Cathy, what is your role at Hillsong Church and what does it entail?
I am married to Gary, so it’s simply by sheer marriage that I am involved. We always look at ministry very much as the husband and wife in ministry together even though she may not necessarily be working full time for a church. Gosh, I guess I am a pastor. It took me a while to get my head around being comfortable with calling myself a pastor. I do a lot of stuff with the women and so we try and gather the women on a regular basis right across the whole church, teenage girls to mums that bring their babies to the young adults to people that in their twenties, or married, single, single parents and older people. We try and do several events throughout the year to cater for all the girls in church. We also help to gather women not just from our church but from right across the country and from Europe as well for our annual conference which is Colour. Bobby Houston hosts that conference and we are on the ground here in the UK making that all happen. That actually takes up quite a lot of time; there is quite a lot of work involved in the conference. Be the Change is a big part of what we do. We encourage women not only to care for their personal life through reading the word and being involved in small groups but as well to be really hands on in their communities. To get out there and do something to be the change, to change whether it be their street or their next door neighbour or the elderly centre that might be in their community or buying Christmas presents for children whose parents are in prison.
So honestly, what does it entail? You just can’t sum it up in five seconds can you? It’s also a matter of just talking to new Christians, people that are new to church, getting involved with them and understanding where they are at and how we can best help them to get involved in church. Then there’s a lot of work involved with staff, connecting with staff. Being the mother of the church was something that I sometimes struggled with but if you take the context of mum at home, you’ve got to be prepared to do anything. Whether it’s baking a birthday cake or planning a party or changing the light bulbs. You really have to be prepared to step in with whatever and if you are not quite sure how to do it then you ask around or find someone to help or you just figure it out to get it done. So in that sense, yes it’s very much being the mother of the house. God gives you the grace to do what you need to do because you don’t need to be a professional entertainer or a professional speaker or a professional theologian or anything like that but you just need to get in there and do whatever needs to be done.
How old are your children and how do they feel about your role in Church?
Gary and I moved over to the UK thirteen years ago and at that stage the children were two and four. We were in ministry in Sydney just a few years prior to that so really our kids have not known anything different. They have never known anything else. So in that regard I don’t think they have ever thought, “Oh my gosh, what’s going on, what’s happening?” They have simply grown up in that environment. We have done our best not to create drama or say things like, “Oh my gosh this is so hard!” for our kids. I heard Bobby say once that if it’s going to be difficult for you then it’s going to be difficult for your children. So I really took that on board when I heard that years ago and my kids were just little. And I though OK, I’ve really got to work at making sure that I am not going to make and create drama because if I was going to take that on board then that was the environment that I was going to raise my children in. I didn’t want to raise my children out of any kind of fear or drama. So I really took that to heart and said, “God I am not going to do that with your help.” They really seem fine. They are seventeen and fifteen now so maybe come back and ask in ten years time. But honestly, from what I can see, they seem like they are really fine with ministry. I think ministry offers incredible opportunities for them. We have done some trips to places like Uganda, we have a great relationship with a particular church there, so we have done trips there. We have been to places that I honestly think that if we weren’t in ministry the door may not have been open to be able to see that and have the privilege of experiencing that. So we have always tried to encourage the kids and teach the kids that some of the trips that we have done are simply because of the blessing of God.
Describe an average day in the life of Cathy Clarke.
Well I think most people would be able to say this, but what is average? Most days don’t look the same. My alarm goes off at 6:30 in the morning and I do my absolute best as a regular thing to be up at that time. I spend some time reading the word and praying. From there every day looks a little bit different but because we have got children it’s usually getting the children up and getting them out the door. Walking the dog, which is part of my little bit of exercise as well. So that’s my start to the day. From there it goes in all random directions. I can never say that there is a normal, average day. Often I am at the church office, sometimes I am out and about meeting people and I try and get some additional exercise during the week as well but once again I can’t say that there’s a regular time for it, I have to fit it in wherever I can. I have to say, I love online shopping because that makes life a little bit easier. If I have ten minutes I can sit down and order the groceries rather than having to race down the street and make a time to fit it in. In some ways my average day has certain things that there’s a different rhythm to but in other ways the rhythm is random and all over the place. Even dinner at night is unpredictable. I try taking a little roll call in the morning to see who is going to be home so I know if I have to cook dinner for the whole family or just me or just Gary and I. Life is always interesting; you can never say it’s boring.
