Daring Greatly through spirituality... with the courage to follow Jesus
Ruth Gouldbourne writes:
On discovering that I am history!
For many years I have studied and have taught history, especially history of the church. It is a discipline I have grown to love, and to love teaching. Central to my teaching, and the reason why I believe history matters is the promise that it has not always been this way, things have changed, and therefore, if all is not as it could, should and might be, change is possible.
As such, part of what I have taught has focussed on people, telling stories about them, setting them in context, understanding why they might have done what they did, and what were the implications. I have told stories of amazing folk; people who dared greatly, and changed things, people in whose daring greatly glimpses of the kingdom are seen. And among these people have been women in ministry – some I have known and am deeply grateful for, some I have heard stories of, some way back in history who have shaped thinking and possibility.
I have loved teaching this. It has given me energy, and I have seen it give energy and encouragement to others, especially to women seeking ways to serve – not always in formal ministry, but often in contexts where roles, expectations, possibilities were determined not on call and gifting, but because of gender and gender assumptions. And I have regarded many of the women about whom I have taught as heroes, as amazing, as wise and significant, as daring greatly in inspirational ways.
So, it was with some surprise that I discovered, from the writings of one of our younger ministers that I am not a historian (or rather, I am not only a historian), I am also history. She has been writing a dissertation for her degree, and has been examining women in ministry and attitudes to this in Baptist life. I am really glad she has been doing the research, and I think it is very important.
And she talks in her work about me and about several others of my cohort in ministry, and some of the things we did, and some of the arguments we had, and some of the changes we inaugurated and some of the possibilities we opened up.
And I didn’t know we had.
I mean, I did, in that I remember what we did. When she asked me about various things, I remembered what we had done, and why and how. I recognised the things we wrote, I even remember the typos in the scripts, I remember some of the pains and many of the delights.
But what I have had to struggle to come to terms with is that we – or at least I – did not think of ourselves as doing anything particularly important or special. We were doing what was in front if us; we were responding, with as much faith and integrity as we could, we as much wisdom as we could summon, and sometimes with tears and sometimes with laughter, to the situations that we were in.
And now, somebody else telling the story, accurately as far as I can tell, and from a distance of 20 or so years, is telling the kind of story I have told in teaching history – a story of people who dared greatly and changed things, whose great daring made a difference.
It didn’t feel like it at the time. It didn’t seem to be that powerful or significant. It was just what was there to be done.
I have thought of myself as somebody who hasn’t really dared much; who has been greatly attracted by this theme, but also deeply rebuked by it, in comparison with the people, and in particular the women about whom I have taught – the people who really did things, really changed this, really went out on a limb and made a difference.
Maybe, just maybe they didn’t know that that was what they were doing. Maybe they were doing what was in front of them. Maybe they, with as much integrity, faith, wisdom and hope as they could find, were responding to the situation in which they were. And in them, through them, by them the world was changed.
I am deeply humbled at the thought that when I didn’t know what I was doing, it mattered, and it made a difference. Maybe daring greatly is to do with faithfully and with integrity and hope, living who we are, and letting God do whatever it is that God wants to do through it – without being too anxious about what that might be.
Ruth Gouldbourne grew up in a Baptist manse and, having promised herself never to marry a minister, didn't, but became one instead. She was ordained in 1988, and served as assistant minister of Bunyan Meeting Free Church in Bedford for seven years. Then she taught history and doctrine at Bristol Baptist College for 11 years, leaving there in 2006 in order to become co-minister at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church in London. She is married to Ian, loves him, novels, theatre and making Little Things. She hates having her photo taken!