Women’s Ministry in Yorkshire
There's a growing women’s ministry network in Yorkshire that’s seeking to support women’s workers and ministry wives through an annual conference and year-round networking.
The question of how to support ministry wives is urgent.
With husbands who often work six-days-a-week and plenty of evenings; the weight of knowing so many of the stresses of church life, but being powerless to make a stand; and often the demands of a career and childcare, ministry wives can be tempted to hunker down and not look outside their immediate world.
And yet, living a life which is so different from most of those friends at work and even friends in church, can mean feelings of isolation grow even in a happy church world. Blogs and podcasts might offer some companionship, but, at times, the successful stories of internet evangelicals seem very far away from the bumpy, pot-holed road of real life. I’ve known men leave ministry because their wives can’t bear the strain and others carry on whilst wives burn out.
What can be done?
One obvious answer is for ministers’ wives to encourage each other, a task which is harder than it might seem given busy lives and geographical distance, taking planning and determination and care.
But this aim of mutual encouragement is at the heart of an initiative in Yorkshire which has grown and developed significantly over the last four years. Ironically, it started with the demise of a group that had run for a number of years gathering together some ministry wives from around West Yorkshire every couple of months to pray for each other and discuss ministry related topics.
That group had fed and sustained a good number, but key members moved away, and it faltered and closed. This left a gap and also questions. What would be the best way to connect and encourage the most people in this huge and varied county? How could women from different kinds of churches, not just those already known well to each other, form fruitful relationships?
A group began meeting to address these questions and an annual day conference was launched with the support of FIEC and Yorkshire Gospel Partnership. Wives’ conferences aren’t rocket science or revolutionary – elsewhere in the country some have been running for years – but this was a first in Yorkshire. Its aim, not just to provide teaching tailored to wives of pastors and other ministry workers, but also, and perhaps even more importantly, to stimulate local networks which can provide year-round support.
To spread the net as widely as possible, both free church and Anglican women are invited, so by the third conference early in 2019 attendance was more than 50. Women came from tiny village churches, city centre churches with large staff teams and new urban church plants. The teaching all along (including from speakers Ann Benton, Felicity Carswell and Kath Paterson) has been fantastic, sharply applied to ministry situations with seminars addressing practical ‘how to…’ topics as well some of the more painful aspects of ministry.
Our second aim is to share with one another. The reports from the local areas are mixed, though encouraging. In the heart of West Yorkshire a group (spear-headed brilliantly by Dawn Thomson) meets four or more times a year for discussion on pre-arranged subjects as well as prayer, with a WhatsApp group sharing prayer requests and news in between.
In Leeds and Sheffield, wives have met for meals and prayer with some regularity. Elsewhere wives stay in touch with each other, offering support, welcoming new arrivals to their areas and reaching across their denominational boundaries. Not all of this is due to the conference, of course, yet it’s a yearly prompt to women to keep on looking beyond themselves and to make meaningful friendships, especially in the hour timetabled for women to share and pray in area groups.
A development to the conference’s aim occurred in 2019. Having focused on Pastors’ wives in previous years, the committee began to think about the needs of women employed by churches. Inspired by London Seminary’s Flourish course which has trained wives and workers alongside each other, we asked the question of what support and networking opportunities were available in the county for the small but increasing number of women who have a recognised paid or voluntary role in their congregations.
The answer came back that these were limited, but some expressed fears that employed women might feel patronised or their unique situations misunderstood: would workers feel offended by being ‘lumped together’ with wives? Would the delicate and occasionally difficult relationships that can exist between a pastor, his wife and a woman’s worker be ignored?
The committee prayed and consulted and then decided that maybe the risk was worth it. If there was no current Yorkshire meeting point for women in ministry, then in the meantime, before one was established, inclusion in this conference was better than nothing, and maybe, even, bringing both together would result in more understanding, not less.
So, acknowledging the considerable differences between the situations of ministry wives and ministry workers, as well as the overlap in terms of involvement, pressure and potential isolation, the title of the conference changed to Yorkshire Ministry Women’s Conference. A special seminar track was introduced focusing on the particular concerns of women employed in ministry roles and a number attended the day.
Our speaker for 2020, author Natalie Brand, has been employed in ministry and is now a ministry wife, so has a unique understanding of both roles. We pray that as she speaks at the conference in February, all kinds of women will be strengthened to look to Him and then to each other and that through this, God’s kingdom will flourish.
The Yorkshire Ministry Women’s Conference takes place on 8 February 2020 from 9:45am to 3:30pm at Trinity Church York. The title is 'Connected to Jesus' and the cost is £12. More information will be available on the Yorkshire Gospel Partnership website in the weeks ahead.