Retelling others stories so that we can process our own. Believing that the trellis could be as beautiful as its vine.
Stories of a broken trellis are a series of anonymous accounts showing the impact of the “Blokes Worth watching” culture. These are written in response to an article written by Glen Scrivener in EN called “The Blokes Worth Watching Conveyer belt” depicting favoritism and elitism in the church. His examples are about a historic, specific situation. Yet the comments I’ve read and the experiences I’ve seen show that this is current and endemic. This is Karen’s story…
Blokes worth watching and disability
“That was really good for a disabled person!”
That’s a phrase I’ve heard a few times when I’ve spoken or done some training somewhere.
I hear it most in Evangelical Churches.
I’ve also not been allowed into a venue at a conference because “The speaker’s not here yet”….when I was the speaker.
As a woman in ministry, I find being female can be an issue. But, I find my disabilities to be an even greater issue.
I have much experience, a lot of qualifications, and yet I regularly get the totally amazed look that there’s actually a disabled person doing ministry stuff. Firstly because it’s rare in the Evangelical world and secondly because of the way disability is still viewed.
I’ve been brought up in ‘Evangelical Free’ churches. I still attend and am a mission partner in one and I’m grateful for the Biblical grounding those churches have given me, but reading Glen Scrivener’s article that mentions ‘Blokes Worth Watching’ (BWW), I saw that this wasn’t just an issue for women. It affects disabled people, those with additional needs and the vulnerable too.
For example; the style of mentoring these young men are given requires the ability to read. We recommend a book, which more often that not won’t be in an accessible format.
Whether they have a visual impairment, dyslexia, autism or any number of things that makes reading and comprehension hard, there is rarely any other style available for them.
As an aside, I once asked a couple of evangelical book shops if they had some specific theology books in an accessible format. One said “can’t your husband read it to you” and the other said no, “But we do have the wordless book (coloured pages to explain the Gospel) – would that work for you?”
I’ve always had a passion for making church more welcoming to children and young people who have additional needs or are disabled, as a result I trained as a children’s nurse in the area of disability and complex medical needs just so I could learn more.
Starting out in ministry as a children’s evangelist a few years later, I was advised not to go into the additional needs side of my work too much, but build a name for myself in ‘mainstream’ children’s evangelism first – so I could “gain the right to speak into this very specific ministry”. This was because I was a lone voice speaking into this area at the time and not being heard. It was also wise advice.
Being a woman, ‘building a name for myself’ wasn’t possible. This was mostly due to the BWW ethos and occasionally due to others who thought a woman shouldn’t be teaching about “The Cross”. (Somewhat crucial for an evangelist!)
Thankfully, I didn’t want a name for myself, so I wasn’t disappointed!
As a 14 year old on a camp for children with physical disabilities and life limiting illnesses, I could see there was a disparity between the way they were treated in a church compared to how other children and young people were treated.
Even today people in our churches will question me about how some of the children I work alongside can have a real faith. I even have my own faith called into question on occasion!
I often receive emails from families who have children with additional needs and have been asked to leave their church. These emails come from all denominations – but the larger bulk of them are Evangelical churches…. And I’ve never dared to say that publicly before.
The ‘Trellis’ that Glen speaks about isn’t just broken – it’s inaccessible.
It’s rare to find a BWW who has a disability. There maybe some who have hidden disabilities, but as soon as they become apparent – they are often no longer considered worth watching.
At a conference, where there was some discussion on how we mentor young people into leadership, I asked if anyone mentored disabled young people or those with additional needs. The question was greeted with blank looks, some goldfish like mouth movements and more than a few “err’s”.
I know many disabled young people and people with additional needs who have gifting in many areas of ministry and service. Most don’t believe they can serve because they see no one like them – and that is a very sad reflection on the church.
There are 1 in 5 disabled people in this country. It is the largest and most diverse diversity and rarely mentioned or talked about, and even then – not positively.
Even if the term ‘Women Worth Watching’ existed, I know I wouldn’t be on that list. Being disabled would be one issue, and the other one would be (and is) the fact I politely challenge how the church thinks about disability and ministry.
Read more accounts of others impacted by the BWW culture here.