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The Reverend David Ashworth 1978-1996

The Reverend David Ashworth 1978-1996

The young man in the while coat gazed thoughtfully around the pharmacy. Three years at Nottingham University had earned him his B. Pharm. Now, a full year at Boundary Park Hospital, Oldham entitled him to membership of the Pharmaceutical Society. He was qualified. He could work in any pharmacy in the land or even the world, yet from the beginning of his student days, he had known that that was not what he was going to do. David Ashworth had a vocation to the ministry of the Church of England.

The Church authorities themselves had suggested that he should do something entirely different and obtain a qualification before making any firm decision. He had done so. Now he made up his mind and his last prescription.

After training at Lincoln Theological College, he was ordained in Manchester Cathedral.

On the day of his Ordination, something happened which delighted David in a way he could never have imagined and which he has never forgotten. The very first person to greet him was not his father or his mother or any of his family who were there, but a man called Leslie. He had been a prisoner David had visited in Lincoln Prison and he had made his way, all on his own, all the way from Grimsby just to be with David on the great day.

Service as curate was at St. Thomas's, Halliwell, Bolton (where his swift reaction saved the building from being destroyed by fire), and his first parish was St Margaret's, Heywood. Then, in September 1978, he crossed Manchester to become the seventh Vicar of St. Peter's, Hale.

Fourteen years later, he takes our parish into its centenary year.

"The more things change," runs the old French proverb, "the more they stay the same." Is this true of St. Peter's? If Mr. Brunskill could return today, what would he recognise and what would he think of our church and his?

The building would be much the same, though there would be windows he never knew. Plaques, too, including his own and one in Lakeland slate in memory of Ted Coombs beside the stall where he sat in his 50 years as Verger. (He died in 1985.) De­signed by the noted calligrapher Mr. Alec Peever, it quotes Ecclesiasticus 38 v.34. 

"They maintain the fabric of this world

And their prayers are about their daily work"

As for worship, he could not fail to be impressed by the Choir nor pleasantly surprised by the presence of so many female choristers, unheard of in his day save on special occasions, on their own, in the Saints' Day Choir. The musicianship of Robin Coulthard, both in his playing and in his standard of choral performance would be cause for pride.

At 8.30 a.m. Holy Communion he would feel completely at home with the well-loved and familiar words of the Book of Common Prayer (1662), much of which he would recognise in the Alternative Service Book's Rite B. He might feel less at ease with Rite A celebrated with the Nave altar within the circle of chairs at the Eucharist for Youth, though, surely, greatly moved.

He would find it a great deal easier to hear every service thanks to the sound amplification system.

Rigidly conservative, one wonders how he would feel about coffee served in church.

The cheerful, lively children in the Sunday School classes, joining their parents in church for the final part of the Service would be in contrast to the children he used to teach and who were meant to be 'seen and not heard' and lie would be astonished to know that the beautiful banner designed by Denise Worsley for Sevens was a gift from Ada Pearce. As a little girl, she was the one who used to make his life difficult when she was a pupil in his classes. In her honour the bookshelves at the back of the church were installed to sell devotional literature. ‘Which just goes to show,’ he might reflect,‘you never can tell...’

Such little recreation as was to be found in his day was decorous to a degree; a world away from the music and merriment in the Assembly Rooms when the 'Rufus Quick Showband’ raised the roof, or, rather, the cost of repairing the roof of the church.

He would recall how the Ladies’ Guild in his day decorated the Drill Hall for fundraising but even they can never have equalled the magical metamorphoses conjured up by Joan Schofield and her friends in the Assembly Rooms: the 'Victorian Arcade' with old fashioned 'shops' with leaded windows bright with lights and good things to buy, the ‘Caribbean Carnival’ complete with steel band and, at the oilier climatic extreme, ‘Winter Wonderland’ with shop-fronts heavy with ‘snow’.

From the earliest days of St. Peter's, Mission was a top priority. It still is, and not simply in the provision of funds. Chris Frankland actually went to Busoga to see for himself how the drilling paid for by people in Hale discovered underground springs and provided wells for people there. Nick Bent spent six months in Uganda and Amos Kasibante and others from Uganda have come to England to study for Ordination, sponsored by St. Peter's. Our links with St. Paul's, an inner-city church amidst the high-rise council flats of Salford, grow stronger every year through material support, clergy assistance and involvement and, every year, the provision mid staffing of a weekend holiday in the Lake District for some of the children. In Diocesan and na­tional appeals, St. Peter's has raised more than ever before, tens of thousands of pounds.

The perspective of history shows how Mr. Brunskill conducted his min­istry in not only the first but the first, three decades of St. Peter's. We do not yet have that per­spective for this, the last decade of its century hut al­ready a clear pat­tern and direction is emerging in the ministry of the Revd. David Ashworth, conducted in a style quite un­like any of his predecessors.

From the very first, he was totally involved, as Dun­can Eyre remem­bers.

‘When Don Lewis moved hack to Wales, the choir was fortunate to have the continued support of his successor, David Ashworth. He sang with us whenever possible and when Lowther College failed us for Choir Camp, David's encouragement eventually led to the Choir singing at Lichfield Cathedral. That was an unforgettable end to my twenty three years' service.’

Although his increasing responsibilities precluded his continued participation in the choir, David was to provide that same encouragement to Duncan's successors.

George Budden, his son Duncan and Russell Medley before the arrival of Robin Coulthard and the formation of the team in which they seem to combine so effectively in the musical setting and enhancement of worship.

