Guest Blog: Working with Young Men

I am hugely privileged to have a guest blog from Rev. Anne Bennett, who is an Anglican priest based in Kent.  I invited her to guest blog on her experiences of working with young men after I did a live-tweetathon whilst reading “Why Men Hate Going to Church”.  I love what she has to say about working with young men!  Anne is on Twitter: @VicarofBorstal and she blogs HERE.

 

I read with incredulity GLW’s tweeted review of the book ‘Why Men Hate Going to Church’ by Dave Murrow.   This book’s basic premise is that we need to develop a specific ministry to men, a ministry that plays to gender stereotypes and which separates boys and girls. The author works from the premise that men like action movies while women like romantic comedies, and church should be themed thus[1].   Jesus is to be presented as a superhero, not a suffering servant.

 

I would like to humbly offer an alternative approach to ministry to men, based on my four years of working in a youth offending institution. I have never needed to use the stereotypes and methods of ‘men’s ministry’, nor do I think they would be helpful.  If there has been a book which has influenced me, it is ‘Contemplative Youth Ministry’, by Mark Yaconelli, which offers a gentler, holier way to minister with young people.

 

I work with young men who have been accused or convicted of crime. In our environment there is so much testosterone in the air you could bottle it as aftershave. There is nothing ‘sissy’ about this group, and sometimes they can be intimidating and aggressive.  Yet, in the five years I have worked with these young people, I have only three times had an empty chapel for worship. I have consistently found that some young people are called to come to worship, even to the point of being baptised, confirmed and publicly committing their lives to Christ.  I work as part of a diverse multifaith team that offers faith and pastoral care. It is stressful but rewarding work.

 

Our young people are surrounded by stereotypes and expectations.  As young men, especially as gang members, they are expected to be loud, strong and dominant.  They are fiercely loyal to their gang and hostile to strangers.  The atmosphere is often charged.

Yet something calls these young people into chapel.  Many have good memories of being taken to church when younger, often by their grandmothers.  Those older women, the ‘little old ladies’ so despised by some ministers, have sown good seed.  Some young people are looking for a less chaotic lifestyle.  Some are in despair and grasping at any straw.  Some are just looking for love, and we offer love without strings, unconditional, beautiful, divine love.

 

As they come into chapel these young men visibly relax.  The door is locked behind them, but the sense is that prison is locked out, rather than them being locked in.  The noise dies down and they know that they are in a sacred and a safe place.  I greet them and we have a few minutes of chat before God’s peace is allowed to fall on us in silence.  We participate in the ancient ritual of Holy Communion respectfully and reverently. At the start of our prayer time, each young person lights a candle.

 

After worship we sometimes have a discussion, but often we make art together. Creating a collaborative artwork brings young people together and avoids any sense of competition.  Our chapel is decorated with these works – a representation of the pillars of cloud and fire, a bright candle in a dark room, a burning bush, a tree of life.

 

I have learned much from working with this most demanding of groups.  I find these boys respond best to ministry which meets them where they are, but which then offers them a new hope.  They do not want the superhero narrative – every young person I have worked with has said that he wants to get away from violence.  They seek and struggle with forgiveness. Touchingly, for young people who have often had very disrupted lives, they often say they just want to ‘settle down’.

 

So what are the keys to working with young people, especially young men?  I find them to be the same keys as to working with anyone else.  Firstly, and most importantly, the gospel needs to be central to what we do.  This is not a social group, though we offer fellowship and safety.  We are there to worship, to pray and to open our hearts to the divine. It is our very difference which calls young people in. Church must always be there, waiting for those who one day will need to walk through the doors.

 

Secondly, young people can spot pretence from ten miles away.  I am far from being a male role model.  I am a middle-aged woman priest with liberal views and a fondness for rich liturgy and poetry.  Any attempt on my part to ‘speak street’ or to pretend to be part of their culture will produce instant alienation. Teen culture has exquisitely detailed rules and it belongs to teenagers.  I can only be myself, trusting in my vocation and my faith.  I offer what wisdom I can from my different vantage point.

 

Thirdly, we must listen to young people, and understand something of what is going on for them.  I always ask them what they would like to pray for.  I look at their body language: are they withdrawn, wrapped in their own arms, hiding in their hoodies?  Teenagers will tell you a great deal, but often without many words.

 

And finally, it may seem trivial, but for young men whose voices are breaking corporate singing is agonising.  I never ask young people to sing in an environment where their voice will be heard individually.  I also take care who I ask to read – both boys and girls can have reading difficulties.  I do not pressure young people to do anything – just being there is enough for God, and it must be enough for me.  Too many churches like their young people to perform, rather than participate.