What do you find most difficult in juggling ministry and parenting?
To be honest, I try and keep as positive as possible about things so I can’t say that I can think of anything I would say is the most difficult. I really try and look at it in a positive way, so even to think what is difficult about juggling parenting and ministry, almost in my head it’s a negative approach to it. I try not to go there. I know things have to be done, things have to be juggled but I try look at that in a very positive way. Yup, you’ve got to juggle but that’s just life. Rather than looking at it like, “Oh my gosh it’s so hard, I don’t know what’s happening” and “How am I going to fit everything in?” I really try not to look at that like it’s a struggle. It’s a blessing and it’s an amazing way to live life and that’s just simply the way it is. The only thing obviously that I don’t want to compromise in that juggle of life is simply my time with God.
Do you get stressed out and what do you do about it?
I can do but if I notice I am getting stressed about things I just bring myself back very quickly. I say, “Ok God, I am here. I am doing what you want me to do. You’ve got answers. I have the capacity. I have the ability to be able to do this because of Christ in me.” In my head I have to mentally pull myself back, going, “Don’t go down that track.” I guess over years you practice that and get better at it.
Was there a time when you made a bad parenting or ministry decision, and God used it as a teachable moment in your life?
You know, none of us are perfect so we are all going to make mistakes. I will be the first one to put up my hand and say yes I have done things that I maybe regret or when looking at it in hindsight seeing that really it wasn’t the best decision but in God’s grace He just allows us. The best thing you can do is to learn from those experiences, to become wiser. The biggest travesty would be that if you did make a mistake and failed to learn from it. So if you can sit there and go, “Right, I did make a mistake but what can I do better and how can I do it better next time,” then I think honestly that the valleys can be just as powerful as the mountain tops. Sometimes in those valleys and during those times when you have made mistakes they are the strongest and most powerful lessons. You do learn because God teaches us through His amazing grace.
I heard about the time you had to keep your children up until late at night so that they could spend time with their dad, tell us about that season and how you juggled to make ministry and family life work.
First of all, I didn’t have to keep them up; I chose to keep them up. And, this was before school, so they were only quite young, so it wasn’t a problem. To me it wasn’t a problem at all as they could sleep a little longer during the day. It wasn’t like they had to be up at a certain time and get to school, they weren’t turning up at school blurry eyed and tired. Gary at that time was getting up really early in the morning was home late at night. It was more of a difficult time for us financially, etcetera, so we had to do that so we could keep living so we made that choice. I was sure he didn’t want to go for a whole week with hardly seeing the children and especially as they were little. I was never one of those mums that said, “It’s six o’ clock, you’ve had to have your dinner by now so at seven o’ clock you’ve got to be in bed and that’s it.” I’m talking about when they were little, when school started it was little different, because there’s a regular structured day that they had to be a part of. When they were pre-school I wasn’t like that at all. We always looked at it as they were on a journey with us and so if that’s what Gary’s hours were, it was only for a period of time, well then I wanted to make sure that they were still alive and awake at ten o’ clock at night so they could hang around and spend some time together. I think dad time is far better than a rigid routine of six o’ clock you have had your dinner and bath and seven o’ clock you’re in bed.
What do your children say they love the most about you?
Anyone that has teenage children will realise that they will say nothing. They won’t run around saying, “I really love this about you mummy,” or “daddy you are amazing”. They just don’t seem to say that. They are cute when they are little, they will come up to you and say, “I love you mummy,” or they will stroke your hair or something or they will say the simplest things which just mean the world to you. I know Tori did say once, she said, “Mum, I want to be what you are when I grow up.” I was so proud of that so I stopped and asked her, “Why would you do that?” She said, “Because you just go out and have coffee and lunch with people.” So they say things and do things when they are little and are quite cute and adorable. When they hit teenage years you are lucky to get anything out of them or even understand what they are saying at times. So I cannot say anything recently that they say that they love about me.
