Heart for the House is the yearly offering of our church. It is a collective expression of generosity, where we gather together to build God’s house, so that others may find their home here. As we celebrate 20 years of Hillsong UK, Gary and Cathy Clarke share their vision behind the offering, and take us on a journey of how it all began.
This year, we’re celebrating 20 years of Hillsong UK. Can you take us on a journey of how it all began?
Gary- In 1995, a small group of people left Australia to build what was then called London Christian Life Centre. This is where it all began. Four years later, Cathy and I were given the opportunity to come here, bring the vision of what we now know as Hillsong Church, and establish it on this side of the world. Hillsong Church, therefore, was officially birthed in 2000.
Whilst we were living in Sydney, I remember feeling the Holy Spirit clearly speak to me, and tell me that the elders were meeting to discuss whether Cathy and I would go to London. An hour later, I received a phone call from one of the team, letting me know that Pastor Brian would like to chat to me. The following day, we had a meeting, and Brian presented us with the question, asking us whether we could springboard the vision of our church into London. A few years prior to this, whilst I was visiting London, I felt God say to me ‘one day, you’re going to pastor a church here’ and so, for me, it was a very easy decision. I assumed we’d say yes.
Cathy– Well, I’d have to say honestly, I didn’t have a Holy Spirit moment where I felt God speak to me and say, ‘you are going to London.’ I was an Aussie girl, and that’s where I figured I was going to spend my life living. I didn’t mind the idea of travelling, but I didn’t have any plans to move to another country. There was one dream I had though, and this was to be married and to stay married to the same person for the rest of my life. And so, when Gary came home and said, ‘this is what God is speaking to me about’, honestly, it was not a hard decision – we were in it together.
For those who may not know, could you tell us about Heart for the House – what’s the vision behind the offering?
Gary- Heart for the House has been an offering of our church for as long as I can remember. It’s part of what we do and who we are, both locally and globally. It has enabled us to take each step before us. The first H4TH that we held was called Shaping our Destiny. With about 400 people in the room, it wasn’t much in comparison to what we have today, but it enabled us to get everything from equipment to sound systems, playing a crucial part in enabling us to step into bigger buildings, spaces and new locations.
Last year, we launched the theme ‘so that others may.’ This means ‘so that others may experience the reality of who Jesus is, and the reality of being part of this awesome thing we call His church.’ We want to help the church be everything it can be. It’s an empowering thing for the church – above and beyond normal tithes and offerings. It’s all about the individual saying, ‘this is my heart for our house, and it’s out of my life I am contributing.’ I believe there is a personal story for each person who contributes. In their sacrifice, they will have a story to tell of what God did in their lives. In the same way, we, as a collective, will also have a story to tell of what God did. I’m looking forward to the day when we get to tell all the stories of what God has done through H4TH.
What are some of the amazing things that have been birthed out of H4TH?
Gary- If we were to sit down and pour through the accounts of all the people who have said ‘we couldn’t have done this if it wasn’t for H4TH’, we’d conclude that its impact is undeniable. I can confidently say that every step we’ve taken has been because the offering has positioned us to do so. As you know, we’ve launched Hillsong Croydon, and our ability to do this is because the offering has funded it.
Without H4TH, we wouldn’t have the warehouse in Bermondsey. When we first started out, we had portable toilets for the first four months – sometimes I still can’t believe people turned up! It was a big project with a small beginning, but it had to start somewhere. The warehouse is linked to a building opportunity that we’re still believing God for. It’s been a long time coming, but architects are currently looking into how we can create a soundproof space that church can operate from. The developers said ‘well, we have a warehouse on the side of the building we’ll be working on.’ So, we decided to start a congregation in the warehouse that will one day move into what we’re calling the Epicentre.
In what ways has H4TH impacted your lives personally?
Cathy- I love our church and I love the house of God, so giving has never been something I’ve struggled with. From our part, although it has always been a sacrificial giving, I know that we will never go without. God’s just like that isn’t He? Whatever you give first into the house, He then pours back into your life. You don’t add up all the things you’re missing because of what you gave to Him. I love that my faith can be stretched this way, because how can I dare limit God? I’m giving to something I genuinely love.
We know that H4TH is used as a tool to ‘change the narrative’ by pouring into our church’s social justice projects such as refugee response. Can you tell us more about this?
Gary- As the offering grows, so does our contribution to social justice. The part we’re playing in the refugee response is seemingly small, but we’re believing it’s going to increase. In the initial stages of the crisis, as many refugees were fleeing their countries and fleeing war, H4TH positioned us to do vital things in those early days, such as helping with resettlement. Through the offering, we’ve also been able to partner with organisations such as A21 and Vision Rescue. I’m looking forward to the day when as a church, we can pour millions into social justice projects. This is what I’m believing God for.
It’s awesome how H4TH also empowers the arts, providing a platform and space for young people to build on, express and thrive in their talents. Could you share your vision for performing arts in our church?
Gary- Amplified Arts Academy was born out of the observation of how important the arts are to society, and how greatly they influence our thinking and shape our values. Today, many young people dream of being in the world of performing arts. When my daughter, Tori, was younger, she told us that she wanted to be an actress. Being raised by parents who always wanted to back our dreams as kids, I thought, ‘if this is her dream, then we will back her all the way.’ So she went to a performing arts school and as I watched her there, I noticed that the only difference between the kids in my daughters school and the kids I was seeing all around, was that my daughter was from a place of privilege, and privilege could afford the opportunity for her. So I said to Kirsty, who runs our Performing Arts team now, ‘I want to start an academy for kids to help them afford it.’ And that’s what Amplified Arts Academy is all about. It’s already bearing fruit, and I can’t wait to see what it’s going to look like in 10-15 years’ time.
