Baptist Faces

Ange Whiles
grew up in an evangelical Christian family, regularly went to Scripture Union camps and made a personal commitment to Christ in the summer camp of 1974 aged 13. She is now one of the two co-leaders of church4u in Pickering, a small market town in North Yorkshire.  church4u has a vision for being 'out there' in the community. ‘We are a small core group of Christians committed to praying for, and getting to know, our neighbours, friends, work colleagues,’ she says. In addition she lives and works at Rivendell, a Christian retreat on the edge of the North York Moors, and teaches one day a week in an inclusion unit for children not coping with mainstream education. Ange loves being outdoors and active, and running Rivendell ‘gives me plenty of scope to do that.’ Another passion is the work of Habitat for Humanity.  Every two years she volunteers with the charity to build a home somewhere in the world.

A holiday run by Christians had a marked influence on the teenage Barbara Griffiths. ‘I arrived viewing Bible stories from early childhood as history,’ she recalls, ‘but came back understanding their relevance for today.’ She has been member of Christchurch in Welwyn Garden City for the last 21 years, and her working life has been as a nurse. A few years ago she heard about Parish Nursing, which would allow her to use all those skills, but to recognise the importance of acknowledging spiritual needs as an integral part of whole person health care. At present she spends a day a week as a Parish Nurse, but the balance between that and NHS work may change over time. ‘To work in an area you love is a real privilege,’ Barbara says. ‘I enjoy having the opportunity to walk alongside others and encouraging them in pursuing their dreams.’ To switch off, ‘choral singing or a good book takes some beating’.

Like many of his generation, David Howling was born into a Christian home. As a teenager he knew the story of Jesus ‘inside out and back to front’, he says, but had not made the connection between the events that happened in Jerusalem 2000 years previously and his own life ‘right there and then’. This all changed one evening at a youth camp in the Yorkshire Dales: he realised that the person he had grown up hearing about was now waiting for a personal response. David is now pastor of Pulborough Brooks Baptist Church in West Sussex, a strategic church plant, in response to intensive housing development in the last decade. He is also studying part time for a Master’s Degree at Spurgeon’s College, focusing on pioneering rural ministry and is chairman of Green Hills Christian Trust, a charity that provides micro-grants to Christian organisations involved in youth work. David has a passion for sailing and many years ago salvaged a derelict yacht. He restored it in his spare time and now enjoys sailing it around Chichester Harbour in the summer holidays. Other interests include playing computer games, DIY and canoeing.

Elaine Willmore, who worships at Beacon Lough Baptist Church in Gateshead, is a cancer research scientist at Newcastle University, and her work has focused on developing new therapies for leukaemia. ‘This is a very rewarding job,’ she says, ‘but there are always new challenges as we try to improve treatments for cancer patients.’ She became a Christian as a teenager during Billingham Baptist Church’s ‘Come alive 75’ outreach events. After moving from Billingham (via University in Manchester) she settled in Gateshead, where she lives with husband John and children Hannah, and Joel. They have found ‘a wonderful warm family’ at Beacon Lough, founded in prayer and worship, and reach into the local community with various regular events.  Elaine is also passionate about Fairtrade (she has been a volunteer for Traidcraft for 17 years), loves music (she plays piano, cello and violin) and likes ‘to try to sing’, most recently at Prom Praise North East. 

Grace Sharpe is a newly qualified teacher in a high school in Leicestershire. She attends Central Baptist Church in Leicester – and her faith plays a pivotal role in doing the job to the best of her ability.  ‘The area in which the school is situated means that we often encounter challenging students and even more challenging home situations,’ she says. ‘I find that my faith helps me every day in this job, giving me the strength and courage to try my best to help every student.  ‘Being a Christian also guides me throughout my job, showing me the best way to resolve situations. I think that if it weren’t for my faith, I wouldn’t have the patience and resilience needed to teach to the best of my ability in such a challenging area.’

Teenager Isaac Mehraj has been attending Totterdown Baptist Church in Bristol since he was four. Born into a Christian family, Christ was always been part of his life.  ‘There was no definitive ‘moment’ when I became a Christian,’ he says, ‘but gradually it became a more independent thing.  ‘My faith developed as I took opportunities to help with leading, preaching, and teaching in Junior Church.’ He is currently doing A-levels in Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Chemistry, and is hoping to study Mechanical Engineering at university. When he’s not revising, football, computer games and going to the gym keep him occupied.

