Faith Worked Out: Annabel Clarke
It is a joy to be partnering with Annabel and the incredible work she does with Engage Network. I feel so strongly that she has begun to tackle issues we've known about for years but have never quite worked out how to deal with! We hope this encourages you in singleness, relationships, marriages and everything in between. K x
Books on bedside table: Alistair McGrath’s CS Lewis biography and Bridget Jones’s Baby.
Coffee order: cup of tea with a chocolate biscuit!
Dream holiday destination: A warm, sandy beach with palm trees ….or Rome.
Favourite month: August – if the weather’s good!
Favourite Psalm: 103
Tell us where you are right now, what you do now and how you got there?
Well, I grew up in Yorkshire, but I’ve been living in Cambridge for years and I love it. I’m a Senior Specialist Educational Psychologist, have been an ‘EP’ for nearly 15 years, and was also previously in teaching. I trained at Durham, Cambridge and UCL – probably migrating south as I’m not good at being cold!
My job involves using psychology to promote the emotional well-being, learning and development of all children and young people, and those who have particular challenges/needs too. We work at different levels, doing ‘big picture’ policies and protocols, training and consultation, as well as working with individual young people and the adults who support them. I supervise colleagues too. I love the variety of the job – in the same day I could be writing a research review and playing in a sandpit with a pre-schooler!
What was the inspiration behind Engage and what led you to use your gifts for God in this way?
Have you ever felt like God is leading you to do something you wouldn’t choose to do, but you know that He loves you and knows best, so you go ahead with it anyway? Well it’s been like that really! In summary…
2007: I found a page of data on the internet which showed there were twice as many women as men in the church. I could see that this had major implications for everyone in the church – men, women and children. I also seemed to start hearing about different organisations who were separately doing relevant work, from men’s ministry people to teenagers’ relationship education people. I really felt we should get these people together.
2010: One night I had a very powerful ‘God’ dream (which isn’t like me at all!) – all I knew was that we were at a ‘small conference at Ridley’. It didn’t make sense, but I wrote it down, prayed and waited. Ridley Hall Theological College in Cambridge was somewhere I’d known about for years, but never been to, although it’s only 3 miles from my house. Then suddenly, less than a week later, I was invited there, and met one of the senior tutors (Adrian Chatfield). I ended up getting to know him, and talking about what I’d found out.
2012: We got together some key ministry leaders and held our first Symposium, and so found ourselves at a small conference at Ridley…Engage started from there.
As a Christian Psychologist, lots of aspects of my day job inform Engage – we want our work to be biblically-based and research-based and we use psychological frameworks to analyse information and find solutions. We’re passionate about helping people to do relationships God’s way - young people and adults.
Why do you think it is so important to be ‘making Christian marriage possible’?
Biblically, singleness is good, and marriage is good. At the same time, we know that most Christians would like to get married one day, and that they’d prefer to marry another Christian. So Engage is about ‘making Christian marriage possible’ – not compulsory, but possible!
For us, ‘Christian marriage’ is everything a marriage between a Christian man and Christian woman can potentially be, when God is at its centre. But, because of the church gender imbalance (twice as many women as men), there are consequences:
- For men: there’s a massive need for more effective ways of reaching men, and doing discipleship and church
- For women: at the moment for half of them, Christian marriage is not an option – they have to choose whether to stay single and childless, or marry a non-Christian
- For children/young people: spiritual fatherlessness is an issue - only 11% of our grandchildren will have a Christian father & mother if current trends continue
Christian girls and women shouldn’t despair! But they do need to be proactive when it comes to healthy Christian singleness and dating (obviously boys and men do too) – see the ‘Resources’ sections on our website www.engage-mcmp.org.uk to help with those things.
Engage is a national network of youth and adult ministry experts working together to achieve our vision: “To make singleness or marriage a genuine choice for all Christian women and men, through a church which is gender-balanced and teaches about healthy Christian singleness, dating and marriage”.
And everyone can signpost their church leaders to our website too to help change things!
What is the highlight of your working week?
Talking to young people or adults, and seeing them go away feeling more positive, confident and equipped to tackle what they’ve got to do. And I enjoy running training courses – they can be a good combination of serious and fun stuff. And even better if they involve nice biscuits!
How have you learnt to trust God with your decision-making and plans for the future? Has there even been a time this has been particularly difficult?
I’ve still got the bible I had when I was 14. On the inside cover are the autographs of all the youth leaders of a great Christian camp I went on that year. Two of them wrote a bible verse next to their name - one put ‘Proverbs 3v5-6’ and another put ‘Romans 8v28-30’ (go and read them, or read them again!). These are two key verses for decision-making and planning for the future.
I think I’ve learnt that God knows what’s best for us, he loves us, and doing things his way is the best way. We can pray and ask him to guide our decisions and plans, and he will – through the bible, through wise advice from others, through ‘God-incidences’ or him speaking directly to us in other ways. Sometimes we don’t understand what’s going on in our lives, and prayers seem unanswered, but we can trust that in all things he will work for the good of those who love him.
I remember when I was coming back to the UK after living and working in Africa for a year – I had no money, no job, nowhere to live…I’d literally tried everything and lots of people were praying for me…and nothing was happening at all! Suddenly, with about 2 weeks before I was going home (I was pretty desperate by then!) I was offered somewhere perfect to live, and about 2 weeks after I got back, I had a job that was absolutely perfect for me at that time. God did have a plan and provided everything I needed.
When life is busy, how do you make time for rest and space with God?
I plan my time intentionally so that life is as balanced as possible, and there’s time in the week for God, work, friends and family, rest, fun, exercise, church things and lots of other things! And every now and then I review the balance, and adjust things if needs be.
I’ve always found that mornings are the best for me to have ‘quiet times’ with God. And admittedly, these times are a bit shorter if it’s in the week, but they can also be ‘luxury length’ at the weekends. I’ve always found published daily bible reading notes really helpful, and using different ways to pray. But it’s great to know we can chat with God throughout the day too!
A piece of advice for your 14 year old self?
When you’re older, you’re going to look back and realise that as well as the people closest to you, these things have been essential in keeping you going through life’s ups and downs:
- Your relationship with God and the bible (keep up the ‘building on rock’ – Luke 6v47 !)
- Your small group and prayer triplet
- Choosing to study where there were good churches and Christian Unions as well as good courses
- Seeking help/support when you need it in tough times
- And always having at least one day a week when you don’t work at all - even in the middle of your GCSEs, A Levels and Uni Finals!
A big thank you to annabel for sharing her journey and work with us today. We hope you've been inspired!
Find out more about Engage (including resources and some great talks from Symposiums) at: www.engage-mcmp.org.uk