Co-founder of Christian City Church, Chris Pringle takes City News 40 years back to when she and her husband, Phil Pringle were a young couple searching for the truth.
With her angled blonde bob and hipster tortoise shell spectacles, Chris Pringle looks far from “grandmotherly”. Married to CHC’s advisory pastor Phil Pringle for 44 years, the “blonde nana” (as she called herself during CHC’s service in January this year) is in fact, grandmother to three young tots, besides being mother of three adult children, Rebekah, Daniel and Joseph. City News sat down with the effervescent Mrs Pringle for what turned out to be a journey back in time …
When did you first meet Pastor Phil?
I was probably around nine or 10 years old. My mum was widowed when I was very young, and during the school holidays she used to take jobs. She worked as a cook for YMCA camps in New Zealand. One day there was a big fire on the campsite, and my mum told me to follow a lady to the bach (a New Zealand term for a house by the beach) until the fire was put out. I was in the kitchen, and I was quite small … I noticed a boy, blond hair, in the lounge room playing with a train set. I was very shy. She said to me, “Oh, that’s my son, Philip.”
What happened after that?
Our relationship started in friendship really, at high school. We were in the same English and history class. To tell you the honest truth, I had a crush on him, but all my friends told me, “No, Chris, don’t go near him, he’s a bad boy with all the girls.” (laughs) But I liked him, and we had a commonality in art and music and drama, and so I kept it hidden in my heart.
At the end of high school, we were in a musical together, and that was the first night we had an almost “date” and, this might not be so acceptable, but that night, we had our first kiss.
That was in the ’60s—a long time ago, before most of the readers of this interview would have been born! We started dating, and the next year, we were both accepted into the same city for tertiary education: myself to train to be a pre-school teacher, and Phil, to art school.
And that was the beginning of our romance.
How alike, or different, were you from each other?
Phil and I, we came from opposite social ends; I was raised by a widowed mother and we were poor. Phil was like the uptown boy—the Pringle family was in real estate, his father raised racehorses and they lived in a big house with a big sweeping drive. We were the least likely to connect but we both had a similarity—each of us had a missing biological parent: my father died when I was an infant, and Phil’s mother had died of brain cancer when he was very young.
So, somehow a search for truth was in us both. I guess we found our connection through the joy of music and drama. I felt that when we started to go out that it didn’t really matter that we came from different backgrounds—we just sort of had an affinity.
For me, coming from a quiet, conservative household in Masterton, a little town—I was quite shy, actually—I found my confidence when I sang. I was in a folk club, and that was when my shyness just left. When we went to the big city, oh my gosh, it was like a whole world opened up to me: food, music, wonderful personalities … it was a revolution of my senses, an explosion. And I think that was what tripped me into experimenting with recreational drugs—it wasn’t heavy stuff, but (with) a whole community of students, there was really stimulating conversation.
I felt like I had escaped out of a bird cage—not that my home was abusive—but it was unhappy, it wasn’t joyful. But with the community of the university, all the wonderful music, wonderful mentors at the training college, I started to experiment—with life.
Amid all this fun and excitement, what were the circumstances that led to you both finding God? As you said, you were both searching for the truth.
It all started out like a psychedelic, beautiful discovery, but it soon turned a bit dark. I don’t think we really realized we were dabbling in spiritual forces, and, of course, as so often is the case, what seems enlightening becomes dark, and the same fears and insecurities that plagued me as a child began to come back to me. I was 17 or 18, still very young, a little naïve.
What really happened was that the quest for truth—because we were dabbling with what we had no control over—turned against us, and we started searching for help. We were living together at this stage, and this particular weekend, Phil had a terrible experience in his sort of half-sleep state, where this massive creature pushed past him and he woke up, sweating. It was winter, in Christchurch, 1971, I remember it clearly. We switched on the light, and the air was buzzing with terrible evil, and Phil called out, “Jesus!”
We were obviously very shaken from this experience. We started to say the Lord’s Prayer—which was really odd, because we’d been studying all the Eastern religions, ’cause in that culture in the ’60s, the hippie revolution was very attracted to Eastern philosophy. It was very different to what we’d considered “dead” Christianity—a lot of our parents’ generation were “half-baked” Christians: they lived a life of conflict. So we rejected all that and I think that’s why the romance of the East, the “guru”, the “road to enlightenment” stuff was very appealing to the hippie mindset. Plus, it was non-violent.
So in the morning, we rang a friend who was in art college with Phil, and she used to read tarot cards—the only people we knew were clairvoyants or card readers—we told her what was happening and asked her where we could go. She suggested a place, a psychic society, which I’d already been to and which was a bit freaky.
