Saturday, April 23, 2016

Young Women: Your Call

I'm just home, happy and exhausted, from one of the most splendid things I've been part of here.


It all started (as far as we knew) a year ago, when to our delight Lis Goddard accepted an invitation to come and speak at the summer study day for the diocesan "Leading Women" course.

God, of course, had the whole thing in hand long before - but from our 
perspective, Ellie and I were just two of the women there who were challenged and disturbed by the statistics Lis shared about the sheer dearth of young women exploring ordained ministry in the Church of England. (For those who like facts and figures - under the age of 40 there are 4 men to every 1 woman! After 40, the gender balance reverses - make of that what you will)
Ellie is in the vocations business - and I (as you probably know if you're reading this) work in a cathedral - so by going home time that day we had hatched a plan for a vocations day for young women, to be held in Coventry Cathedral some time in the coming year.
What's more, several of the women at that study day expressed an interest in getting involved - and so Young Women, Your Call  was born.

 With a limited budget and the thought that we would be content with anything more than a dozen guests, and a hope of around thirty, we began to plan a day that would rely on the goodwill of our friends and families in doing all the "infrastructure" things - moving chairs, serving coffees et al.

Only, God had more than 30 people who needed to come...We watched in amazement as bookings mounted from 40 to 50 to ...shall we set a ceiling at 60?....but still they came.

And so today we welcomed 86 women, mostly aged between 15 and 35...and it was, in every possible sense, AWESOME.
To see the Cathedral so full of youth and energy and colour.
To hear wonderful stories of God's call - gentle, insistent, a whisper, a unmistakeable summons.
To marvel at the extraordinary women who are my colleagues in this diocese and beyond, who gave of their time and talents so generously to make the day happen
To rejoice in the way that God seemed to have called people from various points in my own story to be part of today too.

Our Opening Worship began with words that were printed on my Ember card
"One thing have I asked of the Lord, this is what I seek. That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the fair beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple"...
Words which took me back to the early days of my own calling - and to the wonderful ways in which I have been enabled to seek God in his temple...Yes, it was kind of emotional! 

And so the day unfurled. 
Wonderful keynote addresses from Bishop Anne Hollinghurst and Lis Goddard, precious conversations over lunch and coffee breaks, pleasure in hearing our guests bowled over by the attention to detail of the planning group, and by the beauty and story of our Cathedral.
There was laughter and some tears too - specially in the beautiful prayer space that Naomi had created.
There was incredulity that men in collars were willing and able to serve coffee for the women (little did they know that one of those men was a real live Archdeacon at that)!

I kept finding myself brushing up against my own story.  +Anne and Steve Hollinghurst first brought Taize worship to Greenbelt - where it has been a hugely important resource for me...Lis said something at a diocesan conference 4 years ago which specifically played into my ability to recognise some deep truths about my previous parish, which somehow freed me to move on...There were friends from Greenbelt and from On Fire, a much loved directee from Gloucester who will be deaconed at Petertide came with two young women from her church, an unexpected friend of my lovely DD appeared...One way and another, there was alot of retelling of my own story of calling going on in my head as the day went on - and it seemed that there were things from that story that were exactly what some of our guests needed to hear...

And - I got to be the represent the be endlessly thankful for the heroic efforts of our amazing collect the compliments about the share with unwary visitors who had no idea what they were coming to just what was going on, and to bask in their pleasure that the Cathedral was committed to encouraging the young to explore a lifetime in God's service...

So much loveliness - and best of all, as the day drew to a close it was given to me to preside at the Eucharist.
Always the time when I am most rooted in and thankful for my priesthood - but today with so many extra dimensions as I shared the Sacrament with our guests (thankful for the name badges which meant that I could do so for each of them by name)...listened to the sound of 100 women's voices sing Ally Barrett's wonderful hymn "Hope of our Calling", blessed them in God's name.

My heart is full of the names and stories of the day, of those to whom I ministered, and who ministered to me...
Thanks be to God!

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