I Need a Name

Posted by Karen Soole Karen Soole
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Why did John Lewis spend 7 million pounds this Christmas on a cartoon advert that is about a bear and a hare? It doesn’t focus on its products, its service, its customer care or its value for money, it could be advertising anything until the moment when the brand logo is revealed – the name says it all.

Names matter. They are how we quickly define ourselves so that others can get a grasp on who we are. I don’t mean that saying I’m called Karen tells anyone anything particularly interesting (although it does suggest I was born in the sixties) but if I say I am Mrs Karen Soole it does communicate something just as if I chose to call myself Ms Karen Soole or Miss Karen Jeffrey even though I’m married.

In the last week I have been asked several times to describe ‘what I do’. I have to admit I would love a quick handle that didn’t sound ridiculous. I would love a name – teacher? Writer? Blogger? Woman’s worker? Student worker? Speaker?  It feels so much easier to have a label that describes what you do, a kind of shorthand. Instead when I’m asked yet again for a few lines to describe what I do for the advertising blurb of a Women’s Conference I struggle and even more so when I am faced with a new group of people who wonder why on earth a housewife from Lancaster is teaching them on their staff training day? Because that is officially what I am, it is how the government defines me and it is what my children say I do when asked at school. My son says he knows I do stuff but has no idea how to describe it so resorts to “ my Mum is a housewife”. Now there is no problem with that except that names matter. He got into a strange conversation with a careers advisor at school who obviously felt he failed to value me as a ‘housewife’ because when asked what his mother did he answered, “I don’t really know!”

If I own the title housewife lots of assumptions are made, mostly negative ones because my children are all teenagers and so I must be extraordinarily lazy and self indulgent or rich to still be at home and this perception runs through our society (and in church too).

In Christian settings I often resort to saying I’m the Chair of the Northern Women’s Convention because if I’m honest it gives me some kind of authority, it is my way of saying “I’m here to teach you and I have something to say, or least some others have trusted me to teach them in the past so please bear with me and see if I have anything useful to say’. However it feels a bit fraudulent having a title that is devolved from a conference that happens once a year. In the hairdressers I usually say I teach but this does lend itself to confusion. Perhaps I might call myself the director of Equipped ministries –but surely that is pretentious.

All of this I confess is a bit self-indulgent. This is my problem and mostly I live with it. I know that titles and roles are not what serving Christ is about. I am thrilled that I can spend my time doing as much ministry as possible, it is a privilege and a joy. However I have decided that this issue is relevant because it points to a bigger issue that many women in ministry face and that will be the subject of my next blog.