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

 

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

 

Pumpkins and eschatology

My homework today has been to read up on christian theology about the afterlife, at the same I’ve been scraping out pumpkins ready for Halloween. This seems like an unholy coincidence, however I think there is a blog in this! Firstly I’ve been trick or treating with my kids, as a guilty pleasure for a few years now. It’s probably not a very christian thing to do, but it’s the one of the only times I meet up with neighbours and quite a few families on our street make a big effort to decorate their houses, and welcome in children. We don’t visit houses beyond our couple of streets, and we are usually out for less than an hour. We don’t knock on doors unless the owners have signalled in some way they are up for being disturbed. This varies from lots of decorations, to a simple pumpkin. Some people put a bowl out of sweets to avoid being disturbed. If there was a decent alternative for christian families locally I think we’d support that, for example our youngest is at a light party with her Rainbows group tomorrow.

So secondly, why are Christians not keen on the concept of Halloween? Well it actually comes from the Eve of All Hallows day (All Saints Day) on the 1st November known in some catholic countries as the day of the dead. The pumpkins and lights are said to ward off evil spirits the night before. The fundamental issue with this, is that Christians (this is new to me too) don’t actually believe that when we die there is a spirit that lives on. We don’t distinguish between someone’s body, mind or soul and see them as one being. We hope for resurrection of all three, in the same way we believe Jesus came back from the dead in an actual body rather than as a ghost. Thomas put his hand in the wound before he believed it really was Jesus.

Thirdly today I was at the church where I became a christian and I became really conscious that “Saints” or those who used to worship at the church were around. I had a sense that two ladies in particular who have recently died of cancer, were really pleased to see me there. It wasn’t in a sense of them being ghosts or haunting the church, just that in the universe their presence was part of God’s glory. As a charismatic christian I often sense the Holy Spirit visiting a group of Christians in prayer this is the only spirit we do actually believe in. It’s like a presence or warm feeling, and often makes me want to cry. It’s part of who God is and can be a real blessing. Today I received a picture of some stars that joined to form a string of beautiful glowing pearls that then formed part of God’s crown. This represented to us the people we’d lost to cancer, now being part of God’s glory.

Every time we go to church we pray the Lord’s prayer and we ask that “his kingdom comes”, this is to say we want heaven on earth, we want an end to poverty and suffering and we want to see our loved ones restored in full resurrection. We also say “for yours is the power”, and this is key to Halloween, all the ghosts, demons and imaginary spooks in the world are not as powerful as God, but dabbling in the dark side can be dangerous, if you get into things like the paranormal, you may be inviting in the demons that will surely want to keep you from knowing God as fully as you might otherwise like to do. There is of course sadly bad to every good in the world but  how much power we give to the dark depends on how brightly our own lights shine out.

So tomorrow as I visit my neighbours I will be praying for them and thanking god for the community we live in, and probably binning like last year a great quantity of sweets which get really sticky and gooey in a plastic tub! I might even hand out some prayers with the sweets at home..

Here’s a couple of prayers that you may like to use yourself…

Father,
All-Powerful and Ever-Living God,
Today we rejoice in the holy men and women
of every time and place
May their prayers bring us your forgiveness and love
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

AMEN

 

 

There’s hope for all of us…!

It’s been a while since my last blog, and alots happened! Two weeks ago I got to preach at St Paul’s, and in the weeks running up to that I had to concentrate on  preparing. I  took a day off for a “Day apart” with Sister Pauline, who runs retreats in the local area. Sitting in a Methodist hall for the day without chatting to anyone, is not how I normally spend my time, but it was really beneficial. During my time there I had a sense of God saying, just put the mistakes and problems of the past behind you, and look forwards. There is nothing to stop you starting a new career in leadership in the church. We were reading about Peter, who after following Christ as one of the disciples, went on to deny him 3 times. This really hurt Christ and Peter, and when Jesus was resurrected, he made a special effort to make things right with Peter, on one of the few times he appeared to the disciples during his resurrection. After that Peter went on to do huge works to spread the gospel and was a tireless supporter of the risen Christ.

So mistakes happen, we all get it wrong, but that doesn’t mean God won’t listen, or help us move on with our lives. For me this was really helpful to hear, as at work I’ve felt that my efforts seem to always lead to the same result, noone noticing my accomplishments, and I’ve felt frustrated by the lack of opportunities around. Many colleagues are jaded due to the constant churn of budget cuts and policy U Turns, and sometimes a new policy can come in that demolishes the work that’s been done by the whole team over the last 5-10 years in one fell swoop. Local government feels really fragile and scary.

I’ve been offered a new job in the NHS which I am planning to accept, which will mean I am leaving .gov.uk after 12 years service (not enough for a gold watch but enough to know its not for me!). I hope to pursue ordination through the Church of England, but in the meantime am moving into a role that I am passionate about, which is the planning and delivery of mental health services for people in York and North Yorkshire.

Sometimes its hard to admit you made a mistake and that working harder, or trying harder isn’t going to work.  Often we have too much on our plate to make space for God, and get to grips with the issues. At church recently we did the following exercise which was really helpful

When you start to pray often we hold our hands out to recieve God’s blessings. However if you turn your hands down first, as you pray, concentrate on emptying your worries into God’s hands, and as you turn them up again, they are then empty ready to receive his blessings and teachings. If you hang on to the pain and suffering this isn’t nearly as easy to do. Making space is hard to do, but I think God will bless any time you can spare to spend with him in prayer. This is one of my favourites.. used by the AA and many people in local government (although it does apply to other walks of life!)

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen.