Who are our female role models in ministry?

Photo from ChurchExecutive.com

I won’t profess to be an expert on US mega churches but I’ve been really encouraged to hear this weekend of the appointment of Heather Larson as Executive Pastor at Willow Creek church. Willow Creek is a ‘mega church’ with an average attendance of 25,000 each week across 8 locations and is one of America’s largest churches.

There’s been a large amount of press and comment around her appointment because a female lead pastor is still newsworthy, especially in an evangelical church. And of course not all the coverage has been positive, and disappointingly even amongst women I’ve seen the odd snarky comment.

But, as I said, I for one am really encouraged because female senior leadership role models, are difficult to come by for those of us who happen to be female and in ministry. Not that I have any desire to lead a mega church but I have trained to one day lead a church of my own, and I think it is really helpful to have people doing what you do, to inspire you and whose ways of working you can learn from. Pretty much anything I’ve ever read about church leadership (not entirely but most) has been written by men. In my own diocese when I was ordained I asked an advisor who else was doing what I was doing? i.e: stipendiary, full time and with younger children. The answer? just one and we are both Curates (currently there are 3 of us so that’s a 33% improvement!).

This afternoon I did a very loose online survey of large UK churches, of any denomination, and I can’t find a single one with a female Senior Pastor, for example: Hillsong London has 2 locations (and 2 more with streamed services) and their website shows 4 male leads.

Now of course there are exceptions and I should clarify – there are some women in Lead Pastor roles – though I wonder if it isn’t in name only – where she is married to the Senior Pastor. That’s another reason why Larson’s appointment is such good news, she has been appointed on her own merits, not because she’s married to the Lead Pastor (and on that don’t hear me criticising women who lead in this way, many of them are hugely talented, anointed and skilled, but for years the only way a woman could lead in an evangelical church was if she was married to the Pastor).

I’ve said before how I find labels difficult but for the purpose of this post, you should know I am an evangelical and one thing I find difficult about other evangelicals, especially those of a conservative persuasion, is their absolute determination to stick to their own theological beliefs whilst at the same time doing all they can to get around them, eg: having your wife as Co-Pastor: it’s ok, she’s my wife and she’s not ‘leading’ the church really, and I have ultimate authority (cue submission discussion) and lo and behold you get round all the ‘women can’t lead’ questions. Cynnical? me? Hmm…

So here’s some examples, KICC; Ruach Brixton; Bradford Life Church; Thomas Crookes; St Andrews, Chorleywood; Kingsgate and the list goes on, all led (according to their websites) by co-leaders who are married couples. Then you’ve got those churches that have women on leadership but not in senior roles – for example it’s disappointing to see that Soul Survivor, Watford despite having women on staff, has 3 key leaders who are all male. Then there’s HTB, an interesting example, as the tide is clearly changing there but on their website shows 3 married couples as leaders, and 18 other clergy of whom 4 are female Curates. Looking promising you might think, until you then look at their related churches – 36 of them, and only one is lead by a woman (St Paul’s, Hounslow). You might think I am being unfair but considering the CofE stats that show there are more women training for ordination now than men, and numbers of female clergy are at an all time high, it seems disappointing in a church that leads the way in so many other areas that it can’t/won’t/doesn’t in this one.

..o0O0o…

Going back to Larson, it is clear this is not just a contemporary decision, nor is it tokenism, Larson has worked for WC for 20 years, is hugely experienced and has held many roles within the church, including launching their global ministries in Africa, and she herself notes her appointment seems to be more of a story outside of Willow Creek than within it. It’s no surprise to them because Larson has effectively been trained for this role. Her qualities and skills were recognised by WC and as she notes she has been mentored and coached by other leaders.

“Throughout my life—and through today—I have been blessed with strong mentors,” she says, “and their coaching developed me as a leader. As I look back on the leadership opportunities I’ve been given along the way, I’ve never been someone to walk in and push for a role. Each time, I gained influence over time, and just tried to be faithful to what God was asking me to do in each situation. I’ve been more focused on the mission or the cause, not on my specific role”.

There are so many things we can do to see more women in Lead Pastor/ senior leadership roles in our churches but it strikes me that this is a huge and easy step – recognising potential and training people up, mentoring them and increasing their skills. Not exactly rocket science is it…?

