'Called to Serve'

The stories of the ordinands of St Faith's, Great Crosby

Myles Cooper Davies

I cannot remember when the thought of ordination started for me, but it was certainly when I was still a child. My father died after a long illness when I was 8, and when I was about 10, I decided I would much prefer to go to Church, at St Philip’s in Litherland, rather than go to Sunday School. The clergy there became something of a role model for me, and I soon became convinced that this was what God wanted me to do with my life. My Confirmation when I was 14 was an important moment in my coming to faith, and even more, a few days later, my first Communion. From this time on, the Eucharist grew in importance for me, but St Philip’s followed the usual pattern of Evangelical parishes in those days, with Holy Communion taking place only once a month at the main morning service, and a weekly celebration at 8am.

From school at Merchant Taylors’ I knew a number of people who belonged to St Faith’s, and as I moved into the Sixth Form I decided to come to St Faith’s myself. This was in the early years of Fr Charles Billington’s ministry, when many new things were starting to happen. But I remain grateful for everything which St Philip’s had given me, not least an abiding love for the words of the Book of Common Prayer. I love to celebrate the Prayer Book Eucharist, and as I do so I hear in my memory the cadences of the voice of the Revd Geoffrey Taylor, then Vicar of St Philip’s.

Slowly and not always easily, God opened the doors for ordination to happen. Canon Basil Naylor, the Director of Ordinands, decided that I should be sponsored for a Selection Conference when I was 19, in the aftermath of my failing some of my University exams at Durham. The result was that I was ordained at the youngest possible age of 23, after spending three very happy years at theological college in Salisbury.
I went as curate to St Mary the Virgin, West Derby, a marvellous and busy parish with a strong choir and a large number of baptisms, weddings and funerals. I recall a Saturday in August one year when we had six weddings, on the hour, and we had already done two weddings and a funeral the day before! So it was a great place to learn how to do all the pastoral aspects of being ordained.

There were lots more clergy then, including curates, but it is hard now to think back to when all of us were male. West Derby had four of us on the staff, including Deaconess Lena Prince, who taught me so much about pastoral ministry. It was Lena’s ministry which convinced me that God was calling the church to open ordained ministry to women, and later on when she retired, she became honorary curate at St Anne, Stanley during my time as Vicar. It was a great blessing that her hobby in retirement was parish visiting! I had the wonderful privilege of preaching when she presided at the Eucharist for the first time in 1994, for which she had waited for nearly forty years, and again at her Funeral Eucharist in 2012.

After my curacy, I returned to Crosby and Seaforth for the next six years. Fr Peter Goodrich was then both Vicar of St Faith’s and Priest in charge of St Thomas, Seaforth within an informal Group Ministry which included St Mary, Waterloo Park and Christ Church Waterloo, as well as St Andrew’s United Reformed Church and Waterloo Baptist Church. I became the curate, with specific responsibility for St Thomas, Seaforth. The church building had closed, and we worshipped in the church hall, and soon after my arrival, we created a lovely prayerful chapel on the stage of the hall which seated about a hundred people. We prayed in it each day, and it became much loved. St Faith’s people were wonderfully supportive, and I had the great blessing of having my mother and grandmother come to share the Vicarage with me. On Sundays our services were timed so that it was possible to be at both St Thomas’s and St Faith’s, so I was often able to preside or preach at St Faith’s alongside our services at Seaforth. After three years, the Waterloo and Seaforth Group Ministry came into being formally, and as a consequence I became the Vicar at St Thomas’s for the second part of my time there.

During the Seaforth years, I was also invited by the Bishop to become the Assistant Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO), and as part of a team, I looked after those who were exploring their sense of call from the Liverpool Archdeaconry, handing them on to the DDO at the point when they were ready to go to a Selection Conference.

In 1984, I left Seaforth to become Vicar of St Anne, Stanley in the Old Swan area of Liverpool, and I remained there for 27 years. St Anne’s was very like St Faith’s in many ways, with a strong sense of community, where people cared and looked out for each other very deeply. They supported me in the work with Ordinands, and when I was asked by Bishop David Sheppard to become DDO in 1994, they were delighted, as I made it clear both to them and to the Bishop at that stage that it was my intention to stay there as long as I was DDO.

