Blog — 22nd May 2020
Church on the Street
An interview with Mick Fleming conducted by Trevor Hutton
Mick Fleming is the Pastor of ‘Church on the Street’ in Burnley, which is a worshipping community that serves those who find themselves homeless, who struggle with addictions, or who are on the bread line. He came to NTC as a student in 2014, and here Trevor Hutton talks to him about his own journey.
Trevor: Good afternoon Mick! Thanks for letting me interview you for the College magazine. Its great to catch up and hear a little bit about your life at NTC and the amazing things that you have been part of since leaving only a few years ago. But before we get to that, tell us a little bit about your back story. Let’s start with your early years – if you can remember that far back!
Mick: Well, my name’s Mick Fleming, and I was born in Burnley, Lancashire on 28th January, 1966. I grew up in what I thought was a fairly normal and loving family, and all was going Ok until the age of eleven.
Trevor: Is it Ok to ask you Mick what happened at the age of 11, or would you prefer I move on?
At the age of eleven I experienced a traumatic sexual assault by a man, and on the same day my sister died. The pain of those experiences turned my world and life upside down.
Mick: No, I don’t mind. It’s part of my life experience and story. At the age of eleven I experienced a traumatic sexual assault by a man, and on the same day my sister died. The pain of those experiences turned my world and life upside down. All I really remember from that time was the need to dull the pain. I remember my mum took painkillers for her back pain, and so from that day onwards, I began to take prescribed medications, which progressed to much deeper substance abuse, including crack cocaine and alcohol dependency.
Trevor: I’m so sorry to hear this Mick. I can’t imagine how dreadful this was. Did you try and find help or talk to anyone about these awful things?
Mick: No! I mean the family was in so much pain due to the loss of my sister, and how could I tell anyone about what had happened to me? These were times when you didn’t talk about such things to anyone. You just lived with it or tried to….
Trevor: How did you try and get through those times?
Mick: I tried to deal with the pain through drugs and alcohol, which progressively got worse, and I vowed that no-one would hurt me again. I set out to prove my own worth and so having learned how to make money doing bad things in my mid-teens I began to sell drugs, hurt people, possessing firearms, bringing fear on the community. I grew into a persona I created…a gangster type, who didn’t need anybody but controlled everybody. People in Burnley heard of me and I made sure my reputation on the streets was one to be feared. I made loads of money and owned houses and cars and wanted for nothing. When I married, and had kids, I even pulled them into my line of work and thought I was untouchable. Little did I know that my life was spiralling out of control.
Trevor: So at what point did you come to this realisation and how?
Mick: It was through a series of events but a few things are notable. My family life was chaotic and I watched my wife deteriorate with psychosis and began to realise the damage I was doing to her and to my kids. I gave them everything but myself, and taught them all the wrong things. Finally one day on a job, I went to “fix” a situation and deal with a person for an unpaid debt. As I approached him he was with his two little daughters, but just as I came close, a tremendous light radiated from their hands into my eyes, like a laser beam, and I stumbled back and went to my car. I can’t tell you all that happened in those moments but I felt incredibly sick and called out “God if you are really there you better do something” and in that car God spared me from taking my own life. I burst out crying, and at the age of 44, I poured out the pain of that little 11 year old boy and all that had happened to him over the last 33 years. That was the day I took my last drink and drugs. It was not a God conversion thing just then, but that day changed my life.
Trevor: So what happened next?
Mick: I basically entered recovery and went for treatment for 3 months to a place that helped me deal with addiction, and the consequences on my physical and mental wellbeing. And then that is where I saw an angel and he talked to me.
Trevor: Like – say that again: you saw an angel and he talked to you?
Mick: Yes, and of course I questioned at the time whether this was a psychotic episode as part of the withdrawal I was having or real!
Trevor: What did you hear the angel say?
Three things. First, go to Burnley and stand against a wall in the town centre at 7 pm and wait.
Mick: Three things. First, go to Burnley and stand against a wall in the town centre at 7 pm and wait.
Trevor: So did you? What happened?
Mick: At 7 pm when the Town Hall Clock struck
Mick: Unexpectedly, a bloke came round the corner, took me to a homeless hostel, made a brew and introduced me for the first time to an AA (Alcoholic Anonymous) meeting, and it was there in that meeting that I found God in the 12-step programme. And it was also there I met people that knew Jesus and I decided I wanted to be like them.
Trevor: Wow! That’s amazing! What was the second thing the angel said to you?
Mick: He said I had to forgive the man that hurt me. I said I could never do that but he replied God would give me the strength and opportunity to do it.
Trevor: And did He?
And in forgiving him, I too felt forgiven, and that brought me into a new freedom.
