The Church. Who Needs It? We Do! by Yvonne Bennett
February 25, 2021
The Church. Who Needs It? We Do! By Yvonne Bennett
Today I am on the Blog Tour for The Church. Who Needs it? We Do! by Yvonne Bennett and I am here with an extract for you all.
Before I share that though, here’s some information on the book.
Title: The Church. Who Needs it? We do! Author: Yvonne Bennett Publisher: Clink Street Publishing Published: 2nd February 2021 Format: Paperback Source: N/A Summary: A group of mums in South London living in poverty come together to form a group to help each other.
They talk of their struggles on Universal credit and the ways in which a pioneer Methodist missionary has brought them together. Not all have a faith, but all believe in the power of prayer. Their struggles escalate as the pandemic lockdown comes into play.
They start a blog and use this to express their feelings. This book is their voice.
the who, why, what, where and when This book has come to fruition thanks to my involvement with Mummies Republic and my PhD research into the role of the Church as an agent for social wellbeing. I am using ‘Church’ to encompass all Christian Churches in Britain today, applying Jessica Rose’s definition:
Christian Churches – Western and Eastern – who profess the Trinity and the incarnation, regard themselves as the Body of Christ, and celebrate the Eucharist. (Rose, 2009, p.2)
From the beginning of this project my aim was to employ an ethnographic methodology; using interviews and observation as means of data collection. I wanted to take a conversation driven approach to this research. As a social researcher I am studying the lived experiences of the participants, therefore, it was important that I establish a relationship with each of them. These relationships are based on trust and transparency. To do so I had to build a rapport with the women, gain their confidence and, importantly, take time. The data has been collected over a period of eighteen months, although my relationship with Mummies Republic spans many years.
Unheard Voices and Lived Religion Mummies Republic is a group of mothers living in low income households, experiencing poverty and isolation who come together to give and gain support in a religious setting. They encompass a group in which very little in-depth knowledge has been acquired, with regard to lived religion. The term lived religion is described as the ways in which people practice religion in their everyday lives (Hunt 2005; Crawford-Sullivan 2011). This may or may not include worship in a religious setting and can be formal or informal. Crawford-Sullivan questions why this group, mothers living in poverty, and their lived religious lives are unrepresented when it comes to sociological enquiry. As she points out, this requires investigation not least because:
Such women’s lives are difficult and challenging: juggling searches for housing and decent jobs, struggling to care for children, surviving on welfare or working at low-wage service jobs that often lack dignity and benefits, coping with family disruption and perhaps facing physical or mental health problems or addictions. It seems likely that many poor mothers might involve faith in their daily activities and find purpose or meaning through religious faith. (Crawford-Sullivan 2011, p.5)
Research has been carried out in areas such as: single families living in poverty; women and religion; isolation experienced by nuclear families; as well as research into poverty within Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups. As primary research is lacking for this specific cohort of women it is important to examine how this demographic experience life with regard to religious belief and practice; as well as how they have been impacted by the latest welfare reform. The experiences of these women will be examined through an intersectional lens. Although not all who attend the group identify as having a religious faith, the Wednesday meetings have a religious element to them.
I have known Winnie Baffoe and Mummies Republic since its creation in 2012. I came to the group as a volunteer teacher from the now defunct charity Kids Co. I was at that time working with young mothers teaching parenting skills and required a safe space that could accommodate the mothers, their babies and infants. BCH1 kindly offered the use of their hall and it was here, on Wednesdays, that we met. The seeds were sown for what was to become Mummies Republic. I must add at this point that Winnie is solely responsible for nurturing this group and making it flourish, I can take no credit for this wonderful transformation. The ethos of this group that makes it, in my opinion, inspirational is that it is for mummies by mummies. This group is taking back an element of control over their lives and the lives of their children by asking for help and, when they are able to, giving help and support back to others. Winnie wrote of one incident when a group member offered assistance to one mother when she was in financial difficulty:
As one mum held our latest victim of Universal Credit, she said ‘I have £10 in my purse, can I give that to you?’ These are families that often only hold £10–20 for their electric meters. (Winnie 2019)
This was a woman prepared to give money that she could little afford to lose to someone who was in more immediate need. Martela and colleagues point out that ‘Research on life aspirations and goals has indeed shown that striving to give to others is beneficial for wellbeing’ (Martela et al. 2016, p.751). The impact of giving help to others on mental health wellbeing and the links to lived religion forms part of this research.
Abigail Brooks proposes that researchers ‘need to begin with women’s lives, as they themselves experience them’ (Brooks 2011, p.4). It is through everyday occurrences that women cultivate knowledge, gain skills and make choices. Yet how much choice do these women have over their lives and the lives of their children? For this group of women employment choices are scant. The majority have little or no formal qualifications. Add to this the problems many have over childcare and their choices are limited. Yet, within this group, the majority of the women work part-time. Winnie spoke to me of the strong work ethic the mothers hold. Crawford-Sullivan writes of the work ethic of single American mothers as having its roots in the Protestant work ethic. She proposes that ‘Poor mothers believe hard and honest work pleases God, even if the jobs are bad’ (Crawford-Sullivan 2011, p.71). I discussed this theory with the mothers during a Bible study session.
About the Author
Yvonne Bennett is a fifty-seven-year-old mother of four. Originally from Greenock in Scotland, she’s lived in Sevenoaks, Kent for over twenty years. First a District Nursing Sister with a speciality in end of life care, Yvonne retrained as a Montessori pre-school teacher after taking a career break to have her children. Following a chance meeting with an Open University lecturer, Yvonne decided to study for a degree, something which she had felt was beyond her means when she was at school. She relished the academic focus and soon followed up her BA in religious studies with an MA; she has just submitted her PhD through Canterbury Christ Church University. During her studies, she worked part-time as a volunteer teacher with the now disbanded charity Kids Co., which led to her involvement with Bermondsey Central Hall Methodist Church. She describes herself as a Christian atheist; a nonbeliever who values the sense of community and positivity that can be afforded by churchgoing. You can follow the group’s blog at mummiesdayinlockdown.wordpress.com.