Why a BUGB women's event? Why invite BUS and BUW women? Why invite only ordained women and women ministerial students? These are good questions, and among them questions we looked at briefly yesterday as we pondered the future of the event.
The event was begun by women BUGB ministers (BUS ones didn't exist back then) around 20 years ago because many of them experienced isolation, prejudice and derision . Convinced of their divine calling, ordained and accredited by BUGB for decades (since the late 1920s), they remained a tiny minority, mostly serving small, struggling churches in tough places or planting new churches in inner-cities. The group was a much-needed safe space to whinge - it was and remains a 'grass roots' initiative, for which BUGB do the admin. By the time I began attending, there were 88 women in pastorates in BUGB, far less than 5% of BUGB churches, plus students, retireds and chaplains. The group had by then matured and whilst it still gave space for moans and groans this was no longer its purpose. As it happens, the first gathering I attended was one of those disasters through which God is able to bring good! Rescued from disaster by some quick thinking, the event in its current format emerged and has existed for around a decade.
The meeting has always included some multi-sensory or creative worship, pretty mainstream now, sure, but not the case even a decade ago. How many of us have been chastised for using candles or symbols or colouring or movement or dance in services?! There is also, almost always, some input on themes suggested by the past year's attenders... preaching or mission or accountability or safety or whatever. Now, with around 250 women on BUGB's books (seemingly tripling in the last ten years) plus a few from BUW and BUS, the time was ripe for a bit of review.
Among the things that emerged yesterday are these two.
Firstly someone agreed to develop a questionnaire to be circulated to all BUGB women ministers (BUS and BUW are not being exlcuded but are there as welcomed guests) to ascertain their views on the future of the event. We know some will never go to a single gender event, to something north of Watford, let alone Watford Gap, to something that is not explicitly required, to something that is not explicitly developmental or devotional or whatever. But we acknowledge the need to sound people out, not simply assume. If 'only' 25 people want it, are willing to pay for it and organise it, it will happen; even if it is a minority within a minority, it has value. I don't evny those doing the work of canvassing views, but thank them for it.
Secondly, we agreed that the time was right for us to begin to think what we could offer to the wider BUGB world (presumably indirectly to BUS and BUW and beyond) from our experiences. For example, are there distinctives in the way we minister that offer alternatives to the 'received wisdom' and which might be helpful for men too? I have a feeling that multi-sensory worship might be an unnamed case-in-point as I've been doing it, albeit originally in Girls' Brigade, for more than 30 years. But other areas too - admin, meetings, preaching, mission etc. etc. As part of the work for my mentoring module, I did some reading on cross-gender mentoring of and by women (I have to be careful otherwise I inadvertently say trans-gender mentoring which would be something quite different!!) as well as on same-gender mentoring for and by women. Might there be some pointers here that would be helpfully considered by BUGB et al? I would have to say, I think that to a degree this gathering serves as female-pattern mentoring (if there's such a thing).
All the reading I do says that women don't like being stereotyped (so that's a stereotype too) and assert that personality is more significant than gender. I'm not sure it's an avenue that I can be bothered to explore, but it is reasonable to say that some of what is true for many/some/most women may also be true for few/some/many men. If this group can offer to the wider Baptist world some helpful insights that further God's work, which is what it's all about anyway, then that's a good thing.
Some women will need or want a group like this for a reason, season or lifetime. Some will never need or want it. Any of these is fine. None of them is reason for anyone to impose it upon, or deny it to, others. That it remains an open network, welcoming those who choose to attend for whatever reason, is key to its purpose.
Why do I go? Because I can, because I enjoy it, because even at its worst it is a God-given space for people who happen to be women ministers simply to be.
PS Why invite BUS and BUW women... does that really need an answer? Because they're there of course!