Sunday, 24 February 2019

The Story of Employing Mind, Body and Spirit

A couple of weeks ago Wesley’s Chapel and Leysian Mission put on an employability conference called Employing Mind, Body and Spirit. This blog post seeks to reflect on the conference and the way it was put together. I’m doing this as much as anything because I’ve been reading #newpower: Why outsiders are winning, institutions are failing, and how the rest of us can keep up in the age of mass participation by Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans. The book has helped me answer some of the questions in my own mind about what underlying approach was being taken in the planning of the conference and what might be taken forward from it. It's also helped me understand that as others might find some of our approach useful to adapt for their contexts it's worth sharing.

I start the story over a year before the conference. A Methodist Superintendent and her newly appointed lay worker are sitting in an office and the new employee is told by the minister, “I want you to take risks in this job, and to know it’s ok if you fail.”
As the new financial year approaches a few months later the lay worker puts together what she feels is a somewhat outrageous budget, including the proposal of an employability conference.

The trustees of the church come back and say, the other staff need to ask hard questions about the budget, but if the answers are satisfactory, it will be given. Trust is developed at this point, in various directions, at the same time of accountability being firmly in place.
Then the staff discuss the proposal about the conference, which they know will be something a bit different. The church haven’t done this type of thing before, but they’re willing to give it a try. The lay worker is encouraged to look for partners in this venture to help increase accountability.

Nine months before the event, in collaboration with other team members, the lay worker starts planning and approaching speakers. She’s got the topics planned in her mind, but getting the right speakers is going to be key. At this point she isn’t thinking about representation too much, but she is thinking she wants the right people rather than the big names.

Amongst those approached are the new Connexional EDI officer, she wants to make sure that professional networks and EDI issues are covered and so he seems an obvious bloke to approach. Only over an initial coffee to discuss does she discover that this guy helped set up the first Black Police Officers Association in the Met. Bonus. The District team are also approached as she knows the District Children and Youth Worker previously worked for the careers service. The local church are approached too. The partner in a law firm agrees to be part of the panel and later so does a Health Education expert in the NHS. This has involved looking beyond what people do in the church and thinking about what they do in the wider world. Taking a holistic approach.

But this isn’t just a Methodist event, it’s important to the church it’s a community event. To this end other participants include somebody who works in a local uni, who the church has partnered with via the chaplaincy there. Somebody else is director of a film festival, who the lay worker met at a community event and then had coffee with. The young adults group at the church had gone along to the film festival as one of their events. The networking aspect, inviting community partners into our space as experts in their areas was important too.
The lay worker was talked through putting a funding application together, for the Methodist District in this case. Her skills were being developed through this event too.

Then as the event got nearer we thought out how to publicise the event. We knew that we needed to make it professional and that we had people in the church with the skills. These were young adults doing some free lancing alongside the day jobs. They initially agreed to do the work for nothing, but were persuaded to put in the invoices for their work. We said if they didn’t want to take the money they could gift aid it back but the important thing was too many young artists (and older ones) are getting ripped off. The idea of we’ll show your work if you give it to us for free is all too common in the gig economy & young artists are being failed by it. It was important to us that we paid for the work being produced.

The programme for the event was the point at which it became clear that the conference was truly diverse. This wasn’t something we’d intentionally aimed at, we’d looked around our networks and found the right people with the right skills and it happened that this approach turned up a roughly even mix of genders, and ethnic backgrounds. For this to work though, we need to have external as well as internal networks which are diverse in the first place.

Then there was the sound and vision. The church had previously worked with a company who knew the space. We approached them and they gave us both a good service and a discount.

The event was for the local communities (that is the geographical community, the community networked into the Chapel and the worshipping congregation). This gave us a wide spread to get the word out too in a range of ways, including adverts in the local press. That got us a lot of Eventbrite bookings, but as with a lot of free events a lot of those bookings didn’t turn into people on the day. This gave an advantage though the quality of relationship building going on was much higher.

This relationship building and networking was going on between people at all sorts of levels. Including amongst the young people, who had come down from a local youth centre the church has built a relationship with, who were providing the lunch time entertainment.
Having read the book on #newpower I worked out that a lot of what had been going on with this event was taking this kind of approach. It wasn’t about getting in lots of big names from top companies, although the 6th biggest law firm in the country was represented. It was about getting in the right people to support a holistic approach to young people finding work and thriving in it.

