As many of you will know, at the start of this year we were recruiting for a new Head of Operations to join our staff team. We are pleased to report that we have employed Nate Sence to this role and are enjoying have him as part of the team. Some of you will have already met him, Caroline and his children Benji and Ethan, or seen their interview at church a few weeks ago. But for those who have not yet got acquainted, we decided to ask Nate a few questions.
Can you give us a brief idea of your story and what brought you from the USA to the UK?
I was raised in Texas in an evangelical church and I had a mum who prayed for me since day one to be working in a church context.
I trained to be an actor at The University of Oklahoma and then toured the USA in various productions before moving to New York (following a girl – not a dream!) When I was there everything changed; the girl left me, I realised I was terrible at theatre, and I met Caroline and became an elementary school teacher.
The school I taught at was PS 174 in East New York, Brooklyn, it was labelled as a ‘hard-to-staff’ school. Initially I struggled to engage with the young people; we were miles apart culturally (me being a Texas ‘cowboy’ and them being kids from the hard streets of Brooklyn). So I began using my arts training to break down barriers and build bridges across the cultures.
I began to feel dissatisfied that the arts world was not doing enough to support disadvantaged young people and so I decided to go back to school to get a degree in arts management and run my own arts organisation.
Caroline and I got married and moved to Tallahassee, Florida where I earned a degree in Arts Administration. Caroline’s family were from the East End of London, so after graduating we moved to England to be nearer to them.
And what did you do once you arrived on our fair shores?
I was initially hired as an opera producer at the Young Vic, which was a great experience, but I didn’t feel that I was exactly fulfilling my personal mission to support disadvantaged young people by putting on shows in the Royal Opera House for £150 a ticket!
I left to run a theatre company in Suffolk, focused on new writing. But again I felt it didn’t fulfil my personal sense of mission, producing high theatre for Edinburgh Festival and West End audiences.
It was then that I was recruited to join Only Connect, a creative arts charity working directly with prisoners, ex-offenders and at-risk youth. Finally I felt that the pieces came together and I was able to work creatively with disadvantaged audiences.
I worked there for four years before being introduced to ChristChurch London and falling immediately in love with it!
Tell us a bit more about your role at Only Connect.
Only Connect works with serving prisoners, ex-offenders and young people at risk of offending, trying to help them get their lives on track and ultimately reduce recidivism. They do this through using the creative arts to engage with people and break down barriers, and then they support people in finding housing, staying off drugs, reconciling with family, receiving benefits, finding jobs, and so on.
My role was Managing Director, which meant I had responsibility for finance, HR, operations, compliance, governance and internal communications. Basically I looked after what we called ‘The Four Ps” – People, Projects, Places and… Pfinance!
Ha! Yes, I suppose that’s a better P!!
So how did you come to work for ChristChurch London?
Caroline and I have twin boys, Ethan and Benji, who are now finishing up reception year. We had been praying and seeking an opportunity to live our lives outwardly as examples of Jesus’ love and we felt that we wanted to find a context where we could thrive as a family.
Someone introduced me to ChristChurch London and I loved it from my first visit. Then I found out that you were recruiting for someone who fit my skill set and I applied. I went through the formal recruitment process in March and April.
Strangely enough, I was back in the States when I had my final interview with David and Ross and my Mum was there, so she talked to them over Skype! It all came full circle, from her praying that I would work for a church, to it finally happening in London many years later!
Enough about you – tell us about us! What are your initial impressions of ChristChurch London as a church?
I’m pleased to say that from the moment I stepped in the front doors (in fact even before that! From the welcome on the street corner as I approached the building) I have felt so at home.
I attended as many things as I could in the first few months; morning and afternoon services, the Prayer Meeting, the Empowered Day… and I spent plenty of time with David and some of the other leaders. I suppose I was trying to examine everything and find the bit that made me think this wasn’t the place for me and my family. But I never found it!
My first impressions have been very positive. You come across as a community of people who love each other and are very dedicated to one another, to London and to the church’s mission. We’re very much looking forward to getting to know people better and increasingly getting involved as a family.
What exactly are you going to be doing as Head of Operations? And how are you expecting to spend your first months in the role.
To my mind, Operations exist as a support function, and in fact the less you see of operations, the better they are doing…
I see my role to come in and empower the staff team and the church to deliver more, quicker and with less stress. There is so much amazing work already taking place, and with the move to four services in 2016, I’m looking forward to all that is to come.
I’m currently getting to know people, learning about the current operating model for the church; the staff team, IT, activities and services, process and tools, skills and culture, and so on. This will help me to advise on some ways we can shape the model for the future to maximise its efficiency and its reach.
Within the next month I hope we will be in a position to start our strategic conversations, which will help to shape the focus for the next 12 months, providing clarity for overall direction of travel, but also distilling it down to achievable outcomes for each of us individually so we know exactly where we stand and our responsibility to achieve that.
And what do you and the family love most about London?
We love the diversity of opportunities the city provides. We joined Kew Gardens and the Zoo and we can be found at one of those places most weekends.
We also love being able to take our boys into the museums and share those early growth and learning moments with them. It provides the backdrop to have some of the most amazing conversations, such as:
“Dad, T-Rex couldn’t pick his bogies”
“Oh? Why’s that?”
“His arms are too short, see…look!”