 

I have never offered ‘men’s ministry’, just ministry.  I have never offered bacon rolls and paintball, just quiet worship and an atmosphere of positive change, forgiveness and hope.  Sometimes, by God’s grace, it bears great fruit.

 

[1] ‘The Danish Girl’ made $64m dollars at the box office, but films which do not fit action or romance stereotypes are not considered worthy of analysis.

 

Ten Years Ago…

I’m not a sentimental person.  I don’t do flowers or fluffiness.  Yet today is an anniversary I’d like to remember and share with the world.

 

Ten years ago today, mine and Mr GLW’s worlds change forever.

 

It would probably be helpful for you to know Mr GLW’s name is Baggy as I share this part of our story with you.

 

I met Baggy in the year 2000.  My youth group were at Easter People and as a long-time friend of my youth worker Alice, Baggy came to help with our group.  He was old.  I was 16 and he was 29.  I was a crazy Christian teenager who loved Jesus and wanted everyone else to know Him too.

 

Less than a year after Easter People, I found myself in a relationship with an abuser.  It’s a story I’ve told in various ways on this blog and elsewhere.  I was with him for four years.  In that time he destroyed me almost completely.  I had my first child at 18 and was married months later.  I was pregnant again at 20.  Six months into my pregnancy my ex-husband raped me and my son was born three months premature.  He was immediately transferred 50 miles away.  My daughter and I lived in hospitals for five months with our tiny baby.  In that time, I had only two nights away from the hospital when I went to clear my possessions out from the house I had shared with my ex-husband.

 

Two of my greatest supporters throughout the time I was with my ex-husband (and when we lived in hospital) were Alice and Andy Smith who had been my church youth workers.  I would go stay with them when I attempted to leave my ex-husband.  They would visit us in hospital and take my daughter to stay with them for a few days.  It was Andy who I told about being raped.  They took me to the police station and looked after my toddler as I sat for three hours and made a statement about what I had been subjected to.  I don’t know if I would have made it through without them!

 

They were still in regular contact with Baggy, throughout the time I was married and when I was living in hospital.  When my ex-husband and I were both 19 he was convicted of sex offences and placed on the sex offenders register.  At the time, Baggy worked for the police and we had a phone call where I asked him various questions about police processes.  But mainly he was a friend of a friend who was kept informed about what was going on in my hugely complex life.

 

Whilst living in hospital, having lost everything, I found the God Who Is.  Previously to this, He had been the God of my parents and the God I sort of knew.  But in that hospital, He became my God, the God who saw me.  When all else is lost, God becomes real very quickly.  I began to hear God speak to me, audibly.  I know non-Christians reading this probably think it could probably be explained by the stress of life, but it really wasn’t.  He told me to read the Bible, a lot.  I was 21, but I looked about 15.  I had a seriously sick baby.  A toddler.  I had just separated from my husband.  I had no home as I had moved all my possessions into my parents’ garage.  And I was going through a criminal investigation due to being subjected to rape.  And I would sit reading the Bible, telling everyone how much Jesus loves them.

 

When my son was ready to be released from intensive care they were going to transfer him back to our home town.  I knew if I went back I would end up back in the relationship with an abuser.  God told me to move to Gateshead, where lovely Andy and Alice Smith lived.  My son was transferred to a new hospital and we moved with him.  Alice and Andy found a flat for us.  It was still a time when the social security system worked well and we were financially poor, but could survive.

 

One day we had some time away from the hospital visiting Andy and Alice who were having a party.  Baggy was there.  I had rarely seen him since I was sixteen.  As I stood chatting to him, God told me audibly that I was going to marry him.  I soon left the house in shock.  Convinced I had imagined God’s voice.  I told Him that no, I would not be marrying Baggy.  He was still old (34 by this point).  He wasn’t my sort.  In fact, nobody was my sort.  I would remain single for the rest of my life.  Marriage had nearly killed me.  End of.

 

Eventually my son was well enough to leave hospital, after a couple of attempts in which we left hospital and I had to resuscitate him at home when he stopped breathing and went either blue or grey.

 

Soon afterwards Andy and Alice moved to Essex.  I didn’t have a TV or internet and spent most evenings chatting to either God or friends on the phone.  Over the next year or so Baggy and I chatted on the phone regularly.  Whilst on one level I knew I would never want to marry him, on another I knew it was the only outcome for my life.