At a recent event I was at, it was suggested by another woman that if you want to get on in the CofE you need to wear a black shirt to be taken seriously. Whether or not that is true remains to be seen, personally I think God is bigger than my clerical attire, but it strikes me that if we as women have to consider things like this over our CVs and experiences, there is still a long way to go for women in leadership roles in the church.

..o0O0o..

So… Heather Larson is a new inspiration for me but I’d love to hear from you, especially from women in the church, who are your female role models in ministry leadership? Who gives you encouragement, who can you look up to? Because I think there are not enough female role models in ministry and I’d love to shout about them a bit more!

 

 

For more info see the announcement from Willow Creek here

Top 10 Tips for Starting Ordination Training // Guest Post

I’m delighted to be hosting a guest post today from Andrew Avramenko who has just started at Vicar School. It’s great to get a fresh and up to date perspective on the whole process and he’s got some great pointers here from his own experience, for those starting training…

Sarum College

For some, September and October marks the beginning of their ordination training. My training at Sarum College in Salisbury began a little earlier with a week-long Summer School in August. It was a welcomed opportunity to build a sense of community with the tutors and other students, and gave me a chance to pick up some tips for theological study that may be helpful; so here are my Top 10 Tips for Starting ordination training…

1. Freaking out is ok!

No matter how well you’ve adjusted to being recommended to train for ordination you may find it hard to fully accept you’re now an Ordinand. I felt like a fraud and expected my college to realise and politely ask me to leave. They didn’t – they knew I should be there but it took me a while to accept it myself – this is not unusual! I still find myself freaking out a little at the sound of ‘Ordinand’ – apparently that’s not unusual either!

 

2. You have been called

The discernment process is rigorous but if you’re starting ordination training you’ll know that. If you are training for Ordination you are doing so because the Church has recognised that God has called you to do that. So if you find yourself doubting your calling remember all those who met and encouraged you on your way to and through your BAP (Bishops’ Advisory Panel).

 

3. Enjoy yourself

After all the questioning you’ve had up to this point you might find it jarring to be able to simply listen to some teaching, I certainly found it somewhat of a shock but the realisation that I had three years of this ahead of me filled me with joy – the training is a blessing and a gift so enjoy it!

 

4. Come as you are

You have been called as you are, so be who you are. Be aware of how other people’s personalities can affect yours, and vice versa, and take steps to cope: if you recharge by being on your own make time to withdraw to quiet spaces after time with others, but if the quiet moments drive you crazy seek out people to talk to about them.

 

5. We’re one, but we’re not the same

Although you and your fellow Ordinands have gone through a similar process don’t expect to all be alike: prepare for people who believe, think and work differently from you. Learning to get along with those we might find challenging is important but hold onto the shared experiences as you do so.

Salisbury Cathedral

6. Everything in it’s right place

Don’t be afraid to face difficult past experiences, theological college should be a safe place to do so. Your tutors and fellow students will be facing their own challenges and should be supportive of you facing yours – it’s good training for walking alongside those experiencing difficult times now.

 

7. Question your views

We all have opinions and we might be right, but we might not be and your training is a good opportunity to challenge your opinions, preconceptions and accidental prejudices. Having an open mind at theological college also awakens you to receive exciting revelations.

 

8. Question other people’s views

Just as we might be wrong so might even the most established theologians. During my Summer School we were presented with some startling and deliberately provoking thoughts but were encouraged not to take them at face value or as ‘truth’; instead we were asked to question them and even, if we felt so, to disagree and treat them as simply opinions.

 

9. Living in another world

Do your best to avoid living in a bubble whilst training. Keep some non-theological interests and contact with friends and family: it’s is important to stay connected with all that happens away from a theological college, and will help when the training is put into practice.

 

10. It’s a marathon not a sprint

Hopefully you will be eased into your training but don’t be fooled by a quiet start into thinking you have time to take on new task and duties. The course will soon fill your time so enjoy this space at the beginning and use it to reflect on what brought you to it, to settle into your new life and to be excited about what is to come.

 

 

Andrew Avramenko is training for ordination at Sarum College in Salisbury and writes the Pilgrim Explorer blog which documented his experiences whilst exploring his calling to be ordained and, since August 2017, his experiences as an Ordinand.  He lives in Bath and hopes to survive juggling his study with his job and time with his wife and two children over the next three years.

The alternative priestly post

So after the heartfelt post on Monday, I thought an alternative view of my Priesting might be good too, definitely a sign that God has a sense of humour..

