Felicia Goodwin: Church, family, love and welcome
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Welcome to the Loved Called Gifted Podcast. This is your place to come for musings about spirituality, identity, and purpose.
I’m your host, Catherine Cowell.
I’m absolutely delighted to be joined for this episode by Felicia Goodwin. Hi Felicia, thank you ever so much.
F: Hi Catherine, thanks for having me
C: So the reason I really wanted to chat this morning was to hear your story, your heart, around your community of people, the church that you pastor, how you ended up doing that and how that relates to other bits of your life. I think there’s a real richness in that story.
F: Ok, so shall I introduce myself a bit more?
C: Yeah, go for it, that’ll be great
F: I’m Felicia, I’m married to Matthew, we’ve been married for a long time, we have 6 children, and we lead New Life Family Church in Tittensor. It’s slightly different as a church plant. We have a service one week, and then the other week we have a meal. A community meal where we invite anybody and everybody to come and eat with us, it’s like a love feast, we get together.
C: Full disclosure, me and my family also go to New Life Family Church. It’s really interesting for us, we had been through a period of really struggling with church. I have 2 boys and they had a very difficult start in life for various reasons, and that just leaves you with all sorts of stuff that makes doing life difficult. They found doing church really difficult.
F: As a lot of children do
C: Yes, yes
F: and lots of adults.
C: *laughs* At the time when we started coming, we’d been out of church for a while, and trying to find a community of people who could cope with the fact that my kids didn’t do things the way other people did was really difficult. I know when you started it was here in your kitchen, and the garden was available for the kids to play in, and I thought we could probably manage this
C: And in fact, we did. Then you moved to a building, I was a bit reluctant, but then one of the people at the church had a 50th birthday party and we went along, and my youngest, James, said he wanted to go to that church.
F: I remember that Catherine, I remember when we were just starting the church plant, and I was terrified, actually, to be quite honest. I hadn’t seen you in many years, and I bumped into you in Trentham Gardens and I was on my own, I think, I don’t know, I think I was meeting somebody. You were with your boys, I met them, for the 2nd time, I think I met them many years ago briefly, and then you told me your story, and I hadn’t told you at that point, I wasn’t going to tell you that I was fearful of even speaking out that God had told us to do the church plant. You told me the story about how the boys hadn’t been welcomed in churches, and I was horrified. I remember thinking in my heart, “well, they’re welcome to come to our church” *both laugh* but it hadn’t started. I think we’d just about started, had our first meeting. And I fell in love with them.
C: And they fell in love with you, as just about everybody does. But there have been a couple of things about the way that there has been welcome and inclusion that has really made a difference to us. The fact that there was a level of understanding, because there are a lot of families in our church with kids with special needs, or are fosterers, there are adopters, so there was a level of understanding. I found out that the Tuesday morning women’s group had been praying for us as a family. You encouraged me to come along. I had so much judgement from so many people, and it was just this precious moment when I was explaining how I parent. My kids need a very different sort of approach. Having listened, somebody said, “well, not everybody’s going to get this, but that’s ok, because we can tell them”. That was such a breath of fresh air. Such a relief, actually.
F: The truth is, Catherine, as a parent myself, we all parent differently. There’s got to be – throughout the church, for all that we’re talking about a church context here, but in the world we all parent differently. You have a right to parent your boys how you wish to. We will support that, and we did support that. I love – I remember that moment. I love also when you said, which I also agree with, “if my boys are doing something in your space that you don’t like, you are very welcome to correct them.” I think that’s absolutely right. They are in my face and a couple of others, but a hug’s fine. But that’s important because that’s how I feel about my children, if they’re doing something I would like you to say something. I really believe we do raise each other’s family in church, in our church, together.
C: The other thing that really touched my heart was – well, a couple of things. One of which was on Sundays where there is a meal, when my youngest was coming along, there was a lot of food he wouldn’t cope with, so every week, there was beans on toast available. And beans on toast made the way that he likes it, which is with little tiny squares of toast around a pile of beans. And communion is really informal at New Life Family Church. There are wafers, and he wasn’t up for eating a wafer, so every week somebody would keep aside a chocolate biscuit so that there was something he would eat if he wanted to. So he could join in with communion. So all of those things gave us a welcome that we hadn’t had elsewhere, and just a freedom to be, and to be who we are in that space, and that’s been very precious, and I’ve seen that extended to lots of people.
F: That’s wonderful, and that was absolutely intentional, all those things. When God spoke to us about setting up a church I was horrified, and very scared, as I’ve mentioned, but I remember saying to God, “I don’t know how to do this, I haven’t had any training. What do you mean? I can’t do this, however, I want to do anything you ask me, Lord.” He said “well yes you can, you’ve had plenty of training.” I remember specifically He said, “You are brilliant at doing hospitality, and you and Matthew know how to do family. And that’s what you’ll create.” I know exactly how to do those things, so the most important thing, if you come to my home, you will know you are welcome, I’ll try and make you as welcome as I possibly can. Welcome was one of the core, core things we started off with, in all our meetings. I’ll probably end up doing another preach on it again. Welcome’s so important, because it’s the first thing Jesus does, as He welcomes you as you are. He meets us, all of us. He met me as I was. We’re to do the same thing. So I’m delighted to do that. I knew that was happening because it was very important to me the boys were welcomed.
C: I have noticed there are quite a number of churches where the church leaders do a lot of stuff with the adults but kind of leave the kids almost as a secondary thing. One of the things that really blessed me and I very much noticed, is that on the weeks where we had the meal, you would go and spend time, you would go and spend time with the children and the young people, and had a real joy in doing that.
F: Yes, the most important job, the most exciting time of the week, being with the young children. To be with all the children. I think you’re absolutely right, some other parishioners have said that to me, “oh, it’s unusual for the pastor to spend time with the youth”, I said “that’s a real shame”
C: It shouldn’t be unusual, should it? It really shouldn’t. It really shouldn’t. There’s a real ageism that sometimes occurs.
