‘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.

 

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…

 

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’

…o0O0o…

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!

Dog Collar Dilemma: women’s clericals – what on earth to wear?!

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#DogCollarSelfie

As a #NewRev and as a woman, I have been experimenting with how to wear the collar. Before ordination it was, to be honest, a bit of a blur, I mean anyone else try on their first collar and totally freak out?

Of course there were rounds of tatfests and clerical fairs, but they really weren’t really much help because you just don’t know until you do it what you’re going to need, and anyway it’s all so blinking expensive. Then to top it all off, you google ‘dog collar’ in a fit of frustration and find you can get any collar or style, diamante encrusted, rainbow themed… for your pet.

So this is the first in a series of posts, a sort of round-up, based on what I’ve discovered so far and including advice from others, around how to wear your collar, what to wear and how to rock it with style ;) and big thanks to the Clergy Mummies crew for sharing their thoughts on this, some of whom are quoted!

(just to clarify I’m not talking about vestments, simply what to wear with, or how to wear the collar).

So this first post is some starting advice on what you might need to look at, then following posts will be on suppliers, finding your own Vicar-chic style and then a couple of guest posts too. I really hope these are useful especially for those #NewRevs like me who are wrestling with all of this, but feel free to comment or ask questions that you might like to know more about.

Choices choices

Ok so the first thing is, what kind of clerical collar do you want? Officially these are the terms, though of course they get called all sorts and actually everyone uses the term ‘dog collar’ but as a guide:


Anglican collar
(as above in my pic) – slip in tab (the tab collar is usually a white bit of plastic that can be removed easily. And yes any old bit of cardboard will do, or ala Vicar of Dibley, a bit of fairy liquid bottle, though the inserts only cost about £1 each, you might need to know that in an emergency!)

collar1Roman Collar – full collar, slightly set above the shirt, still shows the tab but with white round top (also called tonsure). I couldn’t find a woman in one of these so second best, something from ‘Rev’ ;)

Dog Collar, outer white ring, goes all the way round, so no tab just a white ring, As seen here worn by the fabulous Nadia Bolz-Weber.nadia-bolz-weber

Most of these you can either get as part of the shirt, or as a separate ‘collarette’ which attaches with sort of cufflinks (and frankly looks far too much like hard work for me).

Of course you may like to choose according to your theology or style of churchmanship, although these days it’s far less obvious. I saw a post the other day talking about what coloured clerical shirts represent, well call me shallow but I wear black for fashion reasons not because I’m declaring my doctrinal views. And this could be a reason why… yellow??? (ok, ok if you really like yellow that’s fine…)

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However it is worth just bearing in mind (not yellow of course, just what you might be portraying in your collar choice).

Anyway, I go for the tab collar insert, which is very popular, as it just seems the easiest and most comfortable, but you need to find out what works for you – if you can go somewhere to try things on, do give it a go. I’ll be doing another post on clerical outfitters later on.

 

Shirts, bibs and cropped tops…

Of course the collar needs to be attached to something (Though I did see this from Rev Jo Jepson, so maybe not…)

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So the options are:

Standard clerical shirts, made with the relevant hole for the tab. These days you can get these made in the right shape for a woman, thank goodness, although I have heard they can still be rather hit and miss, so try to get a recommendation from someone you know.

Cropped tops or bib stocks which can be worn under other items of clothing. The cropped tops are usually made of cotton jersey to sit well underneath other clothing, and therefore tend to fit a bit better with a bit of stretch. There is a lot of love for these from clergy women. Though as someone pointed out, the down side can be in the winter when you end up with a cold tummy, so another alternative is to get a sleeveless cotton jersey top with collar insert.

Original design/ made to measure of which there is a vast array, from polo shirts to dresses, from jersey tops to jumpers. Some companies also have the option of sending in your own material which is great if you want something really original.

Do it Yourself

Of course the other option if you are handy with a needle or know someone who is, is to buy high street clothing and adapt it. Anything with a roll neck collar, and some with a high collar, or standard shirt collars can be adapted to take a tab collar insert.

I’ve seen this done with dresses, jumpers and other items too, and in fact current fashion means there are a lot of options out there. Body’s are really in – a kind of a cross between a T-shirt and a swim suit – HM have these with roll necks so could be adapted to go under outer clothing, and apparently the latest Matalan catalogue has some good things with high necks that could be adapted also.

Susie noted on adapting that ‘it’s much cheaper, the fit is ideal for me, and I get to wear the designs and colours, that and pattern that suits me’ and Sarah said ‘I’d much prefer to spend the money on a nice dress that I can wear with or without bib.’ Good points because clerical wear does tend to be quite pricey.

Really what you choose is down to personal choice. My favourite is a cropped top because I choose to wear my regular clothes as much as possible. It means less buying of new clothing as you can use what you have. However they can be pricey, only marginally cheaper that a clerical shirt in fact.