I think it all began a few weeks ago when I randomly met the Bishop’s Chaplain and we bonded in the wine aisle of the local village shop, and then moving swiftly to the rehearsal last week, which involved a lot of humour, and regular interjections of ‘oh bugger’ when things weren’t going quite as planned, and then of course finally on to the retreat itself.

And I have to say that after the busyness of the last few weeks it was actually rather lovely to go to evensong in the cathedral, which is not my usual style as I’m sure you know, but there is something about just sitting and listening and letting the music flow over you. So there I was, just sat with my eyes shut, a thousand voices (maybe a slight exaggeration) singing melodiously and in harmony, when I could have sworn I heard those melodious words singing about a trump…

My eyes snaped open, torn form the stupor of beautiful music as I busily scan the pages to check, and there I read the lines:

“God is gone up with a merry noise and the Lord with the sound of the trump”

focus, focus, do not make eye contact with anyone else, stifle those smirks…

Is it just me but when I go into a super formal environment (like the cathedral) I have to suppress the urge to be silly or irreverent, so you can imagine, then the strength it took to suppress my giggles at the word ‘trump’ on top of anything else. You know what they say, if you can’t laugh at farts then you are too old…

almost liturgical nail varnish…

There followed discussing the merits of nail varnish and diamonds with the Bishop over drinks – as you do – and sometime later, with all of us either in cassocks or collar, sent off in silence to the best prepared and holiest of places for a silent retreat: Chichester Travelodge. As we traipse along at 9.30 in the evening, all in a line, not talking, we pass the nightlife of Chichester, and watch their comedy responses to our appearance like some kind of cross between Father Ted and Harry Potter.

Of course the merits of a silent retreat (which I would say I was honouring and not even watching the news the day after the election – so much was my commitment to silence) were only slightly marred by the stag party residing in the travelodge that were up until 3am and requiring a police presence. It is rather amusing that both our pre ordination silent retreats have been less than silent, with last years before deaconing regularly interspersed with grunts and shouts from the women’s group sharing our accommodation and seemingly having some kind of releasing workshop.

This positive experience was only added to by waking up to the enormous joy that I had my period (getting my period on the day of my Priesting – gee thanks Lord, I mean aren’t you in charge of the universe couldn’t you have rigged that one?) (yes ok perhaps slightly TMI but it’s funny. Well it wasn’t at the time I can tell you…). My kids will tell you I cry at anything, I don’t think that’s quite fair but you can imagine though that my propensity for tears was not exactly helped by the appearance of such hormones in my life. I may or may not have gone through a large amount of mascara.

cassocks-a-go-go

attempting to stay cool…

Finally it was time for the service and we all prepared in the sweltering heat of a British summer that for once is living up to it’s name, as we all don several layers of thick fabric covering us from neck to toe.

As we approached the door of the church someone, (ok it may have been me) instigated a bet on the length of time of the service, which was actually won to the minute at 1 hour 50mins by one of our number.

The service itself was went well, apart from the reappearance of tears, no trump lines this time, but one of the funniest moments was as we turned to process out when I find myself facing the other charmismatic among us and we are both unsure whether to bow before we leave. What followed was a comedy chuckle brothers moment where we half bow, half turn, turn back and end up in hysterics as we finally walk out. Oh how reverent…

So there we are, and perhaps the thing that makes me recognise God’s sense of humour more than anything is that I am a Priest! I keep having sudden moments of clarity and being like ‘flippin heck I am a Priest. Now how on earth did that happen…?!’

 

A Priesting prayer. ( Or just some rambling thoughts…)

Chichester Cathedral in glorious sunshine

 

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

 

I often hear people utter in prayer: ‘less of me and more of you God’.

I don’t know about you but I really can’t stand it. It just makes no sense to me at all. Oh yes I know what the sentiment is, before you all holler: it recognises our own brokenness and the need of a saviour, I get all that, we want to be more like Jesus. But for me, focussing on that phrase just leads us down the path to self denial, to dark and condemning thoughts, it leads us away from the truth that God made us, that he knit us together in our mothers wombs.

Look, of course there are always the few who think the sun shines out of their own derrieres, but there are many many more who question themselves, not fully convinced of their identity in Christ. Lack of self worth and recognition of the talents and characteristics that form us into unique and beautiful individuals, leads us away from God, not to him.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

In the same breath that the Psalmist asks God to search him, to sift through his heart, to seek out the specks of offense, to lead him into the light, he notes:

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

So wouldn’t a better prayer be: ‘more of the me who you made me to be and more of you God’?