 

Over the months in Gateshead I attended a course in which I began to recognise that what I had been subjected to was labelled “domestic abuse”.  I accessed counselling.  I went to a large church in which I was vaguely anonymous.  I grew into myself and into God.  It was a beautiful time for me and the two small people God had given to me.  My son grew healthier.  My daughter grew happier.  Miracles of provision and transformation happened.  I learned to drive.  I learned to live alone.  My ex-husband was found not guilty by a jury.  I was prescribed higher and higher dosages of anti-depressants.  I gained some friendships and lost some.  The world was complex and messy, beautiful and desperately awful.  All at once.

 

Eventually I told God that he would have to tell Baggy to marry me.  I certainly wasn’t going to tell him.  And if it really was God, and not my imagination, this would prove it.

 

Then God told me to move to Essex.  I’d visited Andy and Alice, who now lived in the same town as Baggy.  I attended their church and God spoke to me.  They had been praying for our family for months and that Sunday they invited us to the front, to pray with us.  And so I made plans to move to Essex.

 

Baggy helped me to move.  Flying to Gateshead and driving the van down to Essex (for non-UK readers, this was an almost 300-mile journey).  Later on he told me that during this journey, God told him the he would marry me.  This came as a complete shock to him.  He’d been single for 13 years.  He was happily single and childfree, doing missionary work in Poland and that’s how he had envisaged life continuing.

 

Over the twelve days that followed from me moving to Essex, neither of us knew the other had been told by God we should get married.  Eventually I had an awkward conversation with Alice about it.  Seemingly, unbeknown to me, Baggy had a similar one with Andy.

 

Eventually on 26th February 2007 we had a conversation.  I mumbled a lot and offered him cups of tea.  And I rarely mumble.  It was very awkward.  But whilst sitting on opposite sofas we mumbled our way to realising that we God had told us to get married and so we agreed to do just that.  10 years ago today.

 

We got married six months later.  And the journey we’ve been on has been amazing and painful and wonderful.  Immediately that I found myself with someone to support me, my brain shut down and I became seriously mentally unwell.  Baggy went from being single to inheriting two children and a seriously crazy wife-to be.  I went from being poor to co-owning a house, two cars and having a super awesome husband-to-be.  We never got engaged or did engagement rings.  I gradually came off high dosage anti-depressants and Baggy described me as transitioning from being Eeyore to Tigger in about a month.  Both children quickly started to call Baggy daddy.  We attended family court to fight my ex-husband getting contact with the children and we succeeded.  Which was (and continues to be) a huge miracle.

 

Life has rarely been easy, but it has been awesome.  My wedding ring is inscribed with Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”  It was also inscribed on Baggy’s first wedding ring, but he lost that one on the honeymoon and is currently on his third wedding ring.

 

I would have never asked or imagined marrying Baggy.  He’s still thirteen years older than me (obviously!).  But I think my life experience packed in about the same levels of maturity as his stable and single adulthood gave him.  He’s absolutely the best person I could have ever married, even though I would never have chosen him.  And as a committed feminist I sit in the tension of having had a divinely arranged marriage whilst holding onto values of bodily autonomy and personal choice fought for by feminists through the years.

 

Having indulged in an uncharacteristic amount of sentimentality, I will end here.  Our relationship is not a model for Christian marriage, it is a rare and complex partnership in the midst of the more conventional romances and proposals that take place in most Christian relationships.  However, it is our story and it continues to be the best one God could write with all of us GLWs.

 

 

#WMH Tom McLean Feedback

I’m currently live-tweeting whilst reading Why Men Hate Going To Church by Dave Murrow.  You can check out my tweets on Twitter with the hashtag #WMH.  I tweeted this page from the book:

wmh-quote

Tom McLean (@Tom_McLean) kindly send me some GREAT information to counter the stuff listed here, hope you find it as useful as I did!

 

In the two paragraphs above, sentence by sentence:

1. You’ll struggle to find detailed evidence of attendances in C13th. Was an era of huge change – rise of the mendicant orders (the Dominicans, the Franciscans). Parallel growth of women’s religious orders, but from earlier roots (e.g. Scholastica, sister of Benedict, so C6th), not completely new. Change was social as well, but the claim about men’s attendance is at best unprovable.

 

2. Catholicism has never worshipped Mary. Devotion to her stems from at least the C3rd. (Have a search for Sub tuum praesidium – the John Rylands Papyrus Gr. III 470 is of note! Pic here: http://frederica.com/gallery/places-and-things/1067611) Title of Theotokos (God-bearer) given to her by the Council of Ephesus (431). Growth in C12th/13th period of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament – so Jesus, in the form of the sacramental bread. (Growth of Feast of Corpus Christi – originates with Juliana of Liege, but popularized by Pope Urban IV and Thomas Aquinas). On Corpus Christi and popular devotion in the period, see Miri Rubin, Corpus Christi. On Marian devotion, see Miri Rubin, Mother of God: A History of the Virgin Mary.

