Book Review // Songs for Suffering by Simon Stocks


It’s great to be asked to review this book as Simon was my biblical studies tutor at college during my ministerial training. I am a big fan of the Psalms, but I also recognise that they are a bit like marmite, with some people choosing to read them as infrequently as possible. But I would say, don’t let that put you off, this might just be the book that helps you combat that!

Songs for Suffering is a wonderful guide for those in a season of struggling or as Stocks notes ‘for anyone who is going through tough times, whatever form that takes’. And it really is for anyone, written simply and not full of theological jargon, making it hugely accessible, but with a depth of knowledge evident from Stocks’ own academic experience.

Focussing on psalms of lament, the book takes us on a journey. Using personal reflections and stories from peoples lives, the author encourages the reader to deal with questions in their own lives, from personal failure, to issues of identity, and deeper still to despair, grief and personal suffering.

Each chapter guides us though a particular theme, asking questions for the reader to consider and pointing us to specific psalms for individual needs or circumstances. It is written in a very practical way, addressing how we can personally use the words of the psalms to deepen our own prayer life and each chapter finishes with some suggestions for what to do next.

However this is not just a practical guide, but a book filled with the authors own experience of life and pastoral ministry, written with compassion and a deep understanding of what it is to encounter personally, and come alongside those who suffer.

Stocks doesn’t shy away from difficult themes like shame, doubt and anger, but on the contrary embraces them with confidence, bringing a sense of assurance for the reader, encouraging them to engage with the themes for themselves.

Although my sense is that this is a book to work through from start to finish, it could also be something to dip into in particular times of trouble, or in supporting others facing difficult times, and in fact a helpful index at the end points to specific psalms for different circumstances.

Stocks reminds us afresh that The Psalms are a wonderful resource, passed down through the ages and used as the bedrock of Christian prayer for centuries, that are just as useful today, giving us the tools to pray in ‘just about any situation imaginable’ keeping us in touch with God even when pressures threaten to stop us.

The author notes: ‘may you find deeper connection to God, as you do so, even in the toughest of times…’ and this truly is a book that will help you do that.

Songs for Suffering will be published by Hendrickson Publishers Inc in April 2017. and can be pre-ordered at most good book stores online including Eden (priced £12.99) and Amazon (priced £11.99). There is also a website that goes alongside the book and will host other resources linked to lament at: www.cryhard.org

 

Simon Stocks

The Rev’d Dr Simon Stocks teaches Biblical Studies at St Augustine’s College of Theology, England (formerly known as SEITE). He is Chair of the Theological Educators’ Network and also ministers in the Anglican parish of Christ Church, Purley. After a career in civil engineering, he trained for ministry and worked in parish ministry in the Diocese of Southwark, before undertaking doctoral studies. His research interests include the interactions between poetic form and interpretation in Hebrew poetry, and the theology of lament.

‘Top Tips’ for clergy work-life balance in families…

Following on from yesterday’s look at working hours and balance of family life, here’s some top tips as gleaned from other Clergy Mums. And as with yesterday I feel I should say again, that these are as applicable in some cases to male clergy, single parents, those with no children, and to other professions, as they are to Clergy Mums. I just write it from the basis of being a Clergy Mum, and being part of a working couple, where both of us work full time.

1) Prayer life

Ok so this should go without saying but I know from experience that prayer or devotional time can easily be squeezed out when you are busy. Don’t let this happen!! Our relationship with God is more important than anything else. And I also don’t think it’s possible to do this job without being in a good place faith-wise.

 

2) Hours

Ok here’s the thing, I’d say don’t bother counting hours – it can be useful for a week or so as you work out what is right for you, but better to put some foundations in place. That said, if you are going to do it, or keep an idea of it, then try and work to 48 hours max. There will be weeks that go over this but if you try and keep to a decent level then when those weeks happen you won’t be totally overworked.

3) 2/3 Sessions in a day

So, on ground rules, this is one you might have heard of – if you imagine 3 sessions in a day being morning, afternoon evening, only work 2 out of 3 (I’ve also heard it as 5 sessions and work 4 only). I’ve also heard people say this is ‘a nice idea but really impractical’ but I think it’s a good rule to try and work to then on the occasions you need to do all three it won’t become the norm.

4) Working pattern

If you are a newbie Curate like me, then work out a pattern with your TI that works for you both, and bear in mind that this might need adjusting as you settle in to the role.

Use your diary – I block out everything: sermon prep time, prayer time, events, a day for admin at home (combatting the dreaded emails), and I even block out an afternoon each week to keep free for meeting people, otherwise the diary gets so full I have to book people in weeks in advance.

