Looking through the round window
We live in our own house, not a church manse. Why? Because I’m called to work on a housing estate under the umbrella of Urban Expression. What this means in practice is that I’m not paid, nor do I have a manse, but I am supported in my ministry by my husband who is a GP. As team leaders of a team of two, we are just starting out on our journey as pioneers with just a few role models to look to, and a mentor who has been in pioneer ministry for years.
Living in a ‘non-manse’ house means that we don’t have to let everyone on the estate know where we live which gives us a degree of privacy. However, because we live in the ‘posh’ houses (in reality a 1930s 3 bed semi) down the road, we might not get many visitors anyway. Another positive side to not living in a church manse is that we don’t have any well meaning church member breathing down our necks about usage of the church manse, as a church minister might have. Now I’m sure that this may not have happened in practice but I’ve been a member of a traditional Baptist church for nearly 20 years and have been in enough meetings to know how the conversations might go.
Therefore, when we wanted to offer safe house accommodation to a single mum and her two young girls, because they were in danger of her violent and abusive father when he escaped from prison, we could do this without a second thought. Any qualms had already been prayed over and we had discussed our own safeguarding measures: at no time would my husband or 14 year old daughter be left on their own with her or the children, to safeguard her and them. My 18 year old son was in New Zealand at the time, so we had the extra bedroom.
Along this journey with the young mum, I have shared, without breaking confidences, with my spiritual director who has been a senior pastor of a large church and a district minister. Specifically, I shared my concerns about the effect on my family. He shared how he and his wife had offered floor space, over time, to seventeen homeless young men, whilst their boys were young. He was pleased to say that it had not had any adverse effect on them at all. This really helped in a number of ways as I was able to put into perspective other concerns that I had had about appropriate boundaries and what my fellow ministers might or might not do in the same circumstances. We were able to relax because we had discussed safeguarding issues thoroughly and made ourselves accountable to others for what was happening in our family’s life. We were also aware of potential risks to our marriage, having been told of another minister who had had a relationship with the young vulnerable woman he and his wife had taken into their home. We had talked about all of the risks as far as we could see them and felt that we’d covered all bases. I’m very pleased to say that there have no problems at all with the decision we took to open our home to this vulnerable family for a time.
‘Manse life’ for us therefore, is very different. We pay all our bills and expenses and have no second income which would certainly come in useful. However, it means that we have a degree of freedom to use our house as we think is appropriate, taking into account proper and safeguarding parameters. We have hosted this particular family many times; overnight, for bacon sandwiches and walks with our dog Hope, having the children for tea after school, and last year for Christmas dinner. We are hoping to open our home for life groups in the future and will continue to support whoever comes our way.
I would encourage others who are thinking about pioneer ministry to look at how they support others through a different window (think of the 1970s TV programme Play School
). Instead of looking through the ‘square’ window, looking out from a church building, walk amongst the people on the streets, on the estates and look through the ‘round’ window at their lives in context. Be with them, where they are, walk the journey of their lives.
There is a North American Indian saying that you cannot know about a man’s life unless you walk a mile in his shoes? Yes absolutely. Watch the Ken Loach film ‘I Daniel Blake
’. Despite travelling a totally different path this year with my new friends on the estate, I cried through this film. We have no idea. This is what they can’t teach you as an MIT. This is what Jesus would have done.
The writer of this article wishes to remain anonymous.
The aim of Manse Life is to raise the profile of what personal life is like for a minister, and ground it in reality. We are doing this because ministry life is unique. There are incredible joys, amazing privileges, and inspiring times. These are all brilliant. There is also heartache; fear, frustration, loss, relocation to name a few and there is often no recourse for these feelings. By providing an outlet for people to write constructively about their personal experiences at home and church and share these in a positive environment we believe will bring hope and a sense of perspective. It will help people feel less isolated, to find common ground, to reflect, provoke thought, spur faith, share ideas and best practice, and to raise a smile.
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