Breaking The Mould Book Review

[I was very kindly sent a free copy of this book by Jules herself and in return I thought I’d write about it in case you’re thinking of buying it]

‘It’s a book that encourages thy to throw yourself into this rising Holy Spirit-tide, washing through the bride of Christ and bringing a breath of fresh air in its wake’ – Breaking The Mould, Jules Middleton

I’m a mother of two (2, 5) and in the early stages of ‘exploring a vocation to ordained ministry’ in church parlance or ‘mumble mumble might be a good idea to be a vicar’ in mine. My rector is a mother of three and started training when her youngest was a toddler so I’ve had a lot of helpful advice about motherhood and ministry but even so this book was a goldmine.

I enjoyed the bit about sexism you might experience – e.g being asked ‘is daddy babysitting tonight’? Which was what the (lady) running a vocational course asked me on our first meeting. I pulled her up on it – by only a brief lecture on the attrition of women (specifically in STEM) and how subtle, everyday sexism all adds to the ‘leaky pipeline’ – but she assured she would say it to someone of either gender… Hmm.

I really loved the variety of reflections from all different people, from a single lesbian mother to an RAF chaplain, across many denominations. It made me feel even more aware of how remarkable God is, people in ministry are, and especially women in ministry are! There were some amazing stories and you can feel God’s love threaded all the way through the book. Jules says in it she felt called to write it and you can see that shine through in it, it is a very valuable resource and I expect to keep it on my shelf and reread it through the hard times. It is incredibly inspirational but also realistic, dealing with the ‘how it is in the ground in a 2020 context’ as well as delving into the theology of female leaders in the church and ‘how it should be’.

There is a great section on becoming a mum while in ministry and I’d definitely buy this book for a young female ordinand planning to have a family at some point. It reminds me of Naomi Stadlen’s ‘What Mothers Do‘ – a crucial book for understanding exactly what these changes mean for you as a person. I give that book to every pregnant person I know, and wish I’d read it way before I had children, and I feel Breaking The Mould is similarly crucial.

In some ways this book is for me preaching to the converted, Jules references BrenĂ© Brown, Nadia Bolz-Weber and others that I’m very familiar with. Although I’m not in ministry, a lot of the theoretical underpinning feels like something I could have written (less eloquently) – but I recognise I do an *inordinate* amount of research before jumping into anything and I am almost certain most people have far better things to do with their time than read all about clergy wellbeing, motherhood, feminism, female leadership etc. This is a great summing up and I will return to it time and time again for statistics and quotes from her wonderfully personable writing style. It’s also been a great reminder that there are people like me doing this, that there is a place at the table for me, and that I won’t be the first or the last to bribe a child with sweets to get them through a meeting in church or buy presents to apologise for yet again something overrunning.

Evelyn Underhill, who I’m sure would have made an excellent priest if she was born today (still amazed it’s been < 30 years since women could be ordained in the C of E…), writes that the daily office is ‘a link between our fluctuating communion with God and the great continuous action of the church; a devotional pattern, a reminder of the vast life of prayer coming out of the past, stretching forward into the future, into which our small prayer is women; something which shall steady us, transcend our changing feelings.’ I see a reflection of this for mothers (in ministry), that all our tending, worrying, sshing our children in church, staying up late or waking up early, catching some quiet time, cleaning toilets before an open house – they’re all the parts we weave individually, yet together, a shared, often humbling or sanctifying experience, but each of us alone is part of a bigger picture. And this book provides a great pick-me-up we are all working for a brighter future.

A prayer

I want to thank you for Jules
Her kindness, her book, her ministry which leads the way for others.
I want to give thanks for all the women, over centuries, in all areas of church life, quietly holding it together,
For the female clergy we’ve been inspired by, for everyone who’s stories are in this book.
And I pray that you circle with your love their children, grandchildren, extended family and spouses.
I pray for a culture shift where we can all be less hard on ourselves and on each other.
Where everybody – male or female – across world, is free to be who you made them to be.
Thy kingdom come,

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