F: I don’t understand it. I don’t understand it. I think the investment should be in all areas of the church. A visiting preacher came with his wife, they loved the meal, they really love it. Something she said, “the first time we came, you introduced me to everybody, and I mean I haven’t been with anybody who’s introduced me to a baby or a child, you knew everyone’s name, and you’d bring children over and say ‘this is …’”. To my mind, they’re people, why wouldn’t you? Every child is so important. Just as important as any adult. Funny story, I was in another church, a Church of England, I went in where the church warden was counting who attended that week and I happened to ask him, he had a lower number than the number that I could see. I said, “why is this?” He went, “well…” There were the most precious group of about 5 adults with learning difficulties that had come from a local home.
C: Ohhh, Felicia! He hadn’t counted them?
F: Half. I said something along the lines of, “you don’t count them as a full person?”
C: *squeaks in alarm*
F: I ended up having a big discussion and being quite horrified. I just found that incredible. I was quite shocked.
C: It is, it’s horrifying.
You spoke about family and welcome being at the core. And the fact that you said you hadn’t had any training, and God said “you have”. I think it’s really helpful that that’s been the training, that it’s been life, and your life experience. Otherwise it would be very easy, if you go and formally ‘train’, very often you come back with a model that that you want to impose, and somebody’s told you how to do it. I have not previously been part of a church where actually the foundation has been that foundation of family. The reason I wanted to have this conversation, actually, is that what I see flowing from you is a huge mother’s heart. I know all mothers to an extent have a mother’s heart, but I think there is a particular anointing on some women – and on some men as fathers – but on some women they just have a particular anointing. Which I think is why you’ve got 6 kids and not 2 kids.
F: Yes, we have 6 kids and the last 2 are adopted.
C: That has really shaped what the church is like. I thought it would be really interesting to talk together about that and about how, who you are, and how your identity, with that anointing, has shaped the way that you do church.
F: Yeah, it’s really interesting for me to reflect on that as well and to look back and to see, coz God uses all of us and God’s always training us for something even when we don’t realise it, in a way. The story that stands out for me when I was pregnant over my first child, I was pregnant and I hadn’t told anybody, obviously I’d told Matthew, my husband, but I’d walked into church that Sunday, and a lady, a lovely elder, I think, or one of the elder’s wife, she was like an elder, she was amazing. She came over to me and said, “I’ve got a word from God, it’s significant, you need to hear this.” Nobody knew I was pregnant. She said “there’s an angel behind you, it’s holding a lantern, a light, it’s huge, it’s so bright and wonderful, and he or she has just placed lights all around your stomach.” Then she said something very significant, she said “and God’s saying this to you: He’s giving you a mother’s heart.” I said “wow, that’s quite interesting” and then I did tell her “I’ve just found out I’m pregnant.” She said “well, that’ll be it then”. But it’s always stuck with me. I pondered on this. I love children, I’m from an Italian background, so we’re big on family, big on children, big on welcoming and hospitality. I did think “haven’t most women got a mother’s heart?” But there was something more significant about it. I understood that as I was pregnant and then delivered a baby, and I’ve also got 2 adopted children so it feels the same way for them, I’d probably say more fierce, actually, my adopted children who we all love. Anyway, that’s all in the story. So I’m covering all bases through as a mother. I remember the fierceness I felt as a Mum and the love that grew. God said – I’ll never forget – feeling ‘furious in love’. He said “that’s about something”. To do with another child, actually, it wasn’t to do with one of my kids. To do with another child. I was furious about something. I said “what is this?” I remember shaking one time, praying about this child, and He said “That’s My love! For that child.” I was furious at something in that story. So that was the starting point, and then we grew our family. I stopped doing the work that I loved, which was at the time working with homeless people in the city, I adored it, to raise Bella, my first child. And then to go on to have more children. And then to put down that work and then to pick up the most amazing work, of motherhood, was quite a transition for me. It wasn’t an easy one at first, I must admit, coz obviously in lots of ways we’re raised to work, I’d done degrees, and a lot of my work, I’d found identity in that.
C: Particularly for those of us who’ve been part of that society, which has really said to women “you can go and do the professional thing”, it’s not always looked upon very well if you then leave that behind.
F: No, I’d just got a promotion, I was doing well at work, I’d formed this amazing project that was helping homeless people, and I wasn’t getting paid very much, but that wasn’t the point, I didn’t care about that anyway, and I was doing well, I loved it, I loved what it gave me. I knew God was asking me not to go to work. Now this isn’t for every woman, every situation’s different, I see women, I’m with women all the time, we’re all in different circumstances. I had a husband who was supporting us financially. Wasn’t earning all that much money at the time. Interestingly – this is another good story – I remember God – Matt was very ‘up to me’, he was very releasing, he’s always been very releasing, ‘up to you what you wanna do’, I just thought, I’m going to give birth to this baby and I knew I couldn’t give it to somebody else to care for this baby. I wanted to look after her, by the way, I did, but I loved my work. This big thing when my work texted me, well, not texting, phoning me, “when are you coming back?” those kinds of things. I earnt at the time, I’d just had a promotion, I was earning £12,000 a year. Which was a big promotion for me, I think I was on like £9,000 before. It was a while ago. That night I said to Matt, I’m going to give my job up and look after our baby. I think I made the decision just before she was born. He said “ok, great”. Went to work the next day, he came home, with a £12,000 pay rise.
F: Not that, it wasn’t my concern, that’s another thing about me. Money’s never a concern for me. I worry about other things, but I don’t worry about money. That’s up to Matt. I know that was one of his concerns, “that’s fine, I want you to give up work, we’ll just have to cut our cloth…” We lived in a very modest house at the time. “We’ll survive without it.” Came back, with a £12,000 pay rise. There’s wonderful things when we follow God, when we listen to God whispering to our hearts about what we should do, in all areas of our lives, not just motherhood, whatever it is God is talking to you about, listen. And that faith of walking in faith and being brave in him. He blesses us, doesn’t He? Not always financially.