Katie Love became a Christian in her youth, mainly from being brought up in a Christian household, but took full ownership of her faith at university where she studied world religion. It was here she ‘understood the difference between faith and religion for the first time’.  She works for a disability charity and has been involved in disability campaigning and access for a few years. She runs the Open Praise Project, a sensory worship session aimed at people with learning disabilities but open to anyone. It meets once a month at her church (Holland Road Baptist Church in Brighton), and has created books and resources to encourage others to run their own sessions. Katie describes herself as ‘a creative soul’. ‘I really enjoy using my hands and being active,’ she says. ‘I am passionate about equality and helping people to change their thinking. I love music and dabble in being a singer/ songwriter when I can.’ 

Krish Kandiah became a Christian when he was at comprehensive school in Brighton. ‘A friend of mine stood up in the registration period and explained that he had just become a friend of God and if we wanted to find out more we should go and talk to him,’ he recalls. ‘It was the bravest thing I had ever seen and he explained the gospel to me.’ Krish and his family now happily belong to Cornerstone Church in Thame, a café-style Baptist church with a mixed congregation that has been running about four years. There he is part of the leadership team looking to support, encourage and work alongside the church’s energetic young pastor Paddy Harris. Krish is also one of the directors of the Evangelical Alliance, with a special remit for mission. The key initiatives he is working on are: Confidence in the Gospel, Home for Good and Threads. These reflect his interests: he is very passionate about fostering and adoption, as well as being a keen blogger and a book addict. He also enjoys cycling and is, at the time of writing, a ‘dispirited’ Liverpool FC supporter.

Laura Knott loves to play rugby and football, representing both Moseley Women’s Rugby Club and an Audience of One. Sport played a role in her own faith journey. A self-confessed ‘bit of a rogue’ while growing up (‘my mission was to annoy the teachers and my future was to party hard!’), her life was changed by attending a sports camp to do a sports leadership qualification. The camp was run by Christians. ‘I went along sceptically promising that I would not turn into a ‘Bible basher’, but at that camp I realised all those there had something special about them and they way they played sport. I craved it and could not resist the God that they loved, loved me too. Life had to change!’ She has been a member of New Life Baptist Church in Birmingham since 2007, and is currently studying a Mission and Children’s work degree.

Mandy Smith, who attends Burgh Baptist Church in Lincolnshire, became a Christian when she was 20. However, her Christian walk was to be far from easy due to serious illnesses in both her daughter’s and husband’s lives.  In looking after them she learnt to put God first in everything, as well as sensing a call into nursing. She later became a Parish Nurse. ‘Parish nursing has been an amazing journey,’ she says. ‘It has opened doors to speak about the gospel in places and to people you would never imagine we could meet. I have seen people go from ‘there is no God’ to giving their lives to him. ‘I have prayed with people on the death bed, where usually only ministers tend to go, and talked to people of all different faiths. I have travelled to Kenya and ministered to the  sick and seen miracles happen before my very eyes. ‘We have a God who wants to use our everyday skills to reach his people and glorify him.’

Marjorie Greenwood has been a member of Willesden Green Baptist Church for 26 years, and in that time has been involved with various areas of ministry. She belongs to one of the church choirs (it has three), has been an elder for several years, and is currently a deacon and church secretary. Though the church has been through challenging times, it is also ‘one of the best fellowships to be part’, with various outreach programmes. Marjorie also spends much time in the US (she has family there and has been a member of the Progressive National Baptist Convention for more than 20 years), and has a wide range of interests. ‘I am an avid reader, mainly crime thrillers and adventures.  Crossword puzzles.  Sewing, cooking, being with family. ‘The Lord has not yet given me a husband and children, however I have many children who are a part of my life. The PNBC takes a lot of my time - I held an office within one of the ministry departments.  It has helped me to grow in various areas of my Christian walk as well as giving me a lot of new friends.’

Norman Kember is a Baptist with a particular concern for peacemaking.  He confesses a dangerous tendency to take the Sermon on the Mount seriously when it talks about loving your enemies and so registered as a conscientious objector to National Service in 1952.  While working as a medical scientist he has been active in the Christian Peace Movement with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, The Baptist Peace Fellowship and Pax Christi. He feels that while Baptists revere Jesus and Martin Luther King they do not follow their teaching and examples of nonviolent peacemaking but are led astray by the non-biblical idea of a Just War and by patriotic militarism. These views led to a trip to Baghdad in protest to the 2003 war against Iraq and his subsequent kidnap.  While acknowledging that his beliefs were compromised when rescued by the SAS he still holds that nonviolent methods are the Christian way to resolve conflicts.

