We’ve got the Divine Divas. Now bring on the men! (Sue Sheriff)

Sue SheriffSue Sheriff has got the Divine Divas – now she wants the men!

I am really excited by the way things are going with Divine Divas (as featured on the expressions: making a difference DVD). BUT, even better, the men in our area have now had their first 'Divine Divas' style event!

We'd provided them with lots of suggestions for names – things like Divine Dudes or Heavenly Hunks, etc – but surprise, surprise, they weren't impressed. There are a number of men in their 40s and 50s (and over) in our congregations who we wanted to bring together, but this effort was more about reaching out to the men 'beyond the fringe'.

Tadcaster is a place with lots of 'old-fashioned ways'. For instance, many of our pubs have no entertainment licences and still use old opening hours, so men tend to gather in them for a bit of a chat. My husband Gary and my ex-churchwarden John Wilson often slip into one of the local hostelries so know many of the local characters. I can't say we often see these men in church, except for funerals, so we wanted to work more within their comfort zone.

To organise the men-only event, I invited John and a few others to join Gary and me for pie, peas and prayers one evening. Some were slightly cautious as they had tried to reach out to men before, but there was also a lot of vision and enthusiasm. We invited others to be involved, all of whom had friendly personalities and different gifts, skills and experience to share. These included a newly confirmed and enthusiastic Christian, a man who had a shop in town, good relationship with lots of church people, and someone blessed with technical knowhow.

Principles were similar to Divine Divas, namely a night of fun in a relaxed environment with a little taste of the difference a Christian faith can make. But there were a lot of things that were different. The Divas spend a lot of time on the trimmings, the decoration, making everyone feel special, whereas the men just wanted everything to be simple and down-to-earth. The joke was they reckoned I had written the 'minutes' before our introductory meeting even began. Not true at all; I had merely set a detailed agenda of suggestions after picking my hubby's brain about what the men of 'Tad' might respond to! The fellas also had plenty of ideas of their own.

The men in our area have now had their first 'Divine Divas' style event!

Together we decided a Saturday night would work best. The venue? A small, local social club with its own bar that only usually opened on week nights. We decided to organise a quiz, with corned beef hash 'on the menu' for everyone who came along. A local curate, Rev Andy Grant – who had recently left the army – was lined up to talk for a short time about his faith when in military service and what brought him to the point of ordination.

With no name selected for the group, printing invitations was interesting. In the end they went for something like St Mary's Men's Quiz Night. The only point I insisted on was the making up of an invitation list and naming who was to personally give each invite. Most of the men wanted a casual handing out of the cards, but I felt people would be missed that way.

An unscheduled boost came with the broadcast of the Rugby League Four Nations Cup Final at tea time on Saturday 19 November – our chosen night. As a result of that, we opened the club early and invited the men to come to watch the match before we got started.

We had 60 names on our list and 30 men turned up, some bringing sons or son-in-laws. Half the group were churchgoers and half were not. All in all, not bad for a first attempt and it appears that everybody had a great time. I must admit I did try to persuade them to let me be there on the night, even offering my services as barmaid, but they said no! Probably the right decision in the end.

I hope to be allowed to attend the next planning meeting to help them work through a review and set the next event. After that, they certainly have all the gifts and skills they need to get on and plan things alone. It wasn't our intention to divide the sexes with these events – it has just kind of happened that way. However, we have discovered that it gives people room to talk freely, stops unwilling partners feeling 'dragged along to a church do', makes single people feel fully involved and sorts out babysitting problems.

My hope is that in spring/summer 2012 we will be able to have some kind of all age event; this could involve a barbecue, kids' games and maybe an activity like inflatable sumo wrestling! We would invite St Mary's Men, Divine Divas and Messy Church to come along. We could then get together for occasional integrated events but still allow room for each group to develop in its own way.

Divine Divas at the Oscars – Aug11

Divine Divas - SueRev Canon Sue Sheriff, vicar of Tadcaster, explains how Divine Divas replaced Hollywood with Yorkshire for A Night at the Oscars.

Divine Divas is a group that is clearly Christian but not off-putting to those who don't happen to be involved in church life. In the past we've had things like belly dancing, an evening based on the Loose Women TV panel show and Come Dine with the Divine Divas.

All of the gatherings we organise take place in a venue away from a church building. We tend to get 20 to 40 somethings made up of about 25% churchgoers and 75% non-churchgoers.

Earlier this month we had Divine Divas go to the Oscars – a brilliant night, one of the best so far. The local carpet shop even provided a red carpet for us!

Divine Divas - invitation

In preparation for the evening, we spent hours compiling a much-debated list of the top four movies in certain categories, including Best Action Film and Best RomCom. We didn't want to just have so-called chick flicks; instead we tried to do something for all age groups. My colleague, curate Claire Cullingworth, did a short talk using themes drawn from various films to illustrate the Christian message.

Divine Divas – with 'Diva' standing for Dynamic Inspirational Vibrant Adventurous women – doesn't seem to be a clear bridge to bringing people into church because, for some of them, Sunday church is not appropriate or convenient or they don't really relate to it. At the moment Divine Divas seems to be developing a community in its own right but it's very much at an early stage.

