'Keep shining your light in whatever circumstances you find yourself'
Emma McPhail, assistant minister of Victoria Baptist Church in Eastbourne, recently appeared on ITV’s The Chase - and the response has been 'incredible'. She explains how
In my living room, there’s a sign above the television declaring, ‘As for me and my House, we will SERVE THE LORD’, which has been a key verse of my calling since I was 11 years old. It is there partly to remind me to be careful about what I watch - but little did I realise that I would ever ‘serve the Lord’ by actually appearing on a tea-time TV quiz show!
I made an appearance on The Chase
last Monday evening (25 January 2021). Having spent many series’ shouting answers at the screen, last year I decided to apply to go on the show, as I love quizzes, this particular show, and Bradley Walsh!
It was a wonderful experience and I would like to thank all those who sent messages of support and lovely comments after the show about my smile and witness, and generally how I came across. It’s been humbling, overwhelming, confidence boosting, and a huge blessing – as well as a great fun.
But I really want to testify to how God has used this interesting situation…
40,000 applicants and an audition
There were 40,000 applicants for this series, so I was amazed to be invited to an audition, which happened in Brighton about a year ago. It was a great experience, lots of fun, doing some individual pieces to camera and a few games and quizzes with other auditionees. It was nerve-wracking when my group of eight were told to ‘Stay in the room if your name is called and please leave if it’s not.’
Holding my breath, I was delighted to be one of the three from the group of eight whose name WAS read out, meaning I had passed the test and would be invited onto the show. Yippee!
Recording the episode last October
Eventually, after much e-mail and phone communication with ITV, I was scheduled for recording at Elstree Studios in October 2020. I was given overnight accommodation in a Covid-safe hotel and arrived at Elstree at 7am (too early for me but that’s the price of fame!)
They record several episodes in a day and my cohort were the first. It was an interesting process, having my outfits vetted by a ‘wardrobe lady’, being shown to a dressing room and being called for hair and make-up. I must admit, I enjoyed the pampering and being brought several cups of tea by a production ‘runner’.
The team met in a ‘green room’ and we were taken through a lot of terms and conditions, legalities, and the format of the show, being encouraged to be reactive, expressive and engaged throughout. It was all extremely interesting, seeing how TV works behind the scenes. (We also had to sign non-disclosure contracts about which chaser we might face and the outcome re: any potential winnings.)
The team were lovely – Mandy, Jamie and Paul. We had the chance to chat and weirdly, Jamie, who like me is from Coventry (originally in my case) had Coventry friends and a few interests in common.
When we were all dressed, made up and ready, we were taken into the actual studio to record. It was quite surreal for a moment, taking in all the lights, the cameras, the familiar scenery from the show, and then seeing my name lit up in position 1, meaning I was to go first, argh!
However, after a few minutes of being wowed, I realised that it was pretty much like the drama rooms I’d used at school – there were cables, coffee cups and mess everywhere, just well hidden behind black curtains and props. I was reminded that TV is not reality, it’s all ‘smoke and mirrors’ but the experience was definitely real.
We each did our introductory piece to camera and were then introduced to Bradley Walsh. He was absolutely lovely, very professional and highly entertaining. I felt like we struck up a great rapport straight away.
Then I was called up as the first player for the ‘cash builder’ round. I did reasonably well, but under the lights with, with my legs feeling like jelly, it is a different story to shouting at the TV at home!
Then it was time to face the Chaser. It was revealed to be the newest chaser, Darragh ‘the menace’ Ennis. He was also really nice; we got to have a chat after the recording, where he congratulated me on my performance and humour.
'Incredible' responses following the show
It was great fun and I’m so pleased to have taken part and fulfilled a dream of being on tea-time telly! There are links to the show and related online tabloid articles below to find out how we did. I certainly wasn’t expecting my ‘magic moments’ to make the news!
But what I really want to share with you is the incredible responses and impact my smile and laughter has provoked.
My phone and social media haven’t stopped since, with people from all the various stages of my life being in touch. I’ve had contact with friends from primary school in the early 80s, old college friends, workmates from all sorts of jobs and many old friends congratulate me and offer encouraging words.