C: But that was a really clear message that said “I am with you in this. You are on the right path.”
F: Then there was a lot of unpicking for me to do, I was at home with this baby, I was the first of all my peer group to have a child, or my colleagues at work, I was quite isolated. I felt quite isolated. I think I had to feel that to then reach out and create the groups that I was going to create further in the future, with other women. I was on my own, it was just me and God together. Which was great. Bit of a desert time, I’d say, at first. I loved being a mum. Loved Bella very much. But kind of my circle, it was very different.
C: You are not naturally somebody with a small circle, I would observe.
F: No, I’m not. So I then went on to create and find people. Finding babies, then, I guess. I think I was almost the first one, and then finding babies and they’d come and then we’d build from that way. But I think that time alone was really important to that time, that stripping back, it’s often quite painful, and I’ve had stripping back times with God. But it was very important because actually he was like, “your identity, is in Me completely. It is just loving Me, worshipping Me, in whatever season or wherever you are, that’s your work.” I’m very grateful for it.
C: So what were some of the things you felt were stripped back, that you perhaps had had your identity in? Partly.
F: Erm, I guess I had a huge calling to go and work with the poor. That was a blessing. When I first became a Christian, that was a wonderful transformation, and Catherine, you were part of that, with the course I attended. It’s a huge kind of “yes, I’m going for it”. God spoke very clearly to me about working with homeless people and I was doing that, and of course there was a homeless project we’d set up in church, which was wonderful, perhaps, and I did do that. I ended up going back with Bella on a papoose, actually, and doing that. I suppose working in a team, working with people, I suppose that love I had for the poor, really. I wasn’t able then, almost “what am I going to do now? That was my calling, wasn’t it? That’s what I was going to do for You.” but actually then realising, it’s never in the doing that God wants. He just wants us in the being, and just to be with Him. That’s it, that’s all, that was my calling. Does that make sense?
C: It completely, completely makes sense. I also think, I would view it that our core calling, our primary calling, is about simply being with God and being loved. And then from that flows other things. But the other things shift, don't they? So pre-motherhood, your calling was to the poor. And there are elements of that that I still see absolutely in the way that you are with people. There is a real equality in the love that flows from you, for whoever it is, wherever they’re at, however much of a pain in the neck they might be. There’s a real love. But actually if you’ve worked with people who are kind of chaotic, whose lives are really difficult, there’s an understanding that has grown from that, that flows into other things.
F: And you’re right Catherine, it was wonderful for that moment and God had placed me there definitely, and great stuff happened, but at the same time, it’s training ground. For the next thing. So wherever you are now, it’s wonderful and embrace it, but God is going to use it for the next thing.
C: Yes, I remember when I was at Taizé, there was a wonderful Indian woman there, and one of her sayings was, “I know that in this moment, God is preparing me for the next moment.”
F: Amen to that.
C: That’s absolutely true.
F: And I always think, “what are You preparing me for next? This is painful, can You hurry up?”
F: It’s not what I want, if I’m honest. I’m weak.
C: The other thing that was on my heart to talk about is that at the core of New Life Family Church is a group of women who have known one other, and have been friends, and have been meeting largely around your kitchen table, for many years, and I wonder if you could talk a bit about how that came about?
F: It came about actually – I’m just remembering another story, but this is helpful, I hope – I remember having 4 children under 5, I’d got a baby, actually, sorry, I think Pepe, my youngest was maybe a little bit older, maybe 1, maybe 18 months old. I remember driving to school to drop some kids off, I live in the countryside, we’ve got a little countryside school, we’re part of a village, but I was always doing church in the city. Again, I was still clinging on, almost, to my heart for the poor, the poor in the city, and of course there’s poor everywhere, I do know that, but we live in quite a nice village, so I was always quite keen to go back. I’ll never forget, God saying to me, as I was driving in the car, I was praying, I often pray in the car, it’s easier, they’re all in their car seats. Kids are all shouting in the back as I was praying, and He said to me, “It’s time to step up again, Felicia.” It’s almost like, in that moment, I felt like he’d given me a little bit of time off. To parent. To do a mix of things. Do you know what I mean?
C: If you can call raising children ‘time off’, but yes, I do.
F: But in terms of where He was wanting me, He said, “it’s time to step up again”. Pepe was almost 2, probably, or maybe about… anyway, so I said “okay”, I could feel it coming in my spirit anyway, I knew that, I’m not lazy in my spirit, I knew that God was saying… . I can’t even remember what church I was in – oh yes I can remember what church I was in, I was in the church in Hanley at the time, and doing stuff there and just kind of being a passenger really, for various reasons. Some of those not my own. And then I said, “okay, what do You mean?” Ask God for specifics. He said “I’ve called you. You have a gifting of friendship. And I’ve called you to be a friend to many. So make more friends.” I was kind of, I knew a lot of people on the playground anyway, I’m quite bubbly, I say hello to people, whether or not they say hello back to me, but talk to a lamppost, I can. So I said “okay”. And then I said “show me who you would like me to be friends with”. And then people started to pop up. So even though I’d got a group, I then started to be very intentional about praying for those people. And saying “okay God, I’m going to do an Alpha course, or do something, and invite people from school.” So it’s an intentionality that God planted a seed and said “come on, step up Felicia, and start to do some stuff”. I then remember approaching a friend, who is a friend now, who is a core member of our church and helped me church plant. I knew God had given me her face. And I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t like her face. *laughs* She’s pretty, I don’t mean she’s ugly! I just mean she wasn’t particularly friendly, and she wouldn’t be a person I would naturally have gone to. I just said to her, I think I just said “do you want to go for coffee?”, literally like that. I don’t think I even remembered her name. And she said no.