….o0O0o…

I write less than 48 hours after being ordained a Priest in the Church of England. 72 hours ago I was heading off to retreat with my fellow Curates, feeling utterly convinced of my own brokenness, less than prepared and with a host of reasons why God was wrong about sending me to this.

(I know it’s common to feel that way and it was suggested to me over the weekend that if I didn’t feel that way I shouldn’t be doing it anyway).

I was walking towards the retreat and Priesting with my head hung low, making my bed in the depths. And yet over that 24 hours God spoke to me saying:

Where can you go from my Spirit? Where can you flee from my presence? all the days ordained for you were written in my book before one of them came to be.

Gently lifting my head, speaking precious words over me and leading me towards the way everlasting…

….o0O0o…

It all started with a few words: ‘I’ve re-discovered Jesus through you…’

– an unexpected email arriving moments before leaving for retreat gushed with such love and encouragement for my ministry. I believe God sent me those words to break through the wall of condemnation I had built around myself. To remind me that I am doing what he has called me to do. That really it’s not about me, it’s about him, and about the people round me. I’m just the bee busily buzzing round in the middle, hoping to pollinate those I come across with the potential for new life, for transformation and growth. I sobbed as I read that email, knowing that yet again God was peeling back the darkness and revealing his truth.

Then a few hours later, a suggestion from an advisor to focus on Psalm 139. I know it well of course, but an hour spent sat in the gorgeous surroundings of the Bishops Palace Garden, and taking in those words peeled away more. Noticing the beauty in the detail of God’s creation all around me, a robin coming to join me for a snack so close I could see the detail in his tiny feathers, the light glinting in his beady eye fixed on me, seemingly searching my heart. As I sat, prayed, wondered and read, those words spoke warmth and validation into my soul afresh.

And then the words of the Bishop himself, ‘charging’ us afresh for the ministry of a Priest, encouraging us to be ourselves, but ourselves with Christ in us. That people see our face – they want to see our face, our humanity, our reality, our humanness, not a ‘clerical cardboard cut out’.

Then finally the moment arrived, my robes which felt so alien just a year ago, now feel like a faithful friend (though I’ve only worn them a handful of times!) and we process in together, surrounded by those who have taken this journey before us, those who stand and support us now and those who are beside us in the work we are doing.

You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.

We stand and face the congregation as they are asked to affirm their support for us, I am face to face with my Vicar – someone who knows me, has seen me in distress, in anger and in doubt. And as he looks me straight in the eye and tells me he supports me and will pray for me and encourage me, I feel those last bits of self doubt falling away.

Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.

Then one at a time we kneel before the Bishop, again someone who knows me well, who knows my frustrations, my hopes and fears for the church, and in spite of this he prays for the Holy Spirit to fill me, equip me for the office and work of a Priest, gives me a bible and anoints my hands asking for the empowering of God upon me.

We turn and stand before the congregation to rapturous applause and cheering and I am undone.

 

…o0O0o…

Despite my self doubt, despite my failings, my mistakes, my frustrations, this feels right. It seems completely insane, I still wonder why God has called me to this, but I know it’s right and recognsing the gifts God has given me and my characterisitcs, they are there to enable me to fulfill this role. Traits I’ve thought were negatives in me, suddenly become essential tools for ministry; emotions that I find hard to handle, appear as necessary to support others; and my wilfullness and stubborn nature become the backbone I need to survive ministry.

I feel affirmed.

 

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

 

So, Lord, now as I step into this future, I pray :

more of the me who you made me to be, and more of you God.

Amen

Surviving the first year of curacy

It’s nearly a year since ordination and I’ve survived! 

Sometimes it feels like it’s only by the skin of my teeth, but I’m still here nonetheless. So I thought now might be a good time to do a post of the things I’ve learned in that year, for those who are about to start Curacy.

 

1. Meeting the Vicar

Ok so technically this is pre-curacy but when you get to meet your TI for the first time do think very carefully before you go, about what you want to know. The meeting is as much for you as for them. How do you work? How do they work. Are those two compatible?! If you have questions, ask them, and find out exactly what is expected of you and when. Title Post agreements can be notoriously vague so if you have other things to consider (like a life) – or more specifically kids, partner, or especially if you are an SSM your paid employment – agree what you can and can’t do in terms of days and hours, and then stick to it.

