For minister Sophie Bannister, every Sunday is “Bring Your Child to Work Day” which create some unique challenges. Here she reflects on her two vital callings; motherhood and ministry - and asks which comes first?
Have you ever taken part in a “Bring Your Child to Work Day”? For most people, it’s a one-off event that everyone accepts will be more fun and less productive than usual. Just imagine what it would be like if on a day when you had to look smart and actually get some work done (including public speaking and some conversations that require concentration and tact) you had children with you. For an Anglican minister like me, every Sunday is “Bring Your Child to Work Day”!
Many of the challenges faced by female clergy with children are common to working mums everywhere; we need sensible maternity policies, flexible working hours, and sympathetic employers, but I think this particular quirk must be unique to church leaders. It means that a certain amount of my parenting happens in public. It also means that I am regularly confronted with the question: in this moment, am I a minister first, or a mother first?
I do not always know how to answer this question. The congregation are often none the wiser, either. What do you do when, as you enjoy some “adult time” chatting after a service (perhaps having handed your child to your spouse for a few minutes), you are addressed with horror: “But where’s the baby?” I forget now how I replied to this question (I was sleep deprived at the time), but sometimes I have fun trying to think of some possible answers.
I am regularly confronted with the question: in this moment, am I a minister first, or a mother first?
My children – quite rightly – are either unaware of any boundaries between “family time” and “work time”, or, if they are aware, prefer to disregard them. So what do you do when your child starts yelling “Mummy!” while you are presiding at Holy Communion? Or wants to join you at the microphone during the prayers? How do you manage when they are finding it hard to settle in a children’s group when you are down to preach? And how will you respond if others find the way you handle these things difficult?
As I try to hold ministry and motherhood together, I find the following to be simple but true: sometimes it will work, and sometimes it won’t. Generally speaking, three scenarios are likely. First, ministry and motherhood blend seamlessly, such as at our toddler group, where I can spend time with my youngest while also getting to know local parents. Second, motherhood takes priority over ministry, such as when I leave church early to take a child home because they can’t wait for their nap any longer. Third, ministry takes priority over motherhood, such as when I sacrifice quality time with my family for a pastoral conversation that really cannot wait. In all this, I hold onto the fact that God has called me to both motherhood and ministry, and I trust that he will strengthen and guide me as I navigate the joys and challenges that come with both.
I hold onto the fact that God has called me to both motherhood and ministry, and I trust that he will strengthen and guide me as I navigate the joys and challenges that come with both.
So if you have a “working mum” leader in your church family, let me encourage you to be prayerful and creative in discerning how you can best support her. Could you be someone she could trust to look after her child while she navigates a diary clash? She might value a meal dropped round in the week she has two funerals. I can guarantee she will appreciate you turning a blind eye whenever her child plays up at church. Recently someone offered (very tactfully) to weed my front garden. It was one of the most encouraging gifts from God I’ve ever received!
Sophie Bannister has contributed a chapter on priesthood and motherhood to new book God’s Church for God’s World (ivp), you can buy a copy here.