Doula dos and dupes …. and ministry

Doula (L) with newborn and mother.jpg
Doula (L) with newborn and mother” by TheLawleys – Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

What do clergy do? Well, the joke goes that they work on Sundays. And they joke when someone thoughtlessly asks “what are you doing for Christmas”. Whatever they do puts clergy on top of the pile when it comes to job satisfaction.

What do clergy do, especially when it looks like nothing? That’s the title of an excellent book on ministry by Emma Percy that leaves the impression that clergy should actually find it difficult to answer the question, “what do clergy do?” It’s a reminder, for Emma, of what many mothers ask at the end of a busy day – “What have I done all day?” They don’t see the answer themselves. In fact, they have done a lot but it feels like nothing.

What does a doula do? That was a man question on Radio 5 yesterday as Nicky Campbell asked a doula from Somerset what she did. She found it difficult to answer. She tried. “A doula does a whole range of things”, she said. “She is just there”, she said. She is there for the family, helping women to have the birth they want. I got the impression that a doula can’t narrow their job to one thing, or the other, or the many – but only the every thing that is needed. And Nicky Campbell asked, “what does a doula do in the birthing room?” “Well” she said. “Sometimes I do nothing, or knit and drink tea, sometimes I give massage for 15 hours at a time – whatever is needed.”

And that is what a doula does. And that is what a minister does. And that is what anyone does who respects the life-giving power of another. Here’s how another doula explains that a doula is “somebody on the journey who will be there for you no matter what”. “Rather Christ-like” is what I have to say, and, rather overwhelmed with the obsession with leadership talk as I am, I’d also want to say that it’s a view of ministry in which leadership talk is laid to rest in wisdom and helpfulness.

The word “doula” originates in the ancient Greek word δούλη which is the feminine form of “slave”. The doula is non-technical, non-medical – her only qualification is her experience as a woman and her willingness to share her practical wisdom.

Shiphrah (her name means “brightness”) and Puah (her name means “splendid”) are outstanding women who get a mention in Exodus 1:15-20. They are really doulas, although they are known as midwives who trick the Pharoah and resist his final solution to the Hebrew problem. He ordered them to kill the boy babies but Shiphrah and Puah have a reverence for life and carry on their work of bringing life into the world. They show themselves as wise women and they show the Pharoah up as totally stupid. Ackerman writes that rather than cower before the most powerful man on earth they “defend themselves with straight faces against Pharoah’s charge of insubordination. Their lives are at stake, and yet their sly comparison between the vigorous Hebrew women and the pampered Egyptians comes through as totally credible to the ‘wise’ king: ‘Oh yes, of course, that would be a problem, wouldn’t it?’ There is a great relish in this uneven conflict between the effete elite and the crude, but shrewd, vital, and resourceful, oppressed. The king fails to realise that not only is he being deceived, but he is also being mocked.”

That’s what doulas can do. That’s what ministers can do – but never just that.