Also suggested to me was to go through your diary a few months at a time and put in all the key things for you and your family – birthdays, school events, and things that just can’t be missed. This is especially key if you have a diary that other staff can see. Then don’t book anything over those times. I also book in date nights and key time with the kids – which I am prepared to change if need be but at least they are in there. Also put in all the key work dates in advance and then you won’t be surprised with any clashes at the last minute.

5) Say no

Once you’ve filled in your diary, say no when you need to! Outside of the day to day, only go to what you have to or feel really called to, yes some people won’t like this but just explain you need to get a healthy balance and that you want to model that. If the Flower Club want you to come to every meeting and you can’t face it, then perhaps suggest coming once a year or only to their AGM. And DON’T FEEL GUILTY!!

6) Make life easier wherever you can

Get a cleaner, order your shopping online to be delivered, get a gardener if necessary. And lower your standards, it doesn’t matter if the house is a bit messy, just embrace it! Childminders, nannies, holiday clubs may well be essential at times too, and of course this requires a certain level of income but this post is on the basis of both partners working full time. Do what is right or necessary for you.

7) Dinner

If they are old enough, get your kids involved in helping cook and also accept that sometimes you might need to serve up supper as beans on toast or a pizza. It’s not the end of the world and you will all survive! I actually find cooking when I have the time, really relaxing, so I tend to take time on my day off to cook a batch of something and put some in the freezer for the days when I am more busy.

8) Is someone going to die?

This was a piece of advice given to me when running my own business, largely as a joke over, ‘if this thing doesn’t get done, no one is going to die’. In ministry that takes a different tone of course, but things can often be termed as immediately urgent when in fact they can wait at least a day or so. So, is someone going to die? Yes? Then fine, drop what you need to and go. If not, well frankly if they are already dead, then a few days later for a funeral won’t kill anyone (and if it will, refer to the previous question). Slightly facetious I know, but do weigh up quite how urgent/important things are, which may not be as much as is being made out – sometimes they might of course and then you can take the call.

9) Rest/ Sabbath.

We need to rest! Especially if you are doing 6 day working weeks. According to Genesis, the first thing humans did on this planet was to have a day of rest before they even did anything.

Find out what helps you rest and do it. For some that is in being active, going for a walk or to the gym, for others it is literally slobbing in PJs all day. Whatever it is, turn off the phone, email and doorbell and veg out. I know some clergy find they need to leave the house to avoid all work on their day off and if that’s you, do what you need to. Clergy burn out is a huge issue in the church so don’t be one of them.

10) The word ‘busy’

I try not to use the word ‘busy’ even though people use it of me. I feel that God has called us to this line of work, and he will give us the time we need to do it, after all he is the author of time. So if you are exhausted or not getting things done then perhaps it is time for a rethink of the balance or what you are doing in your work time.

Also for me, I don’t want people thinking I am too busy to see them, when they might be in need, I want to be accessible so if I can give an atmosphere of having a good life balance then perhaps that will help. Of course others find the opposite and have congregations who expect them to be available 24/7 and that’s another kettle of fish!

 

So there we go, 10 top tips for surviving in ministry with family. I would love to hear if you have any more and we can do a second post! Thanks also to all the lovely clergy who contributed ideas for this list.

 

Challenging clergy work-life balance


The eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed via the medium of social media that I’ve been asking a lot of questions about working hours recently. It started off as part of my own journey to discover what was the right balance for us as a family as we get used to my new role. I am of course writing from the perspective of a ‘Clergy Mum’ but I am sure that much of this applies equally to single parents, those without children, men and indeed to those working in other areas.

We seem to live in a time where many professions have such a huge ‘work culture’, with people expected to work long hours, often under immense pressure, and seemingly with less and less understanding, or support for, family life.

Perhaps you could say that we are trying to have our cake and eat it. We want or need to work and then expect our employers to fit around our own life choices? There is an argument for that, indeed why should businesses potentially loose out when their employee is making life difficult for them or not doing what they have been asked? 

But I would argue two things – firstly, that if we want the best employees, or if we want to get the best out of people, there still needs to be far more flexibility than there is now, and a greater level of understanding.

Secondly, that there is evidence that shows those who work more than 55 hours a week are at far greater risk of medical conditions including stroke & heart disease. Not only that but after 50 hours productivity dips massively.

I wonder, is this current model of work actually doing more harm than good?

…o0O0oo…

So, what’s my point?

Well, since I was ordained I have come across (at many turns) the idea that clergy work 50-60 hours a week. It’s a figure bandied around with little question – apparently that’s just what needs to happen to get the job done. And yes I’ve only been ordained for 5 minutes so you’d be forgiven for telling me to get some more experience before I criticise. Perhaps so, but as I enter this new phase of life I am frankly not prepared to spend the next 3 or 4 years figuring out that 50-60 hours a week will wreck my family life and/or my health. I want to start as I mean to go on, with a healthy balance. The church is very good at talking about the sacrifice of being in ordained ministry and I’m not averse to that in some respects, but it also seems a cover-all excuse for anything that is expected of us.