 

2. Starting date

We moved house 3 weeks before I was ordained and started work. This was a luxury that I know not everyone has but it you can, make sure there is time between the two. In the run up to ordination you will have to finish college and essays or a dissertation, not to mention possibly managing a house move, potential meetings at the new church, saying goodbye to the old one, clerical garb to buy and who knows what else. Having a break before you are thrown into the madness is really useful. I know some dioceses don’t ordain Curates until September giving you the summer to have a break, which seems eminently more sensible. Of course you will be keen to get going but you might not get a break for a while so start with one instead if you can.

 

3. Burning out (or rather NOT burning out)

And on that, the first 6 months are completely exhausting. Unless you’ve stayed in your sending parish (which is very unusual unless you’ve planted a church for example) everything is new. New people, new places, new house, new job, new schools for the kids, and any selection of the above – it is draining on so many levels, mentally as well as physically, so try to take regular breaks, get rest where you can, don’t book too much in the diary, make sure your treat tin is packed and the wine rack full.

With 2 and 3 in mind let’s just think about working hours…

 

4. Working hours

There are no actual set hours from Min Div that tell you how much you should work, and every diocese, Bishop and even Vicar seems to differ. There are of course many benefits to flexible working time which means that for example as a parent I can stop work at 4 to do the school run and dinner, and then continue work in the evening. However it also means it’s nearly impossible to work out how much you are working. I spent some time in the first few months writing down my hours and what I was doing to work out exactly what was going to work for us as a family. Some weeks were bonkers and made me realise I needed to manage my diary better, but others showed me that I could be flexible.

As above, I suggest chatting to your TI about it when you start and then review it after 6 months or so if you can to see how it is going.

A while back I wrote some posts on getting the balance right, here and here which come with input from lots of clergy, so do read them if you can and find out what works for you.

 

5. What keeps you sane?

Again, leading on from the previous point, you have to look after yourself! Clergy burn out numbers are huge, start as you mean to go on and get a good balance. What helps you to feel rested? or what helps energise you? or just gives you peace? Game of squash, knitting, hanging out with friends? Whatever it is, prioritise it, book it in your diary and don’t drop it unless you really have to. Same goes for prayer/reflection/ retreat time – make sure it’s in there and doesn’t get dropped unless it’s vital!


6. Diary planning

This might not work for you but I put everything in my diary. Literally everything. I am ruthless. I use google calendar so I can access it easily from my phone if I’m out and about. I also share it with my husband’s calendar so we know what we’re each doing and when.

Each few months I go through and block in:

: Prayer time – including a morning every month for a longer prayer time (though I often use this to work I’m ashamed to say)

: IME/ study time

: Weekly running/exercise – keeps me sane and is part of my back recovery

: Days off – in red! and I never (unless an emergency) book things on my day off

: Home stuff / date nights/ Kids stuff/school events etc

Only then do I go through and put in regular meetings like PCC, staff meeting, and regular events. Closely followed by other church stuff eg: preaching, alpha, group sessions. I then add in the preparation time needed for each – so if I’m preaching I block out at a minimum a day to prepare (often spread over 2 days).

Then, anytime after that I book something else into my diary, I also add in the time I need to prepare it at the same time. I learned that if I don’t do this I just end up with a full week of stuff and no time to prep any of it.

I also try and have one day a week where I work from home for the whole day and catch up on admin and one afternoon I keep free for meeting people/pastoral visits, it doesn’t mean there won’t be others but just means at least I have one afternoon available at short notice if needed.

Sounds very regimented but it works for me and I swear by Google calendar.

Also a quick side note, you may have a shared work calendar, so if you need to book things in and don’t want the entire staff team to know what they are use a code system! I know people who use inititals eg: TFM = time for me; ABC = anything but church, that sort of thing, don’t have to tell people what they are!

 

7. On not being the Von Trapp family

Obviously it depends on your circumstances and your family if you have one, but there can be a tendency for churches to expect a lot from clergy partners and families, for example that they will come to everything, help, join in and generally be extra free help. I think that’s particularly the case for clergy wives. So, set boundaries as you need, don’t feel pressured into anything and if your kids are being a nightmare, just parent them as you normally would, don’t expect them to be perfect angels just because you work for the church.