 

3. Weakness and dependency seem to get commended from at least Paul onwards… Struggle and sacrifice never portrayed as an alternative, but integrated with. E.g. Franciscan poverty is about sacrifice of possessions and wealth, but necessarily leads to a degree of dependency on (theologically) God and (practically) whoever gives you a meal, but also to freedom to go where the Church requires.

 

4. Some degree to which clergy became practitioners of faith, and reduced reception of the Eucharist. Though this led to a great growth in popular devotions aside from the official liturgies of the Church, see popularity of places of pilgrimage, the rosary, guilds, mystery plays, etc. On sociology of Christian worship, see Martin Stringer, A Sociological History of Christian Worship.

 

5.…and probably of women. Though only really know about men who became important. (Not so much on what Teresa Berger calls ‘men who were only men’ – see her Gender Differences and the Making of Liturgical History).

 

6. Men in the New World, yes – the first round with the likes of Columbus were the Jesuits. I know nothing about Puritan history which I suspect is more his focus… My instinct would be that a response needs to consider the make-up of the population more – was there an imbalance between men and women in the population at large?

 

7. Perhaps! But how do such rolls relate to the population at large? The comments in Bryan D. Spinks, ‘Imagining the Past: Historical Methodologies and Liturgical Study’, In Liturgy’s Imagined Past/S: Methodologies and Materials in the Writing of Liturgical History Today, edited by Teresa Berger and Bryan D. Spinks, Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2016, pp. 3–18; and Breen, Timothy H., Imagining the Past: East Hampton Histories, Reading, MA: Addison Wesley, 1989 might offer something interesting.

 

Good introductions to Church History:

  1. Very accessible introduction – Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, The Essential History of Christianity
  2. Detailed single volume – Diarmaid MacCulloch, A History of Christianity
  3. A little dated in places, but quite accessible, and still worth reading – The Pelican/Penguin History of the Church – several volumes by one of the Chadwicks, but other authors too. First one: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Penguin-History-Church-vol-1-Early/dp/0140231994
  4. Victorian Church – Owen Chadwick, The Victorian Church (2 vols)
  5. A bit more theological in character, the early chapters of Alistair McGrath’s Christian Theology: An Introduction (and the Reader that goes with).

 

Christmas Eve Sermon

A couple of weeks ago I preached on Christmas eve at a midnight service.  There has been a substantial written complaint to the vicar about it.  So I thought it might be worth posting it online for all to read…

 

Bible Passages: Isaiah 52:7-10, Hebrews 1:1-4, John 1:1-14

 

In the readings this evening, we heard first from Isaiah, who told us,

 

How beautiful on the mountains

are the feet of those who bring good news,

who proclaim peace,

who bring good tidings,

who proclaim salvation,

who say to Zion,

“Your God reigns!”

Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;

together they shout for joy.

When the Lord returns to Zion,

they will see it with their own eyes.

Burst into songs of joy together,

you ruins of Jerusalem,

for the Lord has comforted his people,

he has redeemed Jerusalem.

The Lord will lay bare his holy arm

in the sight of all the nations,

and all the ends of the earth will see

the salvation of our God.

 

2016 has not been a good year for humanity.  A selfish narcissistic misogynist has been elected president of the most powerful western country in the world.  The terrible, ongoing events in Aleppo and across Syria are destroying humanity, and we can now watch these war crimes because of the internet.  Food insecurity in Yemen, has turned into utter devastation and famine in the face of war.  Bombings in Istanbul. The Zika virus is a pandemic in progress, causing babies to be born disabled.  In France, a terror attack on Bastille day, left 86 people dead and over 430 injured.  Regardless of how you voted in the EU referendum, the resulting racism has been hugely damaging to many in our communities.  In the US, the police have regularly shot dead unarmed black people.  Harambe the gorilla was shot dead in Cincinnati zoo and the world turned its venom on the mother whose child had got in his cage.  24 hour news and the ubiquity of the internet means that we can hear the voices of the suffering, see their faces, be confronted by the pain.  It’s no longer far away in a distant land.  It’s in our phone, in our pocket, in our handbag.

 

How can we rejoice when this is the world we live in?  Isaiah wrote the passage I just read prophetically, envisaging a time when God will save humanity.  And yet, we don’t lice in a time when peace, good tidings or salvation abound.

 

You may be sat there thinking, “Oh Natalie, please don’t remind me of the state of the world!  It’s Christmas, and we should be thinking about nice things.  Turkey dinners.  Presents.  Time with family.  Rest and relaxation.”

