‘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?

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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!

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…

 

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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.

 

THANK YOU!

So this weekend as I sat at home with a horrible cold, coupled with the joy of celebrating my son’s 13th birthday I was also watching the tweets roll in from #PremDAC16 and was absolutely to delighted to see that I was chosen as Runner Up for ‘Most Inspiring Leadership Blog’, woop! (I was also shortlisted for ‘Blogger of the year’ and as with last year when I was runner up in that category I am just so chuffed and surprised!).

You can see all the winners listed in the Premier Digital website here, and huge congrats to all the winners, it was an amazing line up, I feel honoured just to be among them. Especially check out Youth Work Hacks who won this category – a really brilliant blog and resource and not just for those doing Youth work I would say.

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Thank to Bex Lewis for this pic, shamelessly stolen from her Twitter feed :)

So, I also want to say a huge thank you to anyone who nominated me and to all of you who read this blog. Over the last 7 years or so it has changed, grown, had various guest posters, looked at different themes, had many a rant, and also a lot of love. But more than that, it has been an outlet for me to work out what is going in in my head, and to my surprise I have found that has often been helpful to others doing the same. It’s quite humbling when someone sends you a message or an email saying how they have found something you have written, really helpful or encouraging or inspiring. And, so, basically I want to say, ‘right backatcha!’ I love writing but it makes is so much more enjoyable and special when I know it reaches other people and touches them. So thank you all :)

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Last year at the awards dinner above! This year, in PJs and socks at home ;)

‘Becoming Reverend’ by Matt Woodcock // Book review

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I’ve not met Matt Woodock, but I suspect he’s one of those instantly-likeable types. His writing is funny, honest and real, and not at all what you’d expect from a Vicar. Which is nice, because it makes me realise I am clearly not the only odd shaped one in the church of England.

‘Becoming Reverend’ is Matt’s diary of his journey from getting selected to train for ministry in the CofE, through struggling to become a Father and attempting to reconcile his party-loving football-filled lifestyle to ordination and parenthood. It is laugh out loud funny in places, but also moving and humbling as Matt’s outrageous honesty and witty self-deprecation take you along with him in his journey.

Having gone through the same process of selection and training, and feeling many of the same sentiments as Matt about ministry and the CofE (not always positive) this book really struck a chord with me. Like him I am not your average Radio 4 listening, academic, safe, ‘normal’ Vicar and agree that encouraging people into Christian leadership who ‘have an infectious, living faith and can relate Jesus to the ordinary working man and woman, should be the highest priority’.

As he notes:

I don’t feel called to fit neatly into the way church has always been done. I’m called to be a pioneering agent of change. I’m praying that God will find me the right kind of boss.

Me too. And the thing is people need to read this and understand it, both inside the church and out.

However this is not just a book for churchy types, Matt also writes about his and wife Anna’s battle to parenthood, through IVF, hormones, medication, lows and highs, whilst life attempts to carry on as normal. Egg harvesting, sperm donation, relationship tensions and tears are the norm for many people going through the IVF process and Matt’s honest but funny account of it will strike a chord with many. For Matt this is also coupled with dealing with his beloved Aunt succumbing to cancer, all on top of training to be a Vicar. One of those would be enough for anyone and reading Matt’s journey through it all is inspiring. Through it we see that it’s not just his faith that gets him though, or his wife, but he talks about his (amusingly titled) ‘Morning Glory’ group too. A bunch of fellow ordinands who pray, laugh and cry together, supporting each other through their ups and downs and it just highlights that we are all supposed to be in community. Down the pub, at church, in Iifes struggles, we need people around us – in any walk of life.

Matt also reminds us that we need to laugh. So many of us live lives that are way too busy, too exhausting and too full, to stop and laugh. Matt seems to find the funny in all situations which is an absolute gift.

For me personally, a couple of lines stand out in the book – perhaps because I could have written it about myself – and it sums up so much of who Matt seems to be:

And yet. God loves his church. He sees possibilities and opportunities everywhere. Deep down I know he calls me to do the same. It’s terrifying (but also quite comical) that he wants me to help breathe new life into it…

So, in summary, I’ll be a force for positive change in the Church of England, but could end up defrocked by my second year.

This book is inspiring, challenging, humbling and very funny. Go get it! Out now from Church House Publishing, priced £9.99.

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Dog Collar Dilemma Pt 3 // guest post by Revd Sandra Sykes

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Sandra (on the Left) and Sarah

Continuing the theme of dog collars and women in ministry, I’m delighted that Revd. Sandra Sykes from ‘Collared’ is guest posting on her own experiences and why she started ‘Collared’

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I remember when I first tried on a collar. A friend who was a year ahead of me on the ordination path rang me. I could hear the fear in her voice. “Sandra, it’s arrived…”

“What has?” I asked.