I have always loved the music of the Church and have long believed that it is one of the ways in which God brings people to faith. Both at West Derby and at St Anne’s the choir was a hugely important part of our parish life together, and, along with serving at the altar, a marvellous way of involving young people in the life and worship of the Church. I thought that I would be a Parish Priest until I retired.

In 2005, two great changes happened for me. I felt the time was right after 12 years as DDO for someone else to bring fresh vision into this important role. Our neighbours at St Paul, Stoneycroft, another church built and endowed by Douglas Horsfall, had been without a Vicar for two years, and I offered to become Priest in charge. In the same month that I was licensed, the role of Canon Residentiary at the Cathedral was advertised, as the Bishop and the Chapter wished to include a serving Parish Priest as a member of the Chapter. I applied for this and was appointed. It was good to have the variety of ministry, not least on Sundays, when I would be in the Cathedral about one week in three, with a Cathedral colleague offering cover in the parishes, and the other two weeks with business as usual in the two parishes.

St Paul’s had a major restoration programme underway and during the six years I was with them, we completed two stages of work with grant funding from English Heritage. For my last three years there, I was Vicar of the United Benefice of St Anne with St Paul.

When the post of Canon Precentor became vacant, I did not apply as we had a new curate in the parish and it would have been quite wrong to consider leaving her without her training incumbent. However when an appointment was not made, Bishop James, Dean Justin (as he was then) and I found a means of me becoming Precentor whilst remaining Vicar of the parishes for a further couple of years. This lasted until Dean Justin moved to be Bishop of Durham in October 2011, when at last I became full time at the Cathedral and Acting Dean for a year. For the first time in almost 30 years, I found myself with just one job, even if it was looking after a Cathedral!

The Precentor is the person accountable to the Chapter for everything concerning worship: the music and the choir, the orders of service, the Cross Guild, the stewards, the flower team, the bell ringers, the Passion Play team. In addition as Vice Dean, I also deputise for the Dean on several occasions, and look after the Cathedral Company Committee which is there to reflect the concerns of the Cathedral congregation. Since earlier this year, I represent the Cathedral on the Rodney Street Association and Love Canning who are concerned about the local environment immediately around the Cathedral.
Worship is the Church’s shop window as it is where most people have their first encounter with the Church, so it really does matter. I believe that effective Liturgy has the power to bring us very close to God and to bring people to faith. Poorly prepared or badly presented Liturgy has the power to do precisely the opposite!

Among the memorable moments during my time at the Cathedral have been great occasions such as the Battle of the Atlantic with HRH the Princess Royal, and two which I remember with particular pleasure are the service when we commemorated the May Blitz, and Daniel Bishop, the Associate Organist and I created a soundscape which recalled the sounds which the city must have heard in 1941. The great moment of that service was to see everyone, including very senior clergy and VIP guests swaying along and joining in with Dame Vera Lynn as we all sang “We’ll meet again…” There wasn’t a dry eye in the house! And there was a wonderful service for the anniversary of the Coronation, when the Probationers, the youngest members of the choir, had about ten processions carrying the Crown Jewels, including a Crown -  which fooled quite a few of our visitors  - from the west end to the High Altar. The children must have walked miles in that service and I’m sure they all slept well that night!

Weekday Choral Evensong on a dark winter’s evening when there are just a few of us in the Cathedral with the most lovely music and the timeless words of the Book of Common Prayer are also very special, particularly for me the psalms.

I reached my 40thanniversary of ordination in September 2015, and it was good to celebrate this in the Cathedral, at the very altar where I had been ordained, and later that day in St Margaret of Antioch, Toxteth, yet another Horsfall church!  A highlight of the service was for me to give flowers to my mother once again, and to give her God’s blessing, just as I did the first time I presided, forty years ago, and to thank her for being at my side for a great deal longer than 40 years.

October 22nd, 2015

The list of  ordinands