Last month Sheona Beaumont and husband Revd Adam Beaumont, Assistant Curate of Holy Trinity, Westbury-on-Trym, appeared on the popular Channel 4 show, One Born Every Minute , sharing with the nation the arrival of their second child into the world.
We caught up with Sheona and Adam to ask them more about their experience
Were you fans of the programme before appearing on it?
I don't know about fans, but we certainly watched it quite a few times and really enjoyed the storytelling aspect of the show - true stories where people are honest and vulnerable have a way of pulling the emotional strings. It is no wonder that it is a BAFTA winning programme. Having said that, Sheona refused to watch it before giving birth to Amelie (our first child), and while pregnant with Dylan - it was probably a bit too real then!
Why did you decide to take part?
It was Sheona who was the driving force, and Adam was very happy to support her. Having seen adverts from the production company asking for volunteers who were giving birth at Southmead Hospital between certain dates, our interest was piqued and we called them. For Sheona the way they told the couples' stories and the way they focussed on the relational aspect of giving birth was something that really appealed to her, both as an experience and a record for the future.
For Adam, being more pragmatic, he was hoping that by taking part it might be an opportunity to break down some of the common stereotypes about vicars, and, of course, to witness to our faith to a large audience.
What was it like having a camera crew with you during labour?
It was all filmed remotely. The cameras were fixed to the walls and moved silently. We had microphones put on us in the car park as we went in, but that was it, after a short time the cameras were essentially invisible as we had our minds on other things!
Did you get to watch the programme before it was aired?
We saw the bits of the episode that featured us about a month before it aired, quite an emotional experience in itself! We were always looked after very well by the production company, and always felt that if we had any concerns that they would have been listened to. They told us that in all the previous four series, and amongst the hundreds of couples involved, no-one had ever dropped out at that point. We were very moved by what we saw that day, and after some worry about what we were going to see, we knew that they that had done a good job.
How did it feel watching the programme when it was broadcast last month?
We felt slightly terrified, firstly because you never quite know how you will be received, and secondly because the standard response from people who found out we were taking part was, 'You're very brave', or 'I could never do that'.
We watched it on our own with the intention of engaging with social media as a way of analysing people's response to what they saw. This was important, both because Sheona intends to incorporate the whole experience into her work as a practicing artist, and Adam wanted to know whether the witness to our faith had made any sort of positive impact.
Following both Facebook and Twitter, each of us on our own laptops, was a bit manic to say the least. Other people tweeted about a thousand times during the programme (not all about us), and the photo of us on the official
page got around five and a half thousand likes and several hundred comments.
How have people responded to you appearing on the programme?
We have had overwhelmingly positive feedback from the vast majority of people. Of course our friends and family have been supportive, and strangers have been stopping us in the street to give us encouragement as well. It seems that many people were surprised that a 'vicar' and a 'vicar's wife' could be relatively normal - one tweet said 'If all vicars were like this church would be a hoot', and another said 'I like this vicar's wife because she drinks and swears' (well she did have an excuse this once didn't she?!).
The most wonderful theme that came though from a number of responses was along the lines of 'I'm not religious but the blessing at the end was amazing'. We had asked the Chaplain, Revd Stephen Oram, to visit after Dylan's birth and they filmed him reading Psalm 62 and giving us a blessing. Channel 4 then used this as the very end of the programme, showing shots of us, the other couples, and the whole maternity unit. The final words of the whole episode being 'my soul finds rest in God'... and then silence... one person tweeted 'it's like they blessed all the babies', and in hindsight it felt like they were indeed showing a much bigger act of worship.
Did you weigh up beforehand whether appearing in the show might affect your role as a vicar?
One of the worries beforehand was that this might have led to a phone call from the Bishop the morning after broadcast... 'here is your P45 Mr Beaumont', and of course, in the full knowledge that Adam's role is a somewhat public one, we made sure that we asked lots of questions beforehand, and always knew that we could pull the plug on our involvement if we thought that the broadcast might be damaging.
We are also aware that for some this could be difficult, many of our older friends wouldn't even have had their husbands in the room let alone 2.83 million people! If indeed we have offended, we are truly sorry, that was never our intention.
As a minister it has even opened doors. At a funeral just a couple of days ago, the (grown-up) grandchildren of the deceased recognised Adam, which led to a great conversation about the programme and both our, and their journeys.
We are still processing the outcomes. It has been a huge learning experience. It was a huge confirmation about putting your trust in God and prayer for big ambitious things that you can never achieve on your own. It has really encouraged Adam to think big - with God our side, what's the worst that can happen?
Also, Adam was asked by a very wise and senior Christian within the diocese, in the context of discussing this programme, if he was an 'evangelist' (there's a bit of a theme about that at the moment isn't there!). A question that for many, if they are asked point blank, makes them want to hide. But it is something that Adam feels he was doing rather instinctively at the time, and that question has prompted thoughts that it is something that he needs to explore and develop in a more explicit way.
Sheona tell us more about your exhibition next year.
A few weeks before the programme aired, Sheona was commissioned by the
to join their project for a touring exhibition in 2015. Called 'Birth Online : Birth Offline' the project is looking at contemporary artists' responses to birth when increasingly represented in the public sphere in some way - on TV, on YouTube and on other social media.
Sheona's work will probably be formed from photographic and text material into a digital collage, and then printed as lenticular prints for an installation - there's still a lot of processing to do, and it'll take some time to come together.
Sheona's photographic work focusses on imagery that reveals spirituality in different ways, and here she's hoping that aspects of prayer, the Bible and even a virtual equivalent of the traditional 'Churching of Women' service will be drawn out and explored.
Looking back, do you think appearing on the programme was a worthwhile experience?
Definitely. Adam feels that we 'stepped out of the boat' in witnessing to others, and that by taking that step in faith and by backing it up with a heavy dose of prayer, God honoured it, blessed, it and used it for his glory.
If nothing else 2.83 million people heard the Bible being read out on TV, most of whom would be of the demographic that we often think of as the missing generation in our fellowships.