At the event we were all collaborators. It wasn’t an explicitly Christian event, but through talking about every day lives there was testimony in there.
There are things we’ve learnt from this and things we’ll do differently next time. The key thing though is this event was a well planned risk, which had accountability built in. It was based on working with partners, for the good of the local community and those within it. Something that church has been doing in that part of London for 260 years. It might have been a slightly new approach but the basics were very old and very Methodist.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

New Year Goals: Taking a Sabbath

2019 is here and it’s the day when you review where you wanted to be a year ago and where you are now. At the same time, you look at where you want to be in a years’ time. Well, if you’re like me you do because 1st January is the day where you set your dreams, visions and goals for the coming year.

I always find I manage about half of the things I set out to during the year. That’s something which is not a problem. It’s generally not a list of definite things I set out to achieve, (although there's a few things like that on there), it’s a list of aspirations of what I’d like to do, together with a set of things I know that might be good for me.

Last year one of my biggest and most important goals was to take an actual sabbath (i.e. day of rest) each week, that’s not a day when I do nothing but is a day of rest where I spend time with my husband and we’re not working or studying. I needed to make it a goal because it’s totally out of my comfort zone in many ways. I’m one of these people whose natural approach is to work, or perhaps one of those people whose chosen drug is work (as some who know me might argue).  
So why was it so important, well firstly because it’s biblical and I’m a real believer that God created a rhythm of life which we’ve in many ways lost in our present society. I know that one of my problems is “overdoing it” and finding myself tired out and irritable. This isn’t God’s intention, he wants me to work hard but also be healthy, rest is part of that.

Another reason it was so important was because it meant that I would be properly spending time with my husband, not half-heartedly but fully. We both live busy lives and we know that we need to invest time with each other. We have developed a pattern for our rest time which sees us chilling and catching up with each other, properly. To help this we seek to get out of the house in order to mean that we don’t get caught up with, just one email or that quick finishing off a job. Now, don’t get me wrong I’m not perfect sometimes it doesn’t work and I check my email too often but we’re getting there.

Finally, it’s important because another goal I achieved this year was starting a new programme of academic study alongside my full-time job. This is demanding, and I know if I stand any chance of reaching where I hope to by the year I’m 50 I’m going to be working really hard for four solid years. If I’m going to stand a chance of achieving this goal I need to ensure rest is built in as much as study.

Tips for you if you want to try and make sure you take a sabbath

1.    Work out why you want to...if it’s a goal with a purpose you’ll have more motivation

2.    Be realistic you’re going to have to say no to some other stuff, and not do everything that you might want to…working out your priorities is useful here

3.    Think about how you’re going to fit in what you need to in the other 6 days…. time management is a tool to be used, not a weapon to injure yourself with

4.    Think about how you might use that day of rest to do something or nothing in order to refresh yourself….if you’re list also contains some books you’d like to read or films you’d like to see these can be built in

5.    Budget for this …..but it doesn’t need to cost much. Walks are free, many museums and galleries are free to enter if you don’t want to see special exhibitions and you can do as little as much as you like.

With regard to this last point my husband and I have found it useful to budget in a cheap meal together (one of these meal deal type things in a local pub or going somewhere you can get discount vouchers for). We also pay monthly for a card for the cinema and annually for NationalTrust, Tate Galleries and Historic Palaces membership. This means that the costs of most of what we do that has a cost associated with it is booked in. And of course memberships can be changed from year to year according to how value for money you find them. Fact you’ve paid out already encourages you to go and take time just chilling.

So what are my goals in 2019…..well, I’m not going to share that. The thing is that the list is personal and it’s not something that others need to know the contents of. If you succeed great, if you don’t it’s not a huge problem – nobody knows what’s on the list and so you’ve got no embarrassment if you don’t achieve it. What matters is that you have a set of things to aim for, not a list of must do’s to add more stress to an already stressful life.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Exploring Living in the Gaze of God and Missional Conversations

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve read two recently published books from the SCM stable. Living in the Gaze of God by Helen D. Cameron and Missional Conversations edited by Cathy Ross and Colin Smith.

