Friday, 10 April 2020

Holding on to the WTF? in Holy Week and Easter

My prayer life is characterised by saying WTF? to God at the moment in a variety of ways. WTF is going on? WTF is the point of faith when stuff like this still happens? WTF is the going to happen after this? You get the gist of my prayers.

As I got to the Wednesday of Holy Week and a particularly low ebb, I got to the point of saying WTF is the point of believing in God. That evening I got an answer, and not the one I expected. Karl and I had been invited to share the Seder meal with a local rabbi and her husband, together with some other guests - a meal that was shared via Zoom. It was a privilege that gave me some insight into the wideness of what Jesus did in his ministry. There we were, a queer gentile couple, sitting with the rabbi sharing the festival with them. Not so long ago so many elements of that would not have been able to happen, yet an important part of the gospels is Jesus breaking barriers and taboos.

The people joining around the meal had one thing in common, we were all activists whose faith included an emphasis on social justice. That was why we'd been invited. The liturgy the rabbi was using in Christian terms would have been defined as an example radical theology.

As we were led through the meal a quote that came up a couple of times was " what is important is not that you believe this but that you remember it and make sure each new generation remembers it too". Yet we were told it's not just remembering it's also about looking at the relevance and learning to be gained in the world you hear it.

That gave me a huge release, in my struggling through my doubt this Easter the important thing is to remember and share the story looking at what it has to say in our world.

I share this picture of the prayer for Orlando that Rachel Mann wrote and transposed over a picture by Ric Stott because for me it encapsulates the essence of that message of remembrance and relevance which I'm talking about .

So what is the story I want to pass on this year?

It is the story of a rabbi who was viewed as dangerous by the authorities for breaking boundaries and sharing the idea that all people are of equal worth and that systems needed changing to reflect that. This is the story of a man who was peaceful and effective through living an authentic life in a country under occupation. It was a man who showed that true religion is found in living out an authentic faith and at times that means breaking man made rules.

It is the story of a man who was knowingly betrayed by a friend. Jesus was a man who chose the difficult path rather than deciding to take the easy way out. It is the story who went out to pray but whose friends fell asleep waiting for him.

It is the story of a man who suffered death, viewed as a dangerous terrorist by some, humiliated and body abused.He died this death because he chose to put others first and not renounce the destiny he had.

It is the story of a man whose family and friends suffered as they watched what was happening to him die, distanced and unable to touch him. 

It is the story of a wait until the religious festival was over in order to go and finish tending to the body. A burial interrupted.

It is the story of more boundary breaking as women found the tomb empty. It is a feminist underscore which could not be written out. It is the story of women's voices not being believed but men having to acknowledge they were right. It is the story of empowerment mixed with fear and hiding. 

It's a time for seriousness yes, but as with the Seder meal it is a time for fun and rejoicing. It's a time for relationship and friendship. It's a time for sharing the story with others and adding new symbols to increase inclusion. The rabbi explained that they had an orange now as a symbol of increased inclusion of LGBT+ and others, and a spoon as a symbol of including those with unseen disabilities. 

It's a story of disbelief and eyes opened. Easter is the ultimate WTF? story which we need to pass on to each new generation.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

The pastor in a secular age by Andrew Root - A reflection

I haven't blogged in a while but when Facebooking about reading The pastor in a secular age: Ministry to People who No Longer Need a God by Andrew Root somebody asked me my thoughts. It was recommended by on FB by somebody I respect, but the questioner was concerned it would be too American.

Well, first off I have to say it was a book that I enjoyed up until the point it started making me swear, in the last third, because of the way it spoke about Hagar. Now, people who know me know that for me Hagar is an important figure. The early posts on this blog explain my take on her....but back to that bit later. Actually, some of his reading of Augustine gave me the same feeling. It was like - ok, very different reading to some of the feminist readings of these people. Still - at least Root touches on some of the issues rather than totally making them invisible. Mind you it is also a very white book, not exclusively, (but clearly written for a white audience in USA, Canada, UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand). So to be honest like most theology books and certainly most that are dealing with the impact of secularisation.

I'm married to a "professional pastor" (Methodist Minister) and as I was reading through the bits talking about the situation the modern pastor finds themself in I was reading quotes and he was nodding his head. I love the way Root says it as it is.