Wider boundaries are key, especially with a family. For example, you don’t have to always answer the phone, door, email, text etc. I have an answerphone on both home and mobile and I tell people to use it as I often can’t respond straight away, and friends and family know that I call screen so if I hear it’s them I will pick up if I can! If you do answer any of the above on your day off then I think it’s harder to expect people to then respect your day off.

Family-wise, if people come to our home for meetings I don’t run around clearing up (unless it’s really bad!) and if the kids are watching TV in the next room we put up with the volume through the wall. I don’t book meetings between 6-7 unless unavoidable as that’s when we eat and Saturdays I only do essential work so that we get some family time.

School hols I avoid just thinking ‘I’ll just work from home’ which just doesn’t work for us and isn’t fair on our kids, and so we try to balance doing things with the kids and having friends over for them, or days out with Granny & Grandad when we do need to work at home.

 

8. Social media

I love social media as I’m sure you all know, great tool for the church and communication. But I have thought very carefully about my use of it since working for the church. In fact I now have two Facebook accounts – one is a family page I have with my husband for keeping in touch with family, pics etc and one that I use for work. So If I get friend requests from people I only have vague links with I point them to the more public page. Keeping boundaries, I usually don’t put personal things or pictures of my kids on my public profiles, and if I’m going to mention them in a sermon I do check with them first.

I find I think more carefully about what I tweet/post whilst trying to still be myself and I’ve also had a chat to my TI about my blog before I started the job to make sure he was ok with it.

 

9. Making friends

A difficult one. People have different opinions on this, some think you need to have good friends in any parish to help sustain you in ministry, especially if you’ve moved far away from family and friends. Others think it’s better not to as you’re there to be a leader and lines can be blurred. I really think this is one that you need to work out what’s right for you.

You might also find yourself overwhelmed with people asking you around when you first arrive, equally no one might! And on this I think key things are:

Being consistent – so if you accept invites from someone more than once and tell others you haven’t got time, that isn’t going to go down terribly well.

Secondly – though it sounds mercenary, prioritise your friends. We haven’t moved far from where we lived before so we make a real effort to see a few key people who are really important to us. They get prioritised over other invites because it’s important for us personally and as a family. Might seem selfish to some but as I said it’s important to us and I’m quite happy to explain that to people if they ask.

For whatever reason you may need (or want) to say no to invites. I’m not sure there is an easy way to say no when parishoners ask you over, but a couple of suggestions are:

: If you get lots of invites, host your own evening drinks and invite people to you, so it’s on your terms and timings.

: Offer to meet for coffee instead so you can do that during the day instead of taking up an evening or having to involve your partner/family

: Use real reasons eg: husband is busy with work, difficult to get a babysitter, we don’t do evenings as we keep them for family,

Whatever happens make sure you have a good support network, friends family, other clergy, mentor or Spiritual Director.

 

10. Not everyone has a great Curacy

There’s so much more I could say but this has to be the final point for now. No matter how good your planning or how much prayer and discernment has gone into it, your curacy may have issues.

For example: your TI gets another job, leaves or goes on sick leave, leaving you holding the fort; you just don’t get on with or disagree hugely with your TI; the expectations put on you are too much; you have a falling out with someone in the congregation, to name just a few.

If you find yourself struggling, please please please don’t suffer in silence. It can be easy to feel like you are new to this and shouldn’t complain or that is might be partly your fault, or will you jeopardise your future if you ask for help. If appropriate talk to your TI first off, or if not then the Archdeacon, or person who oversees Curates. Get advice, help and support and don’t be fobbed off if you really need it.

In some cases it might mean moving curacy, this is rare but not as rare as you might think. If it does happen, don’t panic. Get support where you can and don’t take it to heart, especially at the start of your ordained life.

 

…o0O0o…

So there you go, a few thoughts on what I’ve learned this year. I”m sure there is plenty more (I mean for a start I haven’t even mentioned Jesus –  #EpicFail – so if you’ve been through this already and have other points to add, do let me know and I’ll include them. And if you’re about to start Curacy, I hope it goes really well! If I can help or answer any questions do let me know.

 

There are many complex reasons why people go to food banks // Guest post from Jane Perry

Today’s post is a guest post from Jane Perry. You can read more about her at the bottom of the post.

 

Dear Mrs May,

On the BBC’s Andrew Marr show yesterday (30/4/2017) you said “There are many complex reasons why people go to food banks”. It must be hard, as Prime Minister, to be faced with so many complex problems – negotiating Brexit whilst attempting to maintain the economic stability which you rightly identify as key to the long-term security of our public services, being just two of them. But I do have some good news for you: The continued rise in food bank use is not inevitable. It is something you can deal with, and relatively simply.