“The… collar.”

No further explanation was required. I hot-footed it to her side. The sombre black shirt complete with THE collar lay insolently on the table. It looked neat, pressed and capable. It was as if it was issuing a challenge. “C’mon then! Think you’re big enough, eh?”

In the end she was so overcome by what it represented I had to put it on first before my friend could bring herself to. It first needed to be defiled by a half – baked (in the semi-cooked sense of course !) ordinand. A small piece of white plastic held that much power. This of course made it easier for me when the time came to try on my own collar. I took a selfie (obligatory) and sent it to my friends. Then it was tucked away reverently waiting for my ordination.

After ordination it felt very comfortable to wear a collar in church but very strange going out in public. I had one black clerical tunic which I liked to wear. The rest of my attire consisted of impetuously bought clerical shirts, so uncomfortable that I soon admitted defeat and gave up wearing them. I punished them to languish in a dark drawer forever.

I encourage new Revs to experiment with the collar. Be brave! Find out what works for you. It’s a risky business. In an effort to steer away from the starchy male look and also from looking too M&S, I ended up looking like a dubious matron specialising in S&M!

I watched my fellow curates as they too wrestled with what to wear. One, who swore she would always wear black ‘for the authority it gives’, eventually found her style in adapting lots of floral printed blouses. I longed for different colours. I felt insulted that so little attention was paid to us by established manufacturers. I felt we were sidelined or an afterthought. I hated the way the shirts – even those made for women – argued with my curves. Buttons were always on the verge of popping open and I was forced to wear a jumper over them.

“Women Revs are here to stay” I felt like shouting,

“with boobs and everything!”  

Over dinner and a glass or two of wine one evening, I was bemoaning the situation with my daughters and a friend. A few sketches on paper napkins later we decided we should try to produce something better. Collared was born. We nervously launched our first range at CRE London this year and we were delighted with the warm reception we received from women clergy. The media were intrigued and a flurry of TV, radio and newspaper articles followed.

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Pollyanna & Gemma trying out some of the designs at the CRE.

We received so many appreciative messages from women in ministry.

“Hallelujah! Thank you for this ministry to us!”

“Bless you! At last, clothes I actually want to put on.”

But we also received criticism from some quarters and online comments were personal and some vitriolic. I was told I was “sinful, (no surprise there then), an enemy of Jesus and would surely burn in Hell”. I was “empty headed and vain”, “should never have been ordained” and “obviously had no worthwhile ministry to offer”. Another critic warned “this is the sort of thing that happens when you allow women into ministry.”

I actually found this good for me. My ministry is warmly embraced in my parish and I had never been directly confronted by those who did not accept women in ministry. It’s been good to be reminded how difficult it is for many women. So I am pleased that Collared is helping to raise the profile of women in ordained ministry.

…o0O0o…

Balancing work, family and parish life is not easy. Like many, I am short of time and resources, but I’ve always been attracted to the blurred edges of ministry and so it’s satisfying that my ‘secular’ work bleeds into the arena of ministry.

When you wear a clerical collar people look at you more. They see you. I think it’s HOW we wear the collar that can draw others to us or isolate us from them. How do we inhabit the role with reverence yet still remain us? It is possible to wear clothes that make us identifiable as a ‘vicar’ yet still allow us to be the person we are. God called each of us as we are. We don’t have to become someone else, just more fully the unique person God created, called, and loves to bits.

 

Revd Sandra Sykes, Collared Women’s Clergywear

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Dog Collar Dilemma Part 2: Uniform vs Individual Style

img_20160730_111613-2So continuing in looking at the dilemma of how to wear your dog collar, as a woman, this post is going to look at being you. And I guess the first thing to say is that (as was pointed out to me on Twitter) it isn’t a dilemma for everyone, some people just fall naturally into wearing it and find their own style straight away – which is great, I am so happy for you! But I know lots don’t, hence the posts…

One of the biggest challenges when first putting on a collar, is how to be you whilst still inhabiting and embracing the role. Or as Ally put it: “Balance of individuality and ‘house style’ – how much can our clothing express who we feel we really are?”

Such a good question, and as noted in the previous post, when my first delivery of clerical wear arrived in the post, I put it on and immediately felt sick. I think there is something about the expectation, having prepared through any selection you have been through and then training, usually for years, to the realisation you are at the finishing post and it’s all suddenly rather real. But then there is also the weight of responsibility that the office carries, which is, let’s face it, symbolised in that little piece of white at your neck.