The second part of the book takes us through the changing world view and position of the professional male pastor. A point which is acknowledged by the author, and which it's easy to explain away , particularly with the centrality of the work of Charles Taylor in this book. However, back to Hagar and the feeling that if he had done what in the last part of the book had been followed through, in terms of ministers who didn't aren't ordained, the story of tradition would have looked a little different. 

It takes you on a journey through the place of religion in the society and lives of Augustine; Thomas Becket; Jonathan Edwards, (the preacher rather than the long jumper); Henry Ward Beecher; Harry Emerson Fosdick and Rick Warren. This may be why that initial question on FB, is it too American? Well no, but to understand where it fits in to Britain it may be useful to read Reinventing English Evangelicalism 1996-2001 by Rob Warner. (Note not a cheap book but one that's probably sitting in a lot of uni libraries). This book is important because it will explain how the influences that Root is talking about have filtered in. 

In terms of Britain well, besides reading Warner I think this book should also be read alongside the British Sociologists of Religion Linda Woodhead and Grace Davie. Reading Davie's 2015 version of Religion in Britain: a persistent paradox would be particularly helpful for people wanting to think through the whole picture of change and where the pastor fits in. It would also help critique Taylor. 

So that's the first part of the book or really the first two thirds that took me on a romp over some familiar territory, but with some new stuff mixed in.

Then you get to the next part and the Hagar thing. Now first off he calls the way in which Hagar was abused by Sarah "slut shaming" now that suggests Hagar was a slut not somebody who was being abused and then further shamed. Still I have to say he gave the first part of the story a fair discussion. The first bit I find difficult is the way in which he talks about God's first encounter with Hagar when she has run away from the abusive situation God calling her by name and telling her to go back and minister to Sarah. Now, I always struggle with that passage and I think the reasons God sent her back were more practical. If Root had gone on to tell the whole story it might not have jarred so much. I do believe that Hagar was a minister of a kind and she has certainly acted as a character who has ministered to many survivors and slaves down the years, in the Christian tradition. 

For myself it is the fact that Hagar is the first recorded single mum in the bible which has ministered to me and at times encouraged me as a local preacher and home missioner. The fact that God met her after Sarah had got worried about her inheritance and got Abraham, with God's blessing, to send her away again. Hagar encounters God a second time as she is suffering from what we today would call reactive depression and then rebuilds her life to be able to find Ishmael a bride. Thus, showing how single parents and their children can thrive. In his telling Root misses out talking of Abraham as the absent father with the two families.

For me is is these missing points I have found so useful in my ministry in a secular age. I have been able to show that the bible does contain the stories reflecting what real people go through now. That the context may change but essentially God has been journeying with these people from the beginning. 

I agree with Root about the importance of the bible and the way that people are now concerned so much with identity. However, I believe the bible speaks into those identities and offers something authentic to speak into our situation. This is what we need to re-find and re-share. Liberation theologies were based on this type of base reading of the bible. It was some of the liberal west, I would argue, that sought to take the liberation without the base community understandings of the bible. 

The fact that this book got me shouting at it, shows it is a book worth reading because it gave me stuff to shout at, not just neutral space. It also opened my eyes to how as a home missioner, (but with a different job title) what he is talking about is sort of at the centre of my way of working and I now understand a little more how I got here. 

For me working with young adults, who have different levels of biblical literacy, my job as I see it is to get them reading the bible. To get them seeing that it is more than they may have heard it is. To see how it connects with them. To see that it is a mixture of books and there is debate over whether Moses existed for example, but to make clear I believe he did because of what his imperfections as much as his great deeds teach us. I've really found the book So What's the Story important in doing this. We've given it to our young adults to read over the year and then are dipping into bits of what it says to help them connect with faith and share their own faith journeys. It gave us a way to look at the bible which allowed for the fact that many of them weren't particularly literate with the text or it's organisation (which even 20 years ago would have been kind of unthinkable) and to get them to engage with it. Last month we were talking about testimony but focusing on the Exodus story and who Moses was, including the murder, the speech impediment and the rest of it. 

Anyway as ever on this blog I am going down a different path. The book is readable and does make you think, but it is clearly written from a place of cis, het, white, male privilege - which the writer does recognise to be fair. That said it still jars when you read what is implicitly being said about certain things linked to identity and you think..."um, hum", "I guess it does seem like that if it's not your identity that is being invalidated or questioned". Note I see identity as very different to life style choices, which isn't a distinction that Root seems to make. 