At first glance these two books are very different and unconnected. Yet, I want to argue that there is a connection between both and they each have a place to play in vocational exploration as well as the development of good practice.

In Living in the Gaze of God Helen D. Cameron begins by talking about growth and how it is nurtured. She suggests the book relates to both ordained and lay ministry. However, there is a clear bias in most of the book towards talking about ordained ministry and using this to underline her view that this is a covenant relationship not an employment status. I have to be clear that I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive and disagree with her (and the Methodist Church) position on this matter.

The core argument of the book, summed up in the final chapter, relates to ministers needing appropriate supervision and why this is important. I agree with her 100% on this key issue and believe strongly that it should be mandatory for all in positions of leadership within the church, lay and ordained, paid and unpaid. The lessons of the past must be learned and whilst we should not put straight jackets on ministers we should ensure that they have wise sounding boards and advice.

For me the book was useful in understanding something of my husband’s call and experience. There is something fundamentally different between the sacramental vocation of my husband and my missional one, yet we both have callings which will be played out in the contexts where the church sends him. Reading this book helped me to understand for the first time that being a minister’s partner is in itself a vocation, not a term to distance myself from. Before anybody starts to worry I am about to embark on a stereotypical role I am clearly not suited to, let me explain. The marriage relationship is a covenantal one, as is his with the church (assuming all goes well and he is ordained into full Connexion in the summer). Whilst I am not in direct covenantal relationship with the church my covenantal relationship with my husband means when God calls him to a new context he also calls me. Whilst I may be called, as a lay person, to a time specific role/ or roles in that local context it is still God, through covenantal relationship who has placed me there. I have the flexibility of being able to explore a range of missional lay ministry opportunities because I am not being stationed directly by church into a direct context. As I look at the church struggle to appropriately station married couples who are both in ordained ministry I realise this freedom is a gift not the problem I have thought it in the past.

Yet, whether lay or ordained and employed or not we are both called to be attentive to the Gaze of God (as talked about in chapter 3 ) and ourselves and to the self and the other (which is the theme of chapter 4). These chapters are useful for those seeking to engage in vocational exploration and explore relationships, boundaries and risk taking. They also bring in the importance of knowing your context(s).

These chapters are ones which resonated most strongly and which I think bridge with Missional Conversations. This second book has the sub title: A Dialogue between Theory and Praxis in World Mission. It pairs up chapters in conversation and then gives questions for further discussion. Thus it could be used by students in seminar situations or small groups looking to discuss these issues.

The format generally works well, apart from a couple of chapters where the academic theory sits awkwardly with the praxis. I don’t know if it works better where the authors are familiar with working together or if it is to do with what the prime academic fields of the writers are.

At the end of the book there is a deviation when you get Jonny Baker and Ric Stott having an actual conversation with each other before Ian Adams concludes. Within this they do talk, in a different language, about some of the things Cameron does. Here the idea is put forward of a supervisor who is also a buffer between the pioneer and the hierarchy of the institution. Again I think the Baker and Stott chapter is a really good read for people exploring vocation. Not for the first time I was struck by Baker talking about Grayson Perry’s Hobbit and Punk characters and the way that we need to embrace both in ministry. I also loved Ric talking about wandering about with the purpose of just exploring and then knowing you’ve found the right thing, place or opportunity when you see it. Again I think, whilst challenging, and sometimes leading down the wrong paths, this is the freedom that most ordained ministers (Ric being an exception) lack as they are placed in more traditional appointments with a diary full of meetings and expectations cast upon them. Again I realise my lay calling into a series of missional and/ or pioneering ministries (which may take different forms) tends to give a freedom that others don’t get in this.

