“6 Questions with…” is an opportunity for women and girls everywhere to share something about their passions and lives. (It’s also a fantastic excuse for me to be really nosey and learn more about the incredible women I admire.)
This week I’m putting Helen Stevens in the hot seat. I first met Helen when we went to the same Anglican church a back in the 2000s. Even then she was a shining light for “doing”, rather than sitting on your backside and letting everyone else do. Since then, we’ve both moved churches and left (for now) Anglican churches in favour of different denominations. However, as I’ve followed Helen’s journey via Instagram (seriously, you should follow her!), I have been amazed and inspired by her constant perseverance to follow God wherever she goes. There may have been a few ‘Jonah’ moments, as she confesses below, but the outcome is plain to see. God has and is using Helen, and her local church, to do amazing things right where she is. I’ll stop gushing now and let you get to know Helen in her own words…
1) Tell us a little bit about yourself and where you come from. Paint a picture of yourself.
Adopted as a baby, grew up on the south coast in Gosport – a lovely little town by the sea, that I never appreciated until I moved away! I love and miss the seaside and hope to return to the sea at some point in the future – if it’s God’s plan.
I was ‘good’ as a child but dreadful in my teens and even worse in my twenties; completely buying into the whole ‘ladette’ culture of the 80s/90s.
I never went to uni (none of my friends did). I did an apprenticeship as an aircraft fitter with the MOD in a Royal Naval aircraft yard. I worked almost 20 years for the MOD, in various roles including IT and project management. I took redundancy 15 years ago and had my own business as a dog walker and pet sitter. I’ve since learnt accountancy while working for my husband in our consultancy business.
You might say I’m a bit of a jack of all trades, or just that I can turn my hand to anything!
I’ve had a number of volunteer roles in the last 10 years or more – youth work with Wiltshire council for 3 years in Warminster, administration for Warminster foodbank, served as a Street Pastor for 6 years, and now with The Salvation Army. I also volunteer once a year with the Royal Bath & West Society at their ‘Field to Food’ event; showing school children around a number of farming and agricultural stands to explain and educate where our food comes from (I’ve learned a huge amount doing that!).
2) You run your own business with your husband. How do you balance living and working with the same person?
Al and I have worked together for years. When I met him he was still serving in the Army and was posted into where I worked; so I guess we’re just used to it! It’s probably true that most of the conversation can often be about work, but then I think that’s probably the same in any marriage – you just tend be talking about your own work, rather than what you work on together. We’ve always worked well together I think (his views may differ!).
Things have changed for us though over the last year or so though – changes in tax law were making consultancy much more challenging; any roles available were for much less, and it wasn’t conducive to running a company. I can see God’s hand in it though; Al was offered full-time employment 18 months ago; a job that was a chance to make a difference and ‘mentor’ others; he had often lamented that when contracting, he would go in for a period of time to work on a project, leave, and then everything would be left, or undone. We asked to be released from the terms of our lease, which our landlords granted, and we vacated our office the week before the country went into lockdown. This meant I was then available to run our foodbank at The Salvation Army, which I’ve done every day since.
We have maintained our business for the drone side of it, as we’re still passionate about helping people fly safely and legally, and we still give advice and guidance, either to those operating commercially, or to people flying drones as a hobby. Al keeps his drone flying hours in, often taking imagery for the showground next to where we live.
3) What was it that led you to start your own business?
I first had my own business as a dog walker and pet sitter when I took redundancy from the MOD. That was back in 2005, and dog walkers were quite a new thing then. I really enjoyed it, but really walked myself into the ground, developing a bit of a ‘dodgy hip’! Al’s company came about when he was doing consultancy work in the defence industry, which required you to be a limited company. I gave up my pet sitting business and started working for him when we realised there was admin and accountancy work that he just didn’t have the time to do. We ventured into the world of drones when Al tried to get a contract on unmanned systems but didn’t have any experience. We bought our first drone back in 2007 when they were incredibly expensive and relatively new technology. This was before there were Civil Aviation Authority rules about flying, and we became one of the first companies to have a commercial drone licence from the CAA. For a number of years, we were also registered to provide drone pilot assessments for those looking to gain their CAA approval. For the last few years, we’ve provided our time at the Royal Bath & West Show, to provide education and awareness around drone safety.
