Occassionally, very occassionally I get a glimpse of why my research might matter. No, I don’t mean in terms of it being a significant piece of work….I am not an academic and am more than realistic about why my limitations mean that my academic work may not get a wide hearing. In fact, from that point of view, my blog is more important….it is read by a few people each day and the odd reader who may be jogged to think occassionally by my ramblings. Additionally, I know that my blog is v. occassionally read by the sort of people who can put stuff into practice and have some kind of influence to get people to think about change. However, I’m truly rambling again and the “Why I’m Here” title this morning relates to the research not the blog.
The research I’m doing into the experience of single parents in evangelical churches matters I believe because it is about an important subject and it is about a subject that relates to mission and internal beliefs and understandings.
To reiterate the stats for readers who aren’t familiar…..according to Social Trends, (government stats), approx 20% of all families with children under 18 are lone parent families. This figure has remained fairly static for the last 20 years. If, as other data suggests, single parent hood is a transitional state for most people and the average time of being a lone parent is about 3 years that means that there are an awful lot of lone parents, (and this does not include those who are to some extent “lone” but not included in the statistics due to absences caused by military service, imprisonment, or working abroad). Lone parents matter as a constituency.
However, lone parents are not a homogeneous group. Some people become lone parents through becoming widow(ers), some through divorce or seperation, a small minority through pregnancy outside a relationship and a few in other ways. Within that whilst most with main caring responsibilities, and so categorised as the “lone parent” are female some are male. Whilst we think of “lone parents” as those with primary caring responsibilities “weekend dads” are also lone parents.
This means if we want to (re)connect with / reach out to / evangelise to/ come alongside people where they’re at – choose which ever suits your theological position – we need to be realistic about single parents and the place they have in our churches and society.
We cannot pretend they don’t exist as a sector in society and that they might have specific pastoral needs, both practical and emotional. We cannot pretend that childcare provision within churches is simply a gender issue relating to which one of a couple gets the opportunity to attend an event. Equally we cannot pretend that our churches have not moved with the times.
One of the saddest things for me doing the research has been the number of “professionals” I have spoken to who upon hearing the title of my research have said, “oh, you’re not going to be finding many good stories there then are you” or similar. The truth is there are lots of positive things going on….but people hear the word “evangelical” and mentally, I think, replace it with “fundamentalist” and also they fail to recognise that their “positive” ministries might actually be the norm within the full spectrum of churches. That is not to say churches don’t make mistakes…they do, particularly where they don’t have experience of things, but most churches are full, I believe, of good people trying to do their best.
Where my research and mouthiness I believe might be useful is in helping people think through issues and logical consequences. Yesterday I did some field work and, during the service, heard about the work of a pregnancy advice centre. Ignoring the immotive language used at points and bits that made me want to scream, “but it’s all far more complicated than that”, I thought about the consequences of keeping the child. The likelyhood is that if the woman had accessed this type of service she would have a high likelyhood of becoming at some point, if she kept the baby, a lone parent. Not necessarily immeadiately, but quite possibly at some point in the future. I realised that if churches are serious about their mission to reduce abortion that their response to single parenthood, and not just immeadiately after the baby is born is important.
I realised that our pastoral response to unwanted pregnancy, divorce and a range of other issues is directly linked to our care of and attitudes to single parents. Now, I knew this on one level before…but I actually saw what this meant yesterday. It means that when we are teaching people how to deal with these situations we need to give them knowledge and information on singleparenthood aswell.
I am not certain but I suspect that singleparenthood and the issues arising (and how these might relate to practice within the church), is not on many timetables within our clergy training establishments. I am ready and hoping for people to come back and prove me wrong on that one…I make my assumption only on the lack of theological reading material available on the subject.
I have an unrealistic passion for mission, I know it is unrealistic because sometimes I suffer huge foot in mouth over it and people have to point out things like resources and time management. Anyway, I am passionate about mission….not the knock somebody over with the head sort but the type which says God loves you and faith has something to offer. I also think the church, (in the widest sense), can have something to offer, although it may struggle to know what that is until it deals with the disconnect it often seems to have between 1950’s thinking and 2000+ lifestyle. This means I have a passion for connecting people outside the church with the trinity and with local worshipping communities. I think if mission is to be effective it needs to be real about where we are. Part of that means that when we are thinking about mission and strategy in the late modern period we need to think about the practicalities involved in being a single parent and how our faith relates to single parents. We need to think about the value of the story of Hagar and Ishmael rather than focusing simply on Abraham and Issac. We need mission courses to include an element on a variety of groups in contemporary society and what good practice is being used to “reach” or “include” them.
God has given me a passion to get mouthy on this, but in an informed way and that….I think…..might just be why I’m here. I have to remember I didn’t come for the prestige of the uni or the beauty of the city. I didn’t come because I wanted to largely escape from teaching or wanted to change denomination. I didn’t come to fall in love…these are all by products. I came because I have a passion; I came because I believe in the role of single parents within the church; I came because I believe there is some excellent practice going on in churches; I came because I believe on the need for proper research to be done and for carefully thought out recommendations to be made; I came because I want to one day….somehow make a difference and I want to have intelligently thought out how I might do that.