Another particularly strong pair of essays were Kyama Mugambi’s Audacity, Intentionality and Hope in the Churches of the Global South and Harvey Kwiyani’s Mission in the Global South. This pair looking at Southern Mission Movements were striking because they appeared to be coming from a black theological perspective and traced the history of the change of missionary activity over the last century. These chapters would be well paired reading with The Desecularisation of the City, which I have reviewed on here previously.
Whilst I would recommend both books to practitioners and those exploring vocation, I would say missional conversations is the less niche of the two books. I’d recommend this to small groups who had the time to read something meaty in preparation and who wanted to explore either modern apologetics (ethics) or mission because it touches on both.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

The Desecularisation of the City Reviewed

The Desecularisation of the City: London’s Churches, 1980 to the present edited by David Goodhew and Anthony-Paul Cooper and published by Routledge is an interesting book from a variety of angles. There is the question of what has happened in London over the last 40 years? Then there’s question of if desecularisation has occurred in the capital is the shape of things to come in the rest of the country?

The more interesting thing about the book for me, though, was section three of the book and the picture it gives of the ethnic mix of London and the impact that different waves of migration have had. Whilst this includes the expected discussion of West African migration and the new churches it has bought with it but the book also looks at Brazilian and Russian migration and the impact of that. I had not realised for example there had been three waves of Russian migration or that the Brazilian churches are particularly at risk of schism.

As a Methodist, who is relatively new to living and working within the London District, Alan Piggot’s chapter on ‘Growth and Decline of London Methodism, 1980 to the present’ was particularly useful. It gave a useful insight into how the London District came into being and how the current structure had developed. The discussion of the way strategy had misread the signs of the time and predicted growth in the suburbs and decline in the centre showed that a lot of what happened was down to reading the signs reasonably well but guessing wrongly where it would all lead. This is something that may provide a salutary warning to us all as we seek to develop strategy in a time of unknowing.

On a personal level Piggot’s chapter also gave me a clearer insight into the context in which I am now working and the pattern of growth which had occurred over the last 30 years in particular. I had not realised at one point we had been responsible for one eighth of all growth in the London District.

The discussion of the New Frontiers churches also gave me an interesting insight into more recent developments which I had not been clear about, particularly the fragmentation of the denomination into the six spheres.

Thus, this book is good reading for anybody who wants to catch up on where we are now as well as how we might have gotten here. It is very good for filling in gaps of knowledge on some specific areas and contexts.

One area of concern for me as I read was something black theologians such Anthony Reddie have bought light to. That is the way that the Black experience of migration, communities and church growth is often being interpreted through the eyes of white academics and/ or preachers who layer the story with their own interpretations and meanings. I am not sure the percentage of chapters in the book which were written by white theologians compared to other ethnicities but I was aware that a fair number of the authors were white talking about communities where ethnicity has changed strongly over recent years. An example of this is Colin Marchant talking about Newham. His section on Beginnings I am sure would have been different in flavour if written by a black theologian.

In terms of the question of whether London is an exceptional case or not the chapter by Grace Davie is well worth a read. She outlines well the ways in which the development of faith in London has a different narrative to other parts of the country and that the answer of whether the rest of the country will follow is complex and it depends upon where you are looking.

So, overall is this book worth the read. Most definitely in paperback or ebook if you are a practical theologian, somebody who is in ministry (lay or ordained in London and wants to understand your context) or a sociologist of religion. Beyond these groups I’d say you might find out a few things, but I’d probably just get it out of the library if you can persuade your local one to stock it.  

If you're interested in this area you might be interested in the accompanying half day conference happening at Kings College London, in January

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Magnify Magazine, what I made of it

Having read the interview by Natalie Collins with Magnify editor in chief Ruth Afolabi in the Church Times this week I was intrigued. So I did a bit of searching and found, unsurprisingly for where the interview was conducted, that a newsagent near work was one of the very few stockists of this magazine, although it can also be ordered online.

It wasn’t hard to pick Magnify whose sub title tagline is Faith, Feminism, Fashion out of the shelves of arty and indie coffee table mags, but it wasn’t easy either. That made a good change, something Christian but not cringey. It fitted the shelves in this outlet which caters largely but not exclusively to young professional hipsters, their youth-tribe predecessors and students.

The shop, magazine and the church I am working in are also close to Shoreditch and so when Savage talks of the “rise of a kind of ‘hipster’ cultural capital” (Savage, 2015, p113) it’s impossible to ignore the relevance in the geographical location this magazine is being produced in. The area, I’ve noted over the last year as I’ve worked around here, has negative as well as positive aspects. The cultural capital and the consumerism it spawns, as many have noted, requires economic capital to engage in it. But as Justin Welby (2018) and others have noted young adults in the UK are seeing a reversal in fortune compared to the previous generation. A large number of people working around here are doing jobs in coffee bars and restaurants which are minimum wage and so below the London real living wage amount.

