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.

Celebrating eucharistic action: Dix’s purple passage

Fresco of a female figure holding a chalice from Catacomb of Saints Marcellinus & Peter in Rome
Fresco of a woman holding a chalice from Catacomb of Saints Marcellinus & Peter in Rome

“At the heart of it all is the eucharistic action, a thing of absolute simplicity—the taking, blessing, breaking and giving of bread and the taking, blessing and giving of a cup of wine and water, as these were first done with their new meaning by a young Jew before and after supper with His friends on the night before He died. He had told his friends to do this henceforward with the new meaning “for the anamnesis” of Him, and they have done it always since.

Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacles of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth.
People have found no better thing than this to do
  • for sovereigns at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold;
  • for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church;
  • for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; 
  • for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; 
  • for a school child sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America;
  • for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover;
  • in thankfulness because my mother did not die of pneumonia;
  • for a village chief much tempted to return to fetish because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna;
  • for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlements of a strike;
  • for a child for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so, wounded and prisoner of war;
  • while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre;
  • on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church;
  • tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows;
  • furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewed timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk;
  • gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc—one could fill many pages with the reasons why people have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them.
And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei— the holy common people of God.”

Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, London, 1945, p. 743, with a few changes I’ve made for the sake of a more inclusive language.

Professionally speaking

Sir Alex Ferguson: the consummate professional?
Sir Alex Ferguson: the consummate professional?

Professionally speaking: is that speaking well, or is that being paid for speaking?

Speaking well: is that speaking without hesitation, notes or blasphemy, or is it speaking truthfully?

In what sense has Sir Alex Ferguson been a professional football manager?

There is a sense of professionalism which comes from a realisation which is personally transformative and attitudinal. This is the sense which is behind the religious profession through which a person gives themselves utterly because of that realisation and profession. Here’s my starter for eight about such a professional life. Can anyone help me to make it a starter for ten?

  1. Professionals are driven by values that go to the core of their being. Their motivation comes from this inner sense of values.
  2. Professionals profess those values in their practice.
  3. Professionals enjoy their busyness when they can profess their faith, but become anxious when they lose sight of these guiding principles in their busyness – when practice prevents profession.
  4. Professionals are preoccupied by their profession at all times. They occasionally switch off when fully engaged by something else.
  5. Professionals choose an enabling lifestyle.
  6. Professionals develop disciplines to make themselves resourceful and effective.
  7. Professionals don’t count working hours or kill time. They are intrigued by opportunities. Kairos beats Chronos every time.
  8. Professionals cultivate their values as best friends. Continuing professional development is not an option but a natural course of action.

from Pope Francis’s first Chrism Mass sermon

“We need to “go out”, then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters …. giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all.

A priest who seldom goes out of himself [herself], who anoints little …. misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his [her] priestly heart. Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. ….

It is not a bad thing that reality itself forces us to “put out into the deep”, where what we are by grace is clearly seen as pure grace, out into the deep of the contemporary world, where the only thing that counts is “unction” – not function – and the nets which overflow with fish are those cast solely in the name of the One in whom we have put our trust: Jesus.”

These quotes are taken from a sermon preached by Pope Francis on Maundy Thursday 2013. The full text of Pope Francis’s sermon is here.


28 Farbenfroh
Chester Cathedral was the setting for a remarkable ordination service yesterday. All ordination services are remarkable.

The service begins with a reminder that God “calls his people to follow Christ, and forms us into a royal priesthood … to declare the wonderful deeds of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.” That “royal priesthood” is the church. “To serve this royal priesthood, God has given particular ministries. Priests are ordained to lead God’s people in the offering of praise and the proclamation of the gospel. They share with the Bishop in the oversight of the church, delighting in its beauty and rejoicing in its well-being.”

The prayer of the people is that “in their vocation and ministry each may be an instrument of your love” and then particularly “the needful gifts of grace” should be given to those being ordained.

Their responsibilities are spelt out.

