Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Women Bishops Petition

There is a petition for lay members of the Church of England in support of the consecration of women as bishops. If you are interested in signing it, the wording is as follows:

We, the lay members of the Church of England, call upon the House of Bishops wholeheartedly to support legislation for women bishops that is free from discrimination.

We are confident that acceptable non-statutory arrangements can be made for those who remain opposed to women's ordained ministries.

We urge the bishops at General Synod strongly to support having women as bishops without further delay.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Why Do We Aim For The Fairy-Tale?

By Ruth Barratt (check out her blog)

“There’s plenty more fish in the sea”,

“There’s someone out there for you”,
“He’s looking for you as much as you are looking for him”.

These are in my top three of phrases that get said to you when you are a single Christian girl on the road to 30! In my opinion there seems to be an unspoken rule in the Christian world that being married is one of the lost commandments. People in church come up to you, asking if there is ‘anyone special’ on the horizon. When the response is no, cue the sympathetic sideways head tilt!

To say I was totally content with being 26 and single is not true. I have always pictured myself getting married and having a family. I pray that it all comes in time, but the pressures of it happening sooner rather than later can be tough. The mere suggestion of something potentially happening with a man in my life gets my married/coupled-up female friends in a spin.

Around Valentines Day it is impossible to escape the romance obsession that is within our culture. Love sells. ‘Romcoms’ are big box office sellers. Love always seems much easier when it is on the big screen or on our televisions.

I have had a very rough ride when it comes to relationships. I have messed up and learnt difficult lessons the hard way. I have been hurt very badly but, if I’m honest, also hurt others too. I am still undecided as to whether the time I was with previous partners was wasted. Some people have said this to me, referring to certain exes as ‘the wrong person’. All of these things within the past eleven years have moulded and made me who I am today. As much as I would want to go back and do things differently, I am unable to and have come to terms with that. When it comes to attraction and love, my opinion is that we become very selfish for our own desires and ignore what God is telling us. We ignore it when we know it isn’t quite right.

As difficult as it can be, I would like to think that I am now in a place where I am holding out for someone that God intends me to be with. The easy option is to settle for someone who isn’t right for us, but we want that ‘partner-shaped gap’ filled in our lives. The hard option is to trust and be patient. In my opinion, being with a non-Christian is not an option. It is not what God wants for us. This is one of my lessons learnt the hard way. My faith is such a large part of my life that, if I cannot share it with my partner, then it is totally heartbreaking. I am seeing too many of my Christian friends settling down and marrying non-Christians. Some of these friends have compromised all they once believed in and stood for. They are living totally different lives for their partner. I, personally, stand firm in the fact that we shouldn’t be with someone to drastically change them. I do know of situations where non-Christian partners have found Christ and that is amazing, Praise God. But, more often than not, the sad situation of the Christian half of the relationship backslides.

In a total reverse I think sometimes when “us young ladies” find out that there is a single young man available, we jump at him, just because he is single and Christian. That small annoyance of desperation can get the better of us. But again we need to turn our focus to God and trust if a certain person is right, not just presume he is right for us because he is a Christian. My two main experiences of this have left me being very cautious. A few years ago, I entered into a relationship with a Christian I had known for a very long time. It all seemed apparently right; we went away and prayed about our relationship and seemingly gave it to God. Sadly it didn’t work out and I was very hurt by this person and his attitude towards our relationship. I had lulled myself into a false sense of security just because he was a Christian. In cold reality, Christian boys are just normal boys underneath it all! My other experience is having feelings for someone who is a Christian, but who, in my humble opinion, is not in the best place with God and I know that, if I did ever pursue anything with him, it might affect my relationship with God. He has a very outgoing personality which does not always leave room for God to shine out and I have distanced myself purposely.

I have only recently changed jobs. I took a step of faith and left my ‘rat race’ job in central London to work for a Christian charity in my local area. I always found that most of the people I socialised with were work friends. A lot of the men I met were not Christian and this is where I struggled. If all we are surrounded by is non-Christian men then it does get tough sometimes. My working environment now is a lot more concentrated. I knew everyone I was going to work with already, which was a great comfort. But it does mean that my days are spent with married men or our teenage gap year boys. There is not much scope for a chance meeting of ‘anyone new’.

Our charity this year is unusual for the Christian world in that it has more men than women. I think this is also a big issue. There is a lack of men in church. I so often hear the phrase ‘All the good ones are taken’. I run a cell group in my church for students and twenty-some things. It is 99% female!

