We are not Delilahs

In Christian circles, there is a debate over whether it’s ok to meet one-to-one with a member of the opposite sex when one is in a position of responsibility within the church. Last week, the topic came up ten minutes before the end of our second lecture on gender and theology.

As the discussion progressed, it was clear that there was a strong opinion from some in the room that a male church leader meeting alone with a woman was really not a good idea at all. It wasn’t a unanimous opinion by any means – one woman spoke of feeling completely ignored after her vicar insisted her husband attended a meeting between the two of them, and then proceeded to only address the husband.

As she spoke, I became more and more frustrated. What would I do in such a situation, given that I don’t have a husband to take to such meetings? Married male voices in the room spoke of needing to be particularly cautious around single women, and quite honestly, I felt terrible. I am a single woman, training to be a church leader. I am not a Delilah, seeking to corrupt every married man that I meet (or any married man for that matter!). But that’s how single women were seemingly being painted.

Now, I’m not naive. I realise that we need to be wise in how we deal with our relationships with other people – especially when holding positions of responsibility, and especially in the church. Here are some thoughts/wisdom I have on the subject:

  1. Do not assume anyone’s sexuality. Potential issues may just as well arise with those of your own gender, as well as the opposite one. Obviously, this cannot mean a blanket “Do not meet 1:1 with anyone at all!” because nothing would actually get done. Therefore, we need…
  2. Wisdom. Be wise! If you sense that a meeting may be misconstrued or that you realise that for your own safety, extra people need to be around, then make it happen. Obviously, with children, young people/students and vulnerable adults there are legal safeguarding measures to be taken into account.
  3. Trust people. I’d like to think that I can be trusted not form an unhealthy attachment to a married man. I trust myself and those with whom I agree to meet. If I don’t trust a situation, I use wisdom. (See above.) If you don’t trust yourself to ever meet with someone of the opposite sex alone, I think there may be questions you need to ask of yourself.

When I spoke up in the lecture, aside from defending the honour of single women, I also pointed out the reality of parish ministry – there is a high chance I’ll end up as an incumbent in a church that isn’t able to provide a large staff team, and as a result there will be situations in which I have to have 1:1 meetings with members of the opposite sex. I cannot say to someone: “I’m terribly sorry, I can’t sit with you and plan your mother’s funeral until I find someone who can chaperone us.”

Right now, I do have some specific boundaries. For example, I don’t meet with the guys in my student group outside of the context of a church service or our home group. If they want to have a deep & meaningful, they can (& do) chat with the church’s male clergy. [Would I prefer to be doing student work in tandem with a male volunteer? Yes please!] But on the other hand, have I met 1:1 with my church’s male Rector, Curate, Worship Leader and Operations Manager? Yes. I couldn’t do my job if I didn’t.

These ideas have far-reaching consequences. There are individuals who feel slighted, not listened to, or marginalised. Is that a good thing for the church to be doing? I don’t think so. It also has a huge impact upon the raising up of women in leadership – an issue that Jenny Baker wrote about brilliantly [do read the comments] and that I touched upon last summer in a post about women speakers at Christian festivals. In churches where there is a culture that men and women can’t meet alone, women lose out on mentoring experience from the men leading these churches.

One to One's tweet

Before writing this post (which took over a week to actually publish, thanks to deadlines and life), I asked Twitter for some opinions. What followed was one of the best Twitter discussions I’ve seen – especially given that it involved the church. (Twitter debates amongst churchy people can get horrid, it’s a terrible reflection upon Christians.) No one got angry, but instead answered my simple question with honesty, integrity and respect. The whole thing has been Storifyed, but here are some particular highlights, including the article by Jenny Baker mentioned above:

Jo S tweet Matthew Currey tweet Elizabeth Harrison tweetMark Scarlata tweetSean Doherty tweet

Sean, as befits an Ethics lecturer, had quite a lot to say on the subject, including the following (which was spread across three tweets, condensed for the sake of space!):

“I was lucky to have @Janie_Mo as my training incumbent, she wanted male curate to balance leadership of church but not many male clergy would deliberately pick a woman for same reasons – ‘woman as temptress’ stereotype to which the correct response is ‘don’t flatter yourself’!”

