Some people just have a way about them, an aura of grace and acceptance that quietly glows within them like a lighthouse on a foggy night. They are not flashy, but sunny, authentic…calm.
Louise Stenner is one of these people. She shines as naturally as the sun rises each day. Her very presence transforms you when you meet her. While most of us eat on the run, multi-task, and spend hours on our computers, Louise concentrates on the people around her and makes you want to do the same. To be better. To be focused. To be present. Once you visit with Louise, you want what she’s got: a passion for serving and a deep faith wrapped in quiet confidence. You want to sit and visit, listen to her lovely British accent, and soak up her humor and words of wisdom.
Louise’s 3 Easy Tips for Giving
- First and foremost, give yourself the gift of kindness! Set realistic goals. Your kids won’t remember your outstanding décor or picture-perfect photo cards, but they will remember cookie baking – even if you do it all wrong but have fun doing it anyway. If you never get around to sending out cards? Relax; it is okay!
- Start some new traditions, especially if the old ones make you feel like you are doing all the work – and all you’re doing is working. Make-your-own-pizza could be a great Christmas Eve tradition!
- Make it a priority to come see the Living Christmas Tree at New Hope Baptist Church. They’ve got some special surprises this year and there’s nothing like smiles and music to get you into the spirit!
Louise is known as the First Lady of New Hope Baptist Church, but she doesn’t feel she needs a title to follow and serve. A natural encourager, she feels she is just doing God’s work, working to be the best possible wife, mother, and career volunteer facing each challenge as it arrives.
“I love being a pastor’s wife!” she says. “I get to be with folks in their most vulnerable moments and have the privilege of praying for them and loving them through life. I want Christ to get all the glory because the only reason I get to do this is because of all that He has done in me.”
Being first lady of New Hope Baptist Church, which has more than 7,000 members, 100 staff members, and ‘round-the-clock programs including pre-school offerings, health and wellness programs, and small group Bible studies, keeps Louise busy. She steers the mothership of her family’s home, volunteers in various capacities, and devotes many hours to her two Bible studies for women. She makes each task her sole priority; whether she’s cooking a savory curry dinner, listening to one of her students, or reading to her new granddaughter, Louise leads from her faith and her heart.
Louise’s first priority is her immediate family. Her husband, Rhys, head Pastor of New Hope, is quick to smile when discussing her.
“Louise is ‘all in’ for the Lord and lives like a true Christ follower,” he says. “It is our great joy that our daughters and son-in-law love the Lord, which has much to do with Louise. She releases me, taking care of so much at home. She even drives the John Deere to cut the grass and won’t let me near it!”
Louise and Rhys’ partnership, their story of love and devotion to each other and God’s word, began in 1983 while both were students at London Bible College in England. Rhys performed as a Christian singer and guitarist for the warm-up band at a church youth concert for which Louise had volunteered to help transport the band gear. Naturally, she offered to give Rhys a lift home. The ride provided time to talk, share their personal stories, discuss their faith, and set up future opportunities to continue their conversations. The two began intentionally dating in November of 1983, got engaged a year later, and married in August of 1985.
Since they were students, money was tight, so one of their favorite things to do was to window-shop throughout London and walk in the crisp city air, sharing hopes and dreams while gobbling a bag of chips (which we call French fries in America). Louise said she knew early on that this was “it.” She says, “We had the same desire to serve God and knew we would do it better together.”
The Stenners started their married life in Teignmouth, Devon, where Rhys was part of the leadership at a local church, the same one he’d attended in his youth. Shortly after the birth of their first daughter, Megan, the couple moved to Holland Road Baptist Church. They settled into full-time ministry and were blessed with two more daughters, Eleanor and Sarah, who rounded out the family to five.
Together, Rhys and Louise budgeted and sacrificed so that Louise could be a stay-at-home mom. Louise’s parents had divorced when she was a teenager and Louise was determined to be a fully-engaged mom. Because of her experiences, she understands, first-hand, the importance of church family.
“I became a Christian around the age of 13, just before my parents divorced,” she says. “My church family truly modeled family to me and helped me through that time.”
Louise has always had a heart for volunteering and serving as a positive role model, and has been a leader in her church wherever she and Rhys served. By understanding her own needs, Louise opened up her heart to embrace others who might have the same ones. Over the years, Louise designed a number of programs with a young mother’s needs in mind such as toddler groups, a new parent support group called Bundle of Joy, and a special support group for pregnant women called Rent-a-Tent. By focusing on women’s and children’s programs, she hoped to nurture women’s faith so they, in turn, could be spiritual role models to their families and everyone in their sphere of influence.
“I love working with moms and kids – just watching them discover who Jesus is and how He loves them,” she says. To the young women around her, she says, “Let’s be real. As women, and mothers, we need each other. We need to pour into each other’s lives.”
