The art of listening

Discipleship Proximity Principle
An Image of Hana Amner Hana Amner
5th June 2024 5 minute read

No doubt, the Apostle Paul spun a few heads when he radically performed a U-turn with his life. He wasn’t the sort to follow Christ! I can relate. Aged 17, I rocked up to church, rough around the edges, with my own 180-degree life-turn-around. It was the best time of my life. I fell in love with Jesus, I was welcomed into a community of people who loved and discipled me. My dad, who came to faith three weeks later, also experienced that same love and support. 

However, over the years I got used to hanging out my dirty laundry in public. Repeatedly asked to share my story of how I was a once-upon-a-time gremlin transformed by the power of Christ. Although there was truth to this, I couldn’t help but notice that my ‘born-again story’ was something I was being held to. Over and over, I was carted out to the front of events, to be celebrated and cheered. Don’t get me wrong; the praise felt good and even to this day I struggle with oversharing, because for so long it was expected of me. But something didn’t sit right.

I am reminded of a time I was introduced to a stranger at an event as ‘someone who lived a broken life and Christ had changed.’ I nodded and smiled but came away unsettled. Over the years I found myself being repeatedly depicted as this broken sinner saved by Christ. Yes, I know I am. We all are. But you get what I am saying.

I started to realise being that person for others held me back. Re-living my past and sharing it in public would re-traumatise me each time. I would spend a week or so afterwards licking my wounds. I had to be wise and canny. I got to the point of ‘enough is enough.’ I decided, if I was asked to roll out the testimony again, or even do cool things such as radio interviews, I’d simply decline. I sensed God tell me to say “no.” 

I think for anyone going into church leadership you can feel like an imposter. 

‘God has called me?!’

When Christ invited me into Anglican ordination, I entered a world as a bit of an anomaly: a Londoner, in the north, who warmly called people “babe” and “darling.” I’d joined an institution long populated by educated, professionals from backgrounds very different to mine. During my first years of training there were voices who asked me to change the way I spoke, the way I dressed. During that time, I remember going to M&S to try on blazers! I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t try to be something I wasn’t. It wasn’t me that needed to change. After all, church at its best should reflect diversity, and that includes leadership. The same Jesus who called Levi the tax collector and Simon the Zealot, with all their differences, was calling me too. Yes, God wanted to form me, but not change who I am. Jesus celebrates our diversity because we have so much to learn from one another.

Unfortunately, my experience of Christian culture is not dissimilar to the quick assumptions present outside of the church. Unhealthy depictions of the ‘poor’, drug addicts, broken families, relying on benefits, broken and needy.

This has created an unhealthy idea of what holiness does and doesn’t look like. We can easily become Christians stained with saviour syndrome, thinking we need to ‘save’ and ‘change’ people. I fear, we are really saying “you need to be like me” or “you need what I have.” I decided that I would channel all this into my studies, and I wrote an essay on raising leaders from the margins. I focused on Jesus’ encounters with those marginalised in his society. I soon realised Jesus didn’t make prejudiced assumptions. Instead, he listened. He saw people. He liberated regardless of how society depicted them. As a result, the most diverse people broke through social expectations and constraints.

It led me to think how those from marginalised backgrounds are a gift to others. At the time it was popular to train marginalised leaders to lead ministry in their own context. Whilst there is nothing wrong with that, I challenge this as the only idea. If heaven is diverse, so should our worshipping communities.  We need churches to be anti-homogenous spaces. We need priests and pastors leading in contexts distinct from their backgrounds. By doing so, we create spaces for mutual listening and learning. 

So, I put my money where my mouth was, and decided I wouldn’t apply for the urban/ pioneer roles expected of me, instead seeking out provincial opportunities. I now find myself as a vicar of two rural churches and chaplain to a secondary school. And there is nowhere else I would rather be. I love these communities and I feel loved by them. We are different, and in another life, we would never have crossed paths. In Jesus, however, this diverse bunch of people are called family. And I love it. I also love that I’m no longer the ‘gremlin’ wheeled out to bring a bit of drama to an evangelistic event. No, I’m the London gal in her rural wellies, who still, warmly, calls everyone, ‘babe’ and ‘darling.’

Written by

Hana Amner

Revd Hana Amner is also known as the Creative Priest. A Southerner now based in Cheshire she lives out her vocation as a Priest, whilst serving as a vicar of two churches in the parish of Dodleston and Chaplain of Bishops’ CofE High School.

Creativity, for me, is one of the ways in which I seek to communicate the things that I feel God puts on my heart. I am passionate about creating a platform for voices that are regularly silenced in society, and I use art to provoke thought, discussion, and action around faith, cultural, and social issues.

An Image of Hana Amner
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