There once was a woman. Think of a name for her.
She lives in a decent area of the city, attends a lively local church and is an enthusiastic runner. What does she do for a living? That’s also your decision. For the purposes of our story, it should be a job in a company or firm of some kind. She’s not high-up, but she is a step or two beyond the lowest rung.
She’s a good networker, so she’s one of the first to hear news of an impending vacancy. Richard, the man who’s moving on, is well-liked and respected and no-one bears him any ill-will for taking the lucrative offer made to him by a rival company. Everybody feels he deserves it, as well as a new challenge, what with the third child on the way.
When the job is advertised, our heroine’s CV and letter of motivation is ready to go; hers is in fact the first to land in the appropriate inbox. She knows she won’t be the only applicant, but this company has a policy of seeking to promote from within and she knows she’s the best qualified on her level. Interviews come around; two external applicants, and two other internals competing with her. The internals are, as she expected, good workers but not on her level. Ian is too new to the company and a little too inexperienced in the field to be a realistic contender – he’s probably applying to get a feel for how things work round here. He’s ambitious and in the future he’ll do well. Stephen is an able and affable kind of guy; sharply dressed, a touch less experience than her but with a winning smile and charm interpersonal manner. Her results have been better than his, consistently. She is not worried that he’ll compete with her for the promotion. All things being equal, she’s the best suited.
The interviews proceeds without surprise. She has acquitted herself well and she is at peace. The next day the email arrives at the expected time. Thank you … good candidate…add value to company … unable to offer …
As she scans the scarcely credible words, Stephen walks past her desk, beaming and gently pumping his fist. It shouldn’t make sense, but somehow she’s not surprised.
On the train home she sits next to young man lingering over the third page of a tabloid paper. In the stuffy and stuffed carriage she feels middy nauseous; she tries to manoeuvre herself into the hint of a breeze. She momentarily dozes off, awakening with a start as the train pulls into her station. She opens her eyes to see those of the man next to her lingering on her chest. She pushes past him (which seems to be unnaturally difficult to do), and stands on the platform catching her breath.
She’ll be late for the church home group. She had thought of skipping tonight, but she wants company and dinner. She can’t be bothered to cook for herself anyway. She arrives just in time for a refreshingly simple bowl of soup to be pressed into her hands and sits quietly as the gentle buzz of ten people catching up with each other drowns out her own endlessly circling thoughts. She comes to full attention as they talk about making plans for the arrival of the new pastor. He’s married, with three kids and a reputation for growing churches quickly. He doesn’t like women preachers – which is a blow to our heroine as the previous pastor had helped her hone a gift of preaching she’d only recently discovered – but that’s OK, insists John, the co-leader of the group with his wife Helen (she’s in the kitchen sorting out the tea and cake) the new pastor will be quite happy for our heroine to speak to women’s groups and Sunday School.
Our heroine doesn’t enjoy teaching at Sunday School; and she’s never been to a women’s group. Which is what she’d meant to say. Instead it came out with a minor (by her workplace’s standards but major by this group’s standards) expletive and clearly voiced disappointment. She voices a vague sense of wondering if the local C of E place is any different.
John tells her not to get too emotional, there’s plenty of opportunities for her besides preaching and besides you don’t want to go to the C of E place because the vicar there is a bloke who wears a dress on Sundays. He laughs as he speaks, and the group seems to all join in.
That’s enough for her, and she says so.
John’s a good guy, at heart. I’m sorry he says. Sorry. I know this hard for you.
Thank you. I mean it, thank you, she says. But what are you going to do about it? I mean, it’s alright for you. You’re doing well at work, and nothing at the church will change for you with the new man. But what about me? What can I do?
We can pray for and with you, says John, with his kind smile and gentler tone.
And then? And then … what?
Dave was ordained in the Church of England in 2001. Since then he’s worked in churches in London, until he and his wife Bev moved to Cape Town in 2010 when Dave became the Rector of St Peter’s, Mowbray, a diverse Anglican church in an urban context. He’s passionate about justice, films, sports and the interaction between all these (and much more besides) and Christian faith. You can find his blog at http://www.davemeldrum.com. Bev tells the stories of social enterprises through photography. They have no children and 2 dogs. He blogs at www.davemeldrum.com.