Saying YES to Christ Church, the very phone box.
Some 25 years ago at this very hour, I would have been in bed in Rochdale. However, had I been awake I would have been thinking, even praying, about my interview later that morning for the position of vicar of Christ Church Aughton to be held in the home of one of the wardens in Prescot Road. (You need to remember that insignificant detail). This was the culmination of a process which had already taken several months out of my life. We had looked at quite a few churches and I had been interviewed for some of them. It had been a draining process. I was determined to move only where God wanted me to move. That’s saying the obvious, of course. But at the time there’s always the temptation of fitting God’s will into yours. “No way am I going to that dump” or “What a beautiful lakeside vicarage!” I had to resist the flattery of archdeacons and the pleas of churchwardens. More than once in saying ‘No” I knew the church representatives would be devastated – yes, they were that desperate. It seemed at the time a huge waste time of time and energy. However, the reality was that God was preparing us for Christ Church. So I wrote down the varied reasons for turning down each church and then turned these round to define the right church for us. The first list was the church itself. So for example, we didn't go to one church in Blackpool because there was no sense of parish in that urban sprawl. For me that mattered. So I typed out: “Clearly defined parish – a market town.” At another church the wardens showed little vision. This translated to “Wardens with vision.” The second list was what was right for our family. The church in Rugby was too far away from our ageing parents. Therefore, “no more than two hours from Crosby.” And even “Near a teacher training college” because Jacqui had been thinking about going to De La Salle college close to our vicarage in Rochdale. So when we saw the advert for Christ Church in the Church Times (that’s another story, incidentally) we both said “That’s it! For amazingly Christ Church Aughton filled every single requirement, about 20 in all. What seemed a draining process turned out to be hugely important, as we discovered when building the Ministry Centre less than ten years later. You may remember that our first building, the Parish Centre, took nearly seven years before it was finally rejected by the planning inspector in December 2006. A huge waste of effort – valuable time and money had been spent to no effect. And yet what we were doing was learning how to build a Ministry Centre. It wasn’t just that we learned from our mistakes. God was teaching us new skills. So I wrote at the time. “I am not sure whether the parish centre project was a mistake from which we benefited or actually part and parcel of God’s purposes of teaching us to building a Ministry Centre. I am tempted to think the latter!” Looking back those seven lean years were not wasted. The very opposite. Amazingly it took just three years between appointing new architects and the Ministry Centre being opened. “My troubles turned out all for the best. They forced me to learn from your textbook. Truth from your mouth means more to me than striking it rich in a gold mine.” ( Psalm 119:71f Message translation). This was very much the experience of the apostle Paul. No experience in serving God, however frustrating, would be wasted. The very opposite – that’s how God works. He may be once again stuck in some prison, restrained in his quest to share the Gospel in every place where Christ has not been named. So he writes “I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel.” (Philippians 1:12) So we enjoyed the interviews and two days later we set off for our holiday in the Dordogne. Christ Church seemed the right church. Every reason for saying YES but I was looking for that extra spark from God. It was the longest drive in my life: 480 miles from Channel port to our campsite in one go. On arrival I fell out of the car to be greeted by the bloke in the neighbouring emplacement, a Glaswegian. You had a long drive too. “Yes, but we broke our journey at relative’s.” o just in conversation, I asked where? “In a place called Ormskirk.” Oh, I know Ormskirk. Where abouts? “Prescot Road, Aughton.”