H4TH is an expression of uncommon generosity, which comes out of the conviction of a collective self-interest. What does generosity and giving personally mean to you?
Cathy-What I’ve learnt about generosity is that it’s a God thing. It’s counter-cultural. Our own nature is to keep things for ourselves, to look after ourselves, to make sure we can afford everything for ourselves – and that’s not God. His very nature is centred around others. Generosity is freely letting go of our nature. It’s a feature of the church that stands out in a world that is the exact opposite. Generosity is vital and it is part of the lifeblood of our church. It is the way God called us to be and live – the way for us to be salt and light.
Gary- Generosity is an expression of God. In fact, everything about Him is an outward expression. Anything that we do for others, therefore, is also an outward expression of generosity. By bringing people together, we have a great ability to make a difference. By myself, I cannot achieve what the collective can achieve. It’s all about giving up our sense of self-importance, placing ourselves in the bigger picture. This way, our potential to change the world is extraordinary.
In a ‘me first’ world that at large is becoming more obsessed with self, how can we strive to shift culture through our giving?
Gary-We’re living in an age, whereby if we’re not careful, selfishness will become the drive. We’ve adopted this mentality of ‘me and my’ and ‘there’s never enough for me’ – almost as though there must always be more. The antidote to this way of thinking is a shift toward a collective perspective. This allows self-interest to naturally give way as we begin to engage in something greater.
Looking at the year ahead, what are your dreams and expectations for the vibrant and exciting future of Hillsong UK?
Cathy- I dream of seeing the church become more and more integrated with the wider community of our world. Rather than the world looking at the church with disdain or disgust, I dream of it looking at the church with a ‘wow, this could be the answer. The church, the Bible and the Word of God make sense.’ In the years to come, my dream is that the world will look at the church and say ‘they are really doing something significant, and this is a place I feel I can connect with and want to be part of.’ I dream of seeing the whole world’s perspective of the church become fresh, new and good.
Gary- This might sound odd when you think about the fact that we’ve now been operating for 20 years, but as I look at our church, I feel as though we’re at the starting blocks ready to come out. Ahead of Hillsong Conference this year, I played around with the idea of how we could put on a production of King of Heaven at the O2 Arena. Given the climate of the belief in Jesus in our city and nation, I didn’t know whether this would be possible. Standing in the middle of Conference this year, I was amazed by God’s work on many different levels. I watched as our team performed King of Heaven in the O2 Arena, thinking ‘this really is the beginning of something special.’
The best way I can describe it is this – we’re coming out of the gates, and I’m really looking forward to what’s in front.
As our church continues to grow and expand, what are you hoping to see unfold this year as a result of H4TH?
Gary- This year, we’d love to be able to invest a significant amount of money into our building fund. We’d also like to welcome and help integrate a number of refugee families into the country, by providing housing and support for them. It would be great to reach a point where we no longer need to rent houses, but instead, have our own property that we can offer to refugees – whether in London, Newcastle, Liverpool, or any of our locations.
We’d also like to finish the Central London Hub as we’re currently in the process of renovating office space. Hopefully, out of this year’s H4TH, we’ll be able to finish everything.
Could you share more of your heart with us for the Central London Hub and the new Bermondsey Epicentre?
Gary- The Epicentre will be a building in New Bermondsey, South East London. We’re calling it the Epicentre because everything that is now in the warehouse, will be in the new building. For example, we’d like to run Amplified Arts Academy from there, and hopefully there will be a public space too. We’re dreaming of having some kitchen space and a coffee shop. Everything that we do will be about bringing young people, or those who simply have no opportunity in life, into an environment where they can learn something, providing a level of vocational empowerment.
When it comes to the Central London Hub, what many people don’t realise is that for 20 years, our pastoral team have not had office space. We want to establish a hub for them – a place for the community life and operational life to function from. This hub of life for the Dominion congregation will be in the heart of Central London. We’d like to lift our ability to work with people in the life of our church on a mid-week basis and have a place for our various teams to meet. I know it’s cool to say ‘hey, we meet as a team at Starbucks’, but to have our own space would be great.
What encouragement would you give to anyone who’s thinking about giving to H4TH?
Cathy- I’ve been thinking a lot about the story. Because it truly is a personal story as well as a collective one. There’s a real adrenaline rush when you realise you are part of something special and something significant. There is something that comes from stepping out in faith and trusting in God – stretching yourself far beyond what you ever have before. The story isn’t just for us because we’re leaders in the church, it’s for everyone. It is a story that everyone can tell. It’s not for an exclusive group of people. It’s inclusive and it’s for everyone. Everyone is included.
Gary- There’s no better way of saying you’re part of a church community than contributing to its collective response. It’s easy for us to become observers, but if we spend too much time observing, we usually end up critics. So, I would encourage you to ask God what you should give. Our personal story would be that if you put God first, you never come second, and we have been telling that story for the last 26 years. This is an opportunity to be part of the story too – let it become yours and ours to tell.