Nurse Nigel Chapelle tells Jo Duckles his story from growing up in a pub to studying pioneer ministry.
Growing up in Coventry in the 1960s, Nigel’s dad was a publican and he never saw him enter a church, but his mum did have a church background. Sunday School provided a sanctuary from the busy home environment with its focus on hospitality.
Moving to Banbury in Oxfordshire in the 1970s, Nigel’s Dad took on the White Lion Hotel. It was his school teachers that encouraged Nigel and his peers to attend Banbury Baptist Church.
“In Warwickshire, I’d been in a middle of the road church and in Banbury, I was submerged in a charismatic, fairly evangelical churchmanship.” During his full immersion baptism service, the church leader’s word had an impact on Nigel. “Just imagine that Jesus was God and what the cross means in the context that the man who died on the cross was God,” were the minister’s words. But it was Nigel’s school music teacher who was one of the earliest strong influences on his faith. “She really communicated the love of God and the nature of Christ to me,” says Nigel, who would later go and stay with that teacher, Jan and her husband Paul, when they moved to Uganda.
Beginning nurse training in Whitechapel in 1983 and qualifying in 1987, Nigel lived in the multi-cultural Bethnal Green for nearly 30 years.
“I didn’t put down roots in a church and was partying too much,” he says. “I was outside of the church but not outside of God’s family for a while.”
The murder of Nigel’s brother Edward, 20 years ago, was clearly a devastating experience. “The most extraordinary thing was that the last time I saw him was three months earlier and he predicted his death. After the verdict was delivered in court I was the only member of my family not baying for blood.
“Edward had been following a Hindu guru and wanted a Hindu cremation,” he says. “My parish priest in Bethnal Green was brilliant, and gave me a Book of Common Prayer and some good advice, and I then took my brother’s ashes to India.”
It was shortly after Edward’s death that Nigel had what he describes as a ‘road to Damascus’ experience. “I was staying at my brother’s house, praying in the evening and heard someone call my name. I looked up and saw Jesus crucified. He came off the cross and came closer and closer until I was enveloped. It was ecstatic, perfectly calm, perfect love. I have no idea if it lasted two seconds or two hours.”
Nigel went to see a Mother Superior at a nearby convent, to seek advice. “She said I wasn’t losing my mind and that it had all the marks of a genuine revelation.” Nigel also sought wisdom from Father Michael Hollings, a Roman Catholic priest who he described as “luminous with wisdom.” Father Michael died in 1997 but was involved in television, wrote many books and worked for much of his life as a priest in London.
The death of his parents was also devastating for Nigel, but as a Eucharistic assistant, he could at least administer Holy Communion by extension during their last days.
“After the death of my father I felt like the gates of hell had been unleashed on me,” says Nigel, who sought help from a specialist in transactional analysis, a form of counselling used to promote personal growth and change.
“I got through this period because of that transactional analysis and because of my early spiritual formation,” says Nigel, whose church in London provided a venue for a Russian Orthodox congregation. “I became interested in Orthodoxy, soaking in the liturgy and using their services as an opportunity for prolonged prayer.”
Another pivotal moment came during the time of the July 7 bombings in 2007 when Nigel was praying in Southwark Cathedral. “A man came in screaming about bombings over the city. Afterwards, I spent all day crying. What had terrified and terrorised me was recognising that the dysfunction and vulnerability of those young men who blew up other people were the same as my own. That was a shocking reflection. We so easily find scapegoats and transfer blame,” he says.
By this time Nigel was licensed to preach in Great Tew, in West Oxfordshire. “I was preaching the following Sunday and didn’t know what I was going to say. It was on Isaiah, where it talks about turning spears into ploughshares,” he says. It was then that Nigel decided it was time to sell his flat and spent three years travelling, visiting South East Asia, Australia, Spain and France.
“What I experienced in South East Asia in Buddhist settings were some of the most gracious and friendly expressions of godliness. I was interested in Eastern philosophy, practised meditation in a Buddhist context and saw how God was at work outside the Christian world.
“I recognised there was still something quintessential in the Christian message of universal importance but didn’t know what that was.” However, Nigel recognised that in those Eastern philosophies there still seemed to be a focus on making sacrificial offerings, on good and bad luck, and on karma, where Christianity relies on grace.
Nigel’s career has included working with victims of domestic violence, and with addicts. He now works with the elderly, particularly those needing end of life care. He began studying pioneer ministry with the Oxford-based Church Mission Society last year and has found the last liturgical year to be phenomenally rich. “I was reading the story of the burning bush the other morning.
I could hardly read it, it’s all so fresh and relevant to my current context. It’s a remarkable place to be and I don’t know where I’ll end up when I finish. I may end up working for the Church. The vocational call is to be who we are created to be and that’s true for all of us looking forward.”
Nigel had explored his vocation, getting as far as appointments with the ordination team in Stepney, but twice abandoned the process. “As a nurse, I believe a diaconal ministry could be developed in the UK, a diagram of social support and the Church could step into that,” he says. He is excited about his role on the ministry team in Witney, working with the Revd Toby Wright as this year marks the 775th anniversary of the town’s Charter. “The missional opportunities are phenomenal,” says Nigel. “We are looking to deepen relationships in the town and have events that will see tens of thousands people coming to the Church.”
29TH MAY 2018