Passionately Pursuing Christ
by Suzan Braun
Christian women everywhere in today’s world long to belong, find their identity, develop their gifts, maintain God honoring attitudes, and perhaps most deeply desire to love and be loved.
Women in ministry are often cast in the role of showcasing how to successfully lead such lives of spiritual happiness and success. For some it’s hard work but rewarding; for others the unwritten job description brings a sense of duty and unwanted responsibility for the flock their husbands shepherd. But for Hilary Price it’s a role in which she places no expectations on herself at all. “It all comes back to being my Beloved’s,” says Hilary. “He gives me my identity. The world does not define who I am. I say to people, ‘I just simply live under the shadow of His wing and I invite you to join me there.’ That’s my ministry.”
Hilary and her husband, Charles, have been serving God together in ministry for close to 30 years. Charles has been the senior pastor of The People’s Church in Toronto, Canada, for over seven years with a weekly congregation of 4,000 people and an international television outreach called Living Truth. “It’s probably one of the most multi-ethnic churches in North America,” says Hilary. “Close to 50 languages spoken in our fellowship alone, but that’s Toronto!”
Ministry life has always been an international affair for the Prices. Before coming to Toronto in 2001, they were on staff at Capernwray Missionary Fellowship of Torchbearers in England for over 20 years. Charles was the principal of Capernwray Bible School and during that time was also involved in an extensive conference and evangelistic ministry around the world. That meant lots of travel for Charles and Hilary remembers how she decided to deal with that for herself and their three children. “I realized very early on in our marriage that I could ruin it all so easily for him. I could damage the children’s perception of God and their dad in a few swift sentences that were sometimes on the tip of my tongue. But I never did. I have gone down pretty low at times, handling it all by myself, but I always told them it was wonderful what God was allowing their dad to do, helping people all over the world. I think if you would ask my children today, ‘Do your parents both have a passion for walking into the world with Christ?’ they would say, ‘They do, even when mom has been home alone. ’”
Hilary is an international speaker, author, and Bible teacher. Her first book, The Life That Changed My Day, chronicles the many life changing applications of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. She also leads a large weekly women’s Bible study at The People’s Church called The Haven. It’s a place of teaching, encouragement, and friendship for all ages. One attendee comments, “This time set apart brings a great sense of peace and refreshment to the hearts of those who come. Hilary takes us to the feet of Jesus.”
As JBU visited with Hilary, she graciously answered our questions in a way that strongly indicates she sees herself as God’s vessel and that any good that comes from what she does is because of Him.
JBU: Help our readers better capture who you are as a leader and ministry wife by telling us how you live out these roles.
Hilary: I need to say that I don’t see myself as either of those things, really. I never think of a role but just of being in relationship with Him. I am more concerned about serving Him than leading others. If that is how I live and when I look over my shoulder, I see others following, (which is my understanding of leadership), then I am happy because they are being drawn into a relationship with Christ for themselves and not being mentored or following a model. I don’t want anyone to copy anything in my life except maybe total surrender to and dependence on Jesus.
JBU: In your book you share about your love for sports as a young girl. How did your passion for athletics then influence how you handle life now?
Hilary: I still play ball hockey every week all winter and tennis all summer. Keeps me fit! That certainly helps on trips like the one we have just done to India that was physically and emotionally challenging. Keeps me willing to win some and lose some. When my gifts are sometimes seemingly on hold, I can still encourage others in theirs. Keeps me committed to show up and play even when I don’t feel like it. Keeps me connected with women whose lives ebb and flow with joy and sorrow, breast cancer and loss, and occasionally I can have a tiny voice into that life. Lets me ‘fly’ every week in the zone where I feel I am being who I was created to be as much as I do when I am teaching God’s Word!
JBU: What keeps your walk with God fresh and what can women who are laboring in ministry do to stay fresh in ministry when life is frantic?
Hilary: The discipline of teaching a Bible class keeps my study regular and focused. I go to the Word whether I feel like it or not. I wander around a little like someone with a metal detector and some days I strike treasure. Once I was in a depression – a wilderness. Charles encouraged me to keep doing the basics and then one day there it was – a word for me. ‘There is a highway in the desert’. I thought the highway was at the edge, not in it. The Word penetrated my situation and reminded me Christ is the highway and He is in the desert with us. At that moment, I began to walk out of the desert. It is a discipline to be still and know that He is God. It does not yield immediate results. But if I wait on Him and not on inspiration for another talk, then He restores my soul and at the same time gives me a word to sustain the weary.
JBU: What is the hardest thing you have had to deal with in ministry life and how has God led you in and through it?
Hilary: Seeing my husband under personal attack. God has constantly reminded me that we are to make ourselves of no reputation. We are His beloved and that is where we live. I have come to realize and have told the church in various ways, “I don’t care what you think about me (and Charles) because I care more about you than I do about what you say. Therefore, I can see beyond what you say.” We both hold things lightly and retain a sense of humor. We also are intentional about protecting our marriage from burnout in ministry. We work at spending valuable time together, but don’t always succeed.
JBU: Tell us what you love most about The Haven at The People’s Church and what advice you would give to women who want to start such a Bible study group.
