Helen Harwood talks to Ruth Barber, a year one undegraduate certificate student, about her journey to study with CMS and the experience so far…
HH: Ruth, Can you tell us a bit about what led you to join the CMS Pioneer course?
RB: I had been in the C of E discernment process since May 2020, and during lockdown went to three colleges’ open days on zoom to give me an idea of what they were like. CMS stood out for me as the one I’d like to go to. Rather than saying, “This is how we will train you for ministry” they said, “We’ll teach you how to reach people for Jesus,” which hit my buttons! Unfortunately things didn’t really work out with the C of E, and my discernment process hit “pause” in December 2021.
In May 2022 I was asked to talk in our “parent” church about CMS and Pioneer Ministry as I work as a volunteer for the Missional Community I belong to on my housing estate. I decided to go along to an in-person open day so that I at least knew what CMS looked like, and got more than I bargained for! After some very interesting chats with Sarah, Ali and Jonny I came away feeling like God wanted me to do the Pioneer course. I know I can get carried away with things so rang my Mum for an honest opinion (she said, “It clicks with me,”) and visited a trusted mentor, a retired vicar, who also thought it was a good idea. There was then the question of finance, as I have a limited income having given up my paid job to work for the church. After I shared my thoughts with my prayer supporters, the whole amount I needed for the course fees was given to me in three weeks, which felt like a huge confirmation from God that I had heard him right!
You’ve been with us for a term and a bit (so almost five months), what have you found useful in those last few months?
All of it! The course content has been totally relevant for my situation, and so interesting and challenging, too. It’s hard to put into words, but there’s the sense in which a lot of dots have been joined up – thoughts I’ve had floating around, or questions I’ve had, have landed and been put into a framework. Not a fixed framework, but one from which I can continue to explore and research different points of view. The tutors are all really supportive and we have great discussions. My fellow students and I bonded very quickly and it’s wonderful to have a new group of friends to “travel with”. We all talk about how great it is to be with like-minded people, as most of us are in situations where what we are doing is not understood by others from more traditional settings and viewpoints, and it can feel like hard work trying to explain to people who don’t “get it”.
What are your plans for the future, Ruth?
I don’t have any fixed plans at all. I never expected any of what has happened to me since my husband died in 2019, certainly not going into ministry! My only plan is to do my best to stay close to God, listening to him, looking to him for guidance, and trying to go where he leads me. He’s done an amazing job of proving he can be trusted to look after me, so I just need to stick close to him. I’ve discovered, much to my surprise, that I love working in schools, and I would love things to develop into some sort of chaplaincy role, but who knows? I’m planning to apply to be a Licensed Lay Pioneer through CMS as that seems to fit for me, and I feel it could be a useful way of demonstrating some credentials.
Ruth, I’m so sorry to hear about your husband’s death. I hope the course has helped you to process that in some way, and continues to do so.
Thank you. Yes, it’s certainly proving to be a very important part of my journey. Before my husband died (when I was 52) God had promised me, that “this is not all there is,” so I knew that he had plans for me. However, I had no idea what they were. I had wondered about going back to my previous profession of occupational therapy, but perhaps working with children rather than older and disabled people as I had done before. As I said, I am now in a ministry role – not one that is recognisable as such, but as I’ve just been learning on our Mission and Evangelism module (!) part of the holistic approach to mission where we embody kingdom values. I sometimes get the opportunity to be more explicit about my faith too, doing school assemblies etc, which is lovely.
I’m finding the course really helpful for putting things that have been floating around as a confusing muddle of concepts in my head, into a framework! I knew previous paradigms didn’t fit for me any more, but didn’t have a new set to replace them with. That is gradually happening now. And it feels GOOD! An unexpected bonus was the personal healing I experienced during the Pastoral Care, Ethics and Ministry module, thanks to the loving care and support I encountered from our tutor, Anna Poulson, and my group during our sessions. I’m very grateful for that. It was affirming to be able to share some thoughts on grief with the group, too. I wrote “Ruth’s rules on grief” and we discussed them!
You’ve just come back from a weekend in Swindon with your Year One Certificate Mission and Evangelism module. Did you enjoy it, and how did it go?
Yes, I did enjoy it. Obviously, it was lovely to spend more time with my course friends, especially as this module has been on Zoom, and with Ali Boulton, who I have a lot of love and respect for. I did Ali’s Missionally Engaging in Your Local Community course back in 2021, and there seemed to be a lot of parallels with my church, which was set up around the same time in a new housing area. The theological framework the course gave me was one of the factors in me giving up paid work to work for the church in my community. So, I had heard a lot about the missional approach they have taken at the housing estate, and was really interested to see it for myself.
We got involved in a range of activities including a pamper evening (for the women), or pub evening (for the men – although we were given the option of joining them!), a visit to a Hindu temple, the commissioning of a member of the Stowe team, who has just moved to a new area with the aim of engaging with the community there (which felt a huge privilege to be part of, and I found very moving) and a session meeting local people. They were all very interesting to talk to, warm and welcoming.
Were there any challenges on the weekend, or in the course in general?
I thought the accommodation was going to be a challenge! But it was fine, and had beautiful views of the countryside (once the fog lifted!).
I felt the weekend was very well organised, well-paced, and there was a good mix of time doing things and time to reflect. Ali led it really well, and her husband, Neil, was also a wonderful host, cooking some delicious food for us, which was much appreciated!
The visit to the temple prompted a lot of discussion, not least because we were each given a banana at the end which had been offered to the gods. We all accepted them, but what we should do with them afterwards brought out a range of views! Mind you, some of the group had eaten them before we even started discussing the issue!
What I’ve found challenging so far was finding the time to study in term one. Life had been really busy, and it was a real struggle to carve the time out. I needed to change my thinking and priorities and make studying a high priority, otherwise I wouldn’t have got very far. I think I’ve got a lot better at that now.
The other major challenge has been completing my first lot of coursework. Being together and participating in sessions is great, but when you’re at home, trying to believe you can write an essay after a break of over 30 years, proved to be a spiritual and motivational battle. When I actually got down to it, the work was really useful and helpful to me personally. But it was a difficult and painful birth!
Lastly, Ruth how can we pray for you?
I would appreciate prayer for:
- keeping my priorities where they need to be, so that I study, work and rest in the right proportions
- that I bring God’s love, light and hope to the staff and children at the schools I’m involved with, particularly the two children I mentor each week, and the class of children with additional needs that I help in each Wednesday
- my Airbnb room – that God brings me the right guests for me to bless
- most of all that I stay close to God, following his lead