From Revd. Sue Baker-Maher, about receiving the award for her dissertation: ‘What can I learn from female biblical leaders to inform my practice as a Methodist Minister’
My first reaction to opening the registered letter announcing the winner of the Lynnette J. Mullings BA Dissertation Prize was to peer at the address label. The second was to go fetch my glasses. Yep – right post code. Thirdly, still in pyjamas, I was about to chase after the post lady when, fortunately for the neighbours, I remembered in time ….no other Queen’s students live in my road!
Being surprised and delighted in equal measure on receiving the award is an understatement, not least as the award honours the achievements and lasting legacy of Revd. Lynette.
I elected to do the dissertation because it afforded an opportunity to explore a self-selected topic and do so in more depth that the shorter assignments for the Certificate level.
Reflecting on actually doing it – identifying what I enjoyed and learnt, I would say it feels a bit like having a baby. The pleasure comes with the relief of safe delivery; the learning process continues long after. John Norbury’s Big Panda and Tiny Dragon also comes to mind.
In undertaking the research, I travelled with three biblical female leaders – Deborah, Esther and Mary Magdalene. We were accompanied by feminist theologians who became guides sharing their discoveries, experience and knowledge and signposting hazards and dangers, as well as opening up new vistas. It was my first foray into the use of feminist frameworks for exegeting biblical texts as well as being my first look at non canonical material – there is little about Mary Magdalene in scripture! As Deborah and Esther’s leadership skills and approaches emerged from the shadows and we started to dig Mary Magdalene out from under heaps of rubble, so did my journey illuminate self-understanding and how leadership is a collection of practices and approaches requiring careful choosing depending on circumstance.
I started this dissertation from a place of uncertainty about ministerial leadership in our context today, rarely finding material that addressed my particular needs either about my own practice or concerning missiological perspectives. I also had a strong desire to go into more depth in studying scripture itself having enjoyed our modules on books in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament whilst at Queen’s. The assistance of Dr Georgina Byrne played a pivotal role here, helping to clarify a dissertation question that allowed me to follow my interests and concerns in a way that was doable within the confines of the academic requirements of a dissertation of this length. So, note to others undertaking similar projects – the tutors are right; defining the question really is the key!
I ended in a place I didn’t at all expect. Along the way I have been:
- flabbergasted by the textual obliteration and disfigurement of biblical female leaders as revealed through a feminist lens;
- empowered as scales dropped from my eyes endorsing my agency as a woman to name things for what they are;
- amazed by the smart and effective leadership strategies, approaches and lessons emerging from Deborah, Esther and Mary Magdalene as together we critiqued each other’s practice.
- I have been astounded by the currency of the leadership approaches these women have to offer, as well as the light they shine on the wider dilemmas our churches face in today’s context.
- I have also been equipped by lessons learnt from these women and…
- delighted and energised as connections sparkled and danced across the many other areas of study undertaken during my time at Queens.
So, despite the labour pains – a very worthwhile experience which I trust will continue to feed further growth and development. As often said, students stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before and, like Moses, we sometimes need a bit of propping up when we flag. The Queen’s Foundation has been a consistent source of inspiration, challenge and encouragement – the college overall, the lecturers, the support and hospitality staff and the other students with whom I have had the privilege of journeying alongside. My sincere and heartfelt thanks go to all for everything that is done to equip us for ministry. For this award, I owe much to Dr Barbara Glasson for her support and encouragement and throughout my studies to Michael Gale’s leadership and care of the library services.
I am grateful to the Methodist Church and Queens for the opportunity to have travelled this path. Throughout all my studies others have journeyed along with me, especially my family and my very longstanding good friend and colleague Janis Barrett, whose insights from a secular perspective into issues personal, organisational and ecclesiastical have been for me second to none. I am ever more aware that we only travel well when we travel together, and our achievements are not just our own.
Still surprised but greatly encouraged.
 Norbury, James., Big Panda and Tiny Dragon (Mandala Publishing, 2021)