So what is a girl to do? It isn’t an easy situation to be in and I know I am not alone: I take comfort in that. God has worked amazingly in other areas of my life and provided me with things beyond what I thought I needed. So I stand strong in my trust that if God can work in the small things then He will work amazingly in the big desires too. On a good day I get excited about the person God might have in store for me. Do I know him already? What will we have in common? What can we share together? On a bad day I feel alone. A lot of my close friends are in a relationship and I lack a plus one. I dread invites to certain places where I wouldn’t know many people as I feel I would have to find someone to take.

A good friend of mine has commented that I am a good single Christian role model for the girls in our youth at church. It shows that you do not have to be married once you reach a certain age! In a positive way, being single has so many benefits. I do not have to check with anyone else before I make plans. I can stay out as late as I want! I have time to dedicate to my hobbies. I can commit weekend time to youth stuff at church. I do not wish to fast forward this part of my life at all. All I know is that God has the best stuff in store for me and I need to trust in that and not mess it up along the way!

Controversial questions to get you all talking. It’s been quite tough as well as therapeutic to write all of this down. I would pray that it helps anyone in my situation reading it.
  • So why do we imagine life would be better with a husband?
  • Why, sadly, do others put single people under pressure to find someone?
  • Why deep down do we struggle to let God fully fill our lives?

Monday, December 31, 2007

Marriage and Ministry Part Two

Joint ministry

I believe that God has called us to minister together, regardless of the titles or status that have been given to us. It has been great to have worked in so many different contexts, as it has enabled us to see the way that God has brought us together to bless others. Regardless of who is earning what or working in which position, we hope that God is using us. I am aware that all marriages are different and there is great blessing in this diversity, but we have found that it is great to work alongside each other.

Dealing with Pain

We have also experienced pain as other people have not always seen things this way. With or without good reason, people can say and do hurtful things to others and it has been hard to be on the receiving end of this at various point of our ministry. It has been even harder for me and Neil to see each other go through this. There have been times when it has been appropriate to get involved and verbally support one another. Most instances, though, it has been necessary to say nothing publicly but support and pray for one another within our relationship. Seeing loved ones go through difficulties is tough and in ministry people can be thoughtless, selfish or down right spiteful. For me, having my foundation firstly in God but also with my husband has made it easier to cope with those difficult times as I struggle to love those who have hurt me. Neil also allows me to keep perspective, as I am prone to take comments and reactions too personally.

Balancing one another – our different gifts and abilities

Indeed, in many ways, we do complement one another, and our different gifts and abilities bring equilibrium to the relationship. Well, that’s how it is on a good day. I am currently thinking and praying through this, but I don’t think that there are many genetic male and female characteristics, although many are nurtured. However, there is no doubt that Neil and I are very different, and as we learn more about each other and ourselves, we are trying to serve God through these different giftings, in the big and small things of life. I remember going to a Christian women’s conference when I was at university and being shocked by the assumptions made about marriage, gender differences and parenting. The speakers appeared to be saying that the women’s role was clearly in the traditional mould of home-maker and primary carer. I spoke to a leader afterwards and explained that this did not make sense to me; I was preparing to marry Neil at the time and it seemed fair to share out the domestic duties as we would both be working full time. I liked cooking but Neil was better at ironing – why wouldn’t we use our different gifts within our home? I was told that once we got married, I would want to make a nest for my husband. I have ironed a shirt once for Neil, at which point he laughed heartily at my efforts and the iron has never touched my hands since. In ministry, Neil has a real heart for children’s work, whereas my love is youth ministry. In the big and small things, God has placed within us different passions, gifts, talents and abilities. Our prayer is that God helps us to work together to bring out the best in each other.

Conflict Resolution

Of course, our marriage is not perfect and there is conflict. Neil is one of the few people that sees the whole me, not just the presentable parts that I reveal to everyone else. This means that I am not always fun to be around, and the same applies to Neil. We have found that most of our arguments have two main roots. The majority come from miscommunication, either through not listening or misinterpreting what the other said. The other comes through one or both of us taking on too much and taking out the negative effects of this on the other. However, I think that the way this conflict is managed is so important and impacts on our work with young people. I can only ever speak from a place of honesty and if Neil and I have problems, then this would come out in my teaching and relational work. It isn’t appropriate to share all conflict with young people, but as we try to share our family life, some young people will hopefully see not only our disagreements but also the way we resolve them. This is both a powerful challenge and opportunity for us and a reminder to bring our differences and arguments before God, in order to provide young people with a healthy model. Most importantly, it reminds us that we are both God's children and we should treat each other as such.