4) Over the last couple of years, you’ve joined the Salvation Army and even become a Salvation Army soldier. What was it that attracted you to this particular form of church?
I have a history of family in The Salvation Army; my nan and her sisters were Salvationists. My great aunts were soldiers (although I never saw them in uniform), and my mum’s cousin was a soldier – she was someone I always remember being open about her faith, and I always thought she looked so smart! We used to spend time with my nan and grandad in school holidays, and I always enjoyed going along to the Salvation Army on Sunday evenings.
I felt called to The Salvation Army when we moved to Shepton Mallet; I went along one Sunday, but was very much like Jonah and went running off in the opposite direction! The congregations were small and elderly, and I was adamant that it wasn’t going to be the kind of church I would belong to. I went to a more modern expression of church in Wells for about a year, but it never really worked out so I came back to where I was called and settled in. Amazing how much better it works out when we’re obedient to our calling. I love The Salvation Army because we’re ‘do-ers’ of the word’ and not just ‘hearers’ of it; our founder General William Booth gave a famous message to all Salvationists; a one-word sermon – ‘Others’. We’re known in communities worldwide for caring for people, rolling our sleeves up and getting on with it, making a difference, helping people. It is hard for people to comprehend that we care about them when others don’t. We do because it’s what Jesus would do. I love The Salvation Army too because it has such a passion for social justice. Pre-Covid, I used to love selling our Salvation Army paper, the ‘War Cry’, I used to stand for a couple of hours on Wells High Street on a Wednesday. I regularly had conversations with people about their memories or experiences of The Salvation Army helping them or members of their family in the past.
After saying I’d never become a soldier, I’m now the Corps Sergeant Major at Shepton (which is a voluntary second in command type position) and I manage our foodbank.
(As an aside, my husband doesn’t share my faith, but The Salvation Army is the church he’s been most supportive of, of all that I’ve belonged to. He remembers that they were a big presence in the Armed Forces, often having what he calls ‘the Sally Bash’ – a café type scenario on British Army camps where you could go for a listening ear, a cuppa and a bacon butty!)
5) The Salvation Army encourages an alcohol-free lifestyle. How have you found adopting this into your life?
I smile reading this question, as when I joined The Salvation Army, I said to my husband that I couldn’t ever see myself becoming a soldier, as that meant an alcohol-free lifestyle and at that time I enjoyed a drink very much, particularly a malt whisky! God was definitely in my giving up alcohol. I had felt for a while that God was saying I should be bringing my ‘bad days’ to him, not opening a bottle of wine. There were a number of promptings about giving up alcohol, and in the end, on 6th January 2017, I can remember being in our local pub with Al and some friends. It didn’t matter what I tried to drink, I just disliked the taste. Never had a drink since that moment. I certainly don’t miss it, and there are some great alcohol-free alternatives out there.
6) Right now, we’re tentatively trying to move into a post-COVID and post-lockdown world. What are the key lessons you have learnt through this strange season?
That we can really plan for nothing! I’m reminded of Proverbs 16:9, “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.” No-one could have foreseen the events that have happened this year. I think as a society, we’d become incredibly selfish; life was all about ‘me’; social media etc so focused on people treating themselves, ‘time for me’, all about pleasure, there was such focus on materialistic things. I think that has changed during this Covid period, and some great community spirit has been borne from it.
We’re all facing challenges that we’ve not had to face before, and I try really hard to be a good witness in all areas of my life. Colossians 4:5 says live wisely among those who are not believers… I try to do that, but I’m not always sure I’m always a good witness! I think pre-Covid my life with God was a bit compartmentalised.
I’ve learnt to depend on God, wholly. I think sometimes, when we’re losing everything that we thought was dear to us, then, when God is all there is, we realise how much he loves and adores us and provides for us. I’ve learnt that during this time, nothing is impossible with God! Who would have thought that the gospel message would be shared so freely as it has been during this time? Personally, I think we need to build on that, and not go ‘back’ to how we did things before. I’ve become more open about my faith I think, during this time; certainly, I’ve had more conversations about it, and I hope for that to continue.