Explain your understanding of Luke 14:26 to us and how it is worked out in your life as a mother. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”
I am going to read it out in a different version; it’s good to read scripture in different versions and also to read it in context. I am going to read it out from here because it then expands peoples understanding of what the scripture says because if you took that verse on its own it sounds quite harsh and quite horrible. It sounds like, “who would want to follow someone like that?” But here in this version it says in Jesus words, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison —your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters…” (New Living Translation)
I think honestly what Jesus is saying there is that you must have me as number one. So he’s not literally saying that you have to hate everyone because we know that God says over and over again to love and to love one another and to love people and that love is one of the greatest things. So we know that it’s not God or Jesus’ nature. What he is simply saying is that we have to have Jesus as number one in our lives. Then if we have Jesus as number one in our lives then all these other things, our relationships – our children, our husbands our mother and father, will be blessed. They will benefit, they will flourish. Jesus has a large crowd following him and what he is saying to them is that they have got to put Him as absolutely number one. He is saying that you can’t be following me just because the signs and wonders are enticing and look interesting thinking I’m curious and that looks all fun, but then go back to your families and forget about me. You have got to put me as number one, if you want to be my disciple, if you want to follow me, I have to be number one in your life. God will not share His throne with any man. So Jesus has to be absolutely number one and then if you have that in the right perspective then all the relationships, all the people that we have in our life, will all do well.
Looking back and knowing what you know now, would you have done anything differently in the area of parenting?
I don’t know whether I would. Yes, there were mistakes, but as I said before, they are valuable and I would never have learned otherwise. You can’t go through life perfectly. You need to have those ups and downs, those tight moments and those moments with wide open spaces – you need all of that. So, I honestly can’t think of anything that I regret. There is nothing in my life that I would have done very differently. One of the things that I look back on is when we packed up and left our country, where we had family, uncles, aunts, grandparents and extended family, we left them and moved over here. Family to us are very important and some people struggle with that whole thing but for us, I could have looked at it as a big disappointment because honestly, my parents really don’t know my children that well now. We do communicate on Skype and phone calls and when we go back to Australia the children see them but that’s not regularly. I could have looked at that as a bit of a disappointing way to live life because the children would know their family and extended family, cousins and so on. But once again, I just had to look at it in a positive way. We are here and we really believe that this is where God wants us. When you are planted somewhere, one way or another God will fill the gaps. He makes up for those things and it’s up to Him as to how He makes it happen.
How has being a woman in ministry helped you grow as a mother and how has being a mother helped you grow as a woman in ministry?
It is very much hand in glove. You can’t separate the two. I believe being a woman in ministry has helped me to be a better person. Being in ministry and reading the word of God, being in an environment where there’s worship and in a great community of believers has helped me and kept me on a road that is far healthier than where I could have potentially have gone off anywhere. So therefore, that has helped me to be a better person and if it’s helped me be a better person then obviously it had to help me to be a better mother to my children.
Sometimes it’s the things that you learn from being a mother, the emotion that you feel as a mother, raising children and seeing your children grow up and seeing them go through ups and downs, difficult times and so on. That whole emotion and that understanding of seeing your children grow helps you. I think it just opens up a whole new maternal thing within you that then helps you to reach out to other people. It helps you to come along side people and to encourage them. Whether it’s simply an arm around their shoulder at a moment when someone might be a bit downcast and is going through a hard time, or just a word of encouragement or an invitation to come over for a meal. Being a mother helps you to realise how important that sort of thing is. Perhaps things have happened a bit different at our church in London where there are a lot of young people that have family all over the place, all over the world, so they don’t have those close connections and you realise that a mother figure is very important to them, just as much as a father figure is, but we are talking about being a mother today. A mother figure is very important, not only when they are little but also when they are older. It’s a great opportunity to be able to understand that and just do what a mother would simply do. You can’t come up with all the answers but what you can do is just be there for them.
Do you feel you sacrificed your family on the altar of ministry? If not, how did you prevent that? If so, what do you regret?
