ANDY Shaw is still not sure how – or even why – he became Father Shaw of Fleetwood, brand new MBE, Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
Or how he’s gone from being a full-time civil servant with an interest in church and community affairs to becoming a part time civil servant ... and a full-time priest last summer.
“I am an ordained priest but only spend a couple of days doing church things, much of it pastoral, but hard as it is to explain, you are never off duty as a priest. You can’t be a part-time priest. You simply are a priest.”
Andy was raised a Catholic, but ordained last July, in the Anglican high church tradition, starting out at his local church, Christ Church, Thornton, but now serving St Peter’s and St David’s churches in Fleetwood, separate churches sharing Father John Hall.
Fr Andy admits: “I couldn’t have a better boss. Fr John’s inspirational. He’s given me free rein on the pastoral front. We’re making things happen.
“I never thought myself good enough for the priesthood. I became a licensed reader, lay ministry, in 2003, not so much a calling as a chipping away by others.
“I put myself through the process of selection for ordination training partly because I was called to it, but also because I thought if they turn me down, it gets me off the hook.
“I didn’t get rejected so did my training in practical theology part-time over three years. My wife Judith and two daughters Emily and Rebecca were fantastic. I’d have never got through it otherwise.
“I also have two sons by a previous marriage. One of my happiest duties, after being fully ordained in July, was to conduct the wedding for one.”
The course finished in 2010.
“You go to your first parish as a deacon for a year, then as a fully-ordained priest for three years. I’ve got two and a half years of that to go here.”
Fr Andy, who lives in Thornton, has a face that fits right in.
“I’ve been told I look more like a nightclub bouncer than a priest,” he admits.
“It’s strange what happens when you put the dog collar on. I often wear my clericals. It gives a presence, you don’t change but people see you differently.
“Fleetwood is a fantastic place. I have seen so many towns where industry has failed and there’s an air of depression, but Fleetwood has all the reasons in the world to be depressed but isn’t. The spirit here is brilliant, I have never for a moment felt anything other than welcome.
“My ordination as a deacon took place in Blackburn Cathedral, but my ordination as a priest took place in St Peter’s, which was marvellous. More folk could attend, we had the buffet at St David’s and it all felt so natural, like a homecoming. Now we have started getting some things going particularly with local schools: Fleetwood High now worships at our church, and brings its band.
“I meet young people, chat to the kids, and see how close knit and supportive they are, kids look out for each other here.
“Everybody knows everybody and people don’t just go to the nearest church, they travel the length of Fleetwood to go to their favourite. I see my role as out there in the community. The sacrament, service, worship is important, but on its own a waste of time unless you’re reaching out; and visiting and talking to people; turning up at activities, whether running a stall at a fair, or sitting down having a cuppa with someone.
“That gives you a real understanding of what wearing a dog collar is all about.”
He plans to use the newly acquired initials MBE, awarded for services to the community over the last 18 years, sparingly. “At first, I thought it was a wind-up, but the envelope had Cabinet Office on it. I must have re-read it four times.
“You’re asked if you are prepared to accept the honour. I thought of all the people who do loads of stuff and don’t get recognised. It feels strange but very nice to be singled out.
“It’s a long process for those involved. I was kept in the dark until the end. My wife was asked to help out with the citation after the nomination and kept it secret for 18 months.
“I accepted because trite as it sounds, it validates everything we are doing here, the sort of stuff we want others to do; care enough to make a difference.
“It’s an honour but it’s one to share. The church is changing, it’s not the Vicar of Dibley country parson image, although TV’s Rev is more accurately observed. The message remains the same, but the means of delivering it needs to be adapted. So many people are looking for something right now.
“I believe the answer is staring them back in the face – they just haven’t realised there’s so much people with Christian faith can and should do. Essentially the world needs to be loved.”