There is no straight answer to this debate. There can’t be hard and fast rules. But I’d love for people to stop and think about the impact and implications of their actions and decisions. If it’s never crossed your mind that it could be an issue, perhaps it’s worth taking time to think about it. If you’ve created rules for yourself, imagine what those rules feel like to those it affects. And most of all, don’t presume that anyone is out to ‘corrupt’ those they meet with!

To at or not to at…

I have a few pet peeves in life. Just a few…
People walking too slowly (or in crowds) on London’s streets. Trolley cases. Improperly made tea. People who click ‘reply all’ when it’s really not necessary. You know, just the day to day issues of modern-day existence.

On Twitter, I have one major pet peeve: the use of ‘@’ at the beginning of the tweet when it’s not actually intended to be a message to that individual.

For those not familiar with Twitter , a brief explanation: on Twitter, your username begins with an ‘@’ – e.g. @lizclutterbuck. When you want a specific person to receive your tweet, you mention their username and the person in question will see it listed under their ‘connect’ tab. [Most people also opt to receive a notification when this happens, unless you’re a celeb tweeter…] You can put someone’s name anywhere into a tweet, but often if you’re having a conversation with a specific person, you’ll begin your tweet with their name. For example:

Twitter chatA Twitter chat with one of my favourite soon-to-be lady vicars – obviously making a massive presumption that we’ll have good reason to be watching the men’s final on Sunday! 

The key thing to understand is that when a tweet begins with someone’s username, only people who follow the author and the recipient will see it in their timeline. In this case, that probably means a load of fellow ordinands and mutual friends. [As an aside, I often forget to think about who follows who, which has resulted in some slightly awkward Twitter moments. All tweets are public, unless they’re Direct Messages. It’s good to remember that!] This fact hilariously means that a number of people were privy to the Clutterbuck family annual Christmas decision making process last week – you learn a lot of useless info via Twitter sometimes!

Anyway, my pet peeve is when people begin a tweet with an @, but actually intend it to be seen by all their followers – because they seem to be completely unaware that in including the username at the start, they’ve actually limited their audience!

Unfortunately, it’s often churches that fall foul of this – especially when tweeting about Sunday sermons. [I should say straight away that St George’s has never made this mistake!] To illustrate, if a church tweeted: “@lizclutterbuck preached on forgiveness last Sunday. Listen to it here…” only people who followed both the church account and me would see it – which rather defeats the point of the exercise as presumably the church would have wanted all their followers to see it?

But it’s not just churches. Here’s an example from the esteemed BBC…

Radio 2 tweetI feel that I need to clarify that I don’t actually follow Radio 2, nor have I checked to see what kind of a lemon posset accident this was.

What amazes me is how few regular Twitter users realise this. Last week, I was particularly incensed by an example of this from Lambeth Palace, featuring the Archbishop of Canterbury. [Interestingly, when I went searching for it just now, it had disappeared and recent evidence suggests that they’ve realised the problem.] I tweeted something about the issue and had several replies of surprise from other Tweeters.

Tweeting etiquetteThis blogpost is a direct result of that tweet as I’ve discovered it’s a phenomenally difficult issue to fit into 140 characters!! I was struggling to find a way of saying ‘accounts that ought to know better – i.e. verified ones’, but could only come up with ‘big’ to fit into a tweet! 

This is in NO way an attack on accounts that have fallen victim to this! Like I said, many people are totally unaware of it. What annoys me is that it means that their tweets aren’t getting the audience they deserve!

