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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

When battered by a bad press

AN unholy row has erupted following claims that a local vicar has divided his parish.

So reported the Champion free newspaper in all of its three editions for Southport & Formby, North Liverpool and West Lancashire, on 27th December, 2006. That’s a lot of readers, some 165,000 copies.

The article, which covered three columns on page 2, continued: “According to Aughton Parish Council, attendance numbers at Christ Church on Liverpool Road is at an all-time low and the blame rests with their vicar, Reverend Ross Moughtin.”

It was a vicious article, aimed at discrediting Christ Church - and me in particular - for our plans to build a new parish centre alongside our Victorian church building.

In fact, every single fact in the article was wrong, to the extent that two weeks later the newspaper published an apology (hidden away on page 6) to the effect that Aughton Parish Council (that’s the civil and not the church authority) had said no such thing. Moreover, “The Champion wishes to make it clear that church attendances at Christ Church are rising and that church finances are in surplus.”

It was a case of appalling journalism, of publishing the prejudices of just one unnamed person, without any critique and without any reference to the facts. As the apology made clear: “The views expressed in the article were those of a private individual who prefers to remain anonymous.”

So I was not sorry to learn this week that the Champion has gone bust. Its managing director made this statement: “After 28 years publishing Champion Newspapers we regret that due to current trading conditions Waypride Limited is no longer viable and it is with deep regret we have now ceased publication of local Champion titles.

Clearly it’s always sad when a local newspaper, even a free one, has to close. But sadly no journalism is better than bad journalism. And as is so often the case, good people may be unfairly maligned and their motives discredited.

For me all I can say is with actress Kate Hudson: “Never worry about bad press: All that matters is if they spell your name right.” Remarkably, they did.

But that’s life for anyone who seeks to serve Christ and to extend his kingdom: you take flak. It was the Catholic author, G K Chesterton, who observed: “Jesus promised the disciples three things - that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy and in constant trouble.”

And certainly the one thing I have learned in ministry is that whenever there is a spiritual advance, a spiritual counter-attack is guaranteed . In a strange way it can show that you are on course as the flak intensifies. No big deal if you are wearing the armour that God freely provides his representatives.

As the Message somewhat flamboyantly translates the apostle Paul: “This is no weekend war that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.” (Ephesians 6:12)

But it is not simply the case that such spiritual pushback is sadly inevitable, it is part and parcel of what God himself is doing. He will use it to enable his purpose. For the Champion article was hugely important in advancing our project.

Some history here. We spent about eight years trying to get the parish centre plans through planning. We failed but were advised that going to appeal would be successful. But again, we failed.

And so we were back to square one. However, we had managed to spend about £30k in the process, money which now seemed to be wasted. At that point I personally was politically vulnerable – as the Champion could clearly see.

However, church members do not like to see their vicar being so publicly maligned and whatever their views, rallied to my support. This allowed us the space to start again with new architects. And those eight years were not wasted, neither was the £30k. For we had learned how to plan and prepare to build a parish centre, one to be designed around the negative conclusions of the planning inspector.

Within just three years the new Ministry Centre was opened in June 2010, a great success and hugely valued by the local community, including those who had so determinedly opposed our original plans.

But this is how God works. From our perspective ministry in Jesus’ name is never easy – and if it is, something is wrong.

In fact, Jesus teaches that such opposition puts us in good company: “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable.

“You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble!”

(Matthew 6:11f, the Message)

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