5 March, 2015 Daf Meirion-Jones
As I look out on a grey, wet day in Preston I have some sympathy with those who feel that the sunnier climes of Surrey, where I grew up, are more conducive to Gospel ministry! However, I fear that the world would be a much darker place spiritually if, when making the decision about where to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, our brothers and sisters of the past had decided that proximity to parents and the nearest Volvo dealership were important factors.
How did we end up in Preston? The nation’s newest city; old mill town; home to Preston North End (a founding member of the football league); and site of the country’s first motorway, first Kentucky Fried Chicken and first Mormon church. Here are the three key reasons why we ended up here...
In the second year of my curacy I was at a session at a Church Student Ministries conference where we were discussing major university towns and cities where we didn’t know of anyone doing a Biblical ministry aimed at students. As we went round the UK there were many areas of need, mostly in “new” university towns. Preston was one place mentioned; at the time the University of Central Lancashire was the country’s 6th largest university, with 31,000 students. I was just pondering this when a hearty Northern mate said across the room, “And we don’t see many of you Oak Hill boys up north!” This I have since found to be a fallacy; however, it had the desired effect, and I returned home to the glories of Devon to do some research on the darker lands towards the Arctic Circle.
Though I don’t want to use the book of Acts prescriptively, it strikes me that the apostle Paul set about his missionary journeys in a planned way: that is, he went on a circuit of the largest and most influential centres of population to preach the Gospel. When we look at a map of the UK, we must ask ourselves which areas lack Biblical churches, churches that seek to preach God’s word in a culturally relevant way.
My research revealed that the Vicar of All Saints Preston was due to retire the year before I ended my curacy. I mentioned this to our evangelical Archdeacon who promptly told me they were friends and would I like an introduction?
All Saints has been a Reformed Evangelical church since its foundation in 1850. However, since the 1960s it had been shrinking and by 2005 had a congregation of about 50, made up mostly of older people. To cut a long story short, the sovereign plan of Daf intersected with the sovereign plan of God. My predecessor thought I’d be just the sort of person to take things on. Fortunately the Trustees and PCC agreed with him.
All the strategy in the world is useless without the Lord’s blessing. Paul experienced this. Stopped by the Spirit of Jesus from entering Bithynia, a man begged him to go to Macedonia in a vision (Acts 16:7-9). I had no visions, but looking back and seeing God’s sovereign hand taking me here has been an encouragement – especially at times when I’ve wanted to be anywhere but in Preston!
Part of my research involved ringing Justin Mote and David Gibb from the North West Partnership to get their view on the lie of the land. Their support, and that of many others, was vital in helping me make the decision to apply for the post. I knew I was not moving into isolation, but rather I was going to be amongst brothers and sisters, going about the same glorious business of making Christ known. Without their support, then and now, the move North would have been immeasurably harder.
Paul never travelled alone if he could help it. Neither should we.