Sheila is the CEO of The Archway Foundation, which has been providing a lifeline for adults struggling with loneliness in Oxford for almost 40 years.
God has been part of Sheila's life from a young age as she grew up with parents who were regular churchgoers. However, it wasn't until Sheila moved away from home as a young adult that she worked out how the Christian faith was something that could belong to her.
"The faith of my parents was lived out rather than spoken about. I never doubted a belief in God but as an adult when I went to different churches with an emphasis on the personal relationship of faith in Christ, I lapped up all the teaching I realised I had lacked in my earlier years."
Sheila began her career working as a nurse, initially in general medicine and then mental health and child psychiatry. Alongside nursing, Sheila volunteered with The Archway Foundation in its early beginnings. She never expected to move away from nursing but always felt that God had something else planned for her. After 20 years in nursing, Sheila joined the Archway charity as CEO, where she has now been for more than 20 years.
Faith has been an intrinsic part of daily life for Sheila since being a young adult. Making time for daily prayer and Bible reading helps her to live out her faith in both word and action. Sheila is drawn to the example of Jesus' life; he regularly spoke and taught but always took action and demonstrated his love for all people in practical and tangible ways.
"It is a balance of praying and trusting at the same time as identifying the part I have to play in God's story. I see that manifesting in all areas of my family, work and social life. Whatever I have done and wherever I have been, I have always had that sense of God leading me."
Sheila's strong faith and relationship with Jesus has always influenced her work, and her time is now well filled overseeing the running of the charity and its staff team. "It is hard to separate faith from life and work because they are so integrated. God's leading and my relationship with Christ is an ongoing journey; it influences everything I do and think about."
"My relationship with God helps me to relate to other people, to draw alongside them at their point of need, to listen without judgement, to demonstrate genuine care and compassion. We all need to be loved and to know that we matter to someone. I know that I am loved by God, and I feel called to share this love with others."
Words: Madeleine Hayden
Photo: Emma Thompson
Loneliness can affect any of us, at any time in our lives. Why not explore what support networks or groups exist in your parish, and how to support others struggling with loneliness?