But what happened was that her mother, who was in the kitchen, overheard our conversation. It was a divine intervention moment. So our friend, Dorothy—her mother’s name was May, she had become a Christian three weeks earlier at a crusade—she herself had been a psychic all her life, a very up-class woman, beautiful. And so she got our number from her daughter and rang us back and said, “I know some people who could really help you,” and she put us in contact with a pastor. Seriously, I didn’t even know what a pastor was, I thought a pastor was a dairy farmer! Anyway, [the pastor’s] wife called us and said, “Come to this address, May will meet you on the steps at 6 o’clock on Sunday night. Don’t let anything stop you.” She said, “The devil will try to stop you, but don’t let anything stop you.”
We knew there were evil forces that were intercepting us, and we were scared and fearful. That Sunday, we drove across the city of Christchurch on our push bikes, holding hands and looking out to see if there was something out there … and we came to this little hall. We did not know it was a Christian church, and there was this lovely lady, May, who met us. We walked in and into a tiny foyer, it was buzzing with light, that’s all I can describe. Phil turned to me and said, “Good vibes, eh?” In my heart I said, “I’m home”—I didn’t even know what that meant. There were many old people and old music, there was nothing hip or fashionable about this place, but we were just enfolded with this love that we’d been seeking and for the first time, very clearly, we heard the gospel. It was very simple.
(At the end of the service, the pastor gave the invitation for the congregants to receive Christ. We walked to the front, and that night, on the eighth of August 1971, we were born again.)
We went home, all our friends were like, “Oh no, you’ve become Jesus freaks.” Seriously, our friends knew more about what was happening to us than we actually did. Just like that, friendships were cut. It really boggled me—it was interesting.
That week, we went back to see the pastor—we were very convicted about living together—he didn’t tell us to get married, but he suggested that we part and consider marriage in future. Right then and there in the pastor’s office, Phil turned to me and said, “How about it, babe?” So that was the proposal—very romantic (laughs).
One thing I’ll say is that the simplicity of that generation, materialistic things were not important … the search for truth was extremely genuine. We found the Lord, and three weeks later, we were married, with the consent of our parents.
What was your first church like?
We got married in that little church and our families came and supported the wedding. The love of that church was deeply embedded in us, from that moment we were born again into the weeks after when we were baptized and then the wedding. Complete strangers whom we’d never met bought us presents—strangers from simple, beautiful Christian families. We were just speechless, because that had never happened in the community of hippies; it was all “me”, very ego-centric, whereas we discovered these people genuinely loved and accepted us, even though we were broken, screwed up kids, and that love and hospitality to us was the key that planted us deeply in the house of God, it was a genuine expression of home and family to us.
Soon after, we opened up our home to our friends in the hippie community who were also seeking truth just like we were, and there was a revival among our generation.
Tell us about the starting point for the C3 church, which is now a global church-planting movement. How did God give Pastor Phil and you the vision for it?
Right from the start, in the early days, a significant moment for us was when the son of a member of the Assembly of God church came to our youth meeting and saw the hundreds of hippie Christians. He was from a charismatic church in Sydney, and he said to Phil, “We need this in Sydney.” The moment he said that, Phil knew that one day we would go to Sydney. He kept it in his heart—it wasn’t immediate, as we were still baby Christians. But God plants a call in your heart, and then we, as we obey, have to wait for the right time to go.
We heard about the going to Sydney and coming back to Christchurch, New Zealand within six months and then returning to Sydney again. How was it for you during that period?
You know what’s interesting, in Phil’s next book, called The Parable Of The Dog he uses the example of going to Sydney; the battle was not at all about Sydney. Sydney was always right; the battle was about the surrender of Sydney. We were to learn to obey the “yes” and “no” of the Lord, the lordship of Christ, above anything He had planted in us.
It’s to do with your willingness to let go. When the God of the vision is more important to you than the vision He gives you, then He is free to give it back. When you’re hanging on and hanging on, it’s got you. It becomes more important than the God who’s calling you. All He wants is the surrender. “Am I more important to you than the vision and the dream?” And that was the lesson we had to learn. If He’s truly your Lord, you cannot say “No, Lord” in the same breath.
So you know, when we first get saved, everything was so good, we’re forgiven of our mistakes and so on, but as we grew older, the surrender of Sydney, to let it go forever, was that trial.
How was it like for you during this time of going back and forth?
To tell you the truth, at that time, I had a newborn baby, Daniel, and Rebekah, who was a toddler at the time. And it wasn’t really until we got back to Christchurch that I saw the conflict Phil was in that I realized, this was serious. I saw how devastated Phil was, and I was pre-occupied with the children (which was good—if it weren’t for the children, we’d probably had terrible arguments, like, “How could he drag me and the baby?” and I was pregnant). I had to deal with those emotions, I had to learn to trust this man because he’s trying to find the will of God, but hang on, I’m here too!