So I did a little (very scientific, not) survey asking fellow clergy how many hours they worked each week, via social media. Two things stood out:

1) That it’s not just hearsay – over 65% of full time clergy actually work on average more than 50 hours a week, and over 25% of them doing more than 60 hours.

 

Did you know that The European Working Time Directive requires requires, (amongst other things) that EU countries guarantee the following rights for all workers:

a limit to weekly working hours, which must not exceed 48 hours on average, including any overtime

As I understand it this was brought in as it was recognised that working longer than this contributed to stress, mental health problems and other illnesses.

2) Secondly, there are not that many women in my situation – which is working in Full Time (6 days a week) stipendary ministry with a husband who works full time and school age kids at home.

There are of course a good number of female clergy with families working in the Church of England now, but many seem to either have older children who have left home, or husbands who work part time in order to support them or help at home, or they themselves don’t work full time. In fact in my diocese I think I am one of two women doing this.

All of which makes me think that we, as the church, need to encourage different and healthy models of working, both within ministry and of working life in general. For a start, how will we encourage younger women into ordained ministry with the kind of hours faced by clergy now?

My training incumbent has been really supportive on this and is not expecting me to work all the hours God sends. However I have found it tough being in an environment – in the wider church not just my own church – where the work ethic is so huge and expectations so high.

We could say that it is the responsbility of individual clergy to manage their own hours sensibly and they are quite within their rights to work way more than is recommended in the EU Working Time Directive, but how easy that when there is a ‘norm’ expected and worked out by many? Guilt I am sure, is a huge factor here (see previous post on this).

And actually, after all the church values both marriage and family life enormously, and yet often a healthy balance to family and work life is not modelled by the church leadership or by clergy. As one person noted during my surveys on Social Media: we are called to be counter-cultural within the church, and that being as committed to our families as much as to the church, is a witness in itself. We are called to both.
Which is why I am writing about this now. I, we, haven’t yet got the balance right yet in our family, but I am here saying that I am not going to feel guilty about stopping work at 4pm to pick up the children from school, or not going to an evening meeting because I have booked in a date night with my husband, or protecting my day off fiercely so that I get some time out. As leaders we need to model a healthy balanced way of working, and that might mean saying no sometimes or upsetting people, but I think if we can be honest and open about why, then we are being both true to ourselves and what God has called us to, as well as helping others to see that too…

 

Coming up tomorrow is a post of top tips of how to balance work/life based on advice from other clergy and clergy Mums, which has been invaluable in helping me feel ok about all of this!

Seeking the truth in love

Famously, we are living in the era of ‘post-truth’ a phrase that ought to be enough to send fear into even the most courageous of hearts. Post-truth – makes it sound like ‘the truth’ doesn’t exist anymore and it some sense it doesn’t. The technological era has enabled people, groups and organisations to share whatever opinion they like and brand it as ‘news’ or ‘truth’ and share it with millions of people, who gobble it up and regurgitate it at their will. And we then take that ‘truth’ and brand ourselves with it like some flag of allegiance.

Yesterday evening, about the time Donald Trump was being sworn in as President of the USA, I was preaching to 800 or so teenagers at a local school. The theme was ‘Come Follow Me’ which struck me as particularly ironic, and in that talk I said: 

“For example, my truth is that Donald Trump is a mysoginistic, racist liar.

And yet…

women and people of colour voted for him, their truth is very different to mine…

And excuse me for getting political but we are living in a time where it is becoming more and more important for us to distinguish between the voices who are shouting out to us. The loudest or most retweeted or most viewed is not necessarily the right one. Often the quietest ones are: the most important, and the most vulnerable, and perhaps the ones telling the most truth.

Choose carefully people.”

 

A well used quote notes:

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

(It is popularly attributed to Edmund Burke although no one seems to be able to prove it was actually him)

and it is a good sentiment for a time like now, where something or someone, causes such divide and has the potential to grow into what we might call evil.

But the danger in that, in feeling fuelled to do something, is in how we respond. Right now, anyone in a position of leadership, with authority and influence, has a responsibility to stand up and be a voice of truth. Not just their own brand of truth, but in a desperate seeking to see through the opinion, the spin and rhetoric and seek the actual truth. We need to model a way of living that does not spread more hate and anger but seeks to love in difference, to bring grace where there is judgment and humility where there is arrogance. And equally as important, we need to help others find their way through this mist of words.

Trump is a dangerous man – completely aside from what you think of him or his politics – just look at the way he has been able to gather the support of millions of Americans who on paper should despise him, to be where he is now. He has gone from a potential laughing stock to arguably the most powerful man in the world.

