Helen Harwood catches up with Pioneer Ordinand Erika Biscoe to talk manicures and mission.
HH: Can you tell me a bit about what led you into pioneering?
EB: I never labelled myself as a pioneer until being selected to be on the Ordained Pioneer Minister pathway. I just thought that I was a person that had too many ideas going around in her head!
Since studying on the Pioneer course at CMS I have been able to see that the different lenses that I sometimes find myself wearing don’t mean I am odd, it means I am a pioneer in the making!
Can you tell me about your vision for nails?! When you told me how you had trained as a nail technician you said, “I realised that when I gave people a manicure I would have the most amazing conversations with them and they would often be about faith.” I also know you were drawn to the name Esther, can you explain how those two things tie in please?
Absolutely! I was inspired by the book of Esther over 10 years ago when I was part of a women’s group at St Thomas Crookes, Sheffield and we were all encouraged to look at one of the women in the Bible, and to narrate the life of these women to the rest of the group. I was given Esther. There is so much of the story that I believe we can draw on today.
The story is told of a young orphaned girl being chosen to go to King Xerxes palace where for over 12 months she goes through daily rigorous beauty treatments with other girls before being presented to the king to be his potential bride. As the story develops a plot is revealed in which all of Esther’s people would be killed and so we read of the importance and relevant timing for Esther to be where she is. She became an overcomer and although God is never directly mentioned we can feel his presence. She had a worshipping heart and compassion for her people instead of turning her back on her people she put herself literally in the firing line as she chose to enter the king’s presence without being summoned by the reaching out of his sceptre.
Esther was a witness to her people and showed through her faith and courage how much she loved them and through her she saved the Jewish race from genocide.
Having trained as a nail technician over 20 years ago to generate income in a way that fit in with family life, I sensed God calling me to use my skills in my future ministry. As you treat someone’s nails and hands I think there can become a connection between you and my hope is that the person would feel relaxed and free to talk or not.
As you physically touch someone’s hands you can be praying for them, and there is a practical healing element too for those that have poor circulation and arthritis. The preparation of the nail treatments reminds me of the preparation that Esther went through to be prepared before seeing the king. As we cleanse and remove the dirt from our nails and hands it is like removing the things in our lives we need to remove.
Where do you see this vision leading you?
I currently set up my nail bar in the cafe space in our church building on a Friday morning. I currently do not charge for a manicure as I felt that I simply wanted to bless people. I am always busy doing up to six or seven manicures. I have already built some good relationships with people and also had a chance to pray with them.
I also have a heart to see girls, primarily teenagers, released into their full potential. I would like to put together a programme or course, where we could look at areas in their lives that they might be struggling with – self worth, self esteem, self confidence, self harm, eating disorders. I would also like to teach them in this time to know how to do a manicure and to present them at the end of the course with a starter kit. Esther means star, and my hope would be that they would feel like shinning stars and they would have the confidence to shine through their humanity.
In order to help make my project more sustainable I would like to take ‘Esther’s Nail Bar’ on the road – that is, to become more mobile. I would like to buy a VW camper van and turn it into a mobile nail bar. This could enable me to travel to festivals where for a minimal charge I would do people’s nails or to other venues including hospices and centres with people with disabilities, the list is endless. I think if people are able to come into the van it still allows that safe space where stories can be listened to and shared.
Can you explain a bit about what sustains you in your work and mission?
I have a good support team that encourage me including my amazing husband, my prayer partner and the cafe team. The CMS course has helped me to learn new disciplines of spirituality that has opened my eyes and heart to a deeper relationship with God. I like to run, not only for exercise, but I also have found it helpful in connecting to God. As I concentrate on my breathing and running pace I find myself reaching a rhythm that helps me to pray and listen to God.
How has the Pioneer Mission Leadership Training course helped you in practice?
The first two modules I completed – Faith Seeking Understanding and Mission Spirituality – were very personal and soul searching. They taught me methods to use when I find myself in sensitive situations in ministry, using theological reflection, not only as an individual but also in a group setting. I found Mission Spirituality personally challenging and sometimes felt that my guts were being scooped out, but it has taken me on a new journey spiritually, helping me to embrace the person God has made me to be and knowing that the treasure comes from within as we deepen our relationship with God.
I loved the Bible’s Big Story module and Paul Thaxter gives you such a fresh perspective on God’s word and it has encouraged me to enthuse in others the importance of telling our story and ultimately the greatest story ever told. One of our assignments was to take a theme from the Bible and devise a teaching resource. I looked at the theme of wilderness, including the story of Exodus and Jesus’ 40-day temptation in the wilderness. I used the Godly Play sand box to retell the stories to a small home group of mixed age and was very encouraged by their response.
The Mission History of the Church helped me to look at the church globally and I really enjoyed studying Amy Carmichael, an amazing and inspiring pioneer.
What do you think the future holds?
I hope that I will be ordained in 2015 as a pioneer minister within the Church of England having completed the CMS course. Ideally I would like my curacy to be within the Bicester team ministry where I am currently ministering as a pioneer. Beyond this…?
How can we pray for you, Erika?
Having recently been on the Mission Entrepreneurship week in North Devon I realised that my dreams could become reality and this was so exciting for me. However, I also felt quite overwhelmed by the thought and fearful of taking the next step. So I would love people to pray that I have the courage, like Esther, to overcome these negative thoughts, as I know God has given me a passion for this ministry. I would value prayer for work, life and balance.