Divine Divas

What do belly dancing, Bollywood, Loose Women and Come Dine with Me have to do with a fresh expression of church in North Yorkshire? Revd Sue Sheriff, vicar of Tadcaster, gives the lowdown on Divine Divas.

It all started when one of our church members won the use of a hot tub for the weekend in a church raffle. She used it for a birthday party and we wondered, 'why is it that we can invite other women to this sort of party but we find that we can't really invite them to church?'

Divine Divas - foodI wasn't sure if it was just me or if the other women felt the same so the first thing we did was have Women Who Lunch and Pray and I asked a small group to come together early last year for lunch to talk about some of the women we cared about and think about the type of leisure activities we could invite them to.

We then invited Christian women across the area to a Pudding and Prayer meeting so that we could discuss it in more detail. As a result of this, we decided to put on an event for women, one that was clearly Christian but not off-putting. Divine Divas was born with DIVA standing for Dynamic Inspirational Vibrant Adventurous women. Our first meeting was an experiment, and we decided to go for belly dancing…

We wanted to be very open and honest about the fact that there was the church element, we didn't want to get people there under false pretences and so we decided the topic and invited a friend of mine – a wonderfully 'DIVA' vicar, Laura McWilliams from Scarborough – to come and tell her story and it was great.

Divine Divas - BollywoodPeople seemed to go for the whole thing immediately. The venue we use is licensed and I think we set the tone by inviting them to bring whatever they wanted to drink. There are always ethical issues around these questions of course and we don't go so far as to provide the drink but we felt it important that they could bring in a bottle of wine if they wanted to. So far we haven't had any problems with this, people seem to respect what we're doing and only drink in moderation. If it was causing any sort of distress, we would obviously think again.

We didn't want to exclude people by always organising active events so we next organised a Loose Women panel. On the TV, they've discussed prayer and spiritual items several times and we thought it great that we could talk about anything and everything. I chaired it with three very lively Christian women who made themselves very honest, very vulnerable – all with a good experience of life. It was such an open and frank debate and I think an eye opener for many in the audience. Cosmopolitan magazine was taken as our source of information in the first half of the evening so that meant we had Christians talking about things like How to have the Best Sex Ever.

We set our age limit as being old enough to discuss childbirth without cringing and young enough to have a go at belly dancing. It's more of an attitude than an age limit but we tend to get 20 to 40 somethings made up of about 25% churchgoers and 75% non- churchgoers. Attendance has never really dropped below 40.

Divine Divas - handsBollywood Nights featuring Bollywood style dancing was another one that made the programme. It featured the testimony of a young woman, a Muslim convert to Christianity, who told us some of the complications that decision had brought about in her life. People were really moved when they realised the personal cost of being a Christian; that was the event when people started saying it was 'their'church. There had always been relationship stuff going on but that event was certainly a turning point.

Our next event is Come Dine with the Divine Divas. This is a women-only event so the men will help with the cooking and wait on the tables but once they have served the meal, they have to get out! Three of the fellas from church said they would ask some of their friends and they have now got a group together to do just that. We're calling them the Divine Men. They think this is a fun idea because they are doing something rather than coming to something – it could provide a longer term offshoot for the men.

Divine Divas - churchA core group of seven of us is involved in the planning; there is a big denominational spread as we operate across a joint benefice. There are lots of us who are very conscious of the very worldly things around which we are weaving Christian themes in our events. Divine Divas doesn't seem to be a clear bridge to bringing people into church because, for some of them, Sunday church is not appropriate or convenient for them or they don't really relate to it. At the moment Divine Divas seems to be developing a community in its own right but it's very much at early stages.

The whole thing begs the question about what does church mean? What I hope that will come out of this is that people will develop a relationship with Jesus. I do find that, for instance even now with our friends they will ask us to pray and on occasions even non-churchgoing friends who have no particular claim to faith will text and say 'pray for me, this is happening' – sometimes even to sit and pray with them especially when it's something very emotional to do with family.

Similarly in conversation we'll chat Bible stories and talk about things like the woman at the well who had been married however many times and the man she was with wasn't her husband. So much of it relates to people's experiences today so I'm not sure – if Church were to be taken in its 'tight' term – that we will evolve into having an organised liturgy and singing hymns. However if we're talking about evolving to a place where people are happy to pray and to chatter about the Bible then I think it could easily evolve into that. I guess as we chatter together you could call it a cell group or a Bible study or church but I'm not sure we'd be too keen to try and pin it down too much.

Divine Divas - TadcasterSome of the more mature members of my traditional congregation are now coming along to Divine Divas and thoroughly enjoying it. People have been very supportive and they're just genuinely pleased to see people involved with church in its wider sense.

In future I would like to see Divine Divas growing in numbers. It would also be wonderful to see a change in the little slot where we invite a speaker. Instead of bringing in someone from the outside I would love to be able to say to the group, 'so has Jesus done anything for you? Has God made a difference in your life this week?' and the Divine Divas themselves would just stand up and tell their own stories.