But far more than that, and here’s where I worry most, it is in how he affects his opponents. His words and his behavior have incited people to fear and hatred. And not just those with a tendency to discriminate, but actually all of us, ordinary people, who might be trying to live in love, and yet we find ourselves equally fuelled with anger and vitriol, it’s just pointed in a different direction. So how are we any different?

I’ve spent months thinking about this, about how to take a stand against the injustice that has come through the rise of Trump and Brexit, but without adding to that increasing fire of anger and hate. I, with others, started the Movement of Love and yet I am still angry and frustrated.

But. At the end of the day all I can come back to is that Jesus died for Donald Trump as much as he did for me. I am no more special than Donald Trump and if I think I am then I have missed the whole point of The Gospel (and perhaps in the wrong job).

Let us not sink to the level of those who hate, we are better than that – you are better than that, I am better than that. We were made for more. I saw singer Martyn Joseph in concert last night and he noted that there are no less kind people in the world today than there were yesterday. And that’s the thing, we all have the potential to be lovers or haters, to do acts of kindness or acts of discrimination.

Let’s choose for ourselves to be loving and kind and to bring people with us on a journey of hope for a better future.

 

Preach // ‘Come Follow Me’ // 20th Jan 2017

This is a sermon given at Hurst College Chapel, for the Senior School service based on Matt 4:18-23

FOLLOWING //

 

Ok we are going to start by making some noise. So I want you to think of one thing that you follow,

maybe a band you like, a football team, a designer, apple products, someone on Twitter, anything, anyone. Just someone that you would say you follow.

Ok everyone got one? So After the count of 3, I want you to call that thing out,

for example: Seagulls, or Justin Bieber, Donald Trump (I hope not)

 

ok everyone ready? After 3 shout it out…

 

123 ….

 

Noise…

////

 

Right, now how many of those things that we shouted out, do you think you could actually hear? Maybe a couple of them? Maybe the person next to you shouted so loud you couldn’t hear, or maybe you were drowned out – did anyone even hear you?!

Because in life there is not just one voice calling us like Jesus did, clearly the fishermen. There are so many things calling our name, enticing us to go with them.

Like your teachers voices – Study hard and you will do well, get a good career, follow me and I will help you get a good job?

Advertising voices – you need the new iphone7, it’s so good, it’s only got one thing different to the iphone 6 but you really need it, you will be so on trend if you have it, people will be jealous of you….

Or magazines and celebs telling us, follow our fitness programme, you too can have abs like these (well actually you wouldn’t want these ones…), you can be uber sexy and attractive if you just do what we say….

Or your friends – hey come to this great party it’s going to be amazing, no adults, vodka, and guess who is going to be there….

Or perhaps a more obvious one maybe – social media – who do we follow on Twitter? Snapchat? Instagram? Whose voice do we listen to there?

And we have to find out way through all of that, all of those voices, trying to follow a path that is right for each of us, and that will be different for all of us.

 

Story of a young girl //

So, I want to tell you a story, it’s about a young woman, at age 19 she found she could not hack all of those voices calling out to her. She couldn’t take the pressures they put on her – study hard, be good, to be skinny and look amazing, do well, get to uni, have a career…

And so she gave up her uni place, earned a bit of cash working in a local pub and as soon as she could she legged it to the furthest place she could go, the other side of the world, Australia, and instead of listening to all those voices, she decided simply to ignore them all and follow her own desires.

She wanted her own way. And why wouldn’t she, at 19, the, world lay at her feet.

And it was great for a while and she had a lot of fun. No responsibilities, in an amazing country, in the sunshine, bars, surf, surfers… what’s not fun about that?!

But things didn’t quite turn out how she had planned. Very quickly she went from following her own way, to following the pull of others around her, of the bright city lights, and very soon of drugs, of alcohol and sex. And before she knew it, it wasn’t her path she was following, it wasn’t her own desires, her own dreams, but instead she just looked for the next fix, in whatever form that took.

So instead of listening to her own voice, she simply got sucked in by others that were louder and more destructive, did not have her best interests at heart.

 

/////

Simply, she was just looking for her own voice, or her own identity. I think most of us want something to follow, a path, a label. When we choose to follow things we are actually just looking for, or forming our own identity. What we follow reflects who we are, or who we choose to be or how we want to be seen.

So we could ask ourselves, like the fishermen in our passage, where do we throw our nets? What are we fishing for? Because you have so much more choice than those fishermen. The possibilities of what you can do, who you can be in the 21st century, are endless… aren’t they?

 

/////

 

But like our young girl so often the voices that call out to us are distorted, skewed, they don’t seek to encourage us, build us up or lead us down the right path.

Here’s an example, do you know what an algorithm is? I expect some of you do, basically it’s like a code or equation and there are thousands of them running the internet. So for example – Facebook has an algorithm that means it chooses what you see on your timeline, you won’t automatically see all the latest posts from your friends, you will only see the ones that the code thinks you want to see.

