An Intimate Chat with Cathy Clarke
I first met Cathy Clarke in May of this year. I was at the Hillsong Youth UK Innovation Conference and as she was walking in, she looked right at me, came up to me and chatted a bit. A native of Northwest Australia, Cathy, has a laid back persona, as Aussies typically do. Cathy has an incredible gift to focus on a one-on-one conversation with a person, in a room full of hundreds or thousands. Though she's calm and laid back, she is a people person and will encourage a person to become the best version of themselves.
Cathy and her husband are the lead pastors of Hillsong Church London. They moved from Australia to start Hillsong, and with a vision they and still are guiding the church in the UK. Hillsong UK is not only in London, but in Surrey, Kent, Oxford, and Newcastle- as well as have helped guide Hillsong starting in Milan, Italy. Both Gary and Cathy have a heart for people, especially young people.
In this interview Cathy talks Australia, being an empty nester, faith, and she offers a few words of wisdom to women.
Seele Magazine: What part of Australia are you from and what was it like growing up there?
Cathy Clarke: I grew up in Gunnedah, a small country town in North West NSW, Australia.
It was a simple life. Mum, dad and three kids. No great dramas or outstanding things to mention. I enjoyed my childhood. Had great friends, enjoyed school and spent a lot of my spare time riding my horses. It was a carefree life. We didn’t venture very far and never had any desire to live overseas.
SM: How does it feel being an empty nester? What's your advice to women who are about to have an empty nest?
CC: ‘Empty nester’ was something I thought was just a casual phrase referring to when your kids leave home and that’s it. But now having gone through this stage of life, I realise there’s a lot more to it than that.
I clearly remember walking around the house after our daughter left and I felt something.......what was it? I was praying and talking to God and it dawned on me that I was simply feeling ‘sad.’ It was the end of an era. It’s over and she will never move back home. Or if she does it will never be the same.
Since then our son has also left and after a few tears, we have now adjusted quite well. I enjoy the extra space! Less mess! TC control!
You will get over it quickly. Keep busy. The big adjustment now is when they all come home and the mess and shoes and stuff they leave everywhere. But no, I do love having them all around and in fact they are both coming home for Christmas this year. Yippee!
SM: You and your husband Gary left Australia to start Hillsong London. What's your advice to couples who are getting ready to start a church plant? How did God show you that starting Hillsong London was his path/ plan for you?
CC: Starting a church plant. There’s many things that could be said but the first thing that comes to mind is this. Gary and I had to be the ones who actively and intentionally stayed connected with our leaders Bobbie and Brian. We didn’t come to London, start building church and wait for them to get in touch with us. We always saw that as our responsibility.
And can I say one other quick point. Don’t allow yourself to carry offence. Just saying ...... because it’s easy to do.
Part b. We simply trust our leaders and we’re in church to serve them in building God's House. When they asked us if we would move to London to build Hillsong Church we didn’t find it difficult to say yes. We have done just that.
SM: How would you describe taking Godly risks in faith? How has God made is clear to you to take risks in your own life?
CC: Taking Godly risks in faith is exciting, challenging, stretching and always ends with drawing you closer to God.
There’s been just a handful of times that I really feel like I clearly heard from God to step out in faith. I had been praying and seeking His face on an answer and it was just like I knew the Holy Spirit had given me direction. I just knew.
I also have some close friends that I can run things by because the Bible says “those who take advice are wise”.
So by faith I stepped into and embraced this direction. It wasn’t a risk. If you feel God has spoken to you I don’t think it’s a risk. By faith you please God.
SM: How do you balance being the senior leader of a church, a wife, a mother, while knowing you have to keep going and put on a positive attitude when life's challenges come up?
CC: Balancing life with work, family, husband is a question that comes up often. I don’t know if I’ve got any great answers but here you go.
I try not to separate the roles I have to take on and attempt not to set them up in conflict with each other.
Eg. I don’t make any hard and fast rules like every Saturday is family day - because sometimes there may be a leadership day on Saturday. Then that causes conflict. Our lives our quite fluid and we just make it work.
Then there’s always the frustrating, challenging times when things aren’t going so well. What do you do then? I’ve got a few favourite emojis that come to mind in these times. You have to be real. There’s nothing achieved by covering it up and pretending everything is FINE. I have 1 or 2 close friends that I can have honest chats with and trust that they’ll be honest with me. But I don’t think we need to be completely open and bare all for everyone. In this case I would put a smile on my face (she smiles at the future) and push through my day.
SM: What is your best advice to single young women in their 30’s, who don't want to lead a life of fear and apprehension?
CC: If young women are living in fear then they need to apprehend those thoughts and feelings. There are many scriptures in the Bible referring to fear and overcoming fear.
Heb 13:6 We can say with confidence, “the Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me.”
But to lead a life of overcoming fears that face us all, we need to remain in Christ. Read His Word. Serve others, which takes the focus off our personal problems.
SM: What would you tell your 16 year old self, your 30 year old self, and your 40 year old self?
CC: I think I would tell myself to just “get on with it.” Life is not perfect and never will be. My 22yr old daughter is in a temporary job and she’s been complaining and not enjoying it. There’s a few people in the job who are not very pleasant. I had to respond with “welcome to life” “you’re not going to get on well with everyone you work with, so you have to learn how to manage yourself in that situation, rise above the negativity and be the bigger person.”
What would I tell my 40 year old self? I don’t know? Some people can think that stepping into that decade is daunting but it isn’t scarey at all. It’s fun! Make the most of every moment.
SM: As Hillsong is growing in the UK, what are your hopes for the church in 2018?
CC: As we see more churches starting across the UK I dream that these churches will be healthy, strong and vibrant with the message of Jesus Christ. I want to see them truly become a focal point for their towns or cities. That they’ll be a light on a hill for everyone and anyone. That they’ll be known, not for negative reasons, but for amazing good work that they do. That they’ll be giving leadership to their communities. That they will change mindsets, and that young people will see church, not as old fashioned and irrelevant, but as contemporary and relevant to all and particularly their generation.
The church should be in the centre of society, not on the periphery.
SM: When you hear the name Jesus what comes to mind?
CC: How do I see Jesus?
This depends what is happening currently in my life. If things are a bit tough I immediately think of a warrior. If things are going smoothly I think of Him as a friend. If I’m feeling a bit sad I see Him as a lover and carer. I try to imagine a person with no guile but that’s a bit hard because there’s no human like that on planet earth. I see Him as someone who likes some fun. And I’m so happy to say that I see Jesus as someone who believes in me.