Tell us about yourself, Neil, your background, time at Bethany, family, current work, etc.
I grew up on the family farm near Shawville, Quebec with my parents, Hugh and Norma Horner, and five older sisters (yes, you read that right)! Dawn McCutcheon, Pattie Patriquin, Nancy DeMerchant, Janyce Arnill, and Susan Thomas all attended Bethany as well.
My wife, Heidi (Norton), and I met at BBC and have been married for 22 years, during which time I’ve served on staff at Woodstock Wesleyan Church. Heidi is the executive director at the Valley Family Resource Centre here in Woodstock. We have 2 amazing daughters, Ella (18) & Eden (15).
For the past 4 years, I have also been working as a financial coach, helping people experience “hope for today and freedom for tomorrow” in their finances. God has been using our own personal struggles from our earlier years to open up this opportunity to help others who are struggling with their finances. I offer practical help for getting out of debt and preparing for the future while teaching good, biblical wisdom for money management.
I understand you and your siblings were the first generation in your family to go to college. How did this come about and what difference has it made in your immediate and extended family?
I owe so much to my upbringing. My parents didn’t have a four-year degree, but they were professionals at loving God and loving others. Those words are written on their tombstone because it’s what they did so well.
After my 5 sisters each spent time at BBC, it just seemed natural that I would consider at least a year. The difference it made in my life is hard to put into words. I was challenged to grow in my walk with God, I met Heidi there (truly God’s greatest gift to me), made lifelong friends who I still love to this day, and prepared for a career I’m now 22 years deep in.
According to my sister, Nancy, the impact of Bethany on her life is hard to measure. She speaks of it as a grounding foundation and a launching pad for deep, personal, spiritual growth and an opportunity for experiences she wouldn’t have had otherwise.
My sister, Pattie, also values her time at Bethany for the friends she made there and for her experiences. She also recognizes that because she went to a Christian college, it made it natural for her own kids to go too.
How did your Bethany education prepare you for your ministry?
I would say the biggest things that it did for me were first, to help me develop a heart for knowing God more. This is the foundation for all the others. Second, it helped me grow in character through accountability and discipling relationships and to establish personal spiritual disciplines. Third, I gained ministry experience through worship leadership at BBC chapels, youth and worship ministry in local churches (Shout out to Penobsquis United Baptist!), summer ministry team assignments at youth camps all around North America, leading worship, counselling, speaking, etc. These are things I may never have stepped into if I had not experienced Christian higher education.
What are your insights on Christian higher education?
It’s a good thing. It teaches you how to think bigger about life, about God, about the church, about your beliefs and the beliefs of others. There is just so much to know, and so much you don’t know. I was amazed at the depth of knowledge of my professors and others whose work I had to read while there. As a kid who grew up in the church, I had basic beliefs I accepted as true and right. It was important for me to affirm those beliefs with greater understanding, or to have them challenged, stretched, or even undone sometimes. This was a good and safe place for these things to happen. Reading articles on the internet doesn’t qualify as Christian higher education; you can end up affirming beliefs that are just plain wacky while challenging or undoing ones that are fundamental and true! That is neither good nor safe.
What is your advice for Kingswood students?
Simple: love God, make good friends, give yourself to ministry service in this context to figure out who you are…and as much as possible – AVOID STUDENT LOANS. Be creative in how you pay for school; look for every scholarship imaginable, take side jobs as you are in school, save your summer job money, etc. I’d rather have four hard years with some sacrifices that set me up for freedom in the future than four easy years living off a student loan that takes 10+ years to pay back.
Oh, and a bonus: Apply yourself, and have lots of fun, but recognize that you’re living in a bubble for a few years. There will be lots more to learn once you exit that bubble.
Thanks, Neil, for your thoughts.