Or online advertising is another one – have you ever noticed how you buy something online or watch TV show online, then for weeks afterwards every website you go to has adverts for that shop or that show? It’s just another algorithm that ahs picked up you like that show or that shop so it keeps showing it to you.

Angela Merkel (the German chancellor ) said in an interview that “These algorithms – can lead to a distortion of our perception. They narrow our breadth of information”  because they actually distort the truth, because you only see what the algorithms think you want to see. So the more you look at something, the more they think you want to see it, and so gradually what you see gets narrowed down until actually, where we think we are choosing our path, we are actually only experiencing a very narrow sphere of life.

That’s online, but we do it in every part of our lives – for example we tend to hang out with people who like the same things as us, have the same opinions as us.

So we really need to recognise that the voices we listen to, the things we follow, what we might think is the truth isn’t always the truth. Truth becomes relative to each person. Who, or what we choose to follow shapes who we are, shapes our personal identity.

For example, because of my job I hang out with a lot of clergy, a lot of people who work for the church, which means sometimes my view on what people think of the church is wrong. So I have to intentionally choose to hang out with people outside the church who remind me what real life is!

For example, my truth is that Donald Trump is a mysoginistic, racist liar. And yet women and people of colour voted for him, their truth is different to mine…

And excuse me for getting political but we are living in a time where it is becoming more and more important for us to distinguish between the voices who are shouting out to us. The loudest or most retweeted or most viewed is not necessarily the right one. Often the quietest ones are the most important, or the most vulnerable, or the ones telling the most truth. Choose carefully people.

 

///////

So back to our girl in the story – what was her truth?

Well her truth was that she thought she was a misfit, that no one understood her, that she was the only one like her. She was a creative type, in a largely academic environment. Her parents had good careers and wanted that for her, when she just wanted to have the freedom to paint and to travel and discover and see.

She was seeking her own identity, who she was, but by following all the wrong paths.

But there is a happy ending to her story, because she eventually found one path that allowed her the freedom to just be who she was. To recognise her identity, and yes, it was in following Jesus. In hearing his call to ‘come, follow me’ and doing just that.

In the midst of her brokenness, pain and hurt, in amongst all those voices calling out to her, for one moment his voice was the clearest. And I suppose I should tell you, if you haven’t already guessed, that the reason I know about this young woman’s story is because it is my story.

From that moment of hearing his voice, my life was turned upside down (in a good way!) and of course I’ve only shared a small part of the story today, but what I can tell you is that following Jesus is better than any drink, any high, or any shag. It is like my whole life has been pointing to this (dog collar)

You know, if at 19 someone had said to me, in the midst of all that I was doing, that you are going to become a Vicar, well I would have laughed, a lot. In fact I still find it pretty bonkers that God would call someone like me to do this.

But you know that’s what he does, Jesus calls us as we are, just like the fishermen on the boat – he didn’t say go sort yourselves out then follow me, no, they followed him at once, as they were, probably filthy and to be honest, stinking of fish!

And hey, 19 year old me would think that the 40something me is very uncool and boring, and what the F happened to me, to become a Vicar! but I actually don’t care because when I heard his call, for the first time in my life I knew that it was right.

 

Because the real truth is, a truth that can’t be changed… is that God loves us. Every one of us. No matter who we are, what we’ve done or said, we are loved, just as we are. The bible tells us that he gives us the right to become children of God. That can be our true identity if we listen, if we follow him.

I think it’s much harder to hear his voice today because there are so many voices calling out ‘come follow me’ but it is there, for each of us if we want to hear it. and it won’t make you instantly perfect or stop you doing the things you enjoy (well some of them maybe!), but it might just take you places you never dreamed you’d go, and it might just help you to find the truth in a world that is full of lies.

So I want to encourage you today to just listen to the voices calling out to you. Think about what truth they are telling you? Think about what you are following. And if you can hear that voice of Jesus, saying ‘come follow me’, why not give it a listen? What have you got to lose? If God could take someone like me, broken, and walking a dangerous path to destruction, and turn my life around, then he is there for anyone….

 

 

 

 

 

NOURISH // One Word for 2017

a nice healthy gluten, dairy and sugar free breakfast!

This time last year I began a journey seeking ‘joy’ as I chose that as my one word to focus on for the year ahead. It was a really helpful tool rather than choosing New Year’s Resolutions, to just let joy be a bigger part of my life, and not to let it be robbed away. I also have some wonderful guest bloggers to thank for helping me on my joy journey too, it was great to get different perspectives along the way, thank you all for sharing!

However as I reflected before Christmas on what my word for 2017 might be I realised that whilst I was thinking more about joy and trying to focus on it, the things that were robbing me of joy were still there: ongoing back pain, tiredness, not enough time to rest – they were still constants in my life. So, the challenge for 2017 is how to overcome those, or at least how to live with them in a more balanced way?

