With the first chapter titled Unmumsy and Unvicary, and another Prayer and Prosecco, it is clear from the outset that Jules Middleton’s new book will not conform to any stereotypes of what it might actually mean to be a ‘ministry mum’.
Jules is a vicar in Lewes with three children. She came to faith and ministry, “someone with a misspent youth, a ranty tendency, with piercings and tattoos to boot” partly through the words of a double-glazing salesman, a story she shared in a brilliant Twitter thread earlier this year.
She is one of the now thousands of ordained women in the Church of England, many with children (although, as she says, the URC have had female clergy for 100 years, and she makes a great effort not to make this a book exclusively for the Anglican context). This is the first book focused on the very specific challenge of fulfilling a public spiritual role as a woman with children – and Jules tackles some enormous issues with humour, personality and great grace.
Using her own stories and experiences she addresses head-on questions of wellbeing, identity, conventions, expectations, and the endless balancing act she describes as the ‘Jesus Jenga Juggle’.
There is much wry and practical wisdom in these pages that would apply to all church ministers with children, although perhaps fewer male clergy receive comments on the door as she has, like “it must be so hard for you preaching all morning then heading home to cook for your family”.
Many women in a public Christian leadership role will have examples of unthinking or generational ‘everyday sexism’, but they are far from the focus here. You don’t have to be a ministry mum to enjoy tips like having a regular ‘WFOS’ diary appointment (‘With Family On Sofa’).
Jules has interspersed her words with first-person stories from a huge diversity of mums in ministry. The breadth of their experience is striking, and a reminder of how much we have to learn from others. It is always good to read a book which looks outside itself, and this is one which is generous in its signposting, full of pointers on where to find out more.
Most moving is when Jules describes serving communion, comforting a family in grief, and how particular words and scriptures have impacted her identity and ministry. They demonstrate the extent of God’s calling on her life, and prove that being a mum in ministry is an integral part of this. As she puts it:
“This isn’t a book about feminism. It’s a book about living out God’s calling wholeheartedly. It’s a book about women doing amazing things for the kingdom of God, ministering across the breadth and diversity of Christ’s Church in so many different ways. It’s a celebration of the women who have gone before us and a rally cry to those yet to come. It’s a book for ministry mums who are battle-scarred and weary, and those who are just beginning to explore what a mutual calling might mean for them.”
Breaking the mould could inspire you to consider your own story of ministry. It is refreshing and bright, a tonic, and not just for ministry mums.
Laura Treneer is Chief Listening Office for CPO (Christian Publishing & Outreach) and author of the Reach Out series of books on church communications, published by BRF
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