Together, Rhys and Louise maintained a growing, dynamic family as well as an active, welcoming, faith-based church. One day Rich Terry, a pilot and member of New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville, came to worship at a Wednesday evening service while on a layover in the U.K. A friendship grew between the world traveler and the Stenners, and soon Terry and a group of members from New Hope Baptist joined Holland Road Church on a mission trip.
New Hope members worked closely alongside the Stenners’ congregation in the coal mining area of Wales in 2005. New Hope Church was looking for a new pastor and asked the Stenners if they could submit their name to the pastor search team. The couple politely declined the suggestion. After all, they had an active ministry, and their whole life and family were in the United Kingdom. New Hope members were convinced that the Stenners were the right fit for their congregation, however, and the group recommended Rhys anyway, hoping to change the couple’s mind. When the search committee approached the Stenners, lots of prayers and discussions ensued. Close friends had dreams of the Stenners living in America, which they felt was an indication of God’s will.
Then one morning, Louise opened her Bible straight to Isaiah 43:5, “I will bring your children from the east.” She knew God was giving her a specific answer to her prayers. Louise and Rhys gave their two oldest girls the opportunity to say no at any point, but they all believed God was clearly leading the family to America. With lots of tears and prayers from family and friends, the Stenners uprooted from across the Atlantic Ocean to Fayetteville eleven years ago.
Once in their new home, 4,000 miles from the U.K., Louise faced the challenge of helping her three girls, aged 14, 12, and six, adjust to new schools and new language idioms, while she adapted to driving on the right side of the road with the steering wheel on the left side.
“Louise learned how to drive her John Deere before she learned how to drive on the right side of the road,” recalls friend Donna Conrad.
The challenges were often unforeseen and sometimes harder than Louise had anticipated. Tasks like flipping a light switch required a change in habits because switches work differently overseas. Throughout the adjustment period, her new church family showed “extravagant love and support” and Louise’s faith in God remained steadfast. She knew He was in charge and had a plan.
Her “go-to” favorite scripture is Psalm 73:23: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” This passage fueled her through some difficult days of homesickness and children going off to college, and comforted her as she and her family studied to become American citizens, a goal they reached as a family in September of 2014 (although the youngest daughter was sworn in a year later, once she turned 18). Though the Stenners retained their United Kingdom citizenships and are dual citizens, the entire family feels honored to be American citizens.
Louise believes that since we are the image of the Creator, each of us has a creative bent. She makes time to do something that challenges her every week, be it yard work or reading the latest Elisabeth Elliott devotional, making a new dish or completing a sewing project. As a mom of three lovely daughters experiencing different stages of life and a new grandmother, Louise loves to discuss parenting journeys.
“We have realized that you never stop parenting, whatever their age, it simply changes and moves into something sweeter,” Louise says.
Louise is a relational listener, willing to share her own personal struggles, and always has a funny or profound thing to say at the opportune moment. In fact, listening seems natural to Louise – and she’s great at tapping into the struggles women in her church family are experiencing because she is aware of her own needs and imperfections.
“I’m a work in progress,” she says. “I am. I love unpacking scripture and applying it to real life. And my life has the same challenges as everyone’s, and I have weaknesses like everyone. I aim to be honest and real, and to encourage us to find out how we can seek help in God’s word for each circumstance.”
Most of the groups Louise starts relate to her current season of life. Currently, Louise leads 40 women in two Bible study groups. Many of the ladies have been in her groups since the very first Bible study she led at New Hope. Last year, the women immersed themselves in the passages of Galatians and this year they are taking the book of Ephesians verse by verse.
“I love the hunger the women have for the Bible, and our time together has led to some very special friendships,” says Louise. “We listen to each other’s stories and talk about how our study of the scripture changed the outcome of various situations.”
Louise also believes in serving the community, not just within the walls of the church, but beyond. She knows how important events are because it’s an opportunity to bring a neighbor or to invite someone who has no church home. As she works with others, she listens to her intuition to sense the needs of families in our community because she feels the church is uniquely called to meet certain needs in fresh, creative ways. She is gifted at starting ministries to address those needs and at forming a great team, then “letting them get on with it.” Since Louise models servant leadership, she doesn’t need a platform to serve, so she is happy to be a pioneer for good ideas and then allow others to use their talents to serve on the committees. She does remain steadfast in her Bible study leadership as it’s one of her real loves.
“Louise is a great Bible teacher who loves to see women come alive and be empowered by digging deeper into the Word of God,” says Donna. “She inspires so many throughout the entire community!”
In everything she does, Louise practices the art of being present and intentional. It may be teaching, cooking, changing a diaper, laughing at a British television show with her husband, riding her John Deere, or praying with a broken soul. She walks contently in her faith, her whole heart open and ready for the next adventure, embracing her family and impacting those around her with her sincere love, grace, and wit.