‘Involved’, then, but as ‘one of’ rather than ‘in charge of’. David's is government by consensus and he has the gift of drawing out of people what they really want to do, Then guiding their thoughts and finally encouraging and enabling them to achieve, possibly what they had in mind, but often something greater. Some of the achievements have been remarkable.

After something of a false start as a gathering of distinguished senior members of the parish, the Guild of St. Peter now nourishes as a social club with coffee mornings, dinners and guest speakers, all with the additional benefit of raising money for various causes. At Christmas time, food parcels are made up and sent to the parish of St. Paul's in Salford.

Although it was with more specific enjoyment in view, no one guessed it was on the cards that a few friends' gathering to raise money towards repairing the roof would develop into St Peter's Bridge Circle.

Joyce Currie and her husband Bill started it all off with a dinner and entertainment and a game of Bridge in the Assembly Rooms. That raised £500. Now there is a waiting list to play at the ten or so tables every Friday evening and especially to go on the Bridge Weekends al Grange-over-Sands or Windermere.

The £1.00 registration and the 60p playing fees have already totalled over £2,000. Another enterprise went still further afield and raised over £8,000.

On a hot Saturday in July 1989, two minibuses and a van set out from Hale for Canterbury. In the van were seventeen bicycles. In the minibuses, the people who were to go to ride them, from Canterbury to York, together with the support teams.

On Sunday morning, after prayers for their safety and the success of their ride in raising money, the Archbishop of Canterbury saw them off and bade them Godspeed. In the following five days, they rode some 320 miles, sometimes as few as 30, some­times as many as 70 miles in a day. The youngest riders were twelve years old and the oldest, James Lawrence, over 70. Each night they were welcomed into the accommo­dation our Curate, Revd. Peter Mander, had arranged for them with a hot meal pre­pared by the support teams under Sandra Cope and Barbara Pearson.

The riders had been training for weeks before the event under Eric Booth, himself a cyclist of Olympic standard. At first, a gentle ride round Hale had left them breathless and exhausted but Eric, or 'Little by Little', had gradually encouraged and coaxed them into longer and longer journeys until a 30-mile training run became common­place. In the event, his skill and wisdom proved invaluable though for every mile they rode, he covered two as he had constantly to be in front, leading the column and then going to the rear to round up the tail-enders and see that everyone was safely through. On the Saturday they reached York where the Archbishop of York formally wel­comed them and conducted a Service of Thanksgiving for their safe arrival.

Before the start, Eric had said, ‘When this is over, we shall all be best of friends or the best of enemies.’ Looking back on it now, the first possibility has been the one to come about and already re-union dinners have been held. ‘We got to know each other far better and more deeply than ever before, even people you had known for years you found you had hardly known at all.’ The greatest benefit? ‘No doubt about it. Fellow­ship.’ Of all the many memories of that time, Eric looks back with particular warmth to the service of Compline which Peter Marnier read every evening, a shared time of peace and thankful worship after a day of shared experience.

A parish that can mount an exercise of that scope has much to teach a would-be vicar and David Ashworth has been responsible for training five Curates.

Max Ramsey, a former university lecturer brought a light-hearted approach to learning imparted with a rich baritone, making his company genial and his sermons memorable. Peter Mander, who organised the cycle marathon, had been a schoolteacher in Liverpool. Both enriched our life and our worship. Clenyg Squire, already a Reader, was ordained at the same time as our most recent curate. Dr. Deborah Moore. Her appointment marks the culmination of what has perhaps been one of David's most cherished aims, the involvement of women in worship.  David's fifth and final Curate, was Peter Mackriell ordained in 1994 and who continued to serve in the Parish after David left in January 1996, serving as the only parish priest until July 1996 when the family moved to Marple.

Like every vicar before him, David has the help and support of the women's organisations in the parish. Certainly, neither the church nor the Assembly Rooms would function as they do without the constant and unstinting work of our Verger, Ann Longley, and now of her successor, Barbara Pearson, and of Barbara Mawdsley, our Caretaker. What has happened recently has been a venture in a new direction. Early in his ministry he appointed women Sidesmen. Women Lectors regularly read the Lessons and others are responsible for Intercessions at Evensong. Mari Mander, Peter's wife, was our first woman Reader. Caroline Holmes is our second. In the con­troversy over the Ordination of women to the Priesthood, he has nailed his colours firmly to the mast.

This concern is a continuing, underlying theme in an increasingly busy ministry. St. Peter's, Hale and St. Elizabeth's, Ashley were already his direct responsibility. Since his appointment as Rural Dean, so, too, is every other church in Bowdon Deanery. Not that any of this ever seems to disturb his invariably cheerful disposition or, as those who have been ill or bereaved will testify, his quiet kindness and com­passion. One can only judge by appearances but it would seem that he is seldom hap­pier than at Family Service when children, whose names he always knows, come for­ward to help him with his visual aids. They love it, and they may well become the par­ishioners, PCC, Churchwardens and (who knows) clergy who will be taking St. Peter's into its second century.

It has been said that, as Christians, we are to be 'Open to others and open to God’. We could wish for no finer example.

Fifty years ago, Charles Jones concluded the Annual Report. In tribute to him and to all who have contributed to the making of St. Peter's, here is what he wrote. No words could more fittingly bring our first century to a close.

‘So the tale of a Parish is told, but only partially. The spotlight has played here and there, a few outstanding happenings have been chronicled, tribute born out of affection and respect has been paid by just one superficial observer of the scene.

‘Meanwhile here, as in thousands of other parishes throughout the land, there have gone up and. down the parish clergy, faithfully ministering the eternal things to needy souls and drawing them nearer to God when all other things have been forgotten, theirs is the work which shall never have an end.’