Patrick Sullivan - A Change in Plans
by Shannon Dennis, Journalist Intern
No one understands the old adage “plans change” more than Patrick Sullivan. A 2001 graduate of Lipscomb University, Patrick intended to pursue a career in marketing while remaining in Nashville, close to the wonderful friends he had made during college. He was content with his plans; however, a short internship in the British Isles transformed Scotland into his new home and changed his plans from marketing to ministry.
While attending Lipscomb, Sullivan joined, and later led, a mission trip to the City of Children in Ensenada, Mexico. This trip ignited a fire for missions inside him. His experiences in Mexico inspired him so that no matter what he did for a living, he would use his talents and passion for God’s mission. He wanted to continue following this new, strange passion, but he still had a marketing career in mind, so he decided a short-term mission would be ideal.
In the summer of 2002, Sullivan applied for an internship to be a youth worker for the Campfield Square Church of Christ in Dundee, Scotland. The church leaders saw something in him that they liked and hired him for the summer position. Little did he know, as he made his way to Scotland, he was embarking on a journey that would change his life forever.
He loved every minute of it: the youth ministry, the culture, the different challenges that came his way. In Patrick’s own words, “It was a perfect fit”. Over the course of those 90 days in Scotland he had fallen in love with the Dundee church, and they with him, but he felt he needed to return home to be with his ailing grandfather and, reluctantly, seek opportunities in the marketing industry.
Once Sullivan returned, he spent time with his grandfather and searched for a job to no avail. After landing a job with a local mortgage company, but he soon realized this did not suit him nearly as well as the youth worker position in Scotland.
After his grandfather passed away, Sullivan knew it was time for a change, but he wasn’t entirely sure how to go about putting it into action. However, his sister, who he regards as one of his spiritual mentors, knew exactly what needed to be done. She purchased a plane ticket for him to be able to return to Dundee in time to help with youth camp the summer of 2003.
The day he got off the plane, Alastair Ferrie, the minister of the Campfield Church of Christ, took a walk with him and told him that he was needed in Dundee. That night, he got on his knees and gave the decision to God. Not only was he feeling drawn back to Scotland long-term for the ministry opportunity itself, but there was a special young lady from the church who had caught his eye during his 2002 internship that he just could not shake the “what ifs” as they continued to cross his mind. By the end of the youth camp week, Sullivan knew three things: “I knew I was moving to Scotland, I knew I was going to marry Gemma, and I knew everything would be fine because God would take care of me as He always has.”
Sullivan moved to Dundee in May 2004, and currently resides there with his wife, Gemma, who Sullivan refers to as his strength. He serves as a minister for the Campfield Square Church of Christ. He leads Bible study groups and performs pastoral duties within the church. He also serves as a chaplain for a local high school where he leads a Bible club that encourages kids from that school as well as other schools to be grounded in God’s word and to keep faith, because Christians are a minority in the school systems as well as throughout Scotland. Additionally, Sullivan conducts one-on-one Bible studies in coffee shops. These Bible studies are one of his favorite aspects of his job, not just because of his fondness for coffee, because he enjoys sharing the truth about God and His word with others while learning about them and their unique stories.
Sullivan is one of the unique few to have served with Lipscomb Missions as a student, a team leader, and now as a host partner on the receiving end of a yearly Lipscomb mission team. Earl Lavender, Director of Missional Studies, has been heavily involved in coordinating teams to Dundee for several years and is currently involved in a web-based leadership training initiative with a local Dundee high school organized by Sullivan. “Patrick has done an outstanding job mobilizing and maturing the youth and young adults in the Dundee church. They are a vibrant and active group, an age group totally missing in many of our UK churches,” says Lavender. “His work as a chaplain in the high schools is exemplary. He has been able to form great relationships with people outside of the congregation, which has led to many opportunities to bring non-believers to faith.”
As Sullivan inches closer to a decade of ministry in Scotland, his roots remain firmly connected back home in Tennessee as the Harpeth Hills Church of Christ in Brentwood serves as his sponsoring congregation. This missionary/church relationship has proved beneficial on both sides of the pond. Not only does Harpeth Hills provide Sullivan the necessary spiritual and financial oversight, but he has encouraged the church by inviting them to serve alongside him in Dundee. “Patrick’s work in Dundee is very personal and relational and he’s adapted to a changing culture by staying relevant with his creative and innovative ideas for ministry, while not compromising the foundation of his faith,” says Jeff McCormack, Harpeth Hills elder. “Patrick has engaged so many parts of our church family including our church leadership, hosting our youth group and maintaining close ties to the young families class that he was launched from many years ago.” McCormack goes on to say how Sullivan’s approach to ministry has personally impacted his family through his daughter Sarah being on the youth group team from Harpeth Hills two years ago. “Sarah is searching for opportunities to serve that she previously never imagined prior to her encountering Patrick on the mission trip.”
While still serving as a full-time minister for the church and in the community, Sullivan is also currently pursuing his Masters in Theology at St. Andrews University in Scotland. As he eyes an exit strategy from coming off financial support from the States in the near future, his role as a minister will not change, “God can use you as a minister in whatever profession you choose. As I look towards a new endeavor I’m not walking away from ministry, I’m hoping that it leads me to opportunities I’ve never imagined to reach more people for the glory of God.”
God changed Patrick Sullivan’s plans, and he believes wholeheartedly that it was the best change he could have ever experienced. Sullivan stepped out in faith and God rewarded him by providing the way to join his passion for sharing God’s Word and his love for Dundee. His spark for missions has grown into a flame to pursue God’s Kingdom for the city of Dundee; a flame that is spreading, person by person, with every person Patrick meets.