Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Women elders at Kerith

For a number of years Kerith has been on a journey with regard to the role of women in our church. When my wife Catrina and I first joined Kerith in 1989, our leadership was almost entirely male. All of the elders, trustees, preachers, worship leaders, meeting hosts and other significant leaders were men. The only opportunities for women to preach or lead were within our children’s ministry and in ministry to other women (and on occasions when they travelled overseas).

In 2002 a group of leaders (of which I wasn't a part) gathered to consider what our position on women in leadership should be. They concluded that women should be free to preach, lead worship and hold any leadership position in the life of the church, other than being an elder. In the years since we have seen that position become our practice. Women in Kerith now lead sites, preach, lead worship, act as trustees and are represented at every level of leadership other than our eldership.

Two years ago I felt it was time to revisit the question of whether eldership should be male only. This was partly because I had never properly thought through what my own position was, and partly because having seen how much our church had been blessed by women stepping into every other area of leadership felt our eldership might be the poorer for not having women serving there too. I spent a couple of years reading as much as I could on the subject from all sides of the argument and then wrote a paper outlining my position based on that research. My conclusion was that the Bible affirms women serving as elders. I then took all of this to our elders for them to consider. After over a year of discussion they came to the same conclusion. Over the last few months we have been sharing this with our leadership teams and then with the whole church at our vision night on the 13th June. This blog is in order to share this with anyone who missed the vision night, as well as for those outside Kerith who might be interested. 

I realise that this news will cause all sorts of different reactions. Some will be delighted that we have come to the conclusion that women can serve as elders. Others will strongly disagree with our decision. Still others will be happy to trust me and the elders to have come to the right conclusion. Whatever your reaction I want to remind us all that this is a secondary issue, and that what unites us as believers in Christ is far greater than issues like this which we may disagree on. If you do want to talk about it then I would encourage you to first read the paper I have written and then for us to have a discussion based on that. I have included my email address in the paper - please feel free to use it to email me if you would like to talk further.

The next step for us as a church is to think and pray about who we should add to our existing team of elders. This is an opportunity for us to strengthen our eldership in a way that will serve all four of our sites in the years to come. We will be looking for people based primarily on their character  and standing within our community, with a secondary goal to have diversity not only in terms of gender but also ethnicity and background. We won't be rushing into any decisions but will take our time as we make what will be key appointments for our future as a community. Please be praying for wisdom and discernment in that process.



ps I couldn't work out what image to use to head up this blog. In the end I went for a Greek Orthodox image of Junia, who the Apostle Paul introduces to in Romans 16:7. She is one of the women you will meet in my paper and although she isn't central to my argument, the debate through the ages about both her gender and her role form a fascinating backdrop to the wider discussion.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Kerith is Hong Kong ready


Earlier this year I was contacted by our good friend Krish Kandiah to ask whether Kerith would get involved in welcoming some of the 300,000 people who it is estimated may move from Hong Kong to the UK over the next few years. Because of the undermining of human rights in Hong Kong by the Chinese government, the UK government has offered up to 5.4 million Hong Kong residents the opportunity to relocate to the UK. Krish's heart was that the UK church would play its unique part in making sure that all who come here receive a warm welcome, alongside practical advice on how life works in the UK and an open invitation to be part of our church communities.

God is incredibly clear about how he expects us to treat foreigners. In the book of Deuteronomy Moses expresses God's heart when he declares:

He (God) defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.
And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.
Deuteronomy 10:18-19

God loves the foreigners in our midst, and he expects us to do the same. It couldn't be any clearer. 

Sadly this hasn't always been modelled well by the church in our nation. In one of my conversations last year with Shari Barrett (who oversees all of our worship in Kerith) about her experiences of race and racism we also spoke about her grandparents and parents experience of coming to the UK from the Caribbean as part of the Windrush generation. When her grandparents and their peers attended 'white' churches in the UK it was made very clear to them that they and their children weren't welcome, and that they should look to join a 'black' church. This they did, proving to be a huge blessing to the church they joined and in turn producing people of the quality of Shari who are such a blessing to us. But what a tragedy for Shari's grandparents that they experienced hostility rather than love. And what a disaster for those 'white' churches that they robbed themselves of the richness which Shari's grandparents could have brought as well as failing to express God's heart for the foreigner. That breaks my heart, makes me angry and sows in me a resolve that we have to do better. Not only for those coming from Hong Kong but for those who are genuinely seeking refuge in the UK from anywhere in the world.

So in response to Krish's challenge we signed up as a church to be 'Hong Kong ready'. That means that all four of our sites are registered on the website Krish has set up so that anyone moving from Hong Kong to be close to one of our sites can let us know they are coming and ask any questions they have. Already two family groups have got in touch, received help and are being integrated into the life of our church - hopefully some of you will get to meet them as we start to meet again physically. Let's be praying that many more come, not only from Hong Kong but from all around the world to enrich our community. If other churches would like to get involved then they can begin the sign up process here

This is a great reminder that showing hospitality, particularly towards those who are different to us, who are new, who are outsiders, who are marginalised or who are being discriminated against, is one of the primary callings on each of our lives as followers of Jesus. Whether it is on a Sunday, at the school gate, at work, in the supermarket or in any other setting where we meet others we are to represent God's heart of love and inclusion. 

It is also a reminder of how much we need the prophetic voices of people like Krish. People who will speak God's heart to the church, who will call out our prejudices and blind spots and who will challenge us to play our rightful part in the world. Let us be grateful for, pray for, listen to and respond to Krish and his like.