The other thing it left me thinking is are we in another place of change? I'm conscious that  Saddleback was founded by Rick Warren 40 years ago, and that many of the "new white churches" are now aging and moving on a generation in their leadership.Is this book exploring the last generation not the one which is now emerging into leadership?  In their excellent book Leading the Millennial Way Simon Harris and Rachel Luetchford have talked about the value change going on and I am interested about how this is feeding in to ministry.

 The church I work for have been giving out this book at our recent employability conference and to all sorts of other people we believe it would be useful for. I think in church contexts it is also useful material, and if we're interested in how pastors roles are changing now, this might help us too. 

So would I say read this book as if you're English? Well, yes....but probably alongside some other stuff too. 

Sunday, 12 May 2019

What I've learnt as a Probationer Minister's Wife

People who follow this blog or are friends of mine will be aware that I have been accompanying my husband on his journey towards ordination in the Methodist Church. That, subject to final confirmation of conference, is set to happen next month and next week he, along with two others from the London District, have their testimony service. During that journey I’ve done occasional updates, including something of what I’ve learnt along the way. This will probably be my last one related to being the wife of a student Presbyter and I offer it as something I hope might be of help to others travelling this path.

1.    There is both no definitive type of minster’s partner and at the same time only one kind you can be. By that I mean you must be you and not try to fit into a box that doesn’t exist, whatever others might seek to tell you. For example, you don’t have to go to the same church as your partner if you’re a Christian. Yet at the same time you might want to and that’s fine.

Me? I work elsewhere and that helps cover a multitude of stuff.

2.    That Eleanor Roosevelt quote about nobody being able to make you feel inferior without your permission is true. There will be all sorts of things that might be said or done which could make you feel like that, but you have the choice whether to accept it or not. Your partner, as the minister, has the job of dealing with others unrealistic expectations about you.

Tip, I have an inspiration board full of quotes which helps me keep a focus on what it’s healthy to be thinking about myself.

3.    Strategies can be used to deal with the tensions which might relate to points 1 and 2. For me the fact that I followed on from a much loved minsters wife, but was hardly ever about because I work in another church was an issue that my other half had to deal with. I sought to work with the reality of who I am but his congregations wish to have me around by taking a pragmatic approach. I am a local preacher and so have got myself on the circuit plan in each of my husband’s churches one a quarter. This means I go as a local preacher, and so in my own identity, but they also get to see me.

4.    We have the same day off and guard that as much as possible. As previous posts have shown that meant sacrifices on my part, but it worked out as God led me into an amazing role which I admit I only took initially because it meant I could be doing something related to my calling which meant we had the same day off.

5.    If a conversation can’t happen about the day or has to stop abruptly it’s not that your partner doesn’t want to involve you. It’s just that healthy boundaries of confidentiality have to be in place. It helps we’re both involved in church life and deal with pastoral care because it means we know why if one wants to chat something through it will be couched in a particular way where no names are mentioned and the conversation may stop abruptly so confidences are not breached.

6.    Working out at the start of each week what the schedule of evening meetings is and who will be needing to eat when is useful. Family meals will sometimes be possible, sometimes not. It’s not personal. Make sure kids get into the habit of finding out what’s going on too. If you both have chaotic schedules like us then it’s really important to know for the shopping too. There are some days when eating out separately is the only option to fit everything in.

7.    Ensure you have something to be doing when they’re working, and you have down time. It’s one of the reasons I’m doing my Dth now. I was finding that the demands of his studies and job meant that I had more time with just me about to get used to. So I found something productive to do with that alone time.

8.    It’s ok to swear to God about what the church is doing to your other half when they’re going through a particularly busy time or Mrs. Goggins, (no he hasn’t got one called that), has said something particularly insensitive. For me it was around Christmas each year when he was shattered, he still had assignments too and the church wanted him to be getting reports done.

9.    Get used to the black humour, especially around death. Ministers need the same humour as undertakers for a reason. You’ll see how deeply impacted they are and how much they care when one of their flock passes away, the humour is one way of dealing with the hard stuff. I could give examples…. but that wouldn’t be appropriate.