The most difficult thing for me was to see Phil say, “I’m dropping the ministry. I’m going to be a postman or artist or whatever.” That made me a bit fearful because I knew the call of God was on us both, together. It was not just Phil, or a “Whatever you want, dear,” thing, but I definitely did my soul-seeking during that time. By this time we were back in Littleton, but we were in the will of God, and that was the lesson: to be in the place where God wanted us to be. As insignificant and tiny as it seemed to be, we learned peace of God, and every precious soul meant everything, and I think that was what the Lord wanted us to understand. It wasn’t about big cities and people looking at us, it was knowing that God was smiling at us.
So when Phil felt God telling him about Sydney again, he was scared to say something to me, but he did eventually, and when he did, my breath caught in my throat—it was like I had a lump in my throat. I was mad—to get the loan for the house (in Littleton) was a miracle. I think I waited three days—I was soooo upset with Phil and God, confused—but after three days, I just said, “Lord, if this is You, I’ll go.” But rather than just getting excited over Sydney, we asked God to show us, over six months (if we really were to go). So we went to our pastor, he said wait six months, and so did another minister; he said the same thing—wait six months, if the vision is growing and you have peace, pursue. If not, let it go.
So we waited a year, and it was in that year, 1979, in Littleton, that we would go to the coffee house at the Victoria University campus, where Phil would draw on a serviette, a church that had an arts college and a Bible college, linking buildings just like the university campus. Those were our date nights, and (the vision) just grew and grew.
And the rest is history.
I think marriage is about adapting to each other throughout the different seasons in your life. Our secret—if there is a secret—is that we actually like each other. When you’re married, some days you don’t really feel you’re in love. But if you like each other, and you respect that person, then chances are, even through difficult times, you will stay committed to each other.
The other thing is to find commonality. Phil and I are complete opposites. I am sanguine, more chatty. Phil is quite a solitary person—believe it or not—when he’s not giving, and I was attracted to his artistic, solitary nature, and I still am. It gives me great joy to hear him create a message and give it so creatively, and to watch him paint. I respect his solitude, I learned to do that early. You have to adapt. The Word says that wives should submit, and one of the interpretations for “submit” is “adapt.”
We love to sail, and so when times are tough, we pretend we’re running away to sail. The thread that’s talked about in Ecclesiastes that two are better than one and a three-way cord is not easily broken, it sounds a bit clichéd, but if Christ remains in each of you, then when you go through those trying times in marriage—we’ve always been open about this, that we’ve been married over 40 years, but realistically, 20 of those years have been hard. And that’s a relief to some couples because they see, “Oh, they’ve had to work at it too.” Not very many marriages have been successful without friction, whether it’s between each other or from external circumstances, and that’s an opportunity for the marriage to grow.
How can Christian parents raise godly children?
I would not want to be dishonest and say we’ve had no trials and conflict with our children. And we have three very creative, strong-willed children. The most important thing is to love unconditionally, and guide them clearly. Set those parameters from an early age. The best thing a Christian parent can do for their child is to live a Christian walk, not just in word but in deed.
Children are very clever at picking up things—our kids would be able to tell when there was unresolved conflict between us, like “Remember that time we were on holiday and you and dad had that argument …” What they also remember is that if the couple look after their marriage first, then the children, despite the ups and downs, will remember and be grateful for a wonderful upbringing.
And also, being loving, making it fun, I think some parents get so serious. Make the family environment fun. Don’t get too serious and don’t get too religious. Children can smell religion. Be aware of your children’s giftings and strengths. They can be completely opposite to what you want.
We always tried to make a happy home for our kids, where the kids were free to bring their friends, not just doing church-y stuff, but having music, movies, arts—that was what brought great healing to us.
The other thing that helps, in particular with teenagers, is that we always make sure that we are not our children’s pastors. We always made sure they had great youth leaders to whom we have given the permission to speak into our kids, and they appreciate it now.
Just like when there’s a conflict between a husband and wife, a third party can help intervene. When you’re so caught up in an emotional relationship that’s going wrong, sometimes you can’t see it, but a third person who’s a trusted friend, a pastor, teacher or a youth leader—could give good advice.
Learn to negotiate with your children individually, even in terms of discipline. We had three very different children—find out what interests them, how to get around them. When we were new parents, we would read all these Christian books and go, “It’s not working!” The Word of God is a clear framework for parenting, but it’s a framework; you have to take into consideration their personality—some children are gregarious, others are shy and withdrawn, you have to learn to deal with both.
Final question—if you could have dinner with a character from the Bible, who would it be?
(thinks) That is so hard! (thinks some more) What about Mary? Can I have dinner with Mary? I think that would be fascinating … she was so young when she became pregnant. And also, to ask her, what happened to Joseph?