F: God had spoken to me very specifically about her. And so I just persisted. And she came to coffee. To cut a very long story short. She started to come on an Alpha course, and became a Christian. Through that I started to build Kitchen Evangelism, if you want to call it that. Around my kitchen table. Talking about the love of God, really. I started to do coffee mornings every week, at the time it was every week, inviting the whole community into the house, anybody I knew, really. It was women-based, because women and children. It’s suddenly a different dynamic going on when we’re just women together. There’s freedom there for women, I believe. I love men, by the way, just to put it out there. I love anybody. There’s space for men too. But at the time it was just women were coming, grandmothers were coming, local neighbours were coming. And we’d have 30-40 women coming every Tuesday. From then I’d then invite them to Alpha, I’d do it at my home again, and people started to come to know Jesus as well, it was amazing.
C: How many years, do you think, that that group of women was meeting before church started?
F: *talking over* Interestingly – sorry, interestingly, as you say that, a friend of mine at the time, Tom, we were chatting about as we were starting the church, as we were starting New Life Family Church, and he said, people said, “where are all these people coming from?” Coz it wasn’t a church of just 3 initially, was it? We did have quite a few people attend straight away. And I’m like, “well, this is the work of 15 years of friendships, probably. Those friendships are still very active, and some of those, they haven’t all led to become Christians, just yet. They’re still very dear friends of mine. In terms of the friendships I’ve made, around the coffee table, out there in the community, still, of course, they’re very important to me. So I think at the time it was many many years of just doing what I was able to do with what I’d got, with the children I had, with the family life I had. With what coffee I had, with the money I had, just doing that offering to God, “What could I do at that time?” You hear a lot of church leaders talk about your influence, and it is significant, what is my influence? Where am I? Where has God placed me, at that moment in time? And like you said, Catherine, it changes throughout. God’s given us different times, different things, different areas to be in, during different seasons of our life. But at that time it was school playground, and I opened up my home. So does that answer your question?
C: Yeah, I think it does, I think it does. The other aspect of that which I think is quite significant is that I know that at the time when you began that work, you were actually part of a church where women’s voices were very specifically silenced. And so I think there is something in God’s economy about the fact that the space where you could have a voice and an influence, was amongst women, and from a real core group of, as you say, a decade and a half of friendship, that underpinned this really beautiful church community where people are cared for and welcomed, and there is a real depth of relationship there. That not many churches would start with.
F: No, and I’m grateful for that now. Again, I didn’t quite know what I was doing, but it is with sadness I remember that, Catherine, too, and I think it is still today in many churches, unfortunately, women’s voices aren’t relevant. Or children’s voices, that’s also a thing. Or people who are poor, all these different things. Everyone’s voice is relevant. I was in a church that we were trying to desperately serve in. There was no way for me to serve in that church. So I noticed – I was desperate. I thought at the time, I knew I was doing all this at home, and I was, because living a life for God is serving God. That’s wonderful. Every day, serving God. However, I knew I would love to put something back in to the church. There wasn’t a way for me to serve, and I’ll never forget, asking the pastor at the time, I noticed that the toilets were a bit dirty, and I noticed that noone was cleaning the church, so I said, “I would love to come in, just secretly, can I come in on a Wednesday, I think at the time, you give me a key and I’ll clean the church for you. And it’s a great way for me to serve.” I just wanted to do something. And I had a great time, I would go, and I know people probably think, “oh you mad woman, you’ve got 4 kids, you’ve got enough to do, clean your own house.” but I remember going over there and gladly doing it. Putting worship music on, and dancing around, and cleaning. I remember the urinals being a bit mucky. But I thought, I felt like, I could finally say, to myself, “I am helping with this church”. I really wanted to help in some way. And let me tell you, part of hospitality is, having an area and a space that’s comfortable. I knew it was very very important. It was a very important job I was doing. I didn’t want anybody to know about it, and I don’t think anybody else did know about it. I don’t know why I’m mentioning it now, actually, I feel a bit bad mentioning it now, but I have mentioned it now. But that was the only way I could serve at that church. I remember being physically silenced, when I was sharing something, in a faith group. And I remember I felt I was spiritually silenced in some way. They did get to know about the stuff that was going on here, I was obviously very open about it, and telling people about it, and loving my women here, and their children and the families and the husbands and whoever they were with, and saying about it, and I’ll never forget, a man in the church said to me “well, I think there should be a man there”. I said “why do you think that?” And he said “well, it will just be better”, and I said “you’re talking utter rubbish.” And I knew it was time to go. In a women’s group, there should be a man there. I just found that an interesting comment. And it was almost like, “to make sure what was being said was….” and I was like “no, no mate, no, no, have you read the bible? Have you read the gospels? Have you read the stories? I don’t know, Phoebe was entrusted with the letter to the Romans. She was entrusted by Paul to be the first person to speak it out.” I was just like, “what??” In all of me, I’m a very loving person, it took me a while to go.
Then the same church I was in were a great church planting movement, and they were on about church planting again. The area they were looking at was Crewe. I remember saying to the pastor at the time, they called them leaders, I know, but “I know loads of fantastic churches in Crewe, where were you thinking about going?” They were talking about a specific area, but “they do fantastic work, why would we go there? Go to somewhere that hasn’t been touched. Actually where I am, I’m nurturing a group, not just women now, because part of loving women is loving their families, I know their families too, there’s quite a big group of us now, I think we could do something there.” And he just went, “don’t know what you’re on about. We need to send a man – a man – of peace there. That can be the work.” And I knew then, well, maybe I was that ‘man’, woman, person of peace, that I’d already been loving people in the name of Jesus for many years there, and doing the groundwork there for a church. I wasn’t suggesting in any way that I would lead it, I was just suggesting the area, and maybe I could go and help serve, and clean there. That was certainly not on my radar. Or a thought. And then I – then, to cut a long story short – I really felt, it wasn’t long after I really felt the Spirit say to me, God say to me, “it is time to go. It is time to leave this church. Go into the community, be in the community, that you're building, go and do church there.” I remember telling them that I was going to go and do that, they were very shocked and upset. His final words to me, and I don’t know if I’ve ever shared that, Catherine, was “that’s fine, you can go, we do not commission you.” *cries* …sorry.