At £10 an issue and located only in a handful of outlets this beautifully produced product might be seen as a good example of the contradictions which abound here of products which could benefit many and which have great ethical roots being branded with a certain level of exclusivity and put economically out of the reach of many. It’s not the first time I’ve come across this cover price for a good quality niche magazine round here.

Whilst looking to put this publication in its context the interview between Collins and Afolabi gives useful information too. It tells us that the editor in chief is British Nigerian and studied in Durham (it doesn’t tell us Bailey rather than Hill College but it does tell us she has a private education and so I’m guessing it’s likely). All of this is important in understanding the aspirational and entrepreneurial approach of the magazine mixing as it does high end, expensive fashion with a form of Christian Feminism which, to me, harked back 25 years to the work of Elaine Storkey in What’sRight With Feminism.
The design or overall mix of Magnify is refreshing for a Christian publication aimed at Women. From the Black Panther star, Letitia Wright, on the cover to the examination of inspirational quotations and beautiful pictures that would not be out of place in Porter this is a contemporary and beautiful magazine. The discussions of singleness and adoption are interesting, well presented reads. The article on Light in our wounds tells the story of former gang member Karl Lokko and is powerful testimony.

That again brings me back to the conundrum I have with this magazine. Even though the starting point of their theology and feminism seems to be in a different place to my own and as such I’m not sure if it’s coming from a place where LGBTQI Christians would be able to find themselves at the moment represented it’s exactly the type of magazine I’d like the young people in my church to be reading. Let me explain many of the young people I’m in contact with are second or third generation British West African (primarily Ghanaian). This magazine speaks well into their culture and articles such as “Daily Acts that Make a Difference” by Sabrina Dougall very much reflect what we are teaching them in church and what we want them to develop in their own lives. It’s also professionally produced and so does not send the message that Christianity is naff, as such it gives them a thirst for good production values in their own places of worship and may encourage them to help us as a church (local and wider) move into the place we need to be. Yet, it is £10, not so easily available and the nature of its funding seems to be that the next edition will be out at some unspecified time in the future. The use of this as an ongoing resource to nurture our young people then becomes difficult.

Then there are the sorts of issues about consumption and neo-liberalism which Walter Brueggemann has raised. Brueggemann, (2014) and others have spoken out against the economic model which the cultural models are built upon. They argue particularly emerging culture are built upon a neo-liberal market ideology. This creates, according to Brueggemann an idol or god which is based upon the need for more and more effort to meet “endless desires and needs that are never met”, (Brueggemann, 2014, p13). They have also been particularly critical of the advertising industry. This podcast tells you a bit more.

So would I recommend it? Clearly yes, it’s a great publication. Would I like it to see it develop a little more to be even more inclusive? Yes of course. The main thing is though I would like to see this product get some major funding behind it and become generally available (say for a cover price of £5 – which would still be high for many but may enable people to buy a few copies to get passed around).

Brueggemann, W, (2014), Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville
Savage, M, (2015), Social Class in the 21st Century, Pelican Books, London
Storkey, E, (1989) What's Right With Feminism, Third Way Books, 
Welby, J, (2018), Reimagining Britain: Foundations for Hope, Bloomsbury, London

Monday, 15 October 2018

Please respond to GRA

A short post to say please get involved in the response to the current government consultation on the Gender Reassignment Act if you haven't already. The Act as it stands at the moment is costly and time consuming, as well as taking agency away from trans people. The consultation ends on Friday and so this is now urgent. *NB Consultation deadline has been extended to Monday 22nd October.

Stonewall have done a guide to what's wrong with the current legislation and how people might want to respond. 

There has been scaremongering in the media and a sustained campaign which has seen a coalition between trans excluding feminists and conservative Christians. This has had an impact on all trans people. The level of vitriol that has been unleashed is scary. I have seen the toll it is taking on trans people and it is not good. I am scared for my husband in a way I haven't been since he started transitioning.

A few points, the risk of people committing suicide as a result of being trans and not being recognised as who they are is a much higher risk than those who may abuse the law.