So with all that whirring in your mind you also need to work on what on earth to wear. And I think there is something in that, that we shouldn’t ignore or gloss over. I had said I was just going to wear ‘normal’ clothes with the collar, and largely I do, but I have still wrestled with the balance between what the collar represents and ‘being me’. After all we are representing God and the church in our communities, whether we agree with that theologically or not, that is what people see when we are wearing it.

Of course there is one view that wearing the collar is like a uniform that we should disappear behind, which is much easier when wearing vestments of course, but day to day harder to achieve. You could simply go for wearing black – maybe trousers and shirts as many male clerics do too, or tailored black dresses. I imagine this makes life a lot more simple, and perhaps marks out the ‘uniform’ element in a more obvious way. And anyway black is suppose to be more flattering ;)

But then does choosing a uniform style take away from our own personaity? Some people would feel very restrained by that, hence the wrestle with what to wear. As wendy notes:

It’s been and continues to be a debate within myself as to how I should dress, and I do respect those who feel we should disappear behind the ‘uniform’, but it doesn’t work for me and I keep coming back (through prayer and thought and the opinion of others) to the fact that I was called by God to be the unique person God made me, not to conform to what I think others require of me, or to be like anyone else – God called me to be a non-conformist (Methodist) after all!

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Ridiculously posed, soz, but this is cropped top from Cross Designs and the rest from the High Street – Top Shop/New Look (also did you know New Look has a very good rating for ethical production)

I personally don’t wear my collar every day and having always been interested in clothes and what I wear, I wasn’t going to go down the route of clerical shirts. I wanted to still be me, whilst inhabiting the role. And I, just 4 months in, am still experimenting with it all, as I know many others are too. Several people have mentioned it took them a year, if not years, to work out what their ‘Vicar style’ was. Sandra Sykes from ‘Collared’ notes:

I’d say from my experience what clergy want differs and is individual. You have to find what works for you. Be brave and experiment – but look for what you will feel comfortable wearing and which is still YOU while recognisable as clergy…

Depending on where and when you wear your collar, it’s worth thinking about what you team it with. For example I try not to wear jeans when in collar at church – we are a pretty informal setting but for me it seems one step too far. Equally, is your church the kind of place that expects a male leader to be in a suit – if so, what does this mean for you? It’s worth looking into this before you start Curacy or at a new church to save spending money on things you won’t need.

Susie also makes a very good point:

There came a point when I became even more aware of the need to look ‘professional’. As a naturally casual dresser (jeans and… um, jeans, mostly) if you go with what’s ‘you’ and what you feel comfortable in, you can end up giving off the message that you’re not very competent/serious/worthy of respect/authority… all of which may be true…! In a more senior incumbency with high achieving professionals it was more important to dress to the role in order to be taken seriously in the role.

img_20160920_125148This is a really good point (she types, having just been out in a rather short cut off denim skirt with the collar..) people often say to me ‘you are rocking that collar’ or ‘aren’t you a trendy vicar’ which is nice (if not slightly condescending perhaps) but then as Susie notes, am I doing myself a disservice? The jury is out on that one, but I leave it for you to ponder for yourself. However I did once hear of a Vicar turning up to do a funeral on his Harley wearing incredibly short denim cut offs. That is of course the beauty of a cassock, no one knows what’s under it and there are many clergy who have been known to do the 8am in PJs, and I know half the chaps at our ordinations were wearing shorts as it was so hot. Which is fine if you are robing, but just bear in mind though whether you might be seen in advance as this Biker was – by the family of the deceased…

One thing I would note is that I think female clergy are still a bit of a novelty in many places, there is still more pressure put on us that male counterparts, and in some cases more is expected of us. Not everywhere, but in some places, and certainly from some members of the public. Rev Kate Bottley posted on Facebook last week she had received a ‘gem of a letter’ noting:

You aware that the dog collar is an item Anglican clergy never have to wear?…’Why not opt for something soft and feminine?… Why not stop telling women what they should wear? And quoting this bible passage: ‘I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

There will always be people like that, everyone has an opinion, perhaps more so when you are in a visible role like clergy and to some extent we just have to ignore that and find what is right for us. People’s comments are not always derogatory or rude like this one, or even ignorant but often more about lack of experience. All of which does not help if you are trying to work out your own new style in a very visible way. I think the more you can experiment by yourself, or behind closed doors so you know what you feel confident in, will really help. If we go out feeling confident in what we are wearing, we will be more confident in our actions, whether that’s in jeans or a suit, we all differ.

 

Hoping this is useful for some people and the next post will look at suppliers, so if you’ve got one you want to recommend let me know!