This very day 150 years ago Rev W H Boulton, Rector of Aughton, was getting very excited.
For in just 16 days time Rt Rev Reverend William Jacobson, the Lord Bishop of Chester, is to lay the foundation stone for a brand new church at the far end of his parish.
I know because one of the tasks facing me today is to finalise our plans for the 150th commemoration of this event. The bonus for me is that I have the internet.
But as we will see it was a huge technological revolution which necessitated the building of Christ Church Aughton.
For this story is very much a template of how God works, mirroring our experience of building the Ministry Centre
And it starts slowly.
On becoming Rector in 1834 Rev W H Boulton (I have yet to discover his Christian names) found the ancient parish of Aughton a small but prosperous rural parish.
However, what changed everything was the building of the Liverpool, Ormskirk and Preston Railway in 1849 with a station at Town Green. Now Preston and Liverpool – even Chester – were in easy access.
Vision usually takes awhile to form as God by his Spirit works in our minds. We begin to notice things are changing. We start to think “What if.”
Certainly Mr Boulton became aware that the population of Aughton was beginning to grow and grow quickly. The parish church was now not only too small but in the wrong place. Quite possibly – my experience – someone said something to him and this set him thinking.
But vision takes time. The temptation is to get things going without clarity, to start too soon. We try to hurry God up.
Suddenly and maybe unexpectedly an opportunity occurs in 1865. One acre of land at Aughton Moss becomes available and wonderfully Edward Houghton, of Lytham, offers to buy this for the new church and later, a school.
Here is an opportunity to be grasped. At this point WHB has to move very quickly.
And he does. He sends out a circular arguing the case for a new church. The parish church is too small; the parish population is growing rapidly
“It has accordingly been determined that immediate exertions should be used to build a new church for about 400 persons.”
This is one of those moments that God has to hurry us up to seize the day. As management guru Tom Peters wryly observes: “If a window of opportunity appears, don’t pull down the shade.”
The Rector is now a roll. For within just two years the foundation stone is laid. But he takes a risk. The estimated cost of this new church is £6000 but only £4000 has been collected.
If God says go, you go. “Faith means taking risks,” writes Rick Warren. “You don’t know exactly what God’s going to do in the end, but you know he’s asking you to step out in faith.”
But building for the Kingdom of God also means opposition and heartache. There will be testing times.
And Mr Boulton was tested. The project ran out of cash.
By 1871 the church had been completed outside but inside was just a empty shell. And now the rector was taking flak. He had to handle a deputation of parishioners demanding plan B. The Ormskirk Advertiser suggests Lord Derby arbitrates.
And most painful of all. A poem is widely circulated, “St Long Lane.” The brain child of
the Rev W H Boulton is gently mocked. The seventh of the eight stanzas reads:
weird-like influence to her walls pertain :
Where feathery songsters pipe themselves to rest,
The only choristers of St. Long Lane.
However as the apostle Peter knew, such testing times are part and parcel of following Christ. “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12).
Mr Boulton kept at it despite stiff opposition. I don’t know how but the money was raised. His perseverance was honoured.
Wonderfully on 4 May, 1877 the Bishop of Chester is back, this time for the consecration of Christ Church as a chapel-of-ease. That means all debts have been paid.
Vision, opportunity, action, testing, perseverance and celebration: God’s modus operandi. So do join us for our celebration on Mothering Sunday, 26 May.