vulnerable and open with people, and that’s hard. We’re learning and growing together. That’s the way it should be.

 

If you’re looking to get the most out of a small group, here are my recommendations:

 

Commit. Be consistent with your attendance. Reply to emails. Show up.

 

Offer to lead. Even if it’s scary, have a go. You will get so much out of it.

 

Offer to host. People feel they know you better once they’ve seen you in your home.

 

If you can, ‘shop’ around. Try a few different groups and find out what works for you.

 

Be open and honest as soon as you feel able.

 

Connect in between group meetings – a group What’sApp is great for this.

 

Remember, you get out what you put in. If you put the effort in, God will show up.

To find out more about Christian Blogger Naomi visit http://lifebynaomi.com

 

Vomitorium in the Sanctuary

Thanks to Guest blogger Mayowa Adebiyi

for more go to https://mayowaadebiyi.wordpress.com/
– we are blog-swapping this week!
As annoying as Stephen Fry is to me as an average religious person, not as a person in terms of personality, though his know-it-all demeanour when presenting QI sure could grate on anyone in real life. I speak instead of his disdain for God albeit a non-existent god. However, this post isn’t about Fry but one of Fry’s many corrections on commonly held historical facts, you know, the type that Alan Davies mentions and Fry’s buzzer goes off to tell Davies he’s wrong (again).

It is commonly (wrongfully) held that the Vomitorium can be found in the average Roman Banquet Hall. After guests have sufficiently gorged themselves and could no more, they had the opportunity to purge their stomach contents, in order to create space for more. This is in fact pure fiction ! The Vomitorium was actually an exit to a Stadium or Amphitheatre.

The myth continues because most are aware of Roman decadence. The idea that they gathered at a particular time and place to feast to their hearts content, eating so much that they need to purge in order to return to their binging not hard to at all imagine. Removing the image of excess from this picture, I’d like to argue that our Sunday mornings should feel like a Banquet, a feast for the senses.

Depending on your personality or church background, your Sunday experience could either be categorised as feeling like a Concert or Lecture. Though these are broad brush strokes and these categorisations by Isaac Wardell isn’t meant to capture which part of the service plays a bigger part, the singing or preaching. Although it could be this, it is but much more.

Identity being such a huge modern day issue and with most modern day issues, the instinct is right, the direction horribly muddled. The orientation of identity formation in the modern day is radically inwards, the world is currently about the self.

The Church is about something and she knows she is, the Sunday gathering points her as a body towards Jesus rather than apart when aimed individually inwards.

One of the themes in the book Eccelesiastes, is the disjointedness of time in a fallen world, the incoherence of past, present and future is acutely felt in a life of hardship bound for eventual demise. Nothing in this post-everything world makes any sense, the past is past, the present is precarious and the future is uncertain. It is in this very time that Jesus enters to offer what he calls eternal life, not as a length of existence but as an infinite improvement of the quality of time in all of its experiential form. The past is redeemed, the present is pregnant with possibilities and the future is sure to burst forth in all kinds of hope.

It is this kind of coherence that a Sunday service should aim for and should do it richly by telling a coherent story in present time. Not just in music, not merely intellectually but richly and decadently. In song, reflection, eating, noise, silence, reading, drinking, we binge on the saviour till we can’t no more.

Listen without Prejudice

I’m feeling so sad, my childhood hero  George Michael has died. Those of us who grew up in the 80’s and happened to have a huge crush on him, were devastated this Christmas. I remember being at my friend’s house in 1987 when his first solo album came out, and how amazed we were by the quality. Life after Wham! We couldn’t imagine that was possible straight off the bat. With his stylish clothing, dancing and general soulful good looks, we thought he was amazing anyway… but songs like Father Figure and Faith, made it impossible to think of him as anything but wonderful.

I can also remember where I was when someone told me he was gay. I was sitting on a bank outside school and one of the older kids described someone as a bit “George Michael”, meaning he was a bit “gay”, as an insult. I was amazed that firstly being “gay” was bad and secondly George was gay .. how could that be, what about the girls in Wham!?

It’s hard to imagine now that he was so brave in coming out and losing the straight “garb” to the horror of the record producers. Even producing “Outside” after being caught having gay sex illegally was pretty brave I thought, even if he was being promiscuous.

I hope “gay” is no longer an insult that all schoolkids use, but I am sure it is. There are certainly many hazards. The sorrow that George felt at not being able to be honest with his mum about who he was is, having to play certain roles to succeed, losing friends to HIV were part of his life. Unfortunately, it’s still the case for many young people that they will face discrimination and prejudice in life. Not many civil partnerships or gay marriages are celebrated with the complete extended family present, which must be a huge sadness for all concerned. For some it can feel like being chucked out of the nuclear family they grew up in.

I know this is a difficult for many Christians, who feel gay rights isn’t an issue we can even discuss positively, due to the explicit references to it as a sin in Paul’s gospels. I am not sufficiently confident as a theologian to challenge this view in my understanding of the bible, but I believe we are called to love each other as equal citizens of God’s redeeming love, regardless of our sexuality and we could do with showing some bravery and faith in God on this issue.

I can identify with the feeling of being an outsider.An incident of sexual abuse growing up, made me feel like the church was no longer either a safe place, or one that I could call home. It didn’t lead me to become gay, and I don’t think sexual abuse can really change someone’s sexual orientation overnight. Any kind of childhood trauma such as bereavement or loss can influence how we develop as people. It left me thinking though that sex wasn’t OK with God. It was a secret, a shameful thing. This is especially difficult when you are growing up in a Christian family if these things aren’t really discussed. I would now refer anyone who asked to the Song of Songs for evidence to the contrary!

