‘Little people can do big things that matter’: Interview with Kim Hartshorne

With an incredibly varied background both in work-life and spirituality, Kim Hartshorne is the founder of the Upper Room Community in Cirencester and a student on the CMS Pioneer Mission Leadership Training course. Helen Harwood met up with her at CMS Oxford to find out more about Kim’s journey.

HH: Hi Kim, having spent some time with the other Pioneer students this morning, a time where you facilitated some reflective worship, I really want to ask you about your spirituality. I know that you have experienced some of the breadth of spirituality on offer, and that you come from quite traditional roots, so this breadth has not always been the case. Please could you tell me a bit about the spiritual journey that you have been on over the last few years, please?

KH: Thanks Helen. Yes, I have a pretty mixed up background. I was baptised as an infant into an Anglican church in Sunderland where the first ‘revival’ of the Holy Spirit took place in the 19th century. The Vicar, Alexander Boddy, and his wife laid hands on Smith Wigglesworth and sent him out, the Azusa Street Revival happened and many other ‘signs and wonders’ which precipitated the start of the Pentecostal movement. My family had left the Anglican church and joined what could be termed a ‘sect’ and I was raised in a church that observed a very strict Jewish Old Testament set of habits and practices, believing it was the ‘only true way’ to be saved. I didn’t leave there until it broke up in a series of splits 17 years ago; by then I was in my 20s and married with a baby.

So then I had to come to terms with my past, and begin to discover some kind of orthodox Christian theological framework. It has been great fun for me to start to explore and learn what everyone else already knew! My husband and I joined a local church in our town, mainly because it was friendly, someone invited us and it had good facilities for children. We received a good grounding there, especially in its focus on the Bible. During that time I went to New Wine and became involved in the Charismatic movement which felt very natural to me.

In 2000, I had a dream about starting to work in mission and community development. I’d come to believe that this gospel was more radical and transformative than the Church appeared to expect, and I began to pray with some other women. After several years praying we set up a drop in centre for people who were vulnerable and struggling, and then a whole new spirituality became necessary to sustain that and underpin it. I found the Celtic tradition very helpful and still use Celtic Daily Prayer (which I first picked up in a Prayer Room run by Andy Freeman [CMS Pioneer Hub facilitator] 15 years ago!). The monastic tradition of challenge to the church was also prescient.

I was in search of more outward focus and went to work for a large Charismatic Anglican church on the mission and community team and was sent for leadership training. I studied theology formally for the first time and it made me feel like I was swimming in a big and beautiful ocean, with so many exciting possibilities and lines of enquiry that I will never exhaust the new and amazing things I don’t know about God and his purposes.

In the last five years I have explored much more in the monastic tradition, with its emphasis on rhythm and rule of life as it helps me to stay healthy and live a sustainable life amidst the pressures of juggling work, study and home life. I have also gone on a journey into the traditions that belong to the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches and found I love the mystical aspects and greater use of image and beauty in worship. I believe God encounters us everywhere, in everything and everyone and we just need to ask for eyes to see him; exploring the Christian traditions has been very enlivening to me spiritually.

Most recently I have fallen madly in love with the Eucharist and the theology that surrounds it. Joining the Anglican Church sees me come full circle to my infancy and I really do feel like I’ve come home again. There are things about it that drive me utterly crazy, no question, but I do really love it very deeply and am very happy to have found a home where my gifts are not only tolerated but are given space and encouragement to grow. I know some pioneers find the Church a hard place and I hope and pray that changes in future. We as a community have been hugely blessed and welcomed by our diocese and I was recently licensed as a ‘lay pioneer minister’.

Just as your spiritual journey seems pretty varied, so your work life seems to have taken many turns, from engineer, charity fundraiser, parish councillor, involved in a Home-Start scheme, to now a leader at The Upper Room Community in Cirencester who is in training for ordination. Can you tell us a bit about the practical path you have been on?

I have had an interesting journey in terms of career path to get here, but as is God’s way, nothing has been wasted! I studied history at university but then got a place on a Master of Science in Engineering at Bradford University, leading to a career in manufacturing with Lucas Aerospace. I had a ball and it was a very happy match of skills and temperament for me. I learned a lot of problem solving skills and worked in many areas, often in change management and implementing new ideas. I was seconded to the MD for a year and gave a speech at the EU in Strasbourg. I continued in engineering until I had my children and then the travelling and shifts were not conducive to family life so I stopped work for a while and became involved in community life locally.

I joined the Parish Council as the village I lived in had no play area for children and as a group of local mums we raised £40,000 in grants and installed a playground. I learned a life lesson there which still drives me; that little people can do big things that matter, if they can work together and grow in confidence then they can make change. It has influenced everything I’ve done since. There were lots of struggles and it took us five years but really brought a disparate community together with a shared purpose that was transformative. I believe this is what the Kingdom of Heaven is all about.

In a similar vein, I knew there were lots of parents struggling in our area, with debt, postnatal depression or disability and so I gathered a group of local parents to start a Home-Start scheme. I had heard God speak about this when I was struggling with postnatal depression myself and it took eight years to come to fruition. This time we raised £150,000 and now hundreds of local families have been supported to get back on their feet by trained volunteers.