Owen Uriah Sadler became a Christian in 1985 at a rally hosted by former gang leader turned evangelist Nicky Cruz in Birmingham Town Hall. He is now the Associate Pastor of Perry Beeches Baptist Church, and is passionate about community and families. Owen teaches seminars on marriage, divorce and singleness, and organises a number of men’s ministry events throughout the year. He is also involved in prison ministry and workshops in local schools and learning centres, and works with a group that creates intervention projects for those involved in gun and knife crime. ‘My focus is on empowering individuals to recognise their purpose and vision in life,’ he explains. Music is another big interest - Owen has recorded several albums over the years, and supports churches at concerts and fundraising events. ‘I believe that we must never stop learning and every day is opportunity to gain more insight into the issues of life and the wonders of our Saviour. After 28 years I feel I am just beginning my journey…how great is our God!’

Richard Standbrook, who runs his own web development studio, found his way back to God as an adult. ‘In 2006 something pulled me grudgingly back to church,’ he says. ‘I joined a small group of fantastic, genuine people and established deep, lifelong friendships. The key to my testimony was discovering that who I am was who God said I was. I didn’t need to look anywhere else which is incredibly liberating when you've spent so many years trying to "fit in".’ Bretton Baptist Church in Peterborough has been his spiritual home for the last seven years, and he has been involved with youth work and preaching there. A keen photographer, (‘both for pleasure and business’). he generally likes being creative. ‘I love reading’ he adds, ‘but with two small children this is not as often as I’d like.’

Seidel Abel Boanerges was born into a family of five generations of Christians, but began to struggle when reading of other world religions – if they all claimed to be the way to God, what was so unique about Jesus? The more he researched and prayed, the more Jesus seemed to stand apart from other people who claimed to be gods or prophets and he became a follower of Christ. Seidel is the Associate Minister (Evangelism) at Rosebery Park Baptist Church in Bournemouth and has been worshipping there since 2010. He is a very passionate apologist and he loves to proclaim the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the difference that Jesus can bring into one’s life. He regularly leads worship services at Rosebery Park and runs apologetics and evangelism courses both for believers, to equip them in their faith, and for non-believers to bring them to Christ. Seidel also loves playing cricket and badminton. 

Though Stephen Sutton was raised in a Baptist Church, he liked to ‘dot in and dot out of doing the God thing’. But tired of this half-heartedness, he jumped in with a commitment to ‘live this life with my whole self’… And it’s been a mad ride ever since!’ He is now pastor at Coulby Newham Baptist Church in Middlesbrough, a community that doesn’t try to be precious about anything, and focuses on ‘growing in our love relationship with Jesus, our love of each other and life as a family and living that love all the time as people on mission.’ Over the past couple of years this has meant stepping out of comfort zones and into the community more, focusing on discipling young people and growing in radical forms of spiritual disciplines. Stephen and wife Leah have three young children. ‘We love spending time together as a family, picnics, days out and hanging out together,’ he says, noting that in ‘pre-child life’ novels and films were more common.

Stephen Willis cannot remember a time when Jesus Christ was not a central part of his life. He 'wrote' his first sermon when he was 11 and was a regular local preacher on the local Methodist circuit at 14. This relationship with Christ became more personal and vital when he left home and joined the RAF as an Aircraft Engineer. Through the hospitality and love of a Baptist family near the airfield where he was based, his faith was deepened and a calling to ministry confirmed. He has been a member of Kings Sutton Baptist Church in Northamptonshire for 22 years, and 13 of those were as pastor. Stephen became interested in working with 'people on the margins' during his master's degree. He trained as a Mental Health Nurse in 2005 and then became a Mental Health Chaplain in 2010.'Each day I am privileged to be able to accompany people on their walk of faith through the most difficult of circumstances,’ Stephen says. ‘I talk about my faith and about how Jesus Christ consumes me with his compassion and love with non-religious people more now than I ever did while in pastoral ministry. ‘I claim to do very little religion but a lot of relationship.’

Steve Jones has been the minister of Ainon Baptist Church ,Bryncoch, Neath, South Wales for almost 11 years, despite only going to church for the first time aged 23. His faith journey was triggered by a period questioning the meaning of life following the accidental death of his younger brother. Reading the Bible and attending an enquirer’s group revealed ‘a loving God who was able and willing to carry away both my deepest human sorrows and my sinfulness.’ He would later give up his law enforcement job in Trading Standards on sensing the call to ministry. Steve has a huge passion for rugby, and for the past five seasons he has been a volunteer Sports Chaplain to the Ospreys Rugby Academy. He was also part of the chaplaincy team at both the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Other interests include all things French (which he studied at university and spent a year in Lyon) and walking his springer spaniel dog with his family on the Welsh hillsides.