C: No, no.
F: *teary* I remember saying, “I don’t want you to commission me. God commissions me, and I bless you.” Yeah, that’s very sad, isn’t it?
C: It is really sad.
F: And I had only ever loved to that church, and given financially, and given where they allowed us to. And it was the right thing. If he’d have seen into our lives and seen, we were here. It’s right that we should come and serve in the community. So yeah, that was a real sadness. But he would see it that way, I hadn’t even seen it that way. Maybe I’d just been very naive. But the whole power struggles going on in church, it’s just not nice.
C: No, no, and a real desire to control.
F: Yeah, it’s such sadness. I just hadn’t seen it up until that point, I just thought, “wow”. Then I was chatting to dear friends of ours, who Catherine knows, actually. The church leaders themselves are actually in a different area. And they’d heard our stories and knew our journey, and he just said, “you really need to start your own church plant here”. This was many years before we actually did it, 6 years before in fact. And I just said “I’m not that person. I don’t want to be that person, I’m much better at…” I just felt terrified at the thought. I thought, there’s a lovely little church, church building, I wanna go and serve there. I wanna say to the vicar, “what do you need us to do? We wanna come and serve here. We know people in the community, I’m doing Alpha courses, and it is tricky because we were half an hour away, 20 minutes away from the church in the city I was going to, it makes sense that we would build something here”. He was like, “ok, but I really believe you should be church planting and we would help you, but ok.” I did ignore it, I said no, I said I wanted to offer my services to the vicar, which is exactly what I did. I went to the local Church of England, lovely vicar, spoke to him, he had a message, he rang me straight back and I just said to him, “we are your servants. What do you need me to do?” He said “well, actually, straight away, I need you to be youth leader.” So me and Matt served the church as youth leaders. Across the benefit(?) as they call it, so it was a group of churches, about 3 or 4, we live in villages that are all separate, the churches are separate, and we worked across them all, actually. And did all sorts of things for the local Church of England. In our village. For 6 years.
C: So what pushed you to leave and get on with, and do the church planting?
F: I guess similar things happened. Interestingly, when I showed up for the first service at our local church, I went with 2 other families who I’d been nurturing and discipling, women I’d been discipling, so they gained 12 children, quickly. I walked in and said “we are here to serve you, we are going to join” And they were flustered. There was 2 men, myself, my husband and my friend’s husband, and another woman not with her husband but she did have her kids with her, and we all just came along, and they had no children in the church at all. From there we started to build, and bring in local people that we were connected with, and we had been loving and discipling, in Alpha and our outreach coffee mornings had been bringing in, I could then say, come to this service, or come to this, or dah-dah-dah. The church started to grow, and it grew significantly. And then unfortunately, there was power struggles in that church. By the way, I was back row, back row girl, always serving, never wanted to be at the front, hate speaking at the front, never wanted to do the prayers, y’know you had to go up church and do prayers? I never wanted to be asked, didn’t like reading out loud, all that stuff. I was really happy to do the kids work, to do what nobody else wanted to do. I’m really happy to do those things. But the truth was that actually I loved doing those things. I think one time we started saying, the people I was bringing in, really, and that’s exactly what it was, couldn’t … I think kids weren’t very welcome at times, they were told to shut up, a lot of noise, all of a sudden they went from, I think it was 12 months we worked with the church group. In life we often say that we want something, and then the reality is very different. We all know that. We’re just human and we know that. So they wanted, it was exciting when we first came and they were having children. But the reality of having a lot of children racing around your church –
C: – is that there are lots of children racing around your church.
F: They’d gone from a very sleepy, declining church of old people, some very precious people there, actually, still there. Traditional hymns, doing things in a certain way, and not really wanting to change their structures in any way, to welcome families. Or to welcome anybody, actually. Really, I think. I think we really challenged them. It is challenging. Change is hard. And we really tried. I remember viewing it as like, “God is sending me there, I’m going to be a missionary there. I will wear what they wear.” I went very smartly dressed, I tried to fit in to that culture. I tried, the old ladies would comment on my nice dress, rather than coming… I’m sitting now in scruffy jeans and a jumper. I tried to fit in, and I tried to get the kids to behave well. Our kids are fairly well behaved, but they’re children. So one of the turning points was during communion, that was a very different experience there, and I want to honour how people do communion, so there’s a space at the back for children, but you can’t stop a baby from crying. And somebody turned around and said “shut up, will you shut up?!” And the other thing is that practical, practical elements of welcome were not there. They’d got big double oak doors, and not wanting to open them for prams. Reluctant for a wheelchair. You know that kind of reluctancy to really change how things are and how to reach out. So after 6 years of that – to be fair to the vicar, he was very much for change, but it isn’t always the vicar who runs the church.