So, what’s the solution? Well, the easiest and least expensive in terms of characters is the full-stop – simply placing it before the @ will ensure that all your followers will see it. However, I personally try not to use it because I like tweets that are a little more poetic! You can re-work your sentence to ensure that the mention comes mid-way through the tweet rather than at the start. Or, you could put some kind of title in – which is the line Lambeth seems to have taken as their tweets often now begin with: “Archbishop @ABCJustin…”. It doesn’t really matter how you do it, as long as you realise that it needs to be done. Spread the word!

Twitter – a great tool, as long as you know how to use it!

Division in life and death

Guardian front page 9.4.13I can remember exactly where I was when I heard that Margaret Thatcher had resigned as leader of the Conservative Party and thus was no longer PM. I was sitting in my classroom, having just returned from a day trip to the Commonwealth Institute with my fellow class of nine year olds. I don’t remember how the teacher reacted, but I do remember watching the news later that evening at a friend’s house, and there being some rejoicing. No one in our household had voted for her (though close relatives had), and for the first time in my lifetime, she was not in charge of the country.

I can also remember exactly where I was when I decided that, when she died, I would not be rejoicing. It was my first term at university, and still with some idealistic political aspirations, I’d joined LSE Labour. One of our first meetings of term involved a Q&A with Ken Livingstone (still 6 months away from becoming the first London Mayor). I’ve no memory of much of the meeting, though I can picture exactly where I was sitting in the small, stuffy seminar room, but I do remember that one student asked him the following question: “When Margaret Thatcher dies, will you send flowers and attend the funeral?” As far as I recall, the question got some chuckles – including from Ken himself. I can’t remember the precise words that Ken replied with, but it was effectively no, he wouldn’t, it would be a cause for celebration instead. I was a little horrified (my poor, naive, 18 year old self!) – how could you possibly contemplate rejoicing in someone’s death?

The thing was, between 1990 and 1999, something happened that made Margaret Thatcher human to me. True, I’d already worshipped in the Methodist Church she had grown up in (it’s where my grandparents now go) and on every trip to Grantham we’d drive past the shop her father owned. But, most importantly, half a decade after her resignation, my mother attended a wedding where the former PM was sister-of-the-mother-of-the-bride. All of a sudden we knew someone who was a relation. Someone who, when Margaret Thatcher eventually did die, would be grieving – just like any one of us who had lost a member of their family. I worked alongside this person for several years and yesterday, it was her and her family that I was thinking of as Twitter exploded in a cacophony of vitriol.

I said nothing about Margaret Thatcher on Twitter or Facebook because I didn’t want to become part of that noise. An American friend lured me out of hiding by asking me my views on Facebook, but he kind of knew what I was going to say, because I think I’d already ranted at him on the subject.

Twitter and Facebook were not nice places yesterday (still aren’t, for that matter). On the one hand, the “ding dong the witch is dead” is crass; but it’s also patronising to ask “the left” or “socialists” to behave nicely. For a start, it’s not just those who are left-leaning who disliked Thatcher’s policies or who were hurt by them – whole communities were. But also, don’t get me started on the many ways in which “the right” have rejoiced inappropriately in similar situations. I don’t want this post to be seen as sanctimonious either – I saw way too much of that on Twitter too and it drove me up the wall. Many of my Tory friends (I say ‘many’, I don’t really have that many to begin with) retaliated with lists of all Thatcher’s achievements and amazing political initiatives – but I can’t agree with those either. I don’t agree with her policies and I don’t like the way in which some of them seem to be returning in the current government. I wish there was a way of separating the political commentary from the mourning – like having a week-long mourning window, before the political sniping begins – but that’s unrealistic. Is it too much to ask that people simply think, albeit briefly, about those who are directly affected by someone’s death?

Thatcher divided the country while PM and those divisions will never disappear as long as those affected by them are alive – or for as long as Thatcherism is an influential political ideology. We always knew the population would be divided in her death too, but couldn’t we have had a bit more grace in the process?

