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 favouritism 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 across the church. Each account so far is from a different UK church network.
I am a 45 year old woman of mixed African descent. Around 2004 my vicar encouraged me to commence theological training as he thought I had Bible-teaching gifts. I did enrol at a theological college on a non-accredited basis for three years, but did not pursue a formal qualification for childcare reasons. I thought I could do this a few years later on.
But in 2006 we joined a new church, which was, unbeknown to me, strictly male-leadership only. Women are not allowed to lead worship or to teach mixed-gender small groups. Over and over, I noticed that the people who were selected for ministry training were white middle-class men. They were fast- tracked into senior staff positions and given opportunities to lead and preach even prior to any theological training. Women and black people were largely ignored.
For example, a few years ago a new family joined. The husband/dad was known to our vicar because of his close association with the camps Glen Scrivener mentions in his article. On the first day the new family attended, the vicar and two associate ministers made a point of welcoming them exceptionally warmly. To my knowledge, no other new joiners had been given such a welcome. Within a few months, the dad was preaching at our church and leading a small group. A fast-tracking because the dad of that family was in the right ‘club’.
I have been in the same small group since 2006. I love the Bible and am more than capable of leading a small group study, yet am not allowed to do this because I am female. By contrast, untrained men are routinely invited to lead small groups and to teach in the church. My small group leader has on more than one occasion thanked me for my contribution to the discussion, yet it has never occurred to him that I would be able to lead, and indeed that it might be good for the group to get a different perspective.
Recently I thought about registering for theological training. This is mainly because, in the past year, I have started writing freelance for Christian publications and teaching the Bible informally to a group of students outside the church. The application to start training requires the consent of my vicar. Sadly, he refused, mainly because he said that he has no knowledge of my Bible-teaching skills. He has asked me to wait a year before he revisits the issue of theological training as he says he wants an opportunity to look at some of the work I’ve been doing. This is fair enough, but my small group leader was also present at the meeting. He has first-hand experience of my biblical knowledge, he knows I have been teaching a group of students outside the church and is also aware that I write theological articles (he’d even read one). Yet it had never crossed his mind that I’d be a good candidate for theological training. He’d just never seen me that way. This is probably because there’s a policy of mentoring men and ignoring women for bible-teaching purposes.
In our church women are routinely invited to serve by making meals or teaching Sunday school. There is a women’s fellowship which meets regularly to learn together. The women learn books of the Bible like Esther or Ruth, while the men’s group learns Romans or themes like God’s sovereignty and human free will. No prizes for guessing which group I want to join ha ha.
This is where the rubber hits the road. The so-called biblical picture of man and womanhood has been distorted to become a means of silencing women and keeping them from learning in ways which Paul never intended. How could Paul have meant that women should not lead at all when it’s clear from Romans 16 that they did? How do we reconcile such seeming conflicts in the Bible unless we are willing to read the text with open minds without preconceptions passed on by respected church leaders?
I love my church and believe that God has placed me here for a purpose. It saddens me that the leaders do not see me and value my gifts, but I know ultimately that it is God who chooses, and I’m trusting Him to set before me an open door that no-one can shut.
Read more accounts of others impacted by the BWW culture here.
Nay has written a response to Glen Scrivener’s article in August’s edition of Evangelicals Now, read it here.