F: Beautiful guy, got on very well with him, but still. What God was also doing, so Matt and I were doing youth work, across the benefit, so we were going to lots of different families, actually, with their children. And loving those kids. And actually, we’re seeing fruit of that in our church today. We’ve made all those connections, many many years ago, and God is bringing them to us. Long story short, there was a community service, that was a disaster. I remember inviting so many people to this community service. Which is a lovely idea. I mean the idea of a community service is beautiful. You invite these people from the community, you write to them, you invite them all in, they come, I’d got the school on board, and it was wonderful. And they talked about recycling. And all sorts of weird stuff. And I just felt God speak to me very clearly again, and say, “your work is done here. Go and do, that seed that was planted, you’ve tried, your heart has really tried here. You’re not wanted here. And significantly, this was what’s happening, people were leaving. So the people that I’d brought. It was a church within a church. We’d almost kind of church planted into this little Church of England church. And they just didn’t mingle. I thought, “I want to lead these people to what they want, and to be happy in how they worship You. We’re obviously trying to be different and it’s not welcomed here. And I’m going to love them and bless them with that.” So I’m going to go. I talked to the vicar about it, who blessed it, however, the church didn’t bless it, Catherine, and there was a lot of trouble for me. I had 3 bishops come and visit me.
C: Goodness me
F: That’s a whole different story. Very very – yeah. It was quite a – most people could have been very very intimidated about what happened. Interestingly, we had a meeting here with one of the bishops, I can’t remember who he was, he was higher up than the vicar, the vicar came, and the church warden came. Matt and I were there. He just wanted to understand what had gone on. I explained, we’re just leaving, we’re loving you, we’re doing church with different context, we realised that our context we want to do church isn’t the context that you do church, so noone’s coming to your church because of that. So you’ve got some people that have come, because of the relationships we have with them. Explaining about the coffee mornings, and the Alphas, and the relationships we now had, we did garden parties, we did all sorts of stuff, actually, here, and how the two aren’t going to marry, unfortunately in this church. So we still want to do something in the village, but it’s very different. The vicar at the time really blessed it, thought it was… he knew what I was talking about, he had the same struggles. He said “what’s the stuff you’ve been doing?” I was explaining to this bishop what we’d been doing for years and who we were in terms of what we’ve been creating, the groups that I had, the discipleship courses we were running here, from home, and he said, “our church don’t recognise any of that work, it’s got nothing to do with us.” The warden said.
F: [a number of stutters/false starts] I said, “and that’s the problem”. My vicar didn’t pipe up or anything either.
C: Awww, gosh
F: No, no. So I said, “that’s okay, that’s the reason why we’ve left. Because there’s a different work going on here to yours. We love and bless you. We’ve only ever worked and blessed you in that way. Again, another context of church. We just want to do something completely different that you don’t want in your church.” Because we were adamant we were going, they actually wanted us to stay. It was a bizarre chain of events that went on. Anyway, we didn’t stay. We tried to hire the school to meet, and we came up against tons of opposition from the Church of England that we were in. Because it was a Church of England school, they had the final say, and we were kicked out of the village, basically. I had people not serving me in the little shop. I had people crossing over the road, people saying quite dreadful things to me. Purely because we left the church. People leave churches every day. Throughout all the year. And this was my village that I’d been in for 20 years, and loved. Not everybody felt that way. It was a few people. Probably I could name 3. I’m not going to name them, but it was a few people causing all this trouble. It actually set fear amongst all the other oldies that I loved and would still go and visit and was still part of. That’s a real shame. So we ended up meeting in Stone. We got a lovely place in Stone. But God did say to me that “you are to meet in Tittensor. You are to meet in Tittensor to do a church plant in Tittensor, very different church to the way that they would do it, do it the way that you know how to do it, you know how to do hospitality, how to do family” – and I just had this idea of eating. Let’s eat every other week. Because that’s a great thing to do. It’s non-threatening, it’s welcoming, we can invite anybody we want to it, and actually, we grow intimacy as we eat, because Jesus showed us that. It’s so worthwhile doing a lot of. And then to do a very informal service the other week, which of course we did. And then lockdown happened. So, can I talk about this?
C: Yeah, go for it.
F: So lockdown happened, so what was happening with church, things did eventually calm down, even though some people still don’t talk to me in the village, that’s fine, I’m always loving them and we are very kind to people. I remember the time when we didn’t get the school – sorry, I hope this isn’t confusing – when we didn’t get the school there were a lot of parents that were coming to our church that were at the school that were very cross about that, and “why can’t we use our school, we were going to give money to the school”, it was over the headteacher’s head, she couldn’t do anything about it. There was a foundational governor that was linked to the church, that was kind of the boss, really. That stopped us. I remember saying “we just love them. We’re just going to be peaceful. It’s not time yet.
So we’ll just go to where we’re meant to go, there’s reasons, and it’s okay.” Then lockdown happened and we all found ourselves in our homes anyway. We did church a very different way, on Instagram Live, and Zoom, like everybody else did. And then the building in Stone that we were using, was no longer available. Because of foodbanks, unfortunately, lots had happened, poverty increased, and foodbanks increased, which was brilliant, and so they just couldn’t offer us the same facilities. So again, me being a bit thick, I didn’t even consider Tittensor as a place to meet. I thought, “I don’t want to make trouble.” Let’s try and get a church building, as lockdown was opening up, somewhere in the area, lots of beautiful buildings in the area, let’s go into their village halls and try and rent somewhere out. Nowhere. We’d contacted loads of different schools as well, loads of different places, nowhere was open. Because of covid, everyone was very reluctant. Noonee was doing it. And the only place that was available, and I didn’t enquire about it, somebody in the village did who comes to our church, was Tittensor Village Hall. God said “I told you, you’re meant to meet in Tittensor.” It’s a different – at the time we couldn’t we couldn’t go to Tittensor because there were people from the church on the committee. So that all changed after lockdown, it was different people who didn’t really care, they said “you’re part of the village, you’re entitled to rent it out, it’s money for our village hall and our community.” They could see the benefit of us being there.
C: The phrase that’s going through my head in our conversation is that verse that says, “I will build my church.” That’s what God has been doing, what the Holy Spirit has been doing. When you were at the church where being a woman wasn’t the thing, when you were part of the church, so actually, this church plant did start, when God intended it to start. And we still, I feel very blessed that we as a community continue to reap the benefits of that.