Failure to prepare is preparing to fail…

When I travel, I like to prepare. I have an A5 notebook entirely dedicated to packing lists – it lives on my bedside table and contains the details of what I’ve packed for every trip since around 2008. Yes, I am *that* anal.

However, I’ve become rather blasé about packing for vicar weekends. We have lots of them, I need the same things each time, it’s only two nights – what could go wrong? I hate to generalise, but there’s rarely a residential when one of the men hasn’t forgotten something fairly crucial. Toothbrushes are frequently neglected, in fact one friend has now forgotten his twice, including once in France – resulting in a very amusing Franglais conversation in a corner shop in an attempt to procure one.

But, as of this past weekend, I can no longer mock. On Friday, as I unpacked at our latest residential, I realised I’d forgotten my hairbrush. Inconvenient, but by no means a disaster. Especially as I had packed my new hairstyling gizmo (the Babyliss Big Hair – it’s amaaazing), which would brush my hair as I dried it on Saturday morning. Plus, various people offered to lend me one. Easily solvable.

During Friday evening’s lecture, a thought crossed my mind. I pondered which pants I’d packed. (Yes, this is the kind of thought that crosses my mind during a theology lecture. I’m sorry. I’m very easily distracted.) I couldn’t remember and, worse still, I couldn’t recall the action of placing them into my bag. Hmmmm. This could be a difficult one to resolve.

Before bed, I remembered this pondering and checked my bag. No pants. But, at least I had the opportunity to handwash them, and hope that they’d have dried on the radiator (of my very toasty room) overnight. I came up with a couple of back-up plans – namely using leggings as underwear (but only after checking that they weren’t the pair with an unfortunately placed hole in the seam) and persuading someone to drive me to Sainsbury’s sharpish – but fortunately, they were dry by morning. [Why did this have to happen the very weekend I’d decided to risk an outfit that was simply a long top and leggings??]

Obviously, I’d also tweeted about this misdemeanor. Not in a ‘Oh no! I’ve forgotten my pants!’ way, simply: “Hmmmm, looks like my hairbrush wasn’t the only thing I forgot this weekend… #MajorError”. And obviously, my sister instantly knew what I’d done and invoked one of her favourite memories of me from primary school, ending her tweet with: “Does dad need to do another emergency pants delivery?” Yes, one day, when I was 9, I’d worn my swimsuit to school, realised when getting dressed afterwards that I’d forgotten my underwear, and I suspect (though I can’t remember) then threw a wobbly and insisted that my Dad came to school with some immediately. Everyone’s been there, surely?

Facebook revelationsA Facebook status in the same vein. I only went as far as to like the correct response…

In fact, I’ve been there as an adult. Not often, occasionally I’ve forgotten my pants on a swimming day, but never before for a 48 hour trip. On this occasion, blame lies entirely with my new weekend bag. I was clearly so excited by my recent purchase (less than 2 hours prior to packing) and all the extra space it had compared to my gym bag, that I decided not to fill it to its maximum capacity.

I am an idiot.

The danger of tweeting in enclosed spaces

I could probably devote a whole series of blogposts to the theme of ‘ridiculous situations in which Twitter has landed me’ (though it would probably need a shorter and catchier tagline), and most of them would be entirely my own fault. Generally though, they don’t involve people who could be termed Twitter Celebrities.

Some people set a lot of store by celebrity tweeters – deriving glory from retweets; lusting after a mention or even reply; screen capturing fleeting moments of fame…it’s all rather sad, but it’s one of the major ways in which the Twitter world keeps turning. The closest I’d got to such behaviour was screen-grabbing a reply from a Christian Celebrity Tweeter (a somewhat niche band of tweeters) who shall now remain anonymous because it would be mortifyingly embarrassing to share. [I just did it to gloat at a friend, how Christian of me…] Oh, and texting a friend when I’d reached the glorious heights of a Twitter conversation with Hadley Freeman, Guardian columnist and my Dad’s favourite fashion writer.

