Norwich duo return after Australia megachurch roles
A Norwich couple who crossed the world to attend a Bible college in Australia and join the pastoral team at megachurch Hillsong have returned to Norfolk after 12 years to “cheer on the local church”. Keith Morris reports.
Steve and Rachel Mawston, well known across the Norfolk Christian community, have returned to the county after 12 years working with the well-known Hillsong church in Australia, first in Sydney and then in Brisbane.
Steve was a former schools manager with YMCA Norfolk and leader at what was Mount Zion church in Norwich and Rachel, a trained physiotherapist and worship leader at Zion, is the daughter of the former church leaders, Trevor and Joyce Pimlott.
The couple met at a summer youth camp run by Mount Zion at the age of 12, at which Steve, who was living in the North East at the time, became a Christian. They met on and off at the summer camps over a number of years and 25 years ago they got married.
They both had roles in helping to lead Zion and, with a passion to see the local church flourish and grow and “a deep sense of the call of God on their lives”, they headed off to Australia 16 years ago to attend the Hillsong International Leadership College where friend Jon Norman had earlier gone.
Rachel said: “The college offered theological training but was also very practical and its aim was to equip people to take a church of maybe 200 to a size of something that could really impact a city and even a nation.”
Steve said: “We both left successful jobs in Norfolk, I was working for the YMCA Norfolk schools programme for ten years and loved it, Rachel was a physiotherapist.
“After about six weeks in Sydney we were invited to join the Hillsong church team - one of the biggest churches in the world. They told us that 10,000 people walked through the front doors of the church every year and our job was to find them, connect with them and disciple them. It was a huge challenge and church on another level to that which we had ever seen before.”
When Hillsong was invited to take over a flagship Pentecostal church in Brisbane, Steve and Rachel were asked by leader Brian Houston to play a key part in the transition and to help build the Hillsong culture at the new congregation, which they have been doing very successfully over the past decade.
The rapidly-growing church’s strapline was ‘championing the local church’. “It is not just about making their own church bigger,” said Rachel. “We found that as the Brisbane church started to grow, so did the other churches in the city. We would meet with other local pastors and they would come to events and we would encourage them and go to their events. It became like a mushroom effect – a catalyst for growth. That is what we really grabbed hold of. It is about building the church as a whole.”
The couple have two girls Melody aged 18 and Mercy (13), who were both born in England, and extended families in Norfolk and the North East.
“The older we have got the harder it has been to not be with family, parents and friends back in England,” said Rachel and when they attended a funeral of a church member in Brisbane the thought hit them “do we want to be buried in Australia”.
The couple felt God was speaking to them through the Bible and words of prophecy about returning back home. One involved a picture of a chess game and when Steve’s dad died last year, the couple flew into Newcastle airport for the funeral. Right behind the passport control was a huge billboard with a chess board with the slogan ‘now it’s your move’.
They decided to move back to England.
While the couple were away, close friend Jon Norman had returned to Norwich, from helping to lead a Hillsong church in Cape Town, to take on the leadership of what was the Mount Zion church, renamed as Soul Church.
Rachel said: “We have seen Jon grow up and Steve has mentored him from the time he was the cheeky young whippersnapper we grew up with. Jon is just a stand-out leader, he thinks differently and we are very drawn to Jon and Chantelle. Jon is unique, he is very caring and pastoral, very evangelistic. He just connects with people and draws them in. So we want to help release him to do what he is called to do.”
Steve and Rachel will be spending around half of their time working with the team at Soul Church and half of it travelling around the country working with other churches in a coaching/mentoring type role.
Steve said: “We aim to help encourage churches and their leadership, help them communicate and to grow. We call it ECG and believe that growth is a heart issue – if the heart is healthy then we believe the body will grow.
“We aim to look at why churches are not growing and remove any obstacles, help cheer the pastors on and pass on some of the things we have learnt over 16 years in Australia. We want to work together as a couple to do this – which we think is quite unique.”
As in Brisbane, the couple believe that large growing churches can be a catalyst for other local congregations and church unity is important to them: “Our heart is to really connect with people across Norwich, and not just at Soul, but wherever there are open doors,” said Steve. “We are here to cheer on the local church.”
Soul Church, along with Proclaimers in Norwich, is part of the Hillsong Family. There are also a number of Hillsong churches in the UK in London, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Birmingham, Surrey and Oxford for example.
“Hillsong would not be growing so fast across the world if the grace of God was not on it,” said Steve. “Brian and Bobbie Houston are exceptional leaders – apostolic really. Brian is a pioneer not just in the church but in the use of TV, in praise and worship. They are now stepping out in most of the continents around the world and seeing growth in places where people say ‘it won’t work there’. There is also a really strong healthy culture of unity, of putting God first and not settling for second best.”
The couple say they will probably miss the consistently good weather in Australia but will not miss the deadly snakes, spiders and aggressive magpies.
Daughter Mercy has come with the couple to Norfolk, but Melody is carrying on a proud family tradition by taking a Bible college course in Australia which she will stay on to finish.
Going back to Sedley and Mildred who first started the Mount Zion church over 50 years ago, almost 60 members of the extended Pimlott family are now serving God in churches in Norfolk and across the world including in Australia, America and London.
Pictured above, Steve and Rachel Mawston who have returned to their roots in Norfolk to “cheer on the local church”.