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 is a series of anonymous blogs 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”. Glen’s article depicts favouritism and elitism in the church. His examples are historic and specific, yet the comments I’ve read and the experiences I’ve seen show that this is current and endemic. Each account so far is from a different UK church network. Here is Kate’s story.
On worth and watching
I’m not entirely sure how I ended up at theological college. It was somewhat against the odds. I wasn’t a Bloke Worth Watching – and I wouldn’t have been a girl worth watching either. Too much input required.
So in as much as I was useful I was used – when I fractured I was swept out with the trash. That was my experience of church-based ministry.
You see, when I was barely out of adolescence, I learnt the hard way that working within a faith community is precarious. When it goes awry, you may lose everything. By the second time I experienced this, it was hard not to assume I was the problem. Perhaps, reading this, your instinct is to suspect I was.
Despite this, I couldn’t shake the conviction that Jesus was different – kinder and safer than the churches I’d known. I wanted to learn how we might do church better. I needed to know if the Jesus I thought I’d known could be trusted. That was what led me to theological college.
I arrived close to (not quite) wrong everything. Wrong gender, wrong school, wrong church background (mostly), wrong summer camp/events, wrong hometown… I could go on.
It had never occurred to me that you might read Calvin’s books (though I was at least aware he existed). I knew there was another Martin Luther, though I was hazy on the details. As for Augustine, that would be a stretch. I started college already behind.
I also felt chronically uneasy, surrounded by men who could physically dominate me. They did nothing to warrant that, but as a girl who wasn’t worth watching, I felt on constant display.
By my final year, I was sometimes the only woman in a room of twelve or thirteen men. I did not enjoy this dynamic – I was glad whenever a female lecturer came to join us.
But these weren’t the dominant threads. The brighter thread throughout was kindness, shown by staff and students alike. The principal, at that time, had a habit of dignifying each and every student’s questions – however inane, he never made you feel small. He found the value within the question, and taught a bigger lesson about kindness besides. In that small way, he created a context of safety.
I’d spend some hours with him over the years. Some, more anxious than others – but he was perceptive, gentle and unfailingly kind.
For a while, his kindness frightened me. I didn’t know where it was headed. I knew I was not a girl worth watching, but I was aware that he was watching me.
Later he’d apologise for this. Not because his kindness was anything but, but because he realised of his own accord it might have scared me. Now I might call this mentoring – back then I couldn’t see why he’d invest in me.
On days when I wondered if I belonged at college at all, he and I spoke at length about what makes an individual worthy of investment in a Christian framework. For him, it was more about whose I was, than whether I was value added. This alone meant I was worth watching. His kindness to me (and others) was rehumanising in the deepest sense.
“Value added” has been shown to be a terrible model for evaluating teachers – it’s just as bad for evaluating whom we should train for ministry. Productivity is not our ultimate end. Finiteness is inevitable, not inadmissible. A leader unaware of their limits will be a bad one. These principles I learned at college, from him.
Neither he, nor college got everything right. Some mistakes were costlier than others. But they apologised, and it was life-giving.
There are clearly problems with how some in my context have failed to value, train and enable women in ministry, and with what we’ve valued most in leaders across the board. I see glimmers of change, but we’re still a way from where we should be. But these problems are not unique to one particular strand of evangelicalism”
Outside my church network, it’s often assumed my time at college must have been terrible. My experience is mine alone, but for me, this does not ring true. In fact, I was treated far better at college than by churches at both ends of the evangelical spectrum. In those churches, I encountered “kindness” you wouldn’t recognise as such. “Kindness” that broke me into a thousand pieces.
Earlier, in a church that wouldn’t own the term, I’d known another Bloke Worth Watching. Nothing he would do to me mattered more than that. They said, “He was trying to be kind” and then, “but he got in over his head.” I didn’t have words for it then, but I learnt his career mattered more than my wellbeing. He was celebrated whilst his fingerprints still burned on my skin.
The churches I told later were more concerned about my orthodoxy & their productivity, than about his predation. My questions and I were in the way, and I was told not to come back. He was still the Bloke Worth Watching – I was the girl whose shame needed to be kept out of sight.
It was at college I began to relearn what kindness means. I was given space to grow, and ask questions. I was watched and gently pieced back together – though I didn’t think I was worth watching. It was partial, sometimes clumsy, but a start.
If we wish to be a community that values women, we must relearn what makes any one of us worth watching, and let that sink deep under our skin. We must also learn to listen better to different voices, not only those with whom we feel at ease. We must learn that we’re not the arbiters of who is worth watching – the watcher of all has dignified us each, beyond price.
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.