The spaces in between

For the last four years, alongside my role at the University of Roehampton, I’ve been working in Circuit in Warwickshire, undertaking a number of pastoral roles. It is an understatement to say that Circuit ministry during that time has been a tad challenging. Even before the global pandemic took hold sixteen months ago, Circuits were facing diminishing resources, shortages of clergy and volunteers, and the increasing demands of governance, reporting and compliance. Put simply, Methodism entered the covid-crisis in pretty bad shape and lockdown has been far from kind.

I’ve already shared some of my own struggles over the last year or so, including bereavement and a surprising discovery of neurodivergence. For these, and other reasons, I felt there was no alternative but to suspend my doctoral studies for a year to allow some space to deal with stuff. Meanwhile, of course, life has gone on and I have learnt to work remotely with colleagues at Southlands and around the world via zoom, as well as try to offer what pastoral leadership I could within the Circuit. With the superb leadership team and members of Dignity and Worth, we overcame our disappointment at the decision to defer decisions about marriage until the Methodist Conference of 2021 and worked hard to maintain the momentum for change within the church. It paid off in the overwhelming votes achieved and the subsequent very positive press. Of course, whilst important, the Conference decisions are only the first steps and there is much more work to do to implement them in local churches. No wonder I feel a bit weary as I write this!

One of the more positive aspects of the enforced recent lockdowns has been the chance to take some quality time to reflect on life more deeply. My own focus was on vocation, how it had lead me to this point and where it might be leading me next. It became a very rich vein to tap and I began to see how the different facets of my calling fitted together. I also reflected on the responsibility given to me to discern with others the particular places and roles where this calling might be fulfilled, in the new context of a growing understanding of my neurodivergence and how it affected the way I live, relate and minister to others.

As the end of lockdown approached back in May, it became increasingly plain that a return to the full range of pre-pandemic activities would not be possible. One of the hardest lessons of ADHD is the need to create structures and frameworks to aid focus and then to stick to them! The second hardest is learning to leave gaps in the framework and to resist the urge to schedule every minute. I reckon it’s a bit like planning a car journey and making sure you factor in stops for rest and refuelling. My pre-covid pattern had consisted of too many journeys without stops, leading to periods where I had completely run out of juice and was forced onto the hard shoulder.

Working in a number of part-time roles also meant that things often spilled over and it was hard to recover the balance. I have long advocated for the Methodist Church to increase the availability of part-time, shared and flexible ministerial appointments to allow a much greater diversity of people to offer their gifts to local Circuits. I see now that this involves much more than agreeing the amount of stipend and the days of work. There is a need for a change in mindset that encourages members to see the ordained minister as one of a range of ministers, all with particular gifts to be used in focussed ways, rather than the first port of call ,always available whatever the need. My own experience suggests that local members are reluctant to make the change, preferring to use clergy increasingly as a triage service to decide how best to respond to each and every situation. The idea that there will be times when the ordained will not be available each week feels like removing a safety net.

I have also begun to notice that, where I have been able to stop, the result has been an outburst of creativity. It occurred to me that, in the past, it has been in those times when I was externally constrained by a lack of energy, wifi or movement (especially on a longhaul flight!) that my brain seemed to unfurl life a flower in the sunlight. Coming out of this lockd