 

What else to watch out for?

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I’m not really sure what to say about this, but it was referred to as ‘sexy’. We may differ on our definitions…

Sizing for women 

One thing to bear in mind is sizing. Some of the clerical outfitter companies have been around for donkeys years and are still in the mindset of menswear, so even when you buy something shaped for a woman, it doesn’t quite work. One outfitter was named for their only concession to womenswear being the way the buttons do up!

You can order things to be made to measure which can be equally problematic but usually gives a better cut/fit. On this I’ve heard various things on sizing. So firstly, check exactly what the company means when they ask for specific measurements, even with their sometimes lengthy instructions there can be room for error, so just call them and clarify. Secondly, if you know someone who knows about dressmaking ask them to measure you – or failing that someone who knows you well. It’s almost impossible to measure yourself well but just think about who you might want to do your bust measurements… #JustSaying

 Paulette also noted, check your collar size too – nothing worse than a tight fitting neck, oxygen is kind of important… ;)

 

Microphones

On this, make sure you think about where to put your microphone if you are in a church (or might visit one) that uses radio mikes with battery packs. The mike needs to clip on to your clothing, either down the centre of the shirt where it buttons up, or on the collar, and the battery pack can go in a pocket or on your waistband. I have already fallen foul of this, turning up in a dress with no waist band and having to clip the battery pack onto my collar, under my hair at the back. I felt like the hunchback of notredame… If you wear vestments this is less of an issue of course – something to be said for not being a raving charismatic I guess.

Candles

My Godfather once set his cassock alight on a candle on the altar – whilst he was wearing it. Not the kind of Holy Fire you want in any service – thankfully he was ok and I got the insurance replacement cassock so that worked out rather well ;) But, if not in vestments, watch out for long sleeves or anything drapey.

Heels

I know I said I wasn’t talking about vestments but this kind of fits – lots of us love to wear heels, and don’t stop – I was so tempted to turn up to my ordination in bright red stilettos – was only the threat that I might not be able to take part that stopped me – I went more subtle, rebellious bright red underwear. Anyway enough about that – steps and heels don’t always mix, especially in a cassock, especially if you have to kneel and then stand again – watch the hem!

So that’s some practical thoughts, and I’m sure that’s more than enough to give an ordinand or a New Rev a headache. More in the next post on how to keep your own style…

 

The Glass Ceiling for Women in the Church

So I’ve been reading a book by Danny Silk (from Bethel Church in the US) called ‘Powerful & Free: Confronting the Glass Ceiling for Women in the Church’ and I’ve got to say it’s fab! As the title might imply, Silk obviously takes the position that Women should be able to lead in Churches. Now, I am a Bethel fan and I love a lot of what they do over there, but I recognise that some don’t – it’s very American, some would say it’s extreme, some might say it’s even heretical. Personally I think that’s a load of tosh but I can see why some would find Bethel a bit hard to get a grip on. The reason I say all this, is to say: if that’s you, then don’t discount this book because of it’s Bethel links! I think it’s a very balanced book, with some great scriptural basis for his opinions, and it addresses the main points against women leading rather than riding rough-shod over them. I would recommend it to anyone considering this issue.

I should say my own position is that I believe women should be able to lead in the church. I didn’t always feel that way, but when I didn’t it was basically because I was uneducated about the whole thing. I now work for an Anglican fresh expression church and I am shortly going to start training to be an Anglican Priest. The journey to this point has not been easy it’s fair to say, and I am in one of the most traditional dioceses in the country, but actually the problems I have faced have been more about the kind of ministry I would like to be in (and the kind of church I attend) than the fact that I have boobs. The church that I am in fully supports women’s ministry and in fact there are several women on the staff team and one on the oversight team.

It’s very interesting that many evangelical churches are anti-women in church leadership, particularly in the US, and yet Bethel which is certainly evangelical in it’s outlook, does not adhere to all the beliefs that often go with evangelical churches. Our church is very similar in it’s outlook to Bethel. Obviously for the Anglican church in this country there is a very real glass ceiling (which all being well will shortly be shattered) of not having women Bishops. I find it utterly amazing that women can be overlooked in such a way and yet it actually happens on so many levels in the church. Do you know at the vote at general synod the women reps of this diocese all voted against the motion. That staggers me more than anything.  Women are the ones who put up with being put on sunday school duty, or preparing the flowers, or making the coffee, even those with amazing spiritual gifts and yet given the opportunity to make a difference they would not stand up and do it! So often the church stifles the gifts God has given them and puts them where they don’t want to be but the truth is that some women go along with this argument, and more than that, they actually reinforce it.

