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Going Deeper - with Elizabeth Fry

Four more weeks of 'heroes' to ponder...

My Own Story

There are almost two distinct stories to be discovered here.  The public life of the Quaker evangelist and prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry.  The private life of Betsy Gurney, a woman afflicted by anxiety and depression, and whose marriage and family life was complex and challenging 

  • Do I have different ‘personas’ in different contexts, such as home, work, clubs, church? How open am I able to be about the ‘real me’ in any of these contexts?
  • Mental health is still something of a ‘taboo’ in churches. What do I learn from stories such as that of Betsy about myself or others?  How should we as Christians respond?
  • Betsy faced the challenge of combining motherhood (to 11 children!) with incredibly demanding prison reform work, often travelling away from home. In what ways is that similar to, or different from, my experience, or that of young families today?  How might we support, or be supported in this juggling act?  

Faith and Unbelief

Betsy and her sisters hated going to Meeting, frequently recording in their journals, “Goats was dis” (disgusting) yet they continued to attend diligently.  The death of her mother when she was just 14 challenged Betsy’s belief in God, and she did not consider herself very religious until her dramatic conversion.  Thereafter she became ‘enthusiastic’ (not a compliment in those days) and failed to understand why her siblings did not feel as she did.

  • Does the idea of church as boring/irrelevant resonate with me, or with my children? How do I respond to that? What might church offer, and what might I offer to help?
  • How do we make space for children and young people to ask tough questions about faith?
  • Have I ever been like Betsy, a new convert (whether to Christianity or a lifestyle practice) and wondered why other people don’t feel the same? How do I/we support and encourage new believers and help them to mature in faith and practice?

Joined-up Thinking

From small beginnings in Newgate Prison, the work of Elizabeth Fry grew exponentially, its effects still being seen to this day.  She soon realised that what she was doing in the prison was of limited value without follow up outside of it, exemplified by her work with women being transported to Australia, who she supplied with sewing materials to begin a simple trade, and, later, with sponsors/mentors to help them transition to their new life.  This joined-up thinking maximised the benefits of the work begun in prison.   

  • Thinking of one cause that is close to my own heart, how deeply do I think about how to maximise the long-term benefit of my input? Do I offer ‘sticking plaster’ responses?  Do I seek to give ‘fish or fishing rods’?  Am I alert to the complexities and need for joined-up thinking?  

Elizabeth, Betsy or Both?

Elizabeth and Betsy are, of course, the same person, but each emphasis brings unique insights.   

  • Which aspects of this story have touched me, and how? What have I learned from ‘Elizabeth’ and from ‘Betsy’ and how might I integrate those in my own story?

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