 

Perhaps your personal life is going well, and you don’t want reminding of the awfulness in the world?  Or maybe just like 2016 has been a horrendous year globally, perhaps your personal life is full of wounded-ness and loss.  Maybe you don’t have any capacity left to think about the global pain and horror that is continually assaulting our fellow humans.

 

As Christians, we don’t have the luxury of ignoring the world.  Jesus berated the Pharisees for tithing herbs while neglecting the weightier matters of justice and the love of God.  We can’t focus on only tithing herbs, or doing our bit on Sunday mornings, or having an occasional quiet time, or trying to be a nice person.  We must be sure to focus our hearts and minds on the weightier matters of justice and the love of God.  What does that look like in Aleppo?  In Yemen?  For black people in America?  For people from minority backgrounds across the UK?  For parents of children affected by the Zika virus?

 

How do we make sense of the world as Christians, when the world is such a huge mess?  And perhaps for some of us here, when our lives are a huge mess too?

 

As people living in the west, the narrative of our lives often resides in fairy tales and superhero movies.  The superhero, with his enormous power, comes in and saves the day.  Then they all live happily ever after.  Amen.

 

That is not the Gospel.  The reading from John tells us:

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

 

Jesus is not a superhero.  He is the God of all creation.  He is the Word that brought life into being.

 

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

 

Jesus did not use His great power to save us all into happily ever after.  He gave up His great power and saved us by living among us, becoming one of us.  Ours is not a narrative of happily ever after, but of a God who loves us enough to walk in our shoes, live our life, die instead of us.  He was not celebrated or honoured, as this passage tells us.  Instead, He was vilified, ignored and killed.

 

Verse 5 which I missed out before says,

 

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

 

Jesus is the light of the world.  And no matter what evil is perpetrated or what pain is endured, He remains the light of the world and the darkness will not be able to overcome Him.

 

Tomorrow we celebrate Jesus’ birth as a human baby.  It is a day of celebrating life; Jesus’ life, family life, new life and our life in Christ.  And hopefully it will be a positive day for each of us, no matter what trials we face personally, or as humans in a pain filled world.

 

Jesus didn’t stay as a human baby, He grew up and His life, death and resurrection are what will save us and will eventually transform our planet.  Yet I am reminded of Teresa of Avila’s words, which are an instruction to us all:

 

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

 

We are Christ’s body and each of us are those who bring the light of Jesus to those we know, to our communities and to our world.  And I will finish by reading words Jesus spoke to the disciples shortly before He died, later on in the book of John, in chapter 16:

 

20 Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy…

 

He goes on to say…

 

33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Christmas GLW Update

I sent out a GLW Family email update today and thought you might like to know how things are going with us!  To read the previous update CLICK HERE.

 

Hello Wonderful People!

 

Thank you for your support and prayers over the last year!  It has been a challenging one, but also has been filled with great blessings!

 

Since our last update, things have been interesting…

 

Due to God’s financial provision, we were able to take Smaller GLW to see a nutritionalist.  With her guidance we have started him on a gluten and dairy free diet, alongside magnesium baths and trying to reduce toxicity in his environment (mainly changing toiletries and household cleaners).  He’s been fully gluten and dairy free for the last month and we have seen a massive improvement in his stomach and headaches.  He has had very few and hasn’t needed any time off school and his challenging behaviour has become more stable, though he still struggles with managing his feelings.

 

Smallest GLW has been settling into our family really well.  He is really enjoying school and has lots of friends.  We have implemented a six month break from him seeing his mum as we believe this will give him time to establish firmer attachments in our family so that when he restarts contact with his mum (Niece GLW) in February, we are hopeful this will enable him to understand that his relationship with her has changed.  The break has really improved Smallest GLW’s security and his relationships with Teen GLW and Smaller GLW has grown from strength to strength, as has theirs with him.  Smaller GLW and Smallest GLW can now play together for a whole 30 minutes before things become difficult (we couldn’t leave them in a room alone a couple of months ago).  In his prayers at bedtime yesterday Smallest GLW prayed, “God, thank you that mummy brought me to have a new family and that I love all the people.”

 

Teen GLW has had some challenges at school which the school have dealt with very well and she is generally really happy and enjoying life.  She has taken on responsibility for doing the PA regularly at church and is hoping to be involved in helping out with the smaller children at church once a month.

 

Niece GLW chose to leave the support service in Rotherham and we have had very little contact with her in recent months.  She did randomly connect with a Christian woman on a train and attended her church, but due to her lack of communication, we’re unsure how things are going for her.

 

Mr GLW has just this week started working part time doing parcel deliveries.  It is quite low paid, but we are trusting God, that He knows what we need and is providing the right job at the right time.  It is a very flexible role which means that he can still do the majority of looking after the children and the house.