As I’ve pondered before, celebrity is a very curious aspect of our culture and it’s one that I try not to succumb to. However, there are moments in one’s life where you just get a little over-excited by events…

Last Thursday, I had a late lunch in a branch of Leon at the less manic end of Regent Street. I sat in the window, eating Hungarian goulash and wading through a rather dry theological tome on the nature of The Land. As I people-watched, I pondered the fact that, with the BBC’s new Broadcasting House now open and the Radio 1 building closing down, there would now be a lot more interesting people passing through this part of town – radio guests popping into cafes for drinks or DJ’s acquiring lunch before their shows, and suchlike. Within minutes of this thought passing through my mind, I looked up to see Radio 2 DJ, Wittertainment co-host and ‘Christian celeb’ Simon Mayo walking past my seat and into the cafe.

Out came my phone and a tweet was composed. For a while, I dithered over whether I should @ Simon Mayo, or simply mention the name. [The difference, non-Twitter readers, is that he would never have known about the latter.] I waited while he paid for what I assumed would be a take away and looked out for him to leave (I had my back to the counter and wasn’t about to turn around and watch like a saddo). But he didn’t leave, so I sent the tweet, concluding that an @ was ok, and he probably wouldn’t see it anyway.

Why did I feel the need to tweet in the first place? Well, it had amused me and I knew it would amuse at least three of my Twitter friends who are fellow Wittertainment fanatics. There were also quite a few other people who might be mildly amused because of Mayo’s status in Christian (particularly Greenbelt) circles. Thus, the following tweet was broadcast:

I got on with my reading, awaiting a moderately excited response from one of the three people I predicted would be amused by it. Fifteen minutes later, my phone beeped with a response, but it wasn’t from anyone I knew, instead, the DJ sat at the table behind me, enjoying their lunch and free wifi, had replied:

Simon Mayo tweets

I chuckled, and then realised that the cafe was quite quiet and therefore my laughter was probably rather noticeable. I still didn’t turn around, thinking that I was likely only to remain witty and together via social media. Instead, I returned to the theology, simultaneously trying to absorb Old Testament prophecy while composing an amusing response – well aware that I was the only person present seemingly engrossed in what might look like dry theology. After a suitable amount of time had lapsed, a reply was sent:

And with that, I got on with my work, ignored the presence of interesting people, and continued to wait for my friends to notice what had occurred. Soon enough, the book was done with and I had no reason to tarry, so I got my things together and prepared to leave, all the while contemplating whether or not I should greet the Tweeter in question. In the end, I decided to continue playing it cool and left without a backward glance.

Within seconds of my departure, my phone began beeping with tweets from friends who had finally noticed the exchange. One in particular was from someone who I knew would understand my precise state of emotion (i.e. just a little giggly and over-excited), who I then texted to say I’d just left but hadn’t dared say hello. Her response? “But he replied!!!!!” 

Here’s the thing. I am quite happy making a twit out of myself on Twitter, but make a fool of myself in the flesh? No way. [Ok, I do frequently, but usually not intentionally.]On reflection, I think I would also feel a need to way too over-familiar with the likes of Mayo or Kermode (the other Wittertainment co-host) because I have their voices in my head for approximately 105 minutes every week, as I pound the pavements of London listening to their weekly podcast. That’s more time than I spend talking to my parents, sister and potentially other assorted friends combined over the phone! I think part of my brain genuinely believes that these people are my friends and that once a week, we meet up in a pub to discuss films over a pint. [How I wish that were true.]

The moral(s) of this story?
1. Frequent establishments near TV/Radio studios to add a frisson of excitement to your study session/quiet lunch.
2. Be careful when tweeting ‘celebrities’ in geographical proximity to you.
3. Consider simply texting those you want to share news with, rather than broadcasting it to the world.