The recent hit British TV series Call the Midwife shows the struggle that the birthing process is for the attendant who is trying to help as well as for the mother.
I believe that much of the pain that the church in general is in, and that so many congregations are in, is labor pain. Something new is being born, and there is going to be a lot of struggle until delivery.
Others are thinking along the same lines. In response to the diagnosis of some that our church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), is “deathly ill,” Presbyterian pastor MaryAnn McKibben Dana posted a video with a different diagnosis: the PC(USA) is pregnant. It’s a biblical metaphor, and it is a hopeful metaphor that in no way minimizes the mess and stress of the process of birthing new life.
Here is a link to MaryAnn’s post “What to Expect When Your Church is Expecting” where you can view the video and read a condensed version of what she says in the video.
For more reflections on the theme, here is a link to Presbyterian pastor Jan Edmiston’s post “What to Expect When the Church is Expecting: Grandparents’ Edition” which builds on MaryAnn’s thoughts. Jan points out that “the Next Church” will not be the baby of those of us who are over 40. Younger adults ages 20-40 have a role akin to parenting, while we older folk have a role akin to grandparenting. This role is also important, but it can have its pitfalls as well if we overstep our bounds.
The midwife’s role interests me. It’s not the midwife’s baby, either, but the midwife helps and encourages and facilitates. Midwifery calls for skill, patience, alertness, calm, steadiness, resourcefulness and more. In one memorable scene in the TV series, a woman unexpectedly gives birth to triplets in very spare circumstances. Midwife Camilla (“Chummy”) Browne has to be very creative due to the lack of resources in the tenement where the birth takes place, and due to the accidental loss en route of her delivery pack of supplies. She ends up using some of her own clothing to wrap the newborns and keep them warm.
What do church midwifery skills look like? I can’t help thinking of
Shiphrah and Puah, the Hebrew midwives in Exodus 1:15-22. The Egyptian Pharaoh ordered them to kill all male newborns of the Hebrews. The midwives, however, “feared God” and did not obey the king. That phrase is also translated as “respected God, ” and “were faithful to God . Church midwives definitely need awe and respect for the wondrous God who gives life to creation and to the church. The God of the resurrection is behind this new birth. This God is present and laboring in the midst of the struggle.
Persistence and perseverance are essential. We can see these qualities in the early church midwives in Acts who did not let suffering and outright failure stop them. In Acts 16, for example, we see them expecting God to open other doors when the first doors they tried refused to open.
Another essential is constant prayer for courage and for wisdom to know how to encourage, when to intervene, when to push, when to relax and let things take their course, and how to protect what is newly-born. Along the way everyone needs to keep breathing the breath of God.
Those are some of my thoughts about church midwifery. What reflections and practical resources would you add? Please post them. And may the Lord be with you wherever you labor!