Hilary: I just love the women. That may sound trite, but it is huge for someone who resisted stepping into and speaking into the world of women for years. I don’t see myself as typical in many ways and didn’t feel as though I belonged with women. However, we meet at His feet, in His Word and, I watch them finding Him to be their Haven and being transformed before my very eyes in their sense of belonging, belovedness, and boldness. Some come reluctantly and doubtfully, but all finding Him in the end to be irresistible. My advice: Don’t start anything God himself has not initiated and kindled a fire for in your heart. Let is burn for a while before you share it with others. Never give anything He hasn’t given you or speak anything He hasn’t first spoken to you. Never do anything out of a sense of duty, only out of a passion that will just not go away.
JBU: How do you love the difficult people in the church who present ongoing challenges to you and your husband?
Hilary: I avoid them! And there are so many people in the church; it’s very easy to do. It is not my place to fight battles on Charles’ behalf and if I once opened my mouth, I am not sure what would come out so better to keep it shut! Most people are very supportive and encouraging. I have learned to compartmentalize things in my life and not let one issue spill over and pollute everything. This has taken about 30 years but I am getting there. So I put things in cupboards and get on with the task at hand, knowing my own capacity and realizing how easy it is to be overwhelmed by things I can really do nothing about.
JBU: What advice or encouragement would you give to women who are still in God’s waiting room and are growing weary being there?
Hilary: Get to know the I AM in the wait and hang on for the blessing as Jacob did even though it meant that in the struggle he had his hip knocked out of joint. Better to walk with a limp and know God personally than to skip through life in your own strength. We knew 14 years before we actually left Capernwray that God was calling us to People’s Church in Toronto. We didn’t say anything to anyone. I had to learn to look for the treasure under my own feet and live where I was. Keep looking for Him, and not a way out.
JBU: In addition to women’s Bible study, what other personal interests do you have at The People’s Church?
Hilary: My other passion in the church is spending time with a group called The Friendship Class. It’s a weekly Sunday school time for mentally challenged adults ages 15 and up. To me, it’s the most freeing and fun place I can be. We laugh, we cry, we dance, we worship and share about Jesus in a wonderful way. When Charles’ mom died, I actually didn’t want to go into the church. I didn’t want to process anything for anybody or receive anything. So I just went into the Friendship Class. My friend Danny, who has Down’s, just looked at me and came and sat next to me. He never said a word; he just put his arm around me and stayed with me while I wept for a long time. Ann Racioppo, Danny’s mom, has directed this ministry at our church for 10 years. As Ann says, “This program is ‘church’ for these wonderful individuals God has graciously given to us. We say we teach them – but they possess the character God is trying to build in me. Therefore, I am taught His love, patience, and acceptance by them.”
JBU: Do you have a dream, something you desire deeply to accomplish during the remaining years of your ministry?
Hilary: Not that I want to commit to print and the public at this point. God tells me things in the secret place and I keep them within myself until He tells me to speak them out. Something is brewing… ‘Aslan is on the move’… my trip to India and Sri Lanka has all been a part of that. But as yet, I have to wait and let the mist clear to really behold what He has in mind.
JBU: In closing, if you had the opportunity to meet with a woman who was about to begin her life as a ministry wife, what would you share with her?
Hilary: You are a pipe, not a cup. Don’t think about filling your life up with personal blessing for yourself. Live in intimacy with Christ, who can only do through you what you have allowed Him to do to you. This little lesson is seen in the life of Peter in John 13. “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Only as you let Him wash your feet, can you wash the feet of others. Only as Peter let Jesus feed him bread and fish could he respond when Jesus told him to “Feed my sheep.” You can’t live the Christian life without Christ. You have nothing to give but Christ. So focus on abiding in the Vine and looking at the Vine, not looking to the other end of the branch to see what fruit is popping out! If you abide, you will bear fruit. Amazingly, much fruit! Just keep drinking the Living Water and it will become in you a spring welling up to eternal life – Jesus Himself!
What is Friendship Ministries?
Friendship Ministries is a Bible-based church education program for persons who have mental impairments. Churches organize Friendship programs because they believe that everyone is created in God’s image and can relate to God. Over 800 groups that encompass 40 denominations in over 16 countries exist in Canada, the United States, and Latin America. They also believe that the gift of salvation does not depend on a certain level of intelligence. Persons with mental impairments can learn more about Jesus and grow in their faith. About 3 percent of the population are classified as having some form of mental impairment.
What happens in a Friendship program session?
The program usually operates as a weekday evening or Sunday morning class, bringing together students and teacher-friends. (Teacher-friend describes the caring friendship that develops between students and their teachers.) The goal is to have one teacher for each student. The session, usually about an hour-and-a-half long, involves singing, sharing, praying, storytelling, learning together, and sometimes crafts or activities.
Goals for the program
- Students will experience the joy and peace of knowing that they are of value to God and God’s people.
- Students will grow in their understanding of God’s world and their place in it.
- Students will grow in their relationship to Christ’s church, making a public profession of faith and participating in the life and work of the church.
- The Christian community will grow in acceptance of and love for persons with mental impairments.
For more information
Friendship Ministries (U.S.) and Friendship Groups Canada support the work of Friendship groups and offer conferences, workshops, and other resources. For more information go to www.friendship.org or contact:
Friendship Ministries (U.S.)
2850 Kalamazoo Ave SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49560
Friendship Ministries (Canada)
P O Box 220
Simcoe, ON N3Y 4L1