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Who is Suzanne Nockels?

Who indeed? It is a strange thing to write an article about yourself. I have just got back from volunteering with a Christian group at the Glastonbury Festival. I am bit sleep-deprived but I have been thinking about musicians and their musical influences. If I were a soul queen (in my dreams!), I would have musical influences and you would be able to hear them in my songs. So what are my spiritual influences and can you hear them in my life?

I have been blessed by sitting under the ministry of talented preachers whose names you may recognise: Stephen Haward, Alan Argent, Richard Cleaves and Janet Wootton. They stirred my heart and my prophetic imagination from my early teens. My love of the transforming power of Scripture comes from them. I want to both cling to and wrestle with this wondrous text and the God it reveals. The Integrated Training Course, which I undertook many years ago, still echoes in my ministry and it is a privilege to tutor on it now.

It is not only about words but also the visual. When I was a student and things got tough, I used to escape to the National Gallery which was just down the road in Trafalgar Square. I would sit in front of a few of my favourite pictures, ponder them and feel revived. When I visited another gallery some years later I had a guided tour but the guide didn’t ‘speak over’ the artwork. She got us to be quiet before it and really look. She asked questions about what we saw, our immediate reactions and what the artwork made us think about.

It was an approach that stayed with me and when I moved to Sheffield, which has a large civic gallery, I approached Museums Sheffield to see whether I could do something similar and so ‘Talking Life, Talking Art’ was born. I always share that I am a church minister and end with a short reflection that often includes a Bible passage but the most valuable part is the conversation we have around the painting and sculptures. I am astonished how open people are and how deep we go in a very short time.

Recently, Sheffield displayed some of the Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings from the Royal Collection and I was part of a very special ‘Talking Life, Talking Art’ evening session during Holy Week. I was able to make links between the drawings and Leonardo’s famous wall-painting of the Last Supper and of course the Easter story. We then had the opportunity to re-create our own Sheffield version and be photographed. It was great to see people being assigned their disciple and then checking out more about them on their smartphones. The close proximity of the poses meant that people talked to one another. People from the Sheffield Congregational Churches came and were able to talk to people from all walks of life.

That leads me to another influence. I am very aware that church, as wonderful as it can be, isn’t really connecting with huge sections of our society. I have been interested in the pioneering movement for a long time and the questions it raises. What are the essential elements that make something ‘church’? Do we answer that differently as Congregationalists? How do we go beyond putting on attractional activities and events aimed at encouraging people to come to what already is, to growing a community of disciples right for our place and time? I haven’t got the answers but these are crucial questions that I want to take around during my presidential year.

I am still being influenced. I hope I can continue to be influenced. I heard Ruth Valerio from A Rocha [an international network of environmental organisations with a Christian ethos], speak about the need to live simply for the sake of the rest of creation. Living simply is incredibly counter-cultural in our consumer-led world but it releases a biblical sense of appreciation, joy, connectedness and generosity. Environmental issues are not an optional extra for the hippy few but at the core. Young people realise this and they are asking us to step up.

So, my spiritual influences include good people within the Congregational Federation family, strangers who give me ideas, those who work for peace and social and environmental justice. Added to that are my family and friends, every church I have ever been part of and served within and a hundred people who have spoken the right word at the right time or did something that blew me away because the motivation was love. Of course, the bottom-line is Jesus. The living person of Jesus has been, is and always will be my greatest influence. I hope you can hear him in my life-song.

If I might offer a suggestion. Take a moment. Write down your spiritual influences and take time to give thanks for each one.