F: You’re right, Catherine. The first time David spoke that word to me, “plant a church”, it wasn’t right in my spirit. I’d still got 6 years of training, really. Of being sick of it. I just remember in that moment, 6 years on, when I knew that I should leave the little Church of England I was in, saying to God, *with desperation* “but what am I to do with all these people??” That were connecting in some way, I could see that, but were now without shepherds, but really, I was their shepherd, anyway, really. Shepherd within a shepherd, that’s what we do in church, we pastor each other, don’t we? I was already doing that stuff. And God said, “You need to step forward.” Very clearly. “It’s time to step forward. Again.” And I knew what that meant. I think I remember saying to God, *fake crying* “and who will step forward, there’s nobody!!* And He said, “you will”. I cried – this is how it works out in me – I remember crying for 3 days solidly, about leading the church.
F: I mean, I don’t think they understood the connection and love we had for the church, for each church. And the sadness that they couldn’t recognise, God is doing something different to you guys! Just different. It was an opportunity for you, you could have embraced it. The vicar did, but you guys didn’t, so, it’s gone somewhere else. Yeah *teary*
C: It’s beautiful. The other word that’s been through my head, we chatted a bit before we started recording, is that thing about having a voice, and having been silenced. Coz that’s something that you talked about, you talked about it a couple of times.
F: That happened to me. Maybe I was silenced a lot as a child, I don’t know, I think it was familiar, a stone for me to go under again, does that make sense? I’m all into everyone speaking appropriately as a mother, as well, but I’m naturally… I have a voice, I like to talk a lot, as you can tell. I remember when I was silenced in that church in Hanley, like I talked about earlier on, and it took a lot of undoing. I remember after that, trying to speak here, I did speak here, and could disciple women here, I remember starting to stumble over my words. I really felt it was a spiritual thing, and not being able to say, “well, I’m feeling terrified”. About saying something wrong. In the name of Jesus, y’know? Getting it wrong and being very fearful of that. That took a bit of healing. It took a bit of recognising, at first, coz that’s another – your healing starts when you recognise something.
F: And then thinking, I need to work this through. I need to speak out, “God you’ve called us all to share Your love, however that looks.” Incredibly, I felt that for many years after. I remember God saying, when He said “you’re going to have to church plant”, and I approached my friend, actually, my friend then said to me, “you need to church plant” again, I saw him the next day, again, how God had worked that out, I very rarely see them, and then I was seeing them the next day after I’d had this moment where I thought I should leave Church of England. He gave me the time, in the spirit, “It’s time to step up and do something”. I remember saying in that moment, “I cannot speak”. God said “I will speak. Through you. You don’t have to speak. I will speak through you.” I know we all know, or might not, the story of Moses, I really relate to that, God asked Moses to go back, to Pharaoh, to free the Israelites. Moses had been raised a Prince, yet had run away because he’d murdered somebody, and all that story. If you don’t know it, go and read it in Exodus, it’s brilliant. But Moses, who’d had this amazing upbringing, said to God, “I can’t speak. I don’t know. I haven’t got these words to go back to Pharaoh."He had to go back and face his past, almost, where there had been fear before, well there was fear; he had to go back. There’s a lovely sentence where he kept asking, Moses, and then “God burned with anger”. I felt that moment, really. I did feel a bit like God’s like “...get over yourself. Remember, it’s when you’re weak that I can be strong. Leave the ego, you should drop it. It’s ugly, it’s not what this is about. This is so much greater than whether you think you can speak or not. I’ve asked you to do this. Now do it.” So it was really with ‘holy fear’, I’d say. A passion to love people, and a passion to speak about Jesus, but to do something slightly, completely out of my comfort zone. I never wanted this. I never wanted this. And then, it still can be scary.
C: Yes, yeah, I’m sure, I’m sure. It just flows so naturally, from you, though. That love and the hospitality, and I see you with people. One of the gifts that you have through who you are, is that you both have a mother’s heart, and you’re an enormous extrovert.
C: Which means that your capacity, you have a really supernatural capacity to love a lot of people. I see that in the way that you interact with people. In the way that you have a real sense of love for everybody. Whether they are awkward and difficult to be with, or not. That love you have for people really flows. And you have a voice. You have a beautiful voice. Both, actually, in how it sounds, but also in the heart that I can hear in you, and the heart that you have for people. And the love that you speak.
F: Cathy, thank you. When I first became a Christian, I think the thing I prayed for most, was love. “God, give me love for people.” Without it, we’re nothing. Scripture tells us that. Love never dies. It never ends. It is love that does everything. I don’t ever claim to be clever or good looking, or anything. I just want to be known for love. Someone can come up and present something and be very clever, but when you speak in love, you can say anything. Because if you do genuinely love, it does come at a cost. When you love a lot, you lose a lot, does that make sense?
C: It does, yeah.
F: It’s costly. It is costly. And I am bothered and it keeps me awake at night. People do. Just when I hear somebody in church is hurting in some way, it does, I hurt with them. I think we all do, and we’re called to do that, we’re called to rejoice in the joy, and weep with those that are weeping, but I do. I know when I’m tired, when I’m irritated and don’t feel quite as loving, I’m like, “God, I’m sorry, I need to…”
C: Get some rest
F: Get some rest. I need to get some rest, because I’m not as loving. They’re my measures by how I’m loving.
C: One of the things, I was just remembering a moment in church, noticing, there’s a beautiful couple, one of whom has recently had a 90th birthday, with his wife, and they are just beautiful and they do just shine, they’re lovely people, and I can picture them, and I can also picture one of the babies. There was one week when I thought something dreadful had happened to her, because she had all these red marks on her face
F: *laughing* I know what you’re going to say!
C: I got closer and I realised it’s because a lot of women who were wearing lipstick had kissed her.
F: Probably me, I am known for my red lipstick. Jan wears red lipstick too.