Mick: Yes, in an unexpected way. One day I noticed this man: he was in a bad shape and clearly substance abuse had taken control of his life. God helped me to help him, and his family, and gave me the grace and strength to support them, and he entered into sobriety and died in sobriety. And in forgiving him, I too felt forgiven, and that brought me into a new freedom.
Trevor: That too is a powerful and incredibly moving story. Thank you for your vulnerability in sharing that Mick. What was the third thing the angel said?
Mick: You will tell everyone about Jesus and God will prepare you and show you the way.
Trevor: And so how did that happen?
Mick: I came to NTC in 2014!
Trevor: How did that come about?
Mick: I met a friend who asked me out of the blue one day if I could give him a lift to a place called Nazarene Theological College as he as thinking of studying there. So I took him there and waited and walked around looking at the place. I bumped into Joseph Wood who asked me if I had come to study at NTC? I didn’t even know what a theological college was or what it was about and said that it would not be for me. But Joseph gave me a business card and said “you just never know.” That card would not go away and one day I just picked it up and rang it and someone invited me in to have an interview!
Trevor: How did that pan out?
Mick: Well they offered me a place even though I blagged out my story!
(Trevor and Mick both laugh)
Trevor: So how did NTC work out for you?
Mick: Well, I failed my first year, and had no money as my loan money was stolen from me. I had no accommodation, no cash and slept in my car and came into college to do the best I could. Then Deirdre heard about my situation and rung me and asked to see me. I will never forget her kindness and generosity without agenda. She offered me a room at NTC (it was like a hotel to me!) and got me food, and when she learned that I could do maintenance work, she offered me work which would help to pay off the fees. I repeated the year, improved my own reading and writing, and my E grades went to B grades and I graduated in 2018 with a 2:1.
I remember thinking something was missing in my life and I needed to have God do this in me.
Trevor: Well done Mick! Is there anything else that stands out for you when you look back at your time studying at NTC?
Mick: Yes. I remember reading about John Wesley and how he had an experience where his heart was strangely warmed and it transformed his life. I remember thinking something was missing in my life and I needed to have God do this in me. So I went to see Julie Lunn who I think was the chaplain and asked about Wesley’s experience. In simple words she explained it to me and right there in her room, I knelt and asked to receive the Holy Spirit, and the faith in my head was joined by a warmth in my heart. And like Wesley I felt compelled to tell everyone about Jesus and that is what I have tried to do ever since.
Trevor: So perhaps you could share with us briefly where and how you have been doing this since you left NTC?
Mick: I knew what I had to do. I had to return to the streets of Burnley where I wreaked havoc and caused so much pain, and tell the people there about how Jesus changed my life. If they could see a change in me then I hoped it might help them see that Jesus was real and they could know him too.
Trevor: So, how did you go about doing that?
Mick: To be honest I didn’t really know what to do! So I asked a friend called Alan to make me a suitcase with wheels and I went out on the streets to give away some sandwiches, clothes and a few other comforts for people that lived on the streets. I sat outside McDonald’s in the town centre, opened the case and waited to see what would happen. Then one man came and got some things, and I sat and ate with him and shared my story with him. That began what we now call Church on the Street and over time, through word of mouth, more and more people came to talk with me, including people from other churches that wanted to support me. Hundreds began to come, scores of whom have come to Christ and a new community has begun to emerge.
I have one burning compulsion, to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to everyone I meet.
Trevor: Tell me a little bit more about the new community?
Mick: There was such a diversity of people that we got to build relationships with: many homeless people, those struggling with addiction, a few millionaires, and Christians from different walks of life. We continued to demonstrate practical compassion, serving food, helping people into recovery, received visits from the police and council leaders on how to help them deal with homelessness and other problems, and we always told the good news of Jesus. As a consequence we formed our first new church, Burley Community Church, and are in the process of starting a new one in Yorkshire which has just opened up to us through our feeding programme there. And Church on the Street has become a registered charity and we are dreaming and planning for ways to tackle further social justice issues and engage further in practical compassion.
Trevor: So has the lock down held things back just now?
Mick: If anything it is the complete reverse for we are ministering to more people than ever before. Weekly we have provided 1000 food parcels to people in the community, worth over £50,000 a week from many generous donors, and our education packs are now also reaching many disadvantaged families. We are blessed to have the Methodist and Church of England networks engage and support us. The current crisis has highlighted great need and challenges, but provided opportunities to minister to people of all ages and backgrounds.
Trevor: So let me close by asking you one final question. What are hopes and dreams for the future?
Mick: There is only one massive thing that underpins everything we do and goes back to that third message I heard from the angel when my life took a very different turn. I have one burning compulsion, to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to everyone I meet.