One of the main points Danny Silk makes in this book is that without women in leadership we don’t have a balance. A balance of opinions, skills, gifts. So how can we expect to run a balanced church? The bible talks in several places about the body of Christ and each part having it’s own function, but together they form a whole. Surely by missing a part of that we are creating an unbalanced body?

Another way he talks about this is that by saying that in empowering women, it also releases men into their true destiny. It’s like the opposing business models which say 1) Work on your weak points so that you will be all round good worker or: 2) work on your strong points, this is where you are naturally gifted and can increase in your productivity. 1 – is the old school view and 2 – seems to be the norm these days. So if all our male leaders are trying to be everything, trying to fulfil all roles, they will become weaker in their actual gifts, wasting too much time and energy on the things they are not naturally gifted to do. Actually how much more efficient is it to encourage everyone in their giftings regardless of their gender? It’s the importance of a team working together, inspired, anointed and gifted to do God’s will. Silk uses the example of a family, and so often we talk of the church as a family don’t we? (and I’m not going to go into discussion here about single parent families, homosexual parents or anything else) but most families have a mother and a father, and each has a role to play, we cannot expect men to fulfil both roles and it’s the same in the church, each brings a different view and different skills. 

It seems such an obvious point and yet so often we get bogged down in how one person interprets a scripture over another’s interpretation. I believe we have to form our opinions based on our own experience of Jesus and of the bible. It’s a dangerous thing to take every or indeed any scripture out of context and quote it literally. And in fact all of the scriptures that are used to confirm the view that women shouldn’t lead can be taken in more than one way, especially if you look at the context surrounding them. So it becomes one persons view against another. So with that in mind we are left with our own opinions and our own experiences. This is mine:

I absolutely believe that God has called me into ministry in the church. This is not something I have sought, in fact I spent a long time in denial about the whole thing. (and more here). And yet this calling was confirmed so many times and in many ways, through people who didn’t know me, through people who did, through people in the church and out of it. And at every turn I have asked God to shut the door if this is not right. How can that be explained if women shouldn’t be in leadership? Am I continually hearing God wrong? Are the people who confirmed that calling in me hearing God wrong? Is the Bishop wrong? is God wrong? 

(links above to other posts I have written on my experience!)

If you are someone considering this issue, I would really recommend the book and I’d love to know what others have thought of it…

#TeamEsther

So this weekend it is the Jewish festival of Purim, a festival that celebrates the rescue of the Jewish people from a plot to kill them by the Kings aide, Haman. A plot that was overcome thanks to Mordecai and his cousin Esther. (You can read it all in the Book of Esther.)   I absolutely love the book of Esther, it’s not a book that is commonly read or taught on, and it’s Old Testament, but for women it’s a must read!  I mean it’s like a fairy story, the beautiful young queen overcomes trials, fear and separation from her family to become the hero of the day and save her people. Disney couldn’t do any better than that!

So the story begins with King Xerxes, having banished his previous Queen from his presence, after drunkenly demanding she come and be shown off to all his mates and her refusing (that probably tells you all you need to know about him). It’s quite funny really and I don’t blame her either, can you imagine, having a nice meal with your girlfriends (the bible says she had thrown a banquet for the women) when your drunk husband demands you dress up and come and parade before his equally drunken and probably lecherous friends so he can show you off? I know what my answer would be (although my husband wouldn’t be so foolish or sexist to ask in the first place!)

So then the King decides he needs a new queen and demands that beautiful young virgins are brought from across the land into his harem, so that he can choose one (after they have undergone extensive beauty treatments of course… nice.) I think we can safely assume that the young girls and their parents had little choice in this.

So Esther, who we are told has a great figure and was beautiful (bit Miss World, eh!?) was drafted into the harem. Esther is truly the Cinderella of the piece, having no parents of her own and being brought up by her Uncle Mordecai. Although there must have been benefits to being in the palace clearly Mordecai was worried and we are told that he walked around near the harem each day to see how she was doing. He needn’t have worried, because Esther clearly had God on her side and won the favour of all who saw her – the bible says:

Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.

Esther further improves her position after Mordecai discovers a plot to kill the king and tells Esther so she can warn the King.

Meanwhile, the King had an assistant, Haman, who turns out to be the evil villain of the story, with some similarities to Aladdins ‘Jafar’ ! Mordecai disliked Haman and so just as any true villain does, Haman plots to do away with him, but not just Mordecai, his entire race. Mu-hahahaha… ;)

And so Haman proceeds, in true evil villain style, to convince the King, by lying and not giving him the full picture that all Jews should be killed. Mordecai, distraught (as I imagine you would be..) asks Esther to petition the King about this dreadful edict and although she must put herself at great risk, she agrees to speak to the King. First however she asks all Jews in the area to fast for 3 days and she and her courtiers do so as well. She then invites the King to a banquet and asks for her people to be spared:

If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.