The view that it increases the risk of pedophilia is one that was used against gay men having legal rights and is now being used to raise a moral panic against trans people.

If the voices who oppose trans rights were really being silenced in this debate they wouldn't have been able to take out news paper ads and so on spreading their views.

I could go on but I want to say please support this legislation to support people like my husband who is f to m trans and my sibling who is gender queer. I also want the spousal veto removing because I should not have any power or say, legally, in whether he gets an interim or full gender recognition certificate.

I know that some people will disagree with this because of their biblical interpretation. I would say if that is you and you have really thought  and prayed it through please still respond with your views. Involvement in the debate is important but please remember that we are not talking about "an issue" we are talking about people . And alot of those people are scared and hurting right now as a result of the hate which they have seen directed at them in the media and elsewhere over the last few weeks particularly.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Undivided by Vicky Beeching - A Review

Reading through Vicky Beeching's memoir Undivided is an emotional experience. It cannot be read from a neutral position because none of us are robots and all of us have opinions on faith, LGBT+ issues and mental illness. Many of us also have our own experiences of these things. The thing about Vicky's book is it makes clear that whilst some feel free to be vocal about these things for others they are subjects of fear. To state my position from the start I am a progressive evangelical queer woman married to a f to m transman who is also a Methodist Probationer Minister. I work in a church too. So I'm sympathetic to the view she is espousing in the book.

Now I've got all that out of the way we can look at the book. It's an honest looking back on her journey and the way she wrestled not only with her own identity but also with the demands of being a successful Christian musician.

It's a book which shows that whatever one's view of the "celebrity LGBT+ Oxbridge elite" her journey has been very costly in both emotional and financial terms. Yes, she is part of that elite but it provided her with a support network which she needed around her coming out. I'm noting it but not knocking it in her case.

What I found interesting about the first parts of the book, including her time in Oxford were the way she used institutionalisation for safety. I was struck by the choice of Oxford College she describes, and am aware that it was a similar choice that she made when she went to Durham an experience briefly mentioned later in the book. (Aside here one of the most embarrassing moments of my life was realising what a twat I'd been when I'd been chatting to her and others in a bar in Durham on the day of my viva (one of the very few times I've met her by the way). I don't have a great gaydar and that day I had a total failure, which resulted in me giving a version of "the only gay in the village" spiel when the exact opposite was true). Anyway I digress back to the review.

This institutionalisation which many Christian young people get caught up in and which many of those of us in churches actually collude with in ways intended to be helpful and can lead to great opportunities, but which may also be deeply damaging is something which challenged me in reading the book.

In Vicky's case it was this which enabled her to have her song writing and performing career. Something which has to be applauded, but it was at a cost of conforming to a damaging Christian stereotype.

The LGBT+ narrative which is a central theme to the book is important because it is a story which needs to be told and shared widely. I believe that this book quite honestly has the power to save lives and that cannot be underestimated. There will still be young Vicky's who may at times feel the same suicidal pressures that are talked about in this book and to have a role model is important.

More than that though this is probably the easiest to read discussion of the scriptural arguments I've come across. It's a book I'd be happy to recommend to people as a key resource.

The discussion of chronic pain and illness is also important because it is through the sharing of these stories that progress is made.

I referred earlier to the Oxbridge elite and that is something I find interesting about this book and about some recent developments in both the Christian and secular LGBT+ worlds in this country. There is an elite and make no mistake they are doing a great job in pushing for equality but they are also clearly there and integrated into the institutions of this country. This book along with other developments I'm not going into here show that there is a change happening which is not primarily grass roots but taking place in the wood panelled or glass clad rooms of this country. This book is here because it fits into that world, but it is also here because as I've indicated it's a valuable resource.

So I recommend giving it a read and then giving time yourself time to reflect on it. I think for many it raises as many questions as it answers but thank you Vicky for writing it and for your bravery. This is a book that as I've said will help others but has clearly come at cost.

Just as a help if you've happened upon the book or this blog and you are looking for support as a LGBT+ Christian who is not out or who is not connected to other LGBT+ Christians can I recommend Diverse Church which has sections to support different age groups and parents of LGBT+ people.