One thing I’ve started to do more of is really think about what I am eating and I’ll share more on that as the year goes on, but a word that has stuck with me out of that is ‘nourish’. How do I nourish myself? do I in fact? intentionally? Nourishment is all about sustenance, making sure we are fed with substances necessary for growth, health and good condition so the dictionary says. Feeding ourselves well – and not just with good food, but the dictionary definition also includes, holding a belief for a long time. We need to be nourished spiritually as well as physically.

It’s interesting that a passage I focussed on a lot last year was Jesus’ command to love your neighbour as yourself. But it really stuck me recently: AS YOURSELF. What does that even mean I began to wonder? I often rail against the cultural trend that seems to scream at us from every advert, window or poster that says we can all be perfect, we deserve it after all, focus on you, you, you; but here it is in holy print, love yourself. Not something I am all that good at as I am sure many of us aren’t, my recent post on feeling guilty at being a working mother was a testimony to that.

So I began to pray into that and explore it and I was struck by this passage from 2 Peter 1 –

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

 

So, He has given us everything we need for a Godly life. How often do we whole heartedly accept that? or live that out? That line alone struck me like a shot of Tequila… And then. It goes on…

 

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Might have been written for me in this moment, it’s all about being intentional – make every effort to add to your faith…

 

But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 

I have to say I regularly question my calling to ministry, I mean I know it in as much as I know I have red hair, but at the same time I question how I am supposed to do it, how can I balance life, motherhood, being a wife? – which are equally callings on my life. All of this felt like a challenge to me. If I am going to be able to continue with these callings, keeping them in rhythm with each other and not falling apart, then I have to focus on me a bit more, and more importantly on me and God. As I reflected I realised that my joy is robbed away when I am not looking after myself, when I am in pain, when I don’t spend enough time with God. And in fact that last one should go first, because when I am completely focussed on God, then the pain is not as significant, my time is more balanced, and I am less grumpy! I don’t mean focussed on me in a selfish way, I mean that as a wife, Mum and minister most of my time is given over to others, but that’s the point, that it’s ok to make some time for ourselves too.

So what will ‘nourish’ look like? Well I’m not sure yet but there are definitely three strands to it: to be nourished physically, mentally and spiritually. And not just for me, but for my family too. I’m not setting myself any real goals, as I think this is going to be a journey over the whole year, seeking to live in a more nourished way, but I’m sure there will be plenty for me to post on here!

 

More on Marriage, Motherhood & Ministry // The guilt factor

Ok so this one isn’t just about being in ministry, I think it’s common for many Mums, and probably Dads too, but why do we, as working Mums, feel so damn guilty all the time? Guilty about not getting enough work done, guilty about not spending enough time with the kids, guilty about not fitting in a date night, guilty about not helping with the school PTA, guilty about not doing the housework, guilty about using Amazon and not going to the High Street, guilty about having to take time off when a child is ill, guilty about taking time off when we are ill, guilty about taking 5 mins for a cup of tea in a long day, guilty about wanting to have some time to ourself, guilty about not wanting to spend that time with our husband/wife/child, guilty about not going to child’s rugby match, guilty about paying for childcare, guilty that we aren’t f**ing perfect…?

I mean listen, this is not the 1950s, it’s ok that we, as women, go out to *whispers* work. As much as some of the older generation may at times question it, it really is not a big deal. We are not expected to swan around at home in a perfectly pressed, and home-made day dress, whilst scrubbing the floor, darning socks and making jam that will keep us going all year. This is the 21st century and society, largely but let’s not dwell on that here, has accepted, even embraced and welcomed women in the workplace…

But often I think it’s us that hasn’t quite embraced it. I mean many women work as many, if not more, hours in paid employment than their husbands. So for example in this house, everything around the house is shared, from housework to shopping, to kids school runs and playdates, Christmas planning, and my husband cooked Christmas lunch last week because, of course, I am working. We haven’t got the balance right, we’re transitioning from me working part time, where we still shared the home admin but I did more as I was at home more. Now it’s all shared and we are trying to get the right balance. However I still find myself feeling guilty when I haven’t got the time to do something I used to do, or that my kids would like me to do. I feel guilty when my husband does the ironing or goes to Tesco late at night because there is no food in the house. Why do I feel so frikin’ guilty? It’s no more my fault than his that we have no food, and 99% of the ironing is his shirts anyway!

My husband is a total love and said to me he loves that I work, and I quote ‘you have proper cojones‘ which is a total compliment but I’d like to point out he means metaphorically… ;) but still the guilt is there. I mean last year alone I have missed my Brother in Laws 40th birthday do, a family get together, had to organise my kids birthday parties around work weekends, finished the Christmas shopping with one day to spare and that’s just a few things.

