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COVID-19 Lockdown Interview Series: Helen Paynter

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  1. Tell us about yourself. What have you been doing and what are you working on during this COVID-19 lock-in? I have a number of roles, which I’m trying to juggle effectively in these strange days. As Director of the Centre for the Study of Bible and Violence at Bristol Baptist College, I’m continuing to work on books we’re editing, and a reading group I’m convening. I’m also, rather distractedly, trying to get on with writing a paper on retellings of the conquest narrative. Since the lock-down started, I’ve also been appointed Biblical Studies tutor at Bristol Baptist College, to start in August (DV). My other main role is that I’m a Baptist minister, sharing the care of a local church. So my colleague and I have been discovering the joys of online services, zoom leadership meetings, and trying to offer pastoral support to people over the phone. Most importantly, I’m doing my best to be a non-anxious presence for the congregation, and to help people to stand firm in their faith in these scary times. Some of this will be shifting around soon, however, as I’ll be returning to work as a doctor in one capacity or another, three days a week. I hung up my stethoscope 13 years ago, so this is a rather scary thought, but the NHS is offering intensive retraining and good support, and once a doctor always a doctor! So this will probably mean that my research will have to be put on hold for a while, though I will continue to serve the church as their minister.


2. Which aspects of your work past and present might be particularly interesting for supporters of the Shiloh Project?
I think they might be interested in my recently published book on a terrible act of sexual violence in the Bible (Telling Terror in Judges 19: Rape and Reparation for the Levite’s Wife), and my forthcoming one on the use of the Bible in domestic abuse (The Bible Doesn’t Tell Me So: Why you don’t have to submit to domestic abuse and coercive control).
I’m very concerned about the problem of domestic abuse in these days, as people are trapped in homes with abusers, and frustration and anger are riding high. I understand that nine women were killed in their home last week. I’ve been trying to help raise awareness of this issue, and to highlight that refuges are still open and that this constitutes an acceptable reason for leaving lockdown.


3. How are you bearing up and what’s helping you most?
I’m doing okay most of the time. I’m incredibly grateful that we have a garden, and we’ve been playing a lot of swingball! I’m trying to keep a good daily and weekly routine, which includes writing the day in large letters in our hall(!), making sure I always get dressed, and exercise regularly. There are five of us at home here – I’m very grateful that our two student daughters have been able to come home to be with us. We’ve been having some great family times, including a riotous quiz evening, board games (if you’ve never played Terraforming Mars, it’s utterly addictive), and recreating famous works of art very badly! (See pictures.)
Above all, I’m appreciating regular a rhythm of prayer throughout the day, which really helps me to recentre myself. In the mornings, I ‘gather’ with colleagues from the Baptist College to pray. After our evening meal, as a family we have been using the Northumbria evening prayer together – great words for a time of darkness (see here). And at bedtime I’ve been streaming an Anglican church’s evening office. Three very different traditions, and all very helpful.

(Helen is also during self-isolation giving a ‘Tour of the Bible’ in daily short recordings. Here is her recording of Judges.)

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Helen Paynter

The author Helen Paynter

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