In 2014, I was part of research lead by Oxfam, working with the Church of England and other partners, to understand food bank use. We wanted to go beyond taking cheap shots at ‘welfare reform’ to uncover the underlying reasons why families have little option other to turn to food banks and set out what might be done to prevent that happening. You don’t need to do that work, the detail is all there in our Emergency Use Only report, now supported by an increasing range of other studies. And there’s little need to worry about whether those findings are still current, the main thing that has substantially changed in the last 3 years is that things have got harder and less certain for many of those who need our help most.

If you read the report, or indeed just talk to people in food banks, I’m afraid there is one central finding that you won’t be able to ignore: Most people are there because they simply do not have enough money to meet essential bills and to feed their families. With alarming frequency, families told us something had happened which left them with literally no, or very little income. We called this ‘acute income crisis’ and set out how it could be distinguished from – even though it was usually underpinned by – ongoing, chronic, low income. I’ll return to low income in a moment, but first we need to be clear: acute income crisis is real and is affecting 100,000’s of people across the UK right now. That is shocking, but it is something we, or rather Government acting on our behalf, can do something about. Here are 3 suggestions for where to start:

  1. No one leaves a Jobcentre hungry. In the UK, we expect the social security system to be there to support the poorest and most vulnerable, when they need it most. There are good reasons why Jobcentres, not food banks, are the best place to offer immediate help and ongoing support to work on underlying problems. That is what our benefit system is designed to do. However, repeated evidence shows that is not currently happening as it should do. You can fix this.
  2. Ensure continuity of income. Often the biggest challenges facing low-income families is insecurity: not being able to rely on regular income, from work or benefits. Universal Credit is a big step forward. It is essential UC is adequately funded and implemented well, ensuring that a basic safety net is there for everyone, all the time. It is early days, but reports from foodbanks in UC areas are worrying. With continuity of income in mind, you might particularly encourage DWP to think again about the 6-week waiting time for first payments, or at least make sure a robust short-term support system is in place and that all claimants are made aware of it.
  3. An economy that works for everyone. Low pay and insecure jobs are a blight on British society, as is the ‘race to the bottom’ to ensure that benefit payments are kept lower than wages. When work pays, then there is no reason to be afraid of giving decent benefit payments to those who genuinely need it. Again, your Government’s increase in the Minimum Wage are very welcome, but we need a decent Living Wage. Too many people are working hard in jobs where the pay for which falls short of what they need for an acceptable minimum standard of living.

As I’m sure you’ve reflected since, the only appropriate response to Andrew Marr’s question about nurses using food banks is “if that’s correct, that is appalling. I’ll look into it and do everything I can”. The only thing that is intractable about foodbank use is the determination to love and care shown by those who run or support them. That social solidarity should be encouraged but there are so many better ways that energy could be used, turning ‘I need…’ into ‘We can…’. However, people cannot move forward if they are left without enough money for food. Their lives are complicated, but the message is clear: This will not do. Policymaking is complex, but that’s no reason for inaction.

 

Jane Perry  previously worked within government, at the Department for Work and Pensions, and for the Policy Studies Institute and National Centre for Social Research. She is now an independent social research consultant. She was the lead author of Emergency Use Only report (Oxfam et al, 2014), pioneered the ‘Listen Up!’ project in Sheffield Diocese, and also produced Paying over the Odds (Church Action on Poverty, 2010).

 

Holy Week Reflection Resources

For Holy week at my church, I have gathered a selection of resources and ideas to use as an aid to prayer or as a reflective tool, as we remember the week that Christ. Feel free to reuse or point people to it.

I have included passages of scripture from the Holy Week narrative, paintings and images, poetry in the form of Malcolm Guite’s, ‘Stations of the Cross’ and prayer points, so there is plenty of variety. You might find you just want to focus on one theme, perhaps just choosing to listen to the stations of the cross each day and reflecting on those, or looking at the paintings and seeing what thoughts they raise in you, you can do as much or as little as you would like or have time for.

There is a section for each day and I have kept the items, questions and prayer points simple so that if you are short of time you could do all of it in 10-15 minutes each day, but there is also scope to spend much longer if you would like.