After failing miserably to post this in the promised fortnight, I will endeavour to post the next instalment within a month, where I will consider modelling relationships to young people, thinking theologically and time 'together'.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Marriage and Ministry

He walked into the church hall looking cool with his record bags and DJ equipment. I on the other hand, had spent the night homeless at Kings Cross prior to the mission at Notting Hill Carnival and must have looked pretty rough (but that’s a whole other story). Despite my bloodshot eyes and sleep deprived mutterings, my great personality obviously shone through(!) and we started going out. It is a good story of how we met but the best stories always have a beginning, middle and end. After being together for nine years and married for six, I still think we are pretty much at the beginning of that story and look forward to the way our marriage narrative will unfold. As I reflect on the last few years, I can see how God has provided many opportunities to minister to young people and children together. In this installment, I will describe the changes in our circumstances and in a fortnight will post some reflections on what we have learnt along the way.

Degrees of Specialness…

At 21, I was a young bride, but also self-aware. I realised that at my tender age, I needed to develop alongside my confident husband and not in his shadow, especially as he was 6 years older. Neil had grown up in a Christian family and was well respected in his home church in North London. Shortly after we were established as a couple, I remember chatting to an older woman at his home church. She implied that I was very lucky to be with him, explaining that, ‘he’s very special. I’m sure that you are special but he is very special…’ I knew that we needed to be somewhere where I was seen as an individual as well as a wife.

This was part of the reason that we settled in Chesterfield, where Neil worked as a youth and children’s worker for an Anglican church. During this time, I worked in personnel and then research, but was actively involved in supporting Neil in the youth work and leading various groups. This involved having groups meet at the house, weekends away and other associated activities. From the beginning of our married life together, we saw the importance of sharing our lives with those around us.

At the start of 2004 I took up the post of youth worker at Enfield Baptist Church, leading to a move to Enfield, Neil’s home town. Neil began work at the same time at what is now known as Urban Saints and so began a period where we both worked in full time ministry. It was a good time, although chaotic at points. Youth work often involves a lot of weekend and evening work and this is part of the job. However, this can be harder when both of you are doing this at different times! There were times when our diaries clashed terribly and one of us had to leave the car running in the driveway to enable the other to get to a meeting.

It also provided lots of opportunities for the two of us to serve alongside one another, both in the name of work and otherwise. Neil volunteered at various groups, as well as joint work in the area meaning that we were at events together.

Things changed irrevocably on 27 October 2006 when our beautiful boy Daniel was born. I had 6 months maternity leave where I experienced the joy of being a full-time mummy to our son. I continue to be a full-time mum and always will be, however, alongside this I am also working full-time as a youth worker. Neil on the other hand, finished paid employment at Easter and is caring for Daniel. The last few months have been wonderful as life generally has entered a slower rhythm; there are no more cars left running in the driveway. In fact, we no longer have a car and we are enjoying the pace of life associated with this, coupled with seeing the world through a baby’s eyes.

After sharing this background, I will post more in a fortnight on my reflection on joint ministry, dealing with pain, balancing each other and thinking theologically as a couple. See you soon…

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Launch day

For those of you not at the youthwork conference in Southport... the Sophia network launches online this weekend (and at the conference in human form) with my small part of it here.

I'm really excited about this. It's not a girly girl network but a group of professionals seeking to support, reflect and serve.

All those in youth work go and have a look. Ladies, consider joining and gents... maybe you need a men's network??

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Women on the Web

A few pages reflecting on Women in Youth Ministry that have been around a while in honour of the soon to be active Sophia network:

Scriptural reflection from Youth Specialties.
Women in the early church from the Worldwide Church of God
The Papal letter Mulieris Dignitatem for the Catholic view of Women and vocation.
Committee on Women in Society & in the Church (US confenrence of Catholic Bishops)
A male perspective from Mark Oestreicher.

and while we over in the UK are launching a women's network the Americans are a tiny step ahead and are running a pre-conference in Atlanta called HERSTORY.

Friday, September 28, 2007


Jenny Baker tells me that the new network for women in youth minsitry, SOPHIA, is being launched at the Youthwork conference this year. Look out for people inviting you along to a lunctime launch at Eastbourne on Saturday (I'm sure there might be something in Southport but I don't know when!).

This should be an excellent opportunity for female youth workers to get together and share some frustrations and encourage each other with news of engaging youth work across the country.

Watch this space for more news!