Connecting with real lives: interview with Lucy Barbour

Lucy Barbour running 'church on the hill'

I talked to Lucy Barbour, second-year under graduate ordinand doing a BA course here at Oxford with CMS, about her calling and how hse has been putting her passion for pioneering into practice.

How did you get into pioneering, and what are you doing now?

I was pioneering before I knew the term existed.

I was brought up in a non-church going family, but by parents who were community pioneers in their own right.

Although I didn’t go to church regularly, my parents were positive about faith and I had friends who were Christians. I remember being passionate from a young age about issues of identity and the meaning of life. I enjoyed visiting church with my friends and actively chose to learn about, and debate issues on spirituality and meaning. Luckily, I felt very comfortable in this space and was welcomed and accepted.

Having a positive experience of being in the gap between exploration and faith has now made me passionate about ministering in this area. It has also helped me have a vocabulary and approachability towards people who find themselves in this space.

I currently work alongside a brilliant team at an Anglican church in Bishops Cleeve near Cheltenham. They have encouraged me to explore where God is outside of the community’s normal understanding of the church. In lockdown we have felt drawn to support people in their wellness and this has become a significant part of my ministry. This has included running mindfulness classes, courses on mental health and taking church services out into nature on a local hill. It is amazing to see how people engage with faith once we step into the spaces that connect with their real lives, the challenges they face and their passions.

That’s interesting that Covid has provided some opportunities, can you say more about that, please, Lucy?

Yes, Covid brought about significant opportunities. Firstly, we were forced to move from a normal pattern of Sunday ministry and could therefore explore different options. Initially, this allowed for online talks and meetups which were at points reaching a dramatically wider range of our community than we would normally get into church. It also forced us to consider those outside of our church community when we were putting together these talks, reflections, and courses; making sure we made it relevant and understandable. Covid made us focus on the content of all that we were offering, considering what all our community needed from us at this time. I believe this has had an ongoing impact in the way we now plan our Sundays, by choosing to run services like Church on the Hill, and a cafe church in a number of separate locations across the benefice.

Are you a ‘designated pioneer’ in your ordinand training – is that still the right term? Can you say more about how you felt called to ordination?

Yes, that’s right, I am training as a designated pioneer but that wasn’t always going to be the case.

As an early Christian, I was often encouraged to consider ordination. I attended a young person’s vocation day in the diocese of Leicester in around 2006 and found it fascinating. However, at the time I did not feel called to ordination and felt that I would struggle to serve others if my theology was different from them.

At the time, I often had greater grace for those outside the church than those within, especially on issues of inclusion and women in ministry. I decided to put any ideas of ordination aside and focused on serving God through work with charities and within my own church.

However, after a number of years, I experienced a strong sense of calling during the summer of 2017. After having my second child I was starting to focus on the future and felt that I would soon be ready to dedicate myself to God’s work in a way that I had not been able to do previously. Leading up to this time my faith had also been deepening. I had moved away from focusing just on justice and peace related work, to finding myself more interested in the church, theology and local ministries. My confidence in my own faith had also grown a great deal over the years and I no longer felt that any differences I had to other Christians had a negative effect on me personally. I started to really believe I had a place within the church and grew in love and understanding for others. I distinctly remember suddenly realising that no matter what another person believes, God loves them and can use them equally. I believe this needed to happen before any sense of calling could be realised.

I quickly decided to open doors to investigate the idea and found that it became a clearer sense of calling as I went through the long journey of discernment with my diocese in Gloucester. However, the time that it felt most right was when I came to a CMS open day and realised that I could do my whole training at CMS. I was not initially going to be a designated pioneer, but my diocese was encouraging of the idea of me attending a pioneer panel and I am delighted that I did.

So, Lucy, why did you choose to study at CMS?

Pioneering feels less like something I am doing and more about who I am. Therefore, when I was accepted to train for ordained ministry and visited CMS, I knew straight away that it was the place for me to train. I feel so blessed to be on this journey alongside staff and students who speak a language that I understand and who inspire and challenge me in equal measure.

That’s brilliant, we are happy to have you. I know you are keen to push boundaries; can you tell me about where you are pushing boundaries in your work?

Throughout my faith I have always been keen to look for where God is working beyond the walls of traditional church life. In that space I have felt drawn to encourage others to explore where their hearts and minds are already connected to the Kingdom of God, recognising that we are all created in God’s image. At times, this has meant pushing boundaries that aren’t always comfortable. For example – I have often felt called to work in partnership with those outside of the church or to minister in cultural spaces that would be considered no-go areas for other Christians.

There have been times when I have found it painful to face critique to ideas that I have personally felt are inclusive and genuinely fruitful. One notable example was during my time working in city centre management at CV One in Coventry. I was part of a team that organised profitable community events and I was tasked with organising a Halloween festival. I explained to my manager that this was a little uncomfortable to me and that we may experience some challenges from the city centre churches, one of which I was an active part of. I was blessed to be given free range by my manager to put together a working group from the cathedral and other city centre churches to see if we could find a way of bringing a positive, Christian message to the event.

I brought together a group of ministers and we decided to organise a stall within the Halloween market where we would teach people to do ‘tricks’ for treats. They did simple ‘magic’ tricks and offered prayer and blessings to those who visited. We even brought in a Christian entertainer to perform during the festival. I was really delighted with the way it all turned out. However, sadly I still experienced significant criticism from areas of my own church.

This is not a unique story from my faith journey, and I have often known what it feels like to be on the margins myself, even within church. However, being in that space was also a wonderful learning opportunity and only made me more passionate about mission and inclusivity. As I have grown more secure in my own faith and identity, I have become more robust. In fact, studying a master’s degree in Peace and Reconciliation taught me to feel comfortable in a space of disagreement, knowing that we all have dignity, worth and a unique calling from God.

How can we pray for you?

Please pray for my ministry in and around Bishops Cleeve in Gloucestershire, especially all the new ways we explore opportunities for people to engage with church. I will also be having to make decisions about what is next for me and my family when we consider curacies later this year. I would appreciate prayers for that time which feels both daunting and exciting.

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