Of course the King asks who has done this wicked thing and Haman gets his comeuppance. Not only that, but having laid a plan to have himself honoured and Mordecai killed, as all good fairy-tale-villains do, he becomes a victim of his own evil plan with Mordecai being honoured, Haman put to death and the Jews saved by Royal edict.
What a fabulous story!  Esther really is a bit of a Cinderella, brought up her her loving uncle, and then taken away to the Kings harem at probably a very young age, her life would not have been her own to live. But she was faithful, she was honouring to those over her, she did as she was asked, she just trusted. And she was honoured in return, she became the Queen! Rags to riches, in the face of adversity… And then when the evil Haman tries to overthrow her people, she knew that to approach the King was to face the very real risk of death, or as her predecessor discovered, banishment. One can only imagine what this could have meant, going from Kings favourite to least, in a moment. Having received the utmost attention and care, being the chosen one, and being in a harem with a load of other women – can’t have been easy and you can imagine how they would have treated her had she been banished from the Kings sight!

But she overcame that fear, and sought God. Not only herself, but she encouraged those around her, and all local Jews, to gather and fast too. She knew that if she was to succeed she would need God to intervene. What a woman of faith.

The debate on women in church leadership will go on and on but it’s stories like this that make me proud to be a Christian woman and proud to be one in church leadership. If our predecessors stood up for their people, effectively for their fellow believers, in such circumstances, in the face of evil, in the face of extreme personal danger, and then stood proud; well I am proud to do the same. And it’s stories like this that make me so infuriated when parts of the church say that women are not ‘allowed’ to lead. Well, if Esther hadn’t taken the lead her people would all have been killed. Men, women and children. A great example of a woman in a position of influence, stepping up to be a leader at great personal risk. How can you not honour that?

I want my daughters to grow up knowing this story inside out. That they are strong women of God and in his name they can achieve anything. That they need not fear, even when all around them seems lost. That they are not at the mercy of men like Haman, or even the King, but that they have the power to stand up and make a difference.
#TeamEsther

Fitting in…

So yesterday I went to a Church Planting conference in London with some guys from our church. It was a totally inspiring day and has probably given me enough blog fodder for weeks..!
It was really interesting as we always go on about how the church is full of women and not men, but yesterday the women were in a tiny minority, in a way I have not experienced for a long time.
I’ve been discovering about myself recently, that quite often I seem to be oblivious to the obvious. In a number of situations people have flagged things up that have totally passed me by, but when pointed out are so staggeringly obvious I don’t know how I missed them. Yesterday was one of those. Of course it was obvious there were not many women there, but it didn’t occur to me that these might all be conservative men. In fact I approached one chap to have a chat and couldn’t undertand why the conversation was so stilted, it was like wading through treacle. It was only later that it occured to me perhaps he wasn’t in favour of my enthususiam! Actually, most people I spoke to were lovely and I certainly didn’t feel I should keep my calling to myself, which was probably a good thing – had it occured to me in advance I think I might have felt initmated… Actually that’s rubbish it would probably have been the opposite, I would probably have stood on my chair with a sign saying ‘hey, woman here with a calling to ministry…’ and waited for the response… But seriously, I do think that my experience would have been diffferent if I had thought about it in advance. Which made me think of all those times when we act in a way that fits our surroundings. I mean we all do it don’t we? We like to think that we are open and honest and always ourselves, but the reality is often so subtely different that we don’t even notice it. Our speech patterns change, we discuss different topics, we omit details (or add them), hey, we even stand differently.

I think I have felt totally prepared for the undoubted reactions I will get from some parts of the Christian world about my calling, even though I haven’t experienced it yet. Not openly. And reflecting on yesterdays conference made me realise that actually I am lucky, in that lots of women have gone before me – and what was it like for the first women leaders? For Deborah, for Priscilla and others? For the first women priests in the CofE? what did they have to contend with? simply to fulfill Gods calling for them. How persecuted were they? How hated were they?

The main draw yesterday was the somewhat contraversial preacher, Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church in Orange County, USA. Although I have heard of him I had not heard him speak before so I was interested to see what he had to say. And I have to say, despite his apparent stance on women in church leadership I actually liked what he had to say (except for the constant references to men…!). He is a rebel, he stands firm on what he believes, he isn’t afraid to preach the gopsel even when it offends, he is not afraid of man. He is not someone who changes his stance or behaviour wherever he goes… In disucssing church planting and types of church, his bottom line was: ‘It’s all about meeting Jesus..’ eg: Is it more important to you that people say prayers in this way.. or that they meet Jesus? Is it more important to you that your church has 3 services on a Sunday.. or that they meet Jesus? Is it more imnportant that you wear a dress and a hat (his words not mine) or that the people meet Jesus?….

And I cannot argue with that….