Rachel Bedford is an alumna of St Mellitus College, having graduated in 2016. Below, she tells us a bit about herself, and about Arise – a movement created to encourage and support young women into Church Leadership, which she coordinates alongside Sarah McDonald, who is also an alumna of the College.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I am currently about to begin my final year of curacy in Kensal Rise, north-west London, having graduated from St Mellitus in 2016. Prior to training for ordination I was a secondary history teacher. For me, leaving the teaching profession was the hardest part of my call to ordination as I loved my job! It’s certainly taken a while to let go of that, but I do feel my identity as a teacher comes through in various aspects of my job as an ordained person. I am married to Mark who is a secondary Headteacher and we have two energetic sons aged 3 and 9 months.
What was the vision behind Arise and how did it start?
The vision behind Arise was to gather young women, predominantly within the HTB network but it has become broader than that, who were exploring a call to ordination and church leadership. Sarah McDonald (the co-founder of Arise and also a St Mellitus alumni) and I believe that there are plenty of young women within our churches who would make fantastic church leaders, but who are in need of empowerment and role models. There are some great examples where this empowerment and role modelling is taking place, so we wanted to praise it, share it and multiply it! A key part of the vision was to invite male church leaders into this conversation as many were asking us how to best mentor young women to ordination. Arise began at Focus 2017 in a packed out seminar with over 200 people. We then held a day conference in London in November 2017.
What have you seen?
We audaciously prayed for 100 delegates to the first Arise gathering in November 2017. Incredibly, the night before the event the 100th booking came through the website and on the day we had around 115 people there, the majority of whom were young women. God is faithful! Several of these women had experienced, to a greater or lesser degree, a sense of calling to ordination yet many had never articulated this. For me, the most powerful moments in the day were when I could see some women realise for the first time – ‘I could do this, the church wants people like me to lead!’
Since Arise we have heard of several women who have formally begun the discernment process and the wonderful Jill Duff said that Arise was a key moment in God prompting her to accept the invitation she had had to be a bishop! Finally, I am delighted to hear of male church leaders increasingly nurturing young women in their congregations who have gifts suitable for church leadership.
And what are your hopes for the future?
With regards to Arise and vocations amongst young women, there are many reasons to be hopeful! I have seen the church become more flexible in ways that I believe to be unprecedented. I am a good example of that: I had a baby during my time at St Mellitus and another baby during my curacy and have been fully supported and encouraged throughout my pregnancies and maternity leaves. Systems that previously would have made it very difficult for women like me to train and minister flexibly are on the way out and I think this will open up new opportunities for our churches to be places where men and women can flourish in ordained leadership together.
Considering ordination training, and interested to find out more? Listen to the talks from the gatherings Rachel mentions here.