But here’s the thing, we are our own worst enemies. I think guilt is about 2 things: fear and condemning ourselves which in itself about identity.

So, fear… what are we so afraid of? are we worried what people think of us if we don’t volunteer for the local community charity in our spare time? or whether our kids will turn out as delinquents because we didn’t make them home made organic humous? or that our marriage may fail because we’ve not cleaned the toilet for 3 weeks? Seriously what are we so afraid of? I’m not saying let’s ignore our kids but we survived eating additives and shed loads of sugar before humous was even an odour in the air of middle England didn’t we? We stayed out late playing in the road not giving our parents a spare thought before it was essential to spend “intentional family time together”; sometimes we just need a bit of perspective. And that is where identity comes in – we need to know, truly know, who we are. And that is we are all daughters of the king. THE king. We are adopted into his family, as we are, warts and all. And He just loves us…

1 John 4:16-18 says this:

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

So, we are loved and we need not fear because we are filled with God’s love. As this says, fear is to do with punishment – interesting – are we punishing ourselves? for not being perfect?

The bible also says that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). So if God does not condemn us, why do we condemn ourselves? For those of us in ministry, do we not feel called to this? Did we not feel an urge to do this, a calling we could not ignore? If God has called us to this then he is with us in it. He is the author of time (a fact I remind myself of daily!) we can trust him with all we have to do and know that he is in it.

So come on sisters! We are 21st Century women, let’s be strong, be confident, and let’s not fear, let’s not feel guilty. What the heck, spend intentional time with our family, eat organic humous, do the ironing if you want, and if not I dare you to put your feet up for at least half an hour, watch crap on the TV, eat cake and be ok with it! And in that let’s just recognise who we are and who God has made us to be…

 

The Blog Year in Review // 2016


Well another year draws to a close and I thought I’d look back at what’s appeared on the blog this year, so here’s a round up of the top ten posts of 2016 in terms of most viewed.

 

  1. Top Tips for Starting Vicar School – as quite a niche post I was rather surprised to see this at the top, with some advice for these entering ministerial training.
  2. Discernment Guide – less surprisingly though still quite niche, the guide was first published last year and in various chapters. It has advice for those going through the discernment process for selection to train for ministry in the Church of England (long winded sentence that one, rather like the process…).
  3. Dog Collar Dilemma – written in several parts, this was the first of them, looking at what it’s like wearing a dog collar as a woman.
  4. Chocolate Nativity Story – telling the nativity in Chocolate actually first appeared last Christmas but has obviously continued to be popular!
  5. Curate’s Journey  – a new part of the blog this year, with various posts on life as a new Curate.
  6. Inked – Are tattoos ok? why the heck not?!
  7. Becoming a Revd – It actually happened!
  8. Marriage Motherhood and Ministry – probably the first of many posts on a similar theme, balancing being a Mum in ministry.
  9. What’s your Vocation? – this was actually a round up of posts looking at vocation as part of the C of E’s month long focus on the theme in Feb.
  10. Being different and being relevant – ‘in the world, not of the world’ how can we play this out

Christmas as a Curate

I posted this on my Facebook page at the weekend after a long day…

and not because I wanted to be all martyr-ish but because despite it being a long day, I just genuinely love my job, it was an amazing day and I feel so privileged to be doing it. But a tweet from a friend:

‘Faceache is turning into a competition between clergy on how busy/tired/many carols sung…’

has made me think. What kind of vibe was I giving off in my status? because I wonder now if it wasn’t the opposite to what I wanted! (though Samantha has noted she thought I wasn’t moaning thankfully!)

And here’s the thing, the clergy life is fairly full, especially at this time of year, but that’s what we expect right? I mean, hello, Christmas is kinda important for the church, so I think we all knew that when we signed up (or were dragged into it by God…). It’s definitely not a ‘I only work on Sunday’ job – and note, please, I know it might seem funny but a little tip, please don’t make that joke to clergy, especially at this time of year, thank you muchly :)

Plus, of course as a new Curate I have no idea what I am doing most of the time which means, if I’m honest, a large degree of what is known professionally as ‘winging it’… I have found a big smile and a Christmas jumper can go a long way, and when all that fails the answer is always Prosecco…

And on top of that I am a wife and a Mum, as well as working a full time job, so the last minute requests for a costume 30 mins before the nativity, or a sudden desperate need to see a friend who lives an hour away, or an explosion of orange juice in the kitchen all have to be dealt with, so frankly us Clergy Mummies deserve a medal ;)

So yes it is busy (and I don’t like to use that word and there is a blog post coming on that…) with long days and a lot to get done. But it’s also absolutely wonderful. This morning I got to tell a room full of Mums and Dads, most of whom wouldn’t normally come to church, about Jesus at a school celebration. Last Sunday our church buildings were packed out all day for a series of nativities and carol services, again with loads of people who wouldn’t normally come to church. They were there because they wanted to be, because they wanted to experience something of what the church offers, plus I met so many people both from church and the wider community who I haven’t yet met. Tomorrow I get to visit a lady in her home with communion and I know I will come away feeling so blessed even though I am there to support her. And on Christmas morning I get to gather with hundreds of people who love Jesus too and we get to worship him together before I go home to a delicious roast cooked by my husband, and a lot of Prosecco…

And of course as much as there is to do, I am not the only working Mum in the world, nor the only Mum who will be working on Christmas Day, and I am so glad that I am able to say that I love what I do.