C: Yes. So she was wandering around just covered in kisses.
F: Aww, amazing. I think when people step into our church, New Life Family Church, maybe we’re biased, but people do feel the love.
C: I think they do. And the fact that there is a Sunday every fortnight, where it is simply food. So it is just love. If you’re wondering whether it’s alright to bring somebody along, you know that what they’re going to meet is love. They’re not going to meet anybody trying to tell them what to think or what to believe. They can simply be amongst a community of people who love them. Then if God wants to take them on a journey then God can do that.
F: A free space, yeah. I have had a few people. Whenever you step into anything there’s always… not criticism – well, maybe there is criticism, but there’s this “aren’t you going to pray before?” I really gave this much thought before we started, and I said no.
C: I think that’s absolutely right.
F: “Well, why not?” and I said, “this has got to be a place where everyone feels comfortable where they’re at right now.”
F: I am a woman of prayer. I love to pray. As you know. And Catherine, you’re the same. But I just don’t think that’s necessary. At that moment in time. We’re praying before, we can be prayerful, you’ll often on tables you’ll find me praying for people, if they need it, they want it. Sometimes I’ll say that, “as a church we are a praying church”. Do I wanna formally stand up or someone say a grace? I think grace is already with us.
C: Oh absolutely, absolutely.
F: Gotta think about, “Okay God, what is the vision You gave me? Gave us? What is that vision?” And I’ve got to always be mindful to be true to that. Not to be swayed by man, or woman, or child, or anybody that comes up. What are we trying to express here? And it is, “feel comfortable, be comfortable, be with us”. This is our church family eating together. And inviting anybody with us, because our love, how we love each other, is super, isn’t it?
C: It is
F: It’s just displayed. And the food we have
C: Oh, the food’s amazing.
F: People always come and say, “I didn’t think it’d be this good! Who does it?” I’m like, “just random people every week, every other week. Different people. It’s nice when they feel up to cooking. That’s the other thing I had, from the people helping me initially church plant, the idea of food was really quite out of their comfort zone and how they were doing church. They’re very great and releasing, “do what God’s called you to do”, but they were like, “how are you going to manage this?” I’m like, “that is for God to sort out! I know this is what He’s asking us to do.” And there’s never been a week where we’ve been short, we’ve never been short of food. We feed often 60-80 people, or more. We’re never short.
C: The other thing I’m going to say, just because it’s in my heart, is that I just had this picture of the young women in our church who look after Guy. So Guy’s story, Cathy’s story, is one of the other episodes.
F: Go back and listen to that.
C: Absolutely. But I just have this picture of a couple of the young women who meet him and care for him. You talked about everybody having a voice. One of the things that happens every week that we have a service, is that we all learn a little bit more makaton that enables us to talk to Guy. Whose ‘voice’ is very different from anybody else’s. But that’s really rather beautiful.
F: Basically leading on from that, when you’re building a family, everyone’s got a very important space. That was very important to us. So everybody in church is equally important.
F: And even if, you don’t have to be doing something to be important to us.
C: Of course you don’t
F: Or to have a voice. So in a way, as ‘Mum’ of the church, if you like, as Mum of the church, I’m looking at my children and thinking “what are their needs right now? What do they want?” And “You’re important to us, and you’re loved, just because.” Not because you can play an instrument or not because you can serve coffee really well, or not because you can preach, or not because you’re great at kids work. You’re just loved.” And I think that’s core. That is important.
C: Absolutely, absolutely. Precious. Beautiful. And God looks with such love on us people who God has made.
F: I think when you feel that love from God, you then want to give that love to others.
C: Yes. Which moves it outside the realms of ‘organising things’. There’s not a lot of organising of stuff that goes on, really. I’ve noticed. There’s a lot of, people getting together because they’re friends.
F: Just go to Acts. And we look after each other. It’s really important. We do that. If we can’t – we should be looking after our church members. And we go beyond and look after our communities too.
C: I’m wondering whether there is anything else in your heart that you feel is important to say?
F: Maybe just listen to this: Wherever you are, you’re in the right place! You’re in the place where God wants you. Have a look around and just say, “God, who can I love? Who should I be spending time with? Give me a picture of their faces, point them out to me. How can I love? How can I be your hands and feet and your heart, Jesus, in the situation I’m in?” There was one time I remember feeling, before I was doing a lot of the Kitchen Evangelism, or Loving People Ministry, or whatever you want to call it
C: “Being Friends”, that’s the thing to call it
F: God said to me “I’ve given you the gift of friendship”. Before that I remember feeling, again, in my transitioning out of my identity as a worker and working for a place to being at home with my children, I remember being quite prayerful one time and saying, “God, how am I doing Your work?” And He said, “All the time, I’m sending people to you.” And then I noticed for that week and that month and for the months ahead, people were coming into my home. For example, a cleaner I was having really needed to hear the love of God. She was going through a dreadful time. And then neighbours would come. And that’s how I knew that actually, wherever I was at, God is there with you. Wherever you’re at. Whether you’re housebound, God is with you. Whether you’re in the workplace, God is with you. We have to have a very different perspective of how we view our work, as well. It is meant to be joyful. God is giving you an opportunity; what is that? I’m not keen on titles, I was really keen not to give many people titles at first in the church. Even ‘housegroup leader’ can send people into spirals sometimes. We’re just doing, we’re loving. We just loving. And I suppose I want to end with just, the world is short of kindness and love. Try and be that. In the name of Jesus. And God empowers us to do that.
C: Thank you ever so much, thank you for your time, and it’s beautiful to hear your story.
F: Thank you. God bless. Bless you.
Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Loved Called Gifted podcast. If you’d like to get in touch, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org You can find a transcript of this podcast at lovedcalledgifted.com and that’s also the place to go if you’re interested in the Loved Called Gifted course or if you’d like to find out about spiritual direction or coaching.
Thank you for listening.