What’s really overwhelmed me is how many people have commented on my big smile, laughter and easy banter with Brad!
But here’s the really awesome thing…
I haven’t seen or had much contact with my ‘Birmingham cousins’ on my Dad’s side of the family for years, for various reasons. Having seen me on The Chase
, several of them have now been in touch and we’ve really reconnected. They were all impressed, again by my smile and relaxed manner, and it has reopened communications after years of none.
That, to me, is God at work in my family.
Apparently, they were all texting and phoning one another, proudly saying, ‘that’s our cousin…’, ‘have you seen Emma on the telly?’, ‘she’s a minister?!’ and saying how confident and happy I came across. Now I have them as Facebook friends and have begun fresh relationships with them.
Secondly, I had a message from a young man who was a teenager in an outreaching type youth group I ran in my church in Cornwall, back around 2003-2007ish. He wrote, ‘It was so nice to see you smiling on The Chase
in exactly the same way I remember you from all those years ago in our little Christian group in Cornwall.
'I was telling my partner about how much you helped me in my early teens, keeping me grounded by having faith and the power of self-belief, which I still carry with me even now…’
As you can imagine, reading those words melted my heart. What a blessing. I often feel like I haven’t really done enough to make a difference for the Kingdom of God, but it turns out that seeds sown, even years ago, grow over time.
So if, like me, you ever wonder if what you do makes any real difference, feel like your efforts are unfruitful or you’ve never impacted anyone’s life, think again!
People from all around the country have been in touch
I had an elderly lady from Blackpool e-mail me through the church website saying how much it had brightened up her day and that she’d like to access my preaching. I was able to direct her to our website
and YouTube channel, VBCsussex
, where our VBC sermons are accessible. I have even heard that a non-Christian lady known to our SEBA regional minister, Stuart Davison, rang Stuart during the show to let him know there was one of our lot on TV being ‘lovely and smiley’.
I hope I will always be one of Jesus’ little sunbeams! A smile costs nothing and shines the light when days are grey.
The story of another old friend
And lastly... When I left Mattersey Hall (Assemblies of God) Bible College in 1997, I became Youth Pastor of a church in Doncaster. I lodged with a brilliant family who helped me grow a youth work from three to 60, seeing many kids come to faith and being baptised. I also had friendships with many in that church, some of whom were new converts and recovering alcoholics or drug addicts.
One of those guys (I’ll call him M), who had since drifted away from God, saw me on The Chase
and got in touch with my host family, whom he hadn’t spoken with for several years. He rang up asking, ‘Ay up, is that our Em from our church way back?!’
Confirming that was so, they chatted and M admitted he had fallen away but said that seeing my smiling face reminded him to get right with God. My friend advised him to get himself a modern version of the Bible and start praying again. He ordered ‘The Message’ Bible on Monday, received it the next day, and is now finding his way back to the Lord!
All thanks to my appearance on The Chase
bringing back good memories of church life and Jesus - and a faithful friend following up with simple suggestions for how to return to God.
So, wow, the Lord works in mysterious ways indeed! I didn’t win any cash but I’ve ‘won’ something even better – God using it to draw people to himself. What started as a bit of a fun ambition certainly turned out ‘for the good’ in God’s hands. Restoring family, faith and friendships. This is the Kingdom coming!
I got on really well with Bradley Walsh, sharing many jokes and great moments off-screen, and I was able to talk a lot more about our church and Christian music than made the final cut shown on Monday. He even referred to conversations with ‘our vicar’, so I do hope I’ve prompted him to think positively about the Christian faith too, along with my fellow contestants who nominated me as the spokesperson throughout. I think Brad is at least a nominal believer and he said he loves gospel music.
So again, keep shining your light in whatever circumstances you find yourself. We are ambassadors of Jesus Christ in every situation.
And even if you feel like you don’t make much difference in this world, remember the power of a smile and sharing the joy of the Lord. Seeds sown years ago or even today, in any context, may yet bear fruit!
For the online newspaper articles containing videos of Emma's special moments:
Emma McPhail is Assistant Minister, Victoria Baptist Church, Eastbourne
See also The Chase's Facebook page
for more clips (scroll down to 25 January items). One is embedded below.