10. Learn when space might be needed, just because of all the people demands, especially if your other half is an introvert. It can be hard because it seems like you’re the queue. Be honest about that too – during probation so much is new and being learnt by both of you.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Millennial Leaders - Two Books One Theme

As we prepare for Gen Z (those born after 2000) to enter the workplace the focus on the cohort before is shifting onto the way Gen Y (millennial's) are becoming leaders  and how we can encourage them in their leadership roles. Two recently published books which take this up in different ways are Leading the Millennial Way by Simon Barrington with Rachel Luetchford and Generation Y, Spirituality and SocialChange edited by Justine Afra Huxley. I would argue that anybody seriously interested in how this age group are emerging as leaders would find it useful to read both books.

The former is a dialogue between a Gen Xer and a Millennial where they explore report data they researched and produced at Forge Leadership. They dig behind the data for the trends that are emerging and what this can tell us about how millennial's feel about leadership, what they can learn about leadership and how those in older generations can adapt to develop the new ways of working which are emerging.

Whilst the make up of the sample used is not fully discussed, that would require a separate reading of the report which is available to download or buy in hard copy, it does reflect what other research and empirical evidence is showing and so I believe can be trusted. There is an implicit middle-class bias within this text, but that reflects the type of young adults who are being referred to in the book, on the whole, and the nature of British society at the moment.

The definitions used within the book are quite soft, but I believe that reflects the reality of the subject and the move into a world where influencers are now acting as leaders too. The move away from hierarchy to flatter ways of working is one of the changes highlighted in the book. I understand why this is, but I would suggest whilst we are moving to flatter ways of working hierarchies are still in place which is why, as the book says, this cohort is always looking to make sure they are progressing within their lives and within the work place.

Much of what is being said here will not be new to readers of writers such as Brene Brown, (who is quoted), for example. However, it is in places developed, for example when talking about knowing your own core values. Whilst the authors do have international experience they are writing from a very British standpoint which is refreshing as a lot of these types of business and leadership books come from the other side of the pond.

If you want to explore what the types of social projects that the millennial leaders being referred to in the book are involved in further I would suggest you turn to Justine Huxley’s book on Generation Y, Spirituality and Social Change. As with Leading the Millennial Way Huxley’s book is written by a Gen Xer ready to both engage and learn from the millennial's. Both books have the benefit of realising the importance of inter generational communication and learning.

Generation Y, Spirituality and Social Change is a book which shares interviews, stories and testimony from a range of different millennial leaders and change makers. They come a variety of spiritual backgrounds, reflecting the role Huxley has as Director of St. Ethelburga’s which is a centre working for reconciliation and peace, from an interfaith perspective.
The place of vulnerability in leadership was a core aspect of Leading the Millennial Way and is an important part of the discussion of leadership in part one of the book two. This part of the book includes an interview with James Adams who is of Methodist background and who has developed a range of social enterprise projects whilst training to be a doctor. This amazing young mans story can be seen to embody totally what the former book was talking about, as can many others within this book. The terms Huxley uses for the leadership being discussed is ‘natural leadership’ and for the spiritual ethical framework underpinning these stories she uses the term ‘sacred activism’.

The way that ancient teachings are reinterpreted or re-examined for the digital age or in light of the current digital, consumer age we find ourselves in is an aspect of the book I find particularly interesting too. There is a clear link between tradition and the present in much of what is being discussed as well as a firm rejection in many cases of practices that were seen to be lacking in integrity or were oppressive.

Both books bring identity into the discussion and are careful to reject the way that exclusion has occurred in the past because of gender or sexuality. However, this book deals with this more explicitly and includes the stories of LGBTQ people such as Orion Stephanie Johnstone in it too.

Another similarity between the two texts is the way in which they talk of the importance of inner and outer lives and the relationship between the two as people seek to have healthy and balanced lives.

As with the other book the one criticism you could make of this book is that it again has an implicit middle class bias. However, as these books are at the forefront of the genre I think others will come, and are coming – particularly as we look at how to grapple with the problems of youth violence many communities face with the Gen Z/ Gen Y hinge population.
I can highly recommend both books and than their authors for their work. I would recommend that people buy both and read them in tandem to get a clearer understanding of both the theory and what it looks like in practice and how it is changing our world.

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.