Standing at the doors of the church – interview with Chris Sheehan

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Helen Harwood talks to Chris Sheehan. Chris is in his first year on CMS Pioneer Mission Leadership Training, studying for a diploma as an ordinand to be a permanent deacon.

Hi Chris, and thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. I know you are a busy guy, (including PCC member, magazine editor, treasurer, Street Pastor, sides person and ‘web person’) but they do say if you want something done, ask a busy person! Can you tell me how you got into the things you do, and especially Street Pastors, please (and could you start by telling our readers about your passion for asparagus!)?

Well I’ve stood down from all PCC stuff now but am happily busy with lots of stuff, especially now it’s the asparagus season! I live in Evesham, famed for its asparagus, and decided to write a book about all aspects of gras (as it’s known locally). The book, A Passion for Asparagus was self-published and got me into forming, with others, the British Asparagus Festival company. Yes there is a festival (see www.britishasparagusfestival.org) which arranges bus tours, auctions and even a folk/blues music event naturally called Asparafest (www.asparafest.co.uk).

Street Pastors and community working are a Christian passion as walking alongside those in need is a real physical way of showing Jesus’ love for the community. We started a group here some two years ago and while people say Evesham is too quiet to need Street Pastors, it means we have time to share stories with those we meet on the streets. My wife, Carol, also comes out with me so weekends are a bit quiet after our 3am finish on a Friday night!

I know your aim is to train for ordination as a permanent deacon with focus outside church following on from Street Pastors work etc. Can you explain more about your calling, please?

I’d felt challenged to do more as my business career was coasting and I’d felt really challenged by declaring my faith as a new Street Pastor. So, encouraged by friends I explored licensed ministry but I believe God wants me to be the most I can for him so feel called to “feed his sheep”. Hence I put myself forward for Pioneer ministry training as its focus with a centre of gravity among the marginalised ties in well with my previous work and the permanent diaconal ministry.

So you’ve been with us on the pioneer course since September 2015, can you say a bit about what brought you to us specifically, I expect you could have trained elsewhere but you choose us?

I looked briefly at other colleges but the warm welcome (thanks Jonny, Andy and Cathy), the variety of expressions that Pioneers get into and the missionary heritage were an unbeatable combination. That together with Jonny’s help in navigating the Ministry Division structures all helped.

Since coming to us what has struck you most about the course and how has it had/might it have an impact your ministry?

I’ve not done any previous theology training before but the current thinking on offer and the quality of the teaching perfectly complement the stories we share with other students; hearing about their contexts is the real added value of this training and it gives great ideas and contacts to take back into Evesham.

You led an amazing worship for us early on, with music, dancing and food (including a DVD clip of music and dancing and lollies from your Street Pastors ministry), it was really great. Could you say a bit about how you feel worship flows into and/or out of pioneering, please?

Interestingly, Soulfood (a weekly open service with food and Christian reflection we hold in Evesham) had worship as a theme recently. We sat, 15 of us around a table, shared a meal (asparagus risotto, naturally!) with Eastern Europeans, a homeless woman and others. We sang, prayed and then reflected on what God means to us. As a would-be permanent deacon, the image is of standing at the doors of the church bringing the needs of the marginalised in to those in church but also sharing God’s love outwards. Most of our church during Street Pastors for example is with people on the streets. We help and offer service but will pray and account for our faith. And in line with Liberation theology, I and other Street Pastors are growing by learning from those with whom we walk.

Thank you Chris, what a lovely image of worship. Lastly, what is on the horizon for you, and how can we pray for you?

Sarah Hewitt (a fellow student) and I and three others started Shine Out of School Clubs (shineoutofschoolclubs.org) at a village C of E school near Evesham last September. Our remit is to offer wrap-around care and any surplus funds will go into social projects eg, food banks. We are set to open at a much larger school in June having already celebrated our 1,000th child attendance so prayers for the Shine Club in Bengeworth, Evesham would be much appreciated.

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