A service to mark the beginning of the ministry of our new vicar, the Rev Jan Ashton, was held in St Stephen’s Church, on Tuesday, 29 November, 2016. It was led by the Rt. Revd. Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool and the Ven. Pete Spiers, Archdeacon of Sefton and Knowsley. The service concluded with greetings from Canon Anne Taylor, Area Dean and Mr. Andrew Cox, Deanery Synod Lay Chair, who welcomed Jan and introduced her to representatives of St. Stephen’s and the Hightown community.
The service was followed by a reception for Jan in St. Stephen’s Church Hall, attended by her family, former parishioners, local clergy, well-wishers and friends old and new.
The order of service included a tribute to Jan, which we are delighted to reproduce here:
Jan always imagines God laughing when we think we can predict the future and are sure our plans will come about. Jan's plan was to stay in the north of Kidderminster, where she was happy and settled being a Team Vicar, until she retired. Before that she planned to continue teaching English in a wonderful but challenging secondary school in Oswaldtwistle until retirement and to stay near her much loved Pendle Hill near Blackburn.
Now Jan needs to be nearer her family so plans have had to be changed. Jan's here in flat Hightown but is happily noting she lives next to the only “hill” around! Dad, living alone aged 94, can be visited and two autistic grandchildren in Wavertree can be supported.
Her experience of her expectations going awry started when her four children reached adulthood. Jan had been brought up in the Plymouth Brethren and once married moved to an evangelical church. All four children were well and “successful” growing up but in adulthood one had a baby in her teens, one came out as lesbian and two developed serious mental illness with prolonged periods in hospital. Where was God in all this? Jesus, why weren't you answering my prayers? Where was a Church who would welcome all four of my children? Then came the call to Anglican priesthood and along with this a passion to serve in a church which really does welcome people without needing to sign up to any small print.
Jan is passionate about worshipping God, loving Jesus and following his ways and being filled and inspired by the Holy Spirit. She believes that there is no one “correct” way to worship. “We need to listen to what helps those who wish to come. We need to find ways to encourage those seekers who would like to explore sticky questions: why evil abounds, why bad things happen to good people, is God interested in me? Also, we need to listen with hope to those who are struggling for many different reasons.”
Jan plans (God laughs) to stay here until she retires. She wants to continue reading, writing poetry, loving dogs – “My retired greyhound died on Good Friday so there is a vacancy to fill”, and being pillion on a motorbike nearly as old as her! She looks forward to working together, continuing to build St. Stephen's as a community where we can worship together in different styles, lifting our hearts to the one who loves us, inspires us and calls us to be the people we are meant to be.