  • Priests are called “to be servants and shepherds among the people to whom they are sent.”
  • “With their Bishop and fellow ministers, they are to proclaim the word of the Lord and to watch for the signs of God’s new creation.”
  • They are to be “messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord”.
  • “They are to teach and admonish, to feed and provide for his family, to search for his children in the wilderness of this world’s temptations, and to guide them through its confusions.”
  • They are to call people to repentance and declare “in Christ’s name the absolution and forgiveness of their sins”
  • “With all God’s people, they are to tell the story of Gods love.”
  • “They are to baptise new disciples”
  • “They are to unfold the scriptures, to preach the word in season and out of season …”
  • “They are to preside at the Lord’s table and lead his people in worship …”
  • “They are to bless the people in God’s name”
  • “They are to resist evil, support the weak, defend the poor, and intercede for all in need.””
  • “They are to minister to the sick and prepare the dying for their death.”
  • “Guided by the Spirit, they are to discern and foster the gifts of all God’s people, that the whole Church may be built up in unity and faith.”

A tall order.

But they and the church have every confidence that they are able to do it. There is a “Will you?”, and a response “By the help of God, I will.” There is a clear understanding that “they cannot bear the weight of this calling in their own strength, but only by the grace and power of God.” And there is a commitment made by the church to continually pray for them, and to “uphold and encourage them in their ministry”. The church praises God for giving “his gifts abundantly, to equip your holy people for the gift of ministry” and prays “Renew them in holiness and given them wisdom and discipline … In union with their fellow servants in Christ, may they reconcile what is divided, heal what is wounded and restore what is lost.”

This follows a previous post for those being ordained

Simon Marsh has also blogged about the ordination.

The photo is of the Creation Window in the Cathedral Refectory. The photo is by JuliaL49. The window was created by artist Ros Grimshaw. Its story is told here.

For those being ordained

Man on the beach head

I wanted to write a post for those who are being ordained at Chester Cathedral on Saturday. They are Avril Ravenscroft, Collette Jones, Grant Cohen, Heather Buckley, Heather Pang, Lorraine Reed, Nikki Eastwood, Patches Chabala, Paul Cumming, Rob Wardle, Sandra Langerhuizen, Stephen Callis, Steven Hildreth, Tim Watson and Trevor Legge. They will be preparing for this great event in God’s mission over the next few days. My own priesting was in Sheffield 38 years ago. I have to say that I am as enthralled today as I was then.

People are ordained as a response to vocation. This is a call for and in the church for the enabling of God’s mission. It is a call to the church that is heard within the church, and it is the church which tries to discern who is best to respond to that call and which then goes on to support and equip them. The discernment is concerned with whether the person has the gifts to minister to others given the needs of a situation in the capacity of an ordained minister or whether they are gifted for ministry in another form.

God’s call and his gifts are all God’s ministry to the world and his way of serving the needs of his creation. They are also God’s ministry to us personally. Ordination focuses on God’s ministry in and to his church, and on his ministry to and through us. The joy in this realisation is, for me, personified in the great laughter of Desmond Tutu.

Sadly, for all of us, the pressures and responsibilities can be overwhelming. Worldly pressures, anxiety and fear can be allowed to get the better of us. I joined this morning’s prayer of the church and read what Jesus said to his disciples. “Don’t worry about your life.” (Luke 12:22) I then joined the church’s response based on Psalm 73. “Lord, you will guide me with your counsel and afterwards receive me with glory. For I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.” (That has to be the left hand for those who are left handed).

This hand in hand counselling reminded me of the consultancy model painted by Charles Margerison as “arm in arm consulting”. There is considerable responsibility in ministry, but that responsibility is not given to us to overwhelm us or weigh us down. It is given in love and for love. Those with heavy burdens are invited to yoke themselves to Christ to make light work, to lighten heavy hands and hearts and to be blessed and blessing. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30). (Yoke and yoga have the same Sanskrit root denoting union).

Jan Richardson’s If the Yoke Fits would make a wonderful design for stoles or chasubles. The traditional yoked chasuble is a visual reminder of the light work of ordained ministry and God’s ministry to his ministers, ordained and lay.

Here’s the link to the Service of Ordination.

The photo is of one of Gormley’s figures in Another Place on Crosby beach. It is by Lou Murphy.

