Saturday, 30 April 2016

The Partners Story...A Narrative of Loss? 1.

Today sees the beginning of a short series I am going to be writing about “the experience of the trans partner”. It will include reference to my own experience but I want it to be more than that. A specific area I want to focus upon within the series is the narrative of loss within the partner’s story. I want to look at this in terms of thinking about what the pastoral care for couples should be where one is trans and the other is not and how to do we acknowledge their, at times, conflicting feelings.
One particular focus I will think about within this is going to be around naming ceremonies and how do those leading them navigate and provide pastoral care when for one person they are a time of celebration and for another they may be like a funeral service.

The thoughts that I’m going to express here are helping me think around some of the issues I’m going to be exploring in a forthcoming paper at a symposium.

As I approach this series I would be interested in exploring too what you the reader may want to know about or find useful. I’d also be interested in knowing about specific resources you’ve found useful if you are the partner of a trans person.

You might wonder why looking at the grief cycle and the issue of loss is going to be such a big part of this series. Well there are a couple of answers to this.

The first comes from a search around the websites of groups such as TG Pals and blogs such as Translucidity which show these are common feelings. This is something echoed in my own experience and something I have heard in many conversations with other partners of trans people.

The second comes from a feeling I have that if we can learn how to think about at this in the trans context it may help us in other areas too. One parallel I find myself thinking about increasingly is how there are similar feelings of loss through transition felt within church contexts as people either lose their buildings or forms of worship that they have felt familiar and comfortable with and which have helped them understand and describe their own identity.

The exploration of this latter wider use of the ideas may well turn into a second series of posts after the initial ones focusing on being a trans partner have been written.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

The Rise of the Laity???

The role of the laity seems to be coming, finally, into sharper focus. One example which exemplifies this is WATCH who are advertising several events aimed at exploring this theme including one which is only for lay women. These invents include a free one entitled Rediscovering the Laity - a day with Prof Elaine Graham in Birmingham on 3rd May. This is something I applaud and welcome.

For too long the discussions and arguments have focused on the hierarchy and women gaining access to that. Now, I don’t want to lessen the importance of that fight but I do want to highlight some of the things which that has allowed to go unchallenged.

The increasing growth of women in the church working a quadruple shift where they have been seeking to balance not only work, caring responsibilities and housework but also church responsibilities too. The growth of this quadruple shift has not been noticed, I would argue, because the institution to some extent has held onto the model and ideal of nuclear family where the husband took the instrumental role of breadwinner and the wife the expressive role of caregiver.

There is one area where I think the impact and contribution of this quadruple shift needs to be particularly noted and that is with the growth and leadership of Messy Church. The 2013 Church Growth Study data (strand 3b) showed that 75% of Messy Church initiatives were led by women. At the same time the study showed that 67.7% of women who were involved in leading Fresh Expressions (including Messy Church) did so in their “spare time” compared to 32.3% of men.

Whilst this is great I do wonder, in an age when we are becoming increasingly aware of the need for clergy to take regular time off to avoid burn out, whether we are ignoring the wellbeing of many women (and lay men) in our congregations. The reason I focus on women is because disproportionately they are likely to be women because they are more likely to be within our churches (as this recent PEW research on The Gender Gap in Religion Around the World yet again highlights).

My own research, a few years ago now, was into single parents in evangelical churches. This noted how as most single parents with caring responsibilities are women for their situation to be noted and the issues of invisibility around them to be met there needs to be a focus more upon the laity. In addition to single parents I believe this kind of focus may also help carers, who are also more likely to be women.

For this to happen though there needs to be both a focus on the contribution of the laity but also the demands and issues outside church which the laity, particularly, face and which often have an invisibility within church. I am not so certain the latter will happen.

The reason for my concern that this new focus on the laity will not be as positive as it might be is twofold. The first reason is that I am not sure what the agenda behind this focus is. Is it a real concern for the laity or is looking in an age of increased cost-cutting in churches at how the resource of the laity are being and may be better harnessed and used?

The second reason for my concern is that I worry this push for the recognition of lay women may be coming for an academic or professional elite whose privilege means they are seeking for their “professional” contribution to be recognised.

Now I hope I am wrong, but perhaps I have been around the church too long and so am naturally cynical when I should be hopeful. I understand the system of gatekeeping which exists and who has the entry in the first place to get these types of discussions on the table.

The other reason for my cynicism is the fact I know it is often voices, such as my own, who use their DM’s to kick at doors asking for the recognition of the contribution of the laity.

I have done it a lot over the last few months as a lay chaplain. I am a member of the laity who has entered the “professional” world. I am there asking for my place as a professional to be recognised when people are saying that through initiatives like Chaplaincy Everywhere the role of lay chaplains as “part-timers” or more often “volunteers” is being recognised and valued by the church. I am there saying, yes and so it should be BUT for some of us lay ministry is our vocation and professional career and we want to be recognised on an equal basis to ordained people doing similar roles. We are not the same in one sense because we have taken a different route into this work but we want parity of esteem to exist and our training, experience, calling and the actual work we do to be acknowledged appropriately.

However, as we live in resurrection hope I am going to try and be less cynical and end by celebrating the signs of new life and the new recognition of lay people which is taking place this spring.