I also worked for Social Services running a family support group and became a part time guardian to a small boy whose dad couldn’t care for him due to mental illness. As I mentioned, I worked at a large church on the mission and community team and set up a lot of projects around community transformation and regeneration. After all that I suppose I had enough experience to work with others to start the Upper Room drop-in sessions, which grew and developed into a small missional community. I’d had a dream about it in 2000 and it took eight years to grow into reality.

A remarkable journey. I expect that community life is anything but dull, and perhaps is a bit hard to explain. But could you try to paint a picture for us of life as part of the Upper Room Community?

Well, we began five years ago by opening two drop in sessions a week for people who needed support and a helping hand and offering prayer but in a non-threatening way. We aimed to show the love of Christ, as well as tell about it, figuring that people will understand it if they see it in action and feel included in it, so the work combines the practical with the spiritual aspects of life.
Mainly women came for the first year or two with all kinds of struggles and illness. Then a group of homeless men started coming along, needing new boots and flasks of tea and support. Several men with post-traumatic stress disorder came, one in particular a homeless army officer experiencing flashbacks and night terrors. We had to learn quickly what this condition was all about, and get up the learning curve of the networks of support we needed to access. Our work is about going alongside people and letting them determine what support they need from us, if any. We learn together as we open our hearts and lives to one another.

Recently the NHS Mental Health Crisis Team began to refer people to us who have come out of hospital following a suicide attempt. They needed a safe space to explore what had happened to them, and how to find the hope they needed to rebuild their lives. We journey slowly along together. Many people have come to faith, very naturally after a period. We have no ‘hard sell’ approach, simply believing that every person who comes is brought by the Holy Spirit for a reason and we offer love and support and belonging, waiting to see the image of God in that person which may be hidden under despair or pain.

So our pattern of life is two drop in sessions a week followed by lunchtime communion at our local parish church. Sunday gathering for accessible worship, which means Lectio Divina and discussion and prayer. Monthly we have our own communion service and community lunch. Every month we eat all together in someone’s home. We meet up for prayer, for advocacy or to accompany someone at a hospital appointment etc. We do mission and community work in the town, supporting a local refuge and a charity for homeless young people for example, and we support our vulnerable community members by decorating or other tasks that are hard to do alone. We go on trips in summer and help people with emergency support where they need it. We work with many other small charities, other churches and the local housing association. We love and want to bless our town wherever we can.

We also work in partnership with the local parish clergy and are in the process of having a Bishop’s Mission Order. We love the church and are working together with the parish team to set up new mission activity on a new estate being built in the town. It helps them understand what we’re about when they see incarnational mission in action.

And now CMS and the Pioneer course are part of your journey too. I remember meeting you at an open day a couple of years ago. I remember you praying for me and my own journey! It’s wonderful how God leads us all along at different paces to different places. Can you tell us a bit about ordination and how CMS came into the picture?

I wish this course had been set up when we were first trying to establish the Upper Room! It’s great that Pete, our Project Worker, can come here too to learn some of the elements of pioneering. My call to ordination came in a dramatic fashion and I confess I was horrified by it, completely refusing it for some years. In the end I was like Jonah; there was nowhere left to hide and my vicar agreed I had to obey it. I still at times am confused about what it all means and why I had to do it, but I know I just do and it will unfold over time. All God’s plans for me so far have been pretty good fun so far, so perhaps this one will turn out that way in the end too!

My theology of the priesthood isn’t that there should be fewer priests but that there should be more! All of us are made in God’s image and the mandate given to the first humans is the same for all of us since – to transform the earth, creating beauty and culture that blesses and enhances life. All of us are wonderfully made with great gifts and unique attributes to offer, and all of us can make a transformative difference right here and now, wherever we are. The divide between ‘clergy’ and the ‘laity’ is something I am passionate about breaking down so we can all participate fully in society and church life.

When I was looking for a course this was really the only one I could do part time whilst still leading the community and looking after my family, so my diocesan director of ordinands agreed once it had been approved for ordination. I’d been following Jonny’s blog for years and it seemed an obvious route.

Thinking ahead to the future, what developments would you like to see on the horizon and beyond for you and your community?

We try just to see where God is leading and get lined up with that, so in a sense we never know what is coming. I would like us to work on our discipleship, as ever, and be open and willing to go wherever the Holy Spirit leads us. I’d like my leadership team to grow in confidence. I’d like the people who come to us to be drawn into a lifelong relationship with God and to feel loved and supported as they are healed and restored. I hope we will continue to work with the parish clergy to discern together the work on the new estate and its timing.

Thank you for sharing with us, Kim. How can we pray for you?

As a community, that we can show and tell the good news of the gospel in ways that make sense to people who have suffered and want to hear it. That the new project will happen in God’s way and timing and that the resources will be forthcoming for it from whoever has them!

For me, that I survive this complex phase of life, with the juggling of the demands of study, Community life and family life, and that my ordination story will begin to make some sense soon.

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