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Posts Tagged ‘Mark Ashton’

I get quite a lot of search engine traffic on this blog from searches about the Round Church (aka StAG), where I used to be a member, and where Mark Ashton was the vicar until his death in April.

Today it has been announced that Alasdair Paine, currently Vicar of Christ Church, Westbourne, in Dorset, has been appointed as the new Vicar for StAG. I enjoyed Alasdair’s clear bible teaching on the clergy wives’ conference I attended last spring. He and Rachel and the family will be prayed for in our Vicarage as they head off to Cambridge to take the helm of that wonderful (and somewhat daunting) congregation.

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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 10ofthose.com have published a new book by my old vicar, Mark Ashton. As I have already blogged, Mark died on Easter Holy Saturday from gallbladder cancer. He had known that his illness was terminal for over a year.

On My Way to Heaven is subtitled ‘facing death with Christ’ and in it Mark points to the resurrection of Christ as the place to find confidence as death approaches. Mark wrote it to help Christians facing the final stage of their earthly life and to introduce unbelievers to the hope we can have in Christ.

It’s a short book and is priced at only £1.50 or ten for £10. I’ve just ordered mine. I think it will be a useful resource for many. You can read the text in April’s edition of Evangelicals Now.

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We were back late last night after a wonderful week away, mainly in Scotland with the Vicar’s family, but also visiting old friends and godchildren en route.  Encouragement, laughter and sunshine has refreshed us; taking the kids to their first Melrose Sevens was a particular highlight.

Coming back is a bit different: the Vicar spent 2 hours on his email inbox this morning and I’ve been spending a similar amount of time with the laundry. Oh joys.

Our week has been tinged with gratitude and sadness as we’ve been remembering Mark Ashton, and mild panic as we realised that Mark’s memorial service (actually there are two, but we’re only going once), which we hope to attend next week, coincides with a particularly busy weekend here in the parish.

So I’d better get back to the laundry and start writing the evangelistic talk I’m committed to giving that weekend or I’ll be in even more of a panic this time next week. Hope you’ve had a good Easter break.

[Edit: I have just come across this article published in this month’s Evangelicals Now, in which Mark speaks about facing terminal cancer as a Christian]

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A few other folk have been posting their memories of Mark Ashton around the blogosphere:

June’s edition of Evangelicals Now contains a short obituary from Jonathan Fletcher.

Adrian Warnock has posted Jonathan Carswell’s tribute to Mark.

Roger Pearse remembers Mark as ‘one of the best of men’.

Rachel is also grateful for Mark’s ministry.

Thankful American Episcopalian Philip Wainwright remembers Mark’s commitment to parish ministry.

St Stephen’s Church, where Mark led the youth group in the 1980s pay tribute.

Phillip Sweeting owes Mark ‘a huge debt of thanks’.

Ronnie Stevens remembers Mark as a great preacher, ‘one of those rare impressive men who was wholly unimpressed with himself’.

Steve Tilley is grateful for Mark’s contribution to youth work when he was head of CYFA.

Clifford Swartz in New York pays tribute to Mark’s vitality and faith

Phil Ritchie led on a CYFA venture with Mark and remembers him with thankfulness

The Cambridge Evening News have an item

William Black in Kenya remembers the power of Mark’s preaching

Josiah also remembers Mark’s preaching with gratitude

Gavin McGrath remembers Mark’s patience, care and insight.

David Thomson, Bishop of Huntingdon talks about how Mark’s final months have been lived wholeheartedly in gospel witness. [And gives a tribute.]

John Allister posts an extract from Mark’s letter in a recent church magazine where he talks about getting ready for heaven.

John Richardson recalls Mark’s distaste for church politics.

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A dear friend called us this morning with the news that Mark Ashton had died. Mark, the Vicar of St Andrew the Great (StAG) in Cambridge, was my vicar for more than eight years and married me to my husband. His ministry was hugely influential in my life as it was in the lives of countless others. When I looked around the room at the recent clergy wives’ conference I attended, I saw many who I knew had benefitted from Mark’s clear preaching and humble, energetic leadership.

It was so like Mark to die at a time when his congregation would have their minds turned to the resurrection of the dead. To point people to the Lord Jesus and the hope that is found in him. I’ve been thanking God for Mark’s life and praying for Fiona and the children, the congregation of StAG and the many others who loved Mark, knowing that our God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort (2 Cor 1v3).

I remember very clearly being interviewed by Mark in connection with my leadership of the youth group at the church. I was only 21 at the time, and even more strong-minded than I am now, so you will have to understand that Mark’s word to me went straight to the heart of the matter: ‘You’re proud’ he told me. He was the first person to tell me what I so needed to hear.

A few years later, at my wedding, Mark referred to that interview again. He advised the Vicar that he’d have to be strong to handle me. And he (correctly) told the congregation that at that interview ‘she spent two hours telling me how to run the church’. He knew me well and helped me to know myself and the Lord.

Recently I came across this YouTube clip of Mark talking about his final illness and explaining the gospel, clearly (and loudly) as ever – it makes me smile and helps me to remember why I’m grateful for his ministry:

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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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