I really don’t think clergy work any harder than others that work at Christmas or with unsociable hours; for example the emergency services, NHS staff, carers and many more. In fact for many of those, it is just as much a vocation, a calling, something we just know we were made to do, to serve people. It can be tough and draining, and sometimes a sacrifice that takes us away from our loved ones, but it is also life giving and hugely rewarding. 

So… how about we all share some love around, it is the season of goodwill after all… (which is totally theological, not)…

Punters :

  1. Love your clergy! they are probably quite tired but they do love you, just tell them the sermon was lovely and don’t hang around after the Christmas morning service ;) 
  2. If you need a wee during midnight mass, please find the loo not a grave stone.
  3. Look out for those who you know are working Christmas Day. Send them a text on the day, take them a mince pie at work, drop round a plate of food, or just give them a hug!
  4. Know a single parent or a family who are both working full time? Offer to help – getting a Tesco order? you could add a few bits for them to save them going to the shops. Go round and help them wrap up pres (with Prosecco obvs…)

Clergy :

  1. Try not to moan about your job and how busy you are. Do what you can, leave what you can’t (and really there is a lot we can leave, we are not God and some things can truly wait) and enjoy the ride! Oh, and have Prosecco on ice…
  2. New Curate? get stuck in and don’t worry about making mistakes, people are (on the whole!) forgiving. Also you need to be able to smile for hours at a time and shake 6 hands simultaneously – get practising.

and have a wonderful Christmas wherever you are!

 

JOY // Guest post from Ben Hollebon

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This is the next instalment in a year of guest posts on Joy as part of my year of focussing on joy (my one word for the year). This month we have a post from a friend of mine – Ben Hollebon.

 

 

I love making films. It’s one of those things I just enjoy in every part of the process. Capturing that clip that you know is going to solidify your story when it comes to the edit is so satisfying.

I love God. Spending time with Him gives me peace. I can’t describe in words the reassurance His everlasting faithfulness brings to my life.

I ask God for stuff in prayers. I know it’s a bit cheeky and they’re not always things that I necessarily need, but I ask anyway. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think it works that you ask God for something in a quick prayer, He snaps His fingers and suddenly there’s a fanfare outside as the National Lottery pitch up at your front door with a nice big cheque for a few million. I think God is cleverer than that. He is interested in our hearts desires and giving us gifts; but these gifts are not meant to be held tightly and relished by ourselves alone. Instead, they’re meant to be used to glorify His name, His grace, His mercy and His love.

God gave me a gift last year. It was pretty amazing and I can tell you now – it made me rather joyful. He gave me the gift of a brand new job; one that I didn’t know existed, one that I wasn’t looking for, and in fact one that wasn’t even advertised. My wife saw a job advertised on Twitter (she’s never on Twitter and what are the chances she was on just as this was tweeted?). I went for the interview and didn’t get the job; but they told me there was another job, that wasn’t being advertised yet that they thought I’d be perfect for. So I came back a month later and interviewed successfully for it.

What do I do now? I make films for The Church of England. I work up in Westminster and get to communicate stories of the God I love through the medium that I love. God wants us to be fulfilled through His provision.

This Remembrance video, used in many churches and across Social Media is one of those Ben made.
Pretty cool right? God knows my hearts desires and wants me to be fulfilled in life; but He also challenges me to use the good things He provides to make a difference in this world. This isn’t just a “nice gig” nor is it God giving me a break and moving on. I feel called to work here and with that comes the responsibility that what I am doing is for God’s Kingdom. 

My joy this Christmas is knowing that I have a God who not just knows my every need, but finds ways to meet those needs in ways I could never have imagined. My God can literally find the perfect job for me, where I can use the skills He has blessed me with to communicate His Gospel each and every day.

And my God is your God; is our God; is THE God who loves us all immeasurably more than we could ever imagine.

I wonder what gift He has waiting for you to unwrap…

 

benhollebonprofile

 

Ben Hollebon works for The Church of England Communications Team at Church House in Westminster. He makes films and loves all things digital. He even got shortlisted at the Jerusalem Awards this year. He is married to Pollyanna and together, they have a cat called Herbie.