Jamie’s Great Britain

from Paddy’s Marten Inn, Leicester

I was intrigued by ideas of hospitality and celebration whilst watching Jamie Oliver on Channel 4 last night. I was wearing my metaphorical priest’s hat. Jamie gets everywhere on TV. The British public loves him for his energy and commitment. Last night’s programme focused on my home city, Leicester. Jamie’s comments began by highlighting the prospect of Leicester becoming the first UK city where the majority of the population is non-white. Jamie’s glass is definitely half-full and last night’s programme saw him at the asian veg stall on Leicester market and in the kitchen of Amita Mashru’s Gujerati restaurant eager to celebrate what immigrant communities have brought to us and our cooking and to celebrate the British achievement of entertaining different food cultures, and the spices of our foods picked up from different corners of the world.

Hospitality and celebration are central functions of ministry and defines the people of God, including Jews, Muslims and Christians, and other faith communities. Trace Hathorn reminds us that hospitality defines the people of God. He writes: 

The call to welcome the stranger is anchored in the Torah and was a part of themeasure of the Hebrew community’s faithfulness to God. When a traveler came totown, they waited by the well, and it was incumbent upon the townspeople tohouse and feed the visitor for the night.Of course, these travelers were rarelyfamily. … They were aliens, often foreigners, people who had different foods,different clothes, different languages, different gods. Opening one’s home wasrisky. Today we’d describe such a thing as out and out foolish. … Suchhospitality was central to the Hebrew identity. The risk did not define thepeople; their hospitality did, for they knew such hospitality was central tothe character of their God. The same was true in the early Christiancommunities. Paul reminded the Romans to offer hospitality to the alien, and inthe Letter to the Hebrews the people were reminded to show hospitality to allfor in so doing some entertained angels unaware. In Acts, the early deaconspracticed hospitality throughout the community, bringing welcome to those inneed. And in Matthew’s community, hospitality still measured the faithfulnessof the people. Welcoming prophets, righteous ones and disciples (those whomMatthew called “little ones”) was a disciplined practice of the young churches.

What seems to make Jamie such a good host and celebrant is his joie de vivre, the love of his subjects and his love of what people bring to the table. He seems convivial and congenial. Life tastes both bitter and sweet to Jamie’s palate, but his joy in that concoction is infectious. Being entertained and fed by Jamie is intriguing and is challenging my own hospitality and how I play the role of host.

>nobility and celebrity


'The Judgement of Solomon', oil on canvas painting by Gaetano Gandolfi, mid 1770s
The Judgement of Solomon by Gaetano Gondolfi
(mid 1770’s) reminds us of the wisdom by which Solomon
achieved his noble status. The story is told in I Kings. It
reads like a plotline from Eastenders!

I didn’t know that “noble” literally means “known” – and so “nobility” is a community of persons who have become knowable because of the quality of their lives. Celebrity should similarly be the status of those whose lives are worth celebrating. Through the media (deserved?) we celebrate those who have achieved celebrity status through their ignobility – in spite of their lack of talent and human qualities.

Conversation with friends yesterday led us to reflect on Hitler who we saw as a good leader turned bad. A noble leader turned tyrannical monster. In that he is not alone. Michael Sadgrove, in considering the life of Solomon in Wisdom and Ministry, reflects on the processes and temptations for the noble of “grandiosity”. We know that nobility and grandiosity often go together. It is wisdom that keeps them apart.

Sadgrove writes: “The temptation is to stand as tall as we can so that we fill the institution we lead. Yet Jesus says that true greatness means becoming like a little child. This suggests that true ‘standing’ means not filling the space ourselves but making room for others.”

I shall reflect on how I have become known – how I may even be noble. I shall confess my ignoble sins of grandiosity. The ways of Hitler and Solomon lie open before us.


>One hat I wear is supoporting “ministry review” – very different from “appraisal” which appraises past perfromance. Ministry review is so future orientated that they’ve decided to put a capital D between the words Ministry and Review to emphasise that it is a developmental tool. I came across this quote when reading the excitingly tilted “Ministry Development Review: Interim Guidance” from the United Church of America (as opposed I suppose to the other churches of America which aren’t united). Here’s the quote:

Evaluation is natural to the human experience.

Evaluation is one of God’s ways of bringing the history of the past into dialogue with the hope for the future.

Without confession of sin there is no reconciliation;

without the counting of blessings there is no thanksgiving;

without the acknowledgement of accomplishments there is no celebration;

without awareness of potential there is no hope; without hope there is no desire for growth;

without desire for growth the past will dwarf the future.