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Posts Tagged ‘Fiona Ashton’

The Times newspaper has just published an obituary of Mark Ashton, our much-loved former vicar.

Many people have visited this site in the weeks since Mark died, and if you are looking for reflections on Mark’s life and ministry you may like to read mine or see what others had to say – I’ve collected blog posts from around the world, reflecting the way in which Mark touched so many.

You might also wish to order a copy of Mark’s book ‘On My Way to Heaven’ (you can read the text of the book in Evangelicals Now), or read details (with links to audio and video recordings) of the Thanksgiving Service that took place at StAG. The Ashton Thanksgiving Fund was set up in Mark’s memory – do give if you too benefitted from the ministry of this servant of God.

[Edit: Urban Pastor Richard Perkins has also paid tribute to Mark.]

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A week ago the Vicar and I headed cross county to Cambridge to attend the Thanksgiving service for the life of Mark Ashton, who was my Vicar for 8 years. As so many people were expected, the service was repeated, with refreshments in between – just like Sunday mornings at StAG. We attended the first, which was for those attending from out of town.

We arrived early in Cambridge and visited our house, which we rent out and hadn’t seen for a few years, and the Queen’s godmother and her family, who live a little out of the town centre. On our way to meet the Engineer’s godmum for lunch on Christ’s pieces we walked past the church. A sign on the door said ‘Doors Open at 12.45pm’. A few people were already sitting on the steps waiting to get in. On Christ’s Pieces there were some groups of people grabbing a bite, dressed more smartly than normal for a picnic. A few said ‘hello’ – old friends from Cambridge days, all there to thank God for Mark’s life and show their support for Fiona and the family.

Once in church it quickly filled with many more old friends. People who’d been students when we’d been in the church, others who’d been working in Cambridge, many who’d been ordinands at Ridley Hall. I began to lose count of the number of clergy friends. I turned to one and asked if he could guess how many vicars were there. ‘Count the dog collars’ he suggested and we both laughed. Not a single one in sight, apart from the five (I think) bishops who appeared and sat just in front of us with their purple shirts. They included Timothy Dudley-Smith (former Bishop of Thetford) and Anthony Russell, who was Bishop of Ely when the Vicar went forward for ordination.

The church gradually became very full – I would guess that around 800 folk were there – some were sitting on the steps in the balcony. The seating was arranged differently to a normal Sunday morning, with seats filling the centre of the building in a more traditional ‘facing the front’ set-up. At StAG they usually have the downstairs seating more like the House of Commons, with people facing one another.

The service was filled with thankfulness for Mark’s gifts and godliness and his remarkable ministry. Nathan Buttery, the Associate Vicar, led the service. The Ashton children, Chris, Clare and Nick read from 2 Corinthians 4. Addresses were given by Jonathan Fletcher and Christopher Ash and StAG staff members James Poole, Brian Elphick and Kay Dawson led the prayers. The hymns were ‘And Can It Be’, ‘Jesus the Name High Over All’ and ‘Thine Be the Glory’. Emma White sang a solo ‘It is not death to die’, a song you can find on the Come Weary Saints album from Sovereign Grace Music. The whole service as recorded on video and in audio and you can find it on the StAG website.

Moments I remember especially included Jonathan Fletcher speaking about God’s mercy in saving Mark from his privileged background and how Mark was known as ‘Captain of Everything’ at school. Christopher Ash recalled how Mark was humbly able to plant churches out from his congregation with no strings attached, not building an empire around himself. Also mentioned in one of the addresses (I forget which one) was Mark’s response to someone who asked about how God could use someone from a lowly background in his service:

The only way God can use someone from a privileged background is when they have been deeply humbled.

Leaving the service, we were encouraged to take a copy of Mark’s book ‘On My Way to Heaven’ where he wrote about the Christian hope in the face of death.  As we already had some on order we didn’t pick one up. Out of our order of ten we only have five left. We were also able to register our interest in giving to the Ashton Thanksgiving Fund – do have a look at that if you too have benefitted from Mark’s ministry.

I don’t think I’ve met Mike Kendall but he was also at the service and has blogged about it too.

Mark had planned the service before he died, wanting those who attended to be pointed to the Lord he served. His service planning was very effective. I came away challenged and encouraged in my faith in our God who raises the dead and whose glory matters more than anything. I am so thankful to have known this humble and remarkable servant of God.

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Today I’m beginning a little series about Sunday lunches in our Vicarage. I’m planning to post some recipes and photos and everything. But for today I want to just talk about who comes to lunch.

We have found that Sunday lunch is a great opportunity to offer hospitality and get to know people in the congregation. Although folk in the inner city don’t really do dinner parties, people are very happy to come over for a meal after church.

I can't promise beef every Sunday

I can't promise beef every week

Ever since I lived and worked in Cambridge in my twenties, my Vicarage Sunday lunch model has been the amazing meals served up by Fiona Ashton, (wife of Mark, vicar of StAG). Every week (it seemed) about 15 people joined the family for lunch, with a full roast and at least three puddings. I only went a couple of times – in a church of over 700 people I was just delighted to be asked. I’m not sure how Mark and Fiona organised their guest list either, but it was wonderful to be able to meet a real mix of people, as well as spend time with the Ashtons.

When we moved to our Vicarage, we decided we would try to be vaguely systematic and invite (over time) everyone on our church’s electoral roll (71 people). So far (six months in) I think we’re about a third of the way through. Of course, we’ve had a few Sundays off, a few with local friends, a few with visiting family and a couple of Sunday afternoon open houses (with tea and cake) when we first arrived. And yesterday the bishop came over with his family. We also try and invite newcomers if we can. One of the reasons that we settled in our church in Malaysia was the wonderful hospitality offered to us on our first Sunday there.

Sometimes it’s just one family who comes over, other times we manage a mix of people. Our table is not quite large enough for Ashton-sized gatherings but often there are ten or more people squeezed in. We can have more folk when the weather is good and we can sit in the garden.

I love our Sunday lunches and our kids enjoy meeting a wide range of people. The Queen is great at being hospitable and specialises in taking snacks round as I panic with the gravy at the last minute. The boys specialise in eating up quickly and wanting pudding. I hope they keep enjoying them as they get older, as I see these lunches as an important part of our ministry here – one that all the family can share in.

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