 

My MA is going well and I am learning a lot and thinking a lot.  It does require quite a lot of time, which makes paid work a challenge.  I currently have very little paid work, which is helpful in terms of study time, but isn’t great for us financially.  Yet we are sure God knows what we need and will provide.

 

Recently we have been massively blessed as people have supported us financially, I have set up a Patreon account which allows people to support my work monthly, thank you to those of you who have got involved with that!  Someone gave me £200 towards books and someone else anonymously gave us £1000, which is amazing!  Alongside this, God connected me with someone who has given £4750 towards the development of an online database for Christian women who can speak at events, I’m now crowdfunding for the remainder of the money.  So even though financially things are quite precarious, we are fully confident that God is looking after us and so grateful to those who are being generous in praying for us and/or with financially supporting us.

 

Things we would really appreciate prayer for…

  • Smallest GLW generally as he grows in security and safety, but also specifically as later this week he will be spending a day with his dad.
  • Niece GLW, that she will find ways to recover and heal and access the support she needs.
  • Smaller GLW’s ongoing diet and lifestyle changes, that his behaviour and health would continue to improve.
  • A calm and safe Christmas for us all.
  • Wisdom for us as we consider possible options for Smallest GLW’s legal status in our family, that Social Care and his parents would be supportive of any steps we take legally.
  • Mr GLW and I to have wisdom in parenting all three children and dealing sensitively with the complex dynamics between them and between us all.
  • Teen GLW and Smaller GLW’s ongoing acceptance of Smallest GLW as a sibling.
  • God’s provision as we seek to find a way to be financially stable.
  • Protection for us as we continue to seek to serve God both in our family and in our work and relationships.

When should a church be disqualified from having women in it?

Mez McConnell is the Director of 20 Schemes, a church planting organisation seeking to “see Scotland’s housing schemes transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ through the planting of gospel-preaching churches”.  His passion for and commitment to seeing lives transformed by Jesus is extremely inspiring. 20 Schemes is working with some of the most marginalised people in society.  This is also a mission I am committed to.  I come from a working class background, have been a teenage mother and single parent.  I have lived in deprived areas almost my whole life and have worked with many women who have been deeply wounded by men and by poverty.   My husband and I are now raising a little boy from a severely deprived background having spent a year trying to support his mum to be able to become a parent again.  As such I hope that this blog is read in light of my great respect for 20 Schemes mission and passion.

 

Mez published a blog on the 20 Schemes website earlier today entitled “Why My First Church Hire Was A Woman, And Yours Should Be Too”.  At first glance, this blog seems to be incredibly pro-women, challenging male-led churches to value the contribution women make to the life of the church.  Not only that, he is insisting women should be paid for doing this, shifting away from the idea that women’s labour should be offered free.

 

Mez’s audience seems to be those who wouldn’t consider employing women in any role within the church and so it is a positive step that he is challenging such men (and women) to consider the role women can have in Christian communities.  Some of what he says is very helpful, including that:

 

  • Untrained “pastor’s wives” shouldn’t be offering pastoral support.
  • Women need other women to walk the journey with them.
  • 20 Schemes trust women and train them well
  • Mez explains he finds it “offensive to suggest that by giving women responsibility at [a pastoral] level we are opening the church up to serious error. Far more men have led churches astray than women.”
  • Mez states, “Women are encouraged that they have a serious part to play in the kingdom of God and that they are not just bystanders or there to cook the meals.”

 

I have become absolutely convicted that individual, organisational and church views on gender and sex are a primary Gospel issue.   Too many women (and men) are alienated from the Gospel because of Christians who insist that men’s and women’s roles are fixed with men being responsible for women (within marriage, church life or wider society).   Jesus says, “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.” I understand this to include those who alienate believers by their views of men, women and sex.  Many of the radical feminists I know started off life in faith communities and the rejected Jesus because of the horrific oppression the were subjected to or witnessed in the church.  Complementarian Christians are quick to insist that their theology is Biblical and that egalitarian theology is not.  I will meet them on their terms, complementarian theology is not Biblical.  It is oppressive.

 

The question Mez’s blog raises for me is, “When a church exemplifies oppressive views towards women, should this disqualify them from having women attend their churches?” And I would suggest there are at least 10 reasons Mez’s blog evidences taking up such a policy.

 

  1. Women are prevented from being obedient to God

If women are called to worship lead, to be an executive pastor or to youth work, they cannot be obedient to God in following that call because Mez explains that: “[Churches] will talk about hiring a youth worker, or an executive pastor or a worship leader before they would even consider a woman”.  The only role women seem to be able to do is to be women.