The purpose of this set of resources is to encourage and enable you to interact with the truth of the gospel message afresh in your personal faith. Some of the ideas might be more accessible to you than others, some might challenge you or make you think, others you might simply skim over. There is no right or wrong way of going through this, it is up to you…

 

First one up tomorrow and I’ll publish them each day until Holy Saturday…

Mutual flourishing? not likely…

A few years ago when it was passed that women could become Bishops in the Church of England, I cried. Cried from the emotion of knowing that one more step had been taken to allow the ministry of women in the church thrive. It felt hugely personal. Tonight I feel like crying again, but this time at the injustice of a talented man feeling the need to step down from his appointed role. Whilst I was one that was hoping for and speaking out in favour of women bishops, it was not with the intention of causing similar pain as has been measured to many female clergy, to those with differing theological views as us. 

If you don’t know what I’m on about, this afternoon the Bishop of Sheffield elect, Philip North, has withdrawn his nomination. This following weeks of speculation and accusation that due to his theological views on the ordination of women, he would not be able to do the job well and fairly. This makes me sad and cross because I know from first hand experience that is perfectly possible to do just that. Whilst I’ve not met +Philip, and neither I am in his diocese, I do happen to be in the position of serving under a Bishop who will not ordain women as Priests.

Here in the Diocese of Chichester our diocesan Bishop, Martin Warner, does not ordain women as Priests and yet I can honestly say that I have never felt unsupported by him. In fact the complete opposite. Since he took up the role here (in 2012) he has done his utmost to make women in this diocese feel supported and encouraged. He appointed a Dean of Women’s Ministry – a new post – and has rearranged his senior leadership team to include more women, including a female Archdeacon, Dean of SSM, Diocesan Sectreary, and a Director of Apostolic Life – who amongst other things oversees all us Curates.

I have met +Martin on several occasions, both individually and in a group setting, and always found him to be supportive, encouraging and generally enthusiastic about my ministry and that of other female clergy. I am not the only one who speaks highly of him locally, in fact I haven’t heard a single female member of clergy here say anything negative about him and have heard through others that he stamps down hard on misogyny and sexism. And despite his theological views on women’s ordination I have never once heard him speak openly about this – I’m not saying he doesn’t but he is clearly careful and considerate about where if at all.

So, it is more than possible to take a considered theological viewpoint and yet act in a way that both allows for and encourages other views. In fact I feel sure that many of us clergy have to do that on a regular basis, and on a range of theological matters. I know some have found this hard to beileve and have questioned +Philip’s ability to do so, which frankly seems profoundly unfair considering he has been serving as a Bishop for some time (admittedly not a diocesan) and has the support of many female clergy in his diocese.

The Archbishop of York has also released a statement which points out that the agreement made when women were allowed to become Bishops, made a commitment to all clergy, and that those who ‘on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests’ will both be able to continue in the Church of England, but more than that there was a commitment to enable ‘mutual flourishing’.

Much has been made of this phrase ‘Mutual Flourishing’ in recent weeks what does it mean, what does it look like? And the accusations thrown at +Philip have been along the lines that he cannot possibly support women in ministry when he won’t ordain them as Priests. How can he enable them to flourish with his viewpoint? Apart from the fact that those accusations completely prejudge his ability to do so, I know that it is in theory possible because I am in that very situation and Chichester is an example of where exactly that is happening. 

There are plenty of male clergy who hold the same views as +Philip and sadly do in a far more aggressive way. I’ve been lucky enough to be sheltered from the worst of that but have still been ignored, or spoken to rudely or put down, or had people turn their back on me, simply because I am an ordained woman. That is unacceptable behaviour, rudeness is never necessary, and shows a distinct lack of love. + Martin, +Philip and others have shown that there is a way to hold a deep theological view and yet work towards the support and encouragement of all, with grace.

I, as an ordained woman want to publically say that I am appalled at the way +Philip has been treated and sad that he has felt the need to step aside, which can only be due to the recent and public objections – how is this in any way enabling mutual flourishing? I understand that some of my fellow clergy, both male and female, will welcome the news of his withdrawing and of course take an opposing view to me, but in my opinion, all that this decision allows is simply the flourishing of those who are radically in favour of women’s ordination. We preach a message of tolerance, and talk of the beauty of the breadth of the Church of England, but it seems that we only mean that when it suits our own views and standpoints.

My prayers tonight are with +Philip, for God’s wisdom and guidance to continue to lead him and that he too may be able to flourish in his future ministry.

 

‘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!