Obviously, you recognise my quotation from Psalm 121:
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
And of course, as a Christian, I look to the LORD when things are difficult and when I need help. But God uses other people to provide some of the human comfort and support I need in my Christian life and in our ministry. One of the ways that we can get that support is through formal support structures.
The other day I had a leaflet in the post about ‘Clergy Spice’, which is a programme of events run through the year by our diocese for clergy spouses. The admirable wives of our bishops and archdeacons and a few others run this and also produce a Clergy Families handbook.
But I must confess that I have never been to one of their events, but not because I don’t need support. The thing is that I already had some great support structures in place before we came to Lichfield Diocese.
Apart from my wonderful husband, who helps and encourages me daily, I am involved in three groups that enable me to share the joys and frustrations of Christian life in safety and support.
The oldest group dates back to before I even met the Vicar. I was in my early twenties and was invited by a few girlfriends to join them on a weekend away. That group met initially for some talks on the Christian life and to pray together. Twenty years later, nearly all of us are still meeting twice a year and continuing to pray for one another (we circulate a prayer letter three times a year). Not all of us are married or in paid Christian work (or married to people that are), but as the years have passed, this group has delighted us all more and more as we’ve seen the Lord’s work in us and through us.
The second support structure I tap into is the Proclamation Trust Minister’s Wives conference. I started attending these when the Vicar was still in training, and I find the refreshment of three nights away with some excellent bible teaching a great tonic. That’s the place where I catch up with folk from theological college days and make new friends who are in similar situations. Last year I was very encouraged to meet someone whose husband is in a small Black Country church like ours. Because we are in different dioceses we’d never come across each other, but the conference enabled us to share some of our experiences. I have other Vicar’s wife friends who go along to the New Wine Women in Leadership conferences, which are similarly encouraging (but possibly with a bit more singing!).
The third ministry support structure I’m involved in is an annual reunion of the group who left Oak Hill Theological College in the same year as us. I organise this and last year we held it here in our parish. Less travelling but more catering responsibility! The first couple of years after we left a pretty large group of us gathered but in subsequent years there have been fewer folk, but always at least 15 of us, including children. We meet, share something of what has been going on in our churches, eat, go for a walk and then pray and break bread together. Alongside the meet-up I nag everyone to send prayer and praise requests, so we also have an annual prayer letter which helps folk just to feel in touch as well as pray for one another. Writing this reminds me that I need to get an email out this week about the reunion and prayer letter – we’re meeting in less than a month!
I guess I also use social media (Twitter and Facebook) for support. Last week I mentioned on Facebook that I was thinking about whether to change our Sunday school resources and I had some wonderful help from friends who’ve been (or are now) in similar quirky churches with fluctuating Sunday schools.
So I feel I’m blessed to be pretty content with my support structures. I know that I have enough discreet people who know me well who I could turn to if things were sticky in parish or just if I felt fed up. But I know that others struggle in this area. I was interested by some comments on Twitter recently from folk (I think mainly ordinands’ wives) who felt a need for some better support.
Where do you find your support in ministry? I notice that there doesn’t seem to be a non-evangelical equivalent of the Proc Trust or New Wine. Are non-evangelicals less good at networking and supporting one another? Or is it a personality thing? Are there other conferences out there if your diocese isn’t running things or they aren’t convenient for you? Maybe I’ll see you at the Proc Trust conference in March. But book soon – they sold out last year!