 

  1. Vulnerable women are at extremely at risk in patriarchal structures

Mez explains that single mothers and those with other vulnerabilities are a large proportion of scheme communities.  Much evidence can be provided that patriarchal structures disempower and further oppress women and prevent them being released into the fullness of life Jesus offers them.  Sadly, most efforts to address the oppression of working class people maintain the oppression of women[1]. Seeking to support vulnerable women without having a good understanding of male violence is likely to perpetuate rather than liberate women who have been deeply hurt by male power.

 

  1. The male leaders don’t have time for the messiness of women’s lives

Mez tells us it is “not wise or prudent for a man to invest serious amounts of time into” women who have been subjected to abuse, violence or sexual violation by a partner because their “emotional needs are often so great”.  This statement is staggering in how pastorally insensitive and revealing it is of how little women’s pain should be invested in by men.

 

  1. A third of the male leaders are a sexual risk to vulnerable women

Mez explains that a third of the leaders who preceded him were removed due to sexual immorality that happened when they were intensely counselling women (who he acknowledges had likely been sexually abused prior to the intense counselling).

 

  1. Extremely vulnerable women will be blamed if male leaders sexually abuse their authority

Mez blames women (with possible histories of having been sexually abused) for male leaders sexually abusing their authority.  According to Mez “Any form of tenderness or a willingness to listen from a male is almost always misunderstood sexually [by vulnerable women]… A man who listens to them is a very powerful aphrodisiac. Temptation can be for some [vulnerable women] very hard to resist. They aren’t used to men listening to their problems. They are used to men being the problem.”

 

  1. The male leaders are powerless to stop themselves having sex with vulnerable women

In the above quote Mez is saying that the church leaders who sexually abuse their authority are not the problem; these leaders are the victims of women who find men listening to them so much of an aphrodisiac that they essentially place the male leader’s penis inside them and with the male leader helpless to stop it.  The male leader just passively allows for sexual activity to take place, unable to act.

 

  1. Men cannot and should not have deep long lasting friendships with women they aren’t married to

Mez explains this in his fifth point about women’s role as pastors pastoral assistants.  Jesus explained that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and as such should be seeking to build communities that are built on deep and long lasting friendships.  It is by our love for one another (not solely love of those who have the same sex as us) that people will know Jesus.  What state can a church be in if women and men can’t be good friends?  If the only deep interactions men and women have to be sexual?  Maybe that’s one of the reasons male leaders keep having sex with women who aren’t their wives?  Just a thought…

 

  1. It is unbiblical

Mez states that “The church is to be led by men after all.”  I shall put aside the fact his church is led by men who can’t stop themselves penetrating women unless they’re not allowed to be alone with them for too long.

The church is to be led by Jesus Christ, in partnership with the Holy Spirit.  Women and men are to serve God and those He calls us to love, giving up our lives in service to Him.  Jesus tells us that “the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life — a ransom for many.”

 

  1. The church is playing Pharisaical mental-gymnastics with women’s callings

Mez explains, “When we say that our women’s worker pastors our women we don’t mean that she is a pastor, rather, she assists the pastors by providing day-to-day pastoral care to our women”.  The Pharisees played the same sort of mental gymnastics as this to keep their hierarchies in place, “Okay, so we don’t swear by the temple, we just swear by the gold of the temple.”  “I know we don’t support our ageing parents, but that’s because we’re giving all our money to God.”  “We’re being obedient by even tithing all our herbs, look at how awesome we are.”

 

  1. Women are used out of necessity

Mez explains that without women pastors pastoral assistants, “Even with a small church and multiple elders we would struggle under the weight of pastoral issues in our congregation”.  Primarily women are asked to take a role in the church because a) men can’t help putting their penises in women and b) there’s too much work for only the men to be able to do it.  This isn’t about women’s gifts or call.  This is an argument of efficiency, practicality and utility.  It is not about the unique ministry of women, the value of women or God-breathed life in women.  It is not about the image of God that is found in women.  According to the blog Mez has written, this is about men being sexually deviant in nature and therefore women having to lead, pastor and disciple work with women.

 

Mez finishes by saying something I am in total agreement with,

 

“The local church needs women’s workers. Most of the women living in our poorest communities are suffering without the hope of the gospel. They have not heard the good news that can set them truly free from their burdens. Women on schemes need more than women parachuting in to be another worker in their life, perpetuating dependency. They need women who will do life with them every single day of their lives. The harvest is great, the workers are few and women are being left on the shelf. They shouldn’t be. Employing more women for ministry should be our highest priority.”

 

It is heartbreaking to me that the rest of his blog undermines this hugely important message.

