Thetford church pastor’s mission to empower lives
Thetford church pastor and mother of three Steph Williams helps women live connected and empowered lives – a mission that even saved one woman’s life. Sandie Shirley reports.
Steph’s desire is to encourage mostly Christian women in their workplace, community and family through gifted songwriters and speakers sharing their compelling stories and heartfelt missions for God at the annual ‘Flourish’ conference.
Steph – along with her team, will host the fifth ‘Flourish’ event on October 19 that includes guest artist Philippa Hanna at The Apex in Bury St Edmunds to share a message to ‘Rise Up’.
“We aim to relate and be ‘real’ and one woman wanted me to know that attendance in the past stopped her from committing suicide – it is amazing that God could use the conference to do that,” said Steph.
“‘Flourish’ is about sharing encouraging stories, to gain the tools for everyday life, so we are better able to do what God has called us to. It is easy to slip into the busyness of life but it’s important that we take the time to remember what we were made for and who we were made by,” she says.
Unafraid to break new ground, Steph has pursued a passionate adventure to reach women of all cultures and ages with her team from Liberty Church. Keen to forge relationships with unchurched women has meant joining community initiatives, championing women and running a host of unique events as a ‘stepping-stone’ to church with future invitations to Easter, Christmas and Mother’s Day services.
Being keen can be challenging and hard work, Steph says. “Although I have a university degree in performing arts no amount of education can prepare me to talk clearly and with truth from the heart of God as his mouthpiece. It is all about honouring God and not me (or the team) – I am just one person who said yes to an idea he gave me.”
Steph grew up in the church. She was a 19-year-old youth worker, at a women’s conference when she believes she first heard God’s prompting for a mission with women. She felt an unlikely candidate but 17 years later there’s a growing ministry as she and co-pastor husband, Phil, dared to believe and trust.
The first ‘Flourish’ conference was held at Thetford’s Carnegie Room in 2015. Two years later they booked the Apex at Bury St Edmunds, seating 500, and guest speaker was author and evangelist J John. Past guests have also included the Daughters of Davis, Ben Cooley from Hope for Justice and Arianna Walker, Executive Director of Mercy Ministries UK.
One of the keys to growth has been unity and networking with women from Thetford’s churches and beyond to share ideas and encouragement. And working with a planning team of 10, along with many volunteers from Liberty Church, begins more than a year in advance of every conference.
Reaching women outside the church has involved visits to an old people’s home and the hospital premature baby unit with gifts while teenage mums have been invited to a huge baby shower. Women who have made a difference to Thetford have also been honoured including a fitness instructor who mounts an annual community event and a mother who raises cancer awareness after losing her young daughter to the disease.
Eleven years ago, a ‘no preach’ fun evening was launched for Christian women to invite their unchurched friends to – whether they were 16 or 96. Today ‘Beautiful’ runs three times a year (February, July and November) and there are more non-Christian attendees that Christians.
The diverse programme has included pampering, cream teas, jewellery sales, chocolate fountains and songs from the theatre. There is also news of church and social action programmes, a table quiz that encourages conversations and Steph may share a stirring five-minute thought or interview.
“Even if just one person walks out of ‘Beautiful’ and decides to return to church, we have done what we have set out to do,” says Steph. The next ‘Beautiful’ event will be held at the Carnegie Room, Thetford on November 16, 7pm-9pm.
Pictured above is Thetford church pastor Steph Williams.