by Elaine Lindridge, mam and minister
‘Why use the sexist term ‘mam’ to describe what you think you’re doing?‘
This was asked of me recently when I was explaining some of my hopes for our District Pioneer Hub. Never shy of conflict I quickly responded with,
‘Why not? We’ve been using masculine terms for years,
maybe it’s time to redress the balance.’
Plus I’m not a man – although I was once called ‘Father’ by someone who was obviously confused to see a woman in a dog collar and didn’t have a clue how to address me!
When I had children there was no debate about what I would be called, I was always ‘mam’. As a proud Geordie it’s a term I don’t want to lose, but more than that, it always reminds me of the many mams who’ve gone before me. Not all of them had physically birthed new lives, but they most certainly had taught me what it means to be mam and to fill that much needed role of nurturing others. The term often carries with it not just an understanding of the role but an acceptance of parts of my region’s culture that has often favoured matriarchal traditions.
Generally speaking today, the role of mam differs little to that of most mothers. So what is it about mothering that can influence good practice, and in particular, what might a theology and practice based on mothering look like with regards to the oversight of pioneers? Perhaps a spiritual mam could employ some of the same skills that a biological mam uses in rearing children.
So what does mam do? The list is huge, but for the purposes of thinking about a spiritual mam looking after pioneers, the following are worth considering;
– she builds a home
– she offers safe space to grow
– she cleans up
– she teaches
– she cares
– she feeds
– she educates
– she plays
– she nurtures
– she ensures rest is taken
– she builds confidence
These speak to me of meeting some of the basic needs of a child and they are not too distant from the needs of pioneers. Pioneers too need somewhere to call home – a place where they feel safe enough to ‘be’ without having to constantly justify their existence. In that safe place they have the opportunity to question, learn and express doubt – all essential requisites for spiritual growth and development. Any mam will tell you that they need to make sure bedtime is adhered to in order for the child to have the much needed sleep they need to function without getting too grumpy and unreasonable! In a similar way, many in ministry need constant reminders to take time off, to rest and recuperate on a weekly basis. Food is obviously essential, and eating together is a deep way of expressing both our connectivity with God and one another. When a child makes mistakes, care is needed to ensure they know what went wrong and they learn from it. How often is that true for pioneers? As church, we’ve not been great at allowing room for failure and yet surely it is the place where we learn most. There is something very maternal about crafting an environment that allows (no, encourages!) risk taking and then gives the safe arms in which to learn from mistakes and failure. This safe place is also needed when hurt is experienced and the pioneer needs help. Like a child who falls and scuffs their knees, great love can be shown in helping them to stand again, get dusted down, dry the tears and say, ‘off you go again, you’ll be fine.’ Doing so instils confidence and nurtures growth. Mams sometimes need to give their children a little push to try something new – whether that be tasting a funny green vegetable or moving from the toddler park to the big kids park. That same encouragement is needed by pioneers – the gentle yet firm push to keep trying and to develop new skills as God leads them into new places. Followed by positive reinforcement after each new, brave and wobbly step is taken.
All of this happens best in community. Some pioneers may feel unsure of themselves – many are not even keen to use the term pioneer to describe who they are and what they do. Meeting with others who have comparable experiences and are committed to one another can be one of the most wonderful places to be. Security comes from knowing you are accepted to such a degree that it is indeed safe, and expected, that you will grow, learn, fail, laugh and cry.
I cannot help but think of Susannah Wesley who is often referred to as the ‘Mother of Methodism’ (I don’t think John & Charles called her mam but who knows?). Susannah understood how important it was to provide a stable home for her children. Not only that, but she made sure each received a good education in the home. She devoted specific time to each of her children at a designated point each week – that essential one-to-one time was something Susannah scheduled long before the modern parenting manuals thought to suggest it.
In writing all of this I have discovered something new about being mam. To put it bluntly, God is my mam. It is God who does all of these things for me;
– God builds a home
– God offers me a safe space to grow
– God cleans me up
– God teaches me
– God cares
– God feeds me
– God educates
– God plays (oh yes!)
– God nurtures
– God reminds me to rest
– God builds confidence
Thanks mam 😊