 

To find out more about the 20 Schemes perspective on women, have a read of THIS application process for church planters and their wives (only married men can be church planters).  It has been suggested the process may be in breach of various equality and data protection laws.

 

 

 

[1] Even the great Paulo Freire described a poor man beating his wife as the abusive man’s response to oppression and not as a form of oppression in its own right.  Women are always left behind in liberatory movements.

Jon Jorgensen and Repackaged Patriarchy

In the last week, I got my first introduction to Jon Jorgenson after stumbling across his video “Who You Are: A Message to all Women” after it found its way into my Twitter feed.  The video is well on its way to having 6 million views.  Jorgenson is a Christian spoken word poet and although this video’s title is aimed at women, the video is set in a lecture hall and seems to be seeking an audience of younger women and girls.

 

A white man telling girls who they are didn’t seem like a particularly liberatory model.  So I decided to have a watch.  With emotive music and short dramatic sentences, the video is designed to create a specific emotional response.  He tells girls they’re smart and precious and funny and insists we have a responsibility to set free the “world changing woman” within ourselves.  Incidentally the video is entirely produced by men.  So he doesn’t think women are actually smart enough to be involved in creating his videos with him.

 

After moaning about the video on Twitter, I was informed that he has also created one for men.  So I had a watch of “Who You Are: A Message to all Men”, it has close to 2 million views.  The thing that is MOST fascinating is comparing the words of the videos (and though I don’t have time to delve into them, also the tone and body language within them and soundtrack lyrics behind them).  The subtly (or not so subtly) different language devices within stories that are broadly the same.  The overarching narrative of both videos are:

 

  1. You Are Awesome
  2. Things get in the way of you feeling amazing
  3. You have the capacity to change the world
  4. Jesus died for you
  5. The devil will tell you you’re not amazing
  6. Reject the devil
  7. You Are Awesome

 

The image below has the words typed up in two columns in order for you to compare them.  I’m hoping you can zoom in and read it…

 

Screen Shot 2016-12-02 at 21.15.13.png

Here’s some of the issues when the videos are compared:

 

Women are passive: Beautiful, smart, funny, kind, unique, precious

Men are active: Strong, brave, capable,

 

Women receive: they “are worthy of love and affection”

Men give: they have ability, potential, gifts, talents, kind words, wisdom, jokes, joy to spread, they are full of qualities, traits and virtues

 

Women are “the most stunning of all God’s creation”

Men are “the Lord’s most valuable creation”

 

Women are objects: a diamond, rose, pearl, “the most

Men are subjects: writers, athletes, inventors, artists, musicians, technicians

 

The things that get in the way of women knowing their worth are all related to how they look (except maths test scores and pottery modelling): weight, hair, shoes, whether girls envy them or boys want to “have” them, clothes, modelling, hot list or not list (yes it says that), cheerleader, can’t stand to look in the mirror,

 

The things that get in the way of men knowing they are loved by God are related to activities and physical size: being muscly, being small (and in the library), baseball, swing dancing, fastest, slowest, tallest, smallest, skinniest, fattest, captain of the team or last one picked,

 

For women it doesn’t matter whether “you’re Miss Popular or never really had someone you could call a friend”.

For men it’s doesn’t matter whether “your dad could beat up his dad or you never had anyone in your life who could fill that role”.

 

Women “deserve someone who would give their life up for you because you are powerful and strong, capable”

Men “have a power inside you that was formed before the beginning of time in a secret place by the God of the universe”

 

Women get to change the world, but he gives no examples of what they do.  Just to read about women ing the Bible: Esther, Ruth, Mary, Martha.

Men get to change the world with their gifts, talent, courage, ability, and joy

 

Women are cherished, loved, adored by God

Men are treasured, entrusted and love by God

 

This videos are seeking to change the world, to change how women and men perceive themselves.  But particularly the messages Jorgenson sends to women are regressive and reinforce women as objects and ornaments.  It’s all very well wanting to challenge the cultural messages that women and girls are oppressed by.  But you cannot dismantle the devil’s house with the devil’s tools.

 

As well intentioned as these videos are, they continue to perpetuate the same models for women and girls that exist across society.  Perhaps that’s why the one for women has so many views.  It isn’t enabling women to reject the messages that oppress them, but rather to hear God tell them those same messages in a nicer voice.

 

The messages given to men are slightly more benign, there’s less about aggression and redemptive violence.  However, the comparative messages in the videos still leave men to conclude they are the actors (reinforced by a man performing both videos), the agents and that women are put on earth by God to be attractive and passive.

 

We must challenge these messages wherever we find them and remain steadfast in recognising that girls and women deserve better than repackaged patriarchy to empower and inspire them.