A successful pharmacist with excellent prospects, Steve Petch gradually found himself being pulled towards a very different career.
Describing his calling to church leadership as ‘a growing desire, passion and sense of purpose’, the 42-year-old said: “There wasn’t writing in the sky or anything, but it was a big change with some huge challenges, not least the need for training, which I did through Newfrontiers in Brighton.”.
Beginning his vocation as a volunteer leader at a large church in Horsham, Steve was still working full-time as a pharmacist when he left Horsham to start Billingshurst Family Church.
Initially employed one day a week as the pastor, as the church grew, it required more and more of his time.
And even if you’re certain that God’s got your back, some leaps of faith must be daunting.
Nevertheless, in 2006 Steve gave up his pharmacy career and moved to Chichester to start Grace Church.
With a young family to support, did he have moments of doubt?
“It did still feel risky,” he laughs, “but again there was a sense that this was important; a desire to put more in.”
Now a thriving church community with ‘traditional’ Christian core beliefs (‘we teach the long-held traditional understandings of the Bible’) Grace Church occupies two sites; one in Terminus Road, Chichester, the other at the University campus in Bognor.
“We are fairly traditional in our vision, but the style of our meetings is less so.
“Our Sunday morning services aren’t held in church buildings and the style of meeting is fairly relaxed, with modern worship songs, lively children’s groups and relevant Bible teaching. We don’t dress formally or follow the traditional church calendar either,” said Steve.
“People of all ages and backgrounds attend, many of whom are at different stages on their journey of faith – it’s not just for committed Christians.” Steve, along with fellow elders, certainly inspires action.
Many members are involved in working with agencies such as Foodbank, Christians Against Poverty, City Angels, Arun Angels and Options Crisis Pregnancy Counselling service.
Funding for a Child Survival Programme in a rural area of the Philippines is given and Steve and his team run regular services in Ford Prison, as well as a monthly group for adults with learning difficulties.
“Local churches should be good news both for their communities and for those further afield.
“We aim to demonstrate God’s mercy and compassion through acts of kindness and service.
“Here we do these things under a single banner: GraceWorks.”
And for anyone seeking to explore life’s big questions, Grace Church runs regular Alpha courses.
Free, open to all and with no expectation that people will conform to a certain viewpoint, ‘everyone can express their thoughts and ask questions’, Steve reassures.
Busy and fulfilled he may be, but does Steve ever miss being a pharmacist?
“I enjoyed my work, so there are days when I miss it.”
Pausing, he adds: “But I’ve got absolutely no plans to go back to it.”
For more details visit www.GraceChurchTogether.org.uk.