Until not long ago, being gay was a psychiatric condition, along with being a teenage mum. We know now in medicine that this isn’t the case, and I pray that this issue won’t split the church. We have alot of work to do in 2017, working to make God’s kingdom come, working to bring in the harvest for God, irrespective of difference.We do this best when we are working to the same goals and being tolerant with one another, respecting each other’s rights and freedoms.

I hope now that George’s battles with addiction are over and he can rest in peace.It’s been so lovely to hear about his quiet philanthropy, I hope others are inspired by this to share their wealth.

Here’s a prayer for our LGBT community..

Gracious God, you love all that you have created, and you celebrate the diversity of your creation. Throughout your history with your people, you have reminded us that those whom the world sees as the least are the greatest in your eyes. We ask that you give us the grace to celebrate with our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender sisters and brothers as they choose to live authentically in the world. Teach us to honor and celebrate their gifts, and help us to create a world in which gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teenagers and adults are loved, accepted and celebrated. We ask this in your many names. Amen.

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Caring at Christmas

The closer we get the more emotional I am feeling this year about Christmas. it’s too much build up I think! The gap between the reality of our world and how we’d all like it to be is just getting bigger it seems. We can all help do something though however tiny if we want to. Often it’s the little things that grind you down….

My husband is a paid carer and like alot of people in the helping professions, is working this Christmas. He was fed up last night, not because he’s going to miss some of the party, but because his client had been served a half defrosted meal for lunch by other paid carers, and noone had remembered to stock up on dog food.

Because he’s working this year,  Christmas is being reordered.  Instead of normally going to church and then on to my parents, we are going to spend the morning at home for a change, and the kids are having a sleepover at my parents with extended family on christmas day, and I’m coming home in the evening to celebrate with husband when he gets back from work.

This has been preying on my mind, as we all get set in our ways and I’m also in a new context and was nervous about how to present this to people in the congregation. While I’m not yet a vicar or a curate, I responded to an article in the Church Times about vicars slacking on Christmas day. My response was published. The article was by an eminent theologian, Angela Tilby, and discussed familoraty- another eminent theologian Ian Paul has since commented on the article and it’s published responses here http://www.psephizo.com/life-ministry/should-clergy-have-christmas-day-off

I know there was a large mailbag as it touched alot of nerves, not just those of women in ministry but all of us who give up regular chunks of our weekends to serve in church settings at the cost of nuclear or extended family time.

It’s been a roller-coaster year 2016, and I’m relieved to have just scraped a pass on Ian Paul’s module at St Barnabus. It all seemed unimaginably strange when I started in September. The thing I’m learning about theology is it’s full of different opinions, positions, perspectives and all have nuanced rationales behind them. I am finding my feet but it’s quite odd being asked my own response to people’s perspectives who have given it considerable thought.

In previous commissioning and strategic planning roles my own opinion hasn’t been that key, as a team in the NHS or social care we relied instead on the consensus of stakeholders involved, political drivers, finance available, research evidence and it’s been my role to combine these perspectives into a set of options that someone else would then make a final decision on, having weighed up the risks and issues.

I keep thinking that at some point it will become clear whose the correct, common sense answer is. However this doesn’t really seem to be how it works! God speaks to us all in a myriad of ways in a world of multiple languages, contexts, cultures and conditions. We can all hear God’s voice and bring our own perspective, this is called hermeneutics. It doesn’t mean though that any one of us is not “on message” if we are sincerely expressing a theological view. There are restrictions of course, but within the parameters of the discussion there is more blue sea than horizon.

I took the kids to see the Disney film Moana and found it really inspiring. Like Moana, the ability of God to direct my travel plans is becoming more and more central to my life and it’s now impossible to stay in the comfort of “what we’ve all always done”.

Theology is basically talking about God, and I can happily do that all day long, I am hoping by the end of the training I’ll have more of an understanding of the debates and issues that are in the sea with me and the history and previous journeys people have made to navigate it all.Hopefully this will help me understand more about the Bible, but I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion there are no shortcuts, only my ancestors and culture behind me!

 

Being different

We’ve just formally had a diagnosis for our son that he has Developmental Delay Disorder (previously known as dyspraxia)

Ive known he was different to other kids his age from pretty early on but we didn’t know why. Having the diagnosis makes it official and will help us support him in getting the right help. It’s already opened up ways in which we can work with school to support him.

If I’m honest though I don’t feel happy about it right now as it’s like finding out that the world is going to be tougher for him in certain ways forever.

I’m  from a family of people who find physical coordination difficult and when I’m tired and emotional I do really struggle with practical jobs and I rely on others for a lot of help. It can look like I’m really not trying as well when I’m just not processing anything very fast!

With routine jobs I can really struggle to see the wood for the trees. I can  learn new tasks but it doesn’t sink in as quickly as it does for other people- both my son and I also get frustrated as we are both quite bright and pick up other things more easily.

This morning my fears about this impacting at church in a practical way came to the fore and I had to ask people to pray for me not to trip up or sneeze with the incense or drop a book etc. This probably sounds quite normal but it’s really annoying!!

We are all different and I often get along well with people who don’t fit into a “normal” mould.

A big learning point for me this term at college has been that god created me and thinks I’m perfect not just in mind or soul but in my physical body as well. He might not want us to suffer but I know of many people with physical difficulties who wouldn’t want a “cure” and I can relate to this now. Our son might be different but that is a great thing in many ways and we can support him to overcome obstacles and pick his battles. This matters because for all of us our physical body is a home for gods work

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;” 1 Corinthians 6 v19