Absolutely not. No. Never, never, never. I see ministry as an incredible opportunity for raising children. As I said, our blood relatives are a long way away but the community, the family and close friends that we have developed here in our church is just incredible. I would not do life without them. I would not live and I would not raise my children anywhere else. I think it’s the absolute best place to raise a family. I guess because we are in ministry we are more closely tied in and connected with the heart beat of the church but never once has it crossed my mind that that would be a handicap to our children or a difficulty ever.
How have you learned to bring balance to your life so you can enjoy the ride?
Balance is not a static thing, is it? It is constantly trying to find that place that you need to come back to for balance. So we know all these things, you’ve got to eat well and look after yourself and you have to exercise. Two years ago I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. I remember the time leading up to that, wondering how I was going to do it because it was something else I had added to my life. Exercise was something I had to do so my balance had to be re-juggled because I added something else to my life. I remember lying in my bed telling God, “I just don’t have time to exercise.” I tried to grab moments and fit it in but inevitably something would come up, whether it was a last minute text from the kids needing to be collected from the sports field or something else that cropped up. I clearly remember laying in bed, it was early one morning and I was saying, “God it’s just not happening.” You have got to laugh, I love it when God speaks to you like this, He said, “What are you doing now?” and I said, “Well I’m lying in bed.” I’m awake because I am thinking about all this. So just like he asked Peter, “Do you love me? Do you love me?” I heard God say again, “So what are you doing now?” to which I responded, “OK, I ‘m getting it now. Alright God, I could be up now doing some exercise.” So there on in, I would say it was about eight weeks or so out from actually climbing the mountain, I was getting up at five every morning to exercise. I filled my bottle with water and my backpack with weights to prepare for climbing the mountain.
So it’s a constant thing, that balance thing is constant. I am not a mad mountain climber but I did to make a difference, it to raise awareness for anti-traffiking, for the A21 Campaign. The whole team got to the peak, we all have that photo of us standing at the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro. But of course once we finished the climb and we all came home I didn’t set foot in a gym. The most exercise I got was walking to work or walking down the street or walking to the bus. That was my exercise for the next eighteen months, I did not do a stitch of exercise so suddenly I found the balance had gone completely. More recently I have got back into exercise and brought the balance back. It’s not always going to be perfect. Even eating and things like that, they are important I will go on my little chocolate binge and eat too much chocolate or sugar or whatever but it’s good to come back to balance there and be mindful of that.
What advice would you like to give women in ministry who have children?
Definitely I would say, don’t put pressure on yourself or feel like you have to do everything. Ministry is not just a job, it’s a heart thing and you’re involved with your heart and as a job as well but it’s more than just a job. So I think sometimes we can get caught up in feeling like you’ve got to be the best mother, you’ve got to be the best wife, you have got to be the best in whatever area of ministry you are involved in, you’ve got to be the best leader and you can really put a lot of pressure on yourself to be the best of everything. Because everyone in your church is looking to you and your husband you can feel that everyone is watching you so you have to make sure that your children are perfect, that they look like they are loving church and loving life and praising God. Sometimes my son is at church pouting but I had to take that pressure off myself, of making it look like I have everything together and that I have got to be great at doing everything.
We have a lot of meetings, leaders meetings, connect group meetings and all sorts of different things like that going on all the time in church. I have to do my best to get to what I can but if there is a time when I can’t get to something then I don’t beat myself up. I don’t think, I should have been there and what is everyone going to think. At times I can’t, maybe it’s that the children have exams and I been running them around to an extra tutorial or something. Obviously I would just leave the meeting hanging, I would make sure that it’s all looked after and if I was running it I would make sure that there is someone in place to look after it. But there are some times when I just say that I am simply going to stay home with the children, I am just going to hang out with them and make sure that we have a nice quiet peaceful night, make sure they have got a yummy good meal that they are going to dive into and enjoy, sit down and relax together and then they might go back to their rooms for a bit more and do some revision or something. There are many different scenarios but I think that would be probably one of the main things that people would struggle with, is that they have to be amazing at everything.
There can be a lot of pressure on our lives, the weddings, the baby showers, we get invited to everything and I have had to learn that it’s ok to say, “No, sorry I can’t make it.” It’s alright to do that but then on the other hand I definitely do try and get out there and do stuff. It all comes back to the balance thing. It’s very important to connect with people and be with people and be involved in people’s lives.