We’re continuingly looking for ways to raise awareness of safeguarding and to get the message out about the importance of creating safer places. To help us do this even more effectively we’ve recently started working together with a small group of charity patrons to help us raise the profile of the work that we do to protect vulnerable people from abuse. We’re delighted to announce our newest patron Dr Paula Gooder.
Dr Gooder is a writer and lecturer in Biblical Studies. Her research areas focus on the writings of Paul the Apostle, with a particular focus on 2 Corinthians and on Paul’s understanding of the Body. Her passion is to ignite people’s enthusiasm for reading the Bible today, by presenting the best of biblical scholarship in an accessible and interesting way. She is currently the Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
You’ve worked in and with churches for most of your life, what have been some of the main lessons this has taught you about church and your faith?
One of the things that I am constantly astounded by are the countless faithful Christians, who everyday of their life live out God’s love and justice in the world. Almost every week I meet (in person or online) someone who so lives out the good news of Jesus in the world that I am inspired all over again. And yet – as we all know so well – it is so very easy to get things wrong, to go for what is easy rather than what is right. One of the crucial features of faithful Christian living is the ability to hear the voice of critique that asks us to look again at ourselves and our actions and ask how Christ-like we have really been.
As a writer (having written and co-authored over 30 books) and lecturer in Biblical studies, what inspires and motivates you most in your work?
The Bible! One of the great joys of my life is that it is my job to read the Bible carefully and prayerfully and to ask what new things we can learn from it. I never cease to be inspired by it – especially the writings of Paul which are my particular expertise – and to gain wisdom from its pages.
Who are your role models or people that inspire you, either from history or present day?
People who change the world by being who God has called them to be: from Paul the Apostle to Phoebe the Deacon (Rom 16.1-2); from Theresa of Avila to Mother Theresa; from Mary Seacole to Ruth Bader-Ginsberg; from the Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya (Bishop of Swaziland/Eswatini who sadly died from Covid-19 in January 2021) to Bishop Sarah Mullally, Bishop of London. Yes I do recognise that nearly all of these are women but it is, for me as a woman, so very encouraging to look to those many women who have changed the world by being themselves and to be inspired by them.
You have a passion for ecumenism. What does Christian unity mean to you and why do you think it is so important for the church?
I am passionate about church unity but not the kind of church unity that pretends that we don’t really disagree. For me church unity is vital – it is what Jesus prayed for his followers in John 17 – but church unity only has value if we can be honest about what we really think and are humble enough to listen to those who are completely different from us so that we can discover what they can teach us about faith and following Jesus.
What do you see as some of the main challenges facing churches in the UK today?
Oh, there are so many it is hard to know where to start. We live in anxious times and it is possibly anxiety about the future that is the biggest challenge the churches face. We spend such a long time worrying about things over which we have no control at all that we forget to celebrate what we do have – the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God is no less good news than it was 2000 years ago. Maybe our biggest challenge is to remind ourselves why it is such good news!
You’ve studied and spoken on theology throughout your career, and served for six years with the Bible Society as their Theologian in Residence. Why is theology so important to you, and what role does it play in the way churches and faith organisations respond to safeguarding issues?
For me theology is very simply words about God. Talking about God thoughtfully and carefully is what we are all called to do as Christians. While some people are called to be professional theologians, we are all called to do theology. So theology is important to me because in my view it is important. Finding the right words to describe God and everything God has done in the world is really important.
In terms of safeguarding, I think that good theology will lead us to be passionate about taking care of everyone, no matter who they are, in such a way that they will know the love of God for themselves. I think it is very important to ensure that what we say about ourselves (our espoused theology) matches what we do (our operant theology). Sadly, in the past what churches have done has been, in some instances, a long way from what they claimed to believe about God.
You’ve worked for the Diocese of Birmingham as their Director of Mission Learning and Development. What do you see as the biggest opportunities to the church for mission in the current times?
I would say that sharing the love of God in Jesus Christ is always our opportunity for mission. It doesn’t change if circumstances change – how we do it might change – but proclaiming God’s love remains at the heart of who we are called to be as Christians.
Awareness of safeguarding among churches and the need to invest time, money and energy into creating safer places for all is growing. Why do you think safeguarding is so important for churches and how does it reflect the message of the Gospel?
It is really very simple. If we believe that everyone is created in the image of God and is loved by God, then our churches must reflect that in every single relationship. Safeguarding is surely an outworking of the belief that everyone deserves to live, not just free from harm or abuse, but fully alive and aware of the fact that they are a child of God, loved and precious. Safeguarding provides the protocols that allows this to be a lived reality for everyone.
What does becoming an ambassador for Thirtyone:eight mean to you?
I have always been passionate about safeguarding generally, and particularly in the church. Becoming an ambassador for Thirtyone:eight allows me to stand with them, and with all the vitally important work that they do, to call the churches to look again and again at themselves and ask whether what they do in practice lives up to God’s vision for us and for the world.