Finding God in London

  • Happy couple: Reverend David Steele of Wesley Methodist Church, and his wife Debby (Photograph supplied)

    Happy couple: Reverend David Steele of Wesley Methodist Church, and his wife Debby (Photograph supplied)

In the 1980s, a time when violent race riots plagued several British cities, Reverend David Steele was a policeman in London.

Over time, the task of maintaining law and order took its toll.

“I didn’t know anything about the social conditions people lived in, the economic disparities and racial tensions,” said Mr Steele, the new pastor at Wesley Methodist Church.

“I had become a little hard-hearted due to everything that was going on. People would throw Molotov cocktails and bricks at police officers like me, so I became quite cold over time.”

Then one day something happened that reignited his faith in God. He was on his regular patrol of Fleet Street, asking homeless people to move along, when he saw a man he’d never seen before.

“He was the slowest one to leave so I demanded that he hurry up,” said Mr Steele. “He turned around and looked at me and said, ‘I’m so sad today because the City of London police have, up until now, always treated me like God would.’”

Although raised by devout Catholics, Mr Steele had stopped going to church. The man’s statement felt like “a knife opening [his] heart up”.

“I realised I had lost my way for a while there, but needed to get back to God,” he said.

The very next day he went to nearby St Paul’s Cathedral and began to talk with God. Soon after, he decided to rededicate his life to Christ.

He became a correctional and justice service worker, assisting those on probation and parole. Mr Steele also spent several years running a correctional halfway house in the Yukon Territory in Canada.

He eventually answered the call to full-time ministry and joined the seminary but, realising he one day wanted to marry, he left and joined the Salvation Army. In Alberta in 1986, he met his wife, Debbie.

“We went to the Salvation Army training college in Toronto and then worked in ministry together in a couple of places in Canada,” Mr Steele said.

“Following that, we went to Zambia for three years and ran a home for the elderly providing long-term care as well as vocational training programmes for adults in areas such as nursing aids, cooks, security guards and gardeners. These were skills they could reliably use to get work.”

The couple learnt a lot during their time in Africa, namely how grateful and humble the people there were.

“The Zambians taught us about death being a normal part of life and showed us that death wasn’t something to be feared,” Mrs Steele said. “During that time, the Aids virus had taken a huge toll on the population.

“The people we worked with were always going to funerals for their loved ones, but they would still come to work the next day, singing and rejoicing.

“The average life span in the country at that time was age 36, now it’s around 60 years old.”

Mr Steele has been a minister with the United Church of Canada, with which Wesley Methodist Church in Bermuda is affiliated, for the past 13 years.

A frequent visitor to the island, he was familiar with its people and its culture. Consequently, it was an easy decision when he was invited to lead the congregation at Wesley, beginning in late August.

The church is known for its willingness to accept everyone; the couple hope it can continue finding ways to meet the diverse needs of the community.

“I believe in Wesley’s path of being an affirming congregation, one that offers a safe space to those whom may have otherwise been left out,” said Mr Steele. “We have reached out to the LGBTQ community and played a part in the inaugural Bermuda Pride parade.

“As a result, we have seen new people come into the church and done our best to welcome them in.

“We believe there are many marginalised people in our society who have turned their backs on God due to being hurt by the church.

“Our stance is that we are not here to judge. We are here to spread God’s love, justice and hope — and we plan to do just that.”

Wesley Methodist Church is located at 43 Church Street

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Published Oct 5, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Oct 5, 2019 at 2:00 am)

Finding God in London

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