Rev Canon Ed Saville has just retired from the role of Lead Officer for Social Responsibility for The Church of England in Lancashire – a role that has made him a well-known face across the county in many different contexts. Profile by MARK ASHLEY.
IT came as a real shock to the Labour members of Hyndburn Council when their leader, Councillor Ed Saville, stood up at a group meeting and announced his resignation … to join the ranks of the clergy.
Ed, who at the time in 1987 was a lecturer in maths and computing at Accrington and Rossendale College, recalls that ‘it came as a bit of a surprise for the other members of the group…’
For Ed, it was a decision that had been brewing for some time. He was elected onto the Hyndburn Council after moving to Accrington with his wife Pam in the late 1970s, rising through the ranks to become the Leader of the Council.
But in 1987 he made the decision to seek ordination and took a three-year part-time course to train as a priest.
“There was no Damascus road blinding flash in my decision,” he says. “It was more like a constant nagging at my conscience.”
I spoke to the Vicar of our church at the time, Rev Ted Angus, at All Saints in Clayton-le-Moors, and started the ball rolling from there.”
The decision to train for the priesthood coincided with an offer to become a Labour candidate for Parliament in a safe seat in Manchester, but Ed’s mind was made up.
Ed was born in Davyhulme and brought up in Eccles and then Carlisle, where he began a teaching career in maths and science at a private school in the city.
He went to Bretton Hall College near Wakefield on a three-year teacher training course,
“It was a wonderful three years there: I was taught how to educate young people rather than teach them,” Ed explains.
Below, Ed pictured with all three Bishops of the Diocese – Bishop Julian, Bishop Philip and Bishop Jill - plus old and current colleagues on his last day in the job
He also met his wife Pam at Bretton Hall, and the couple were married in 1972, as Ed’s teaching career began back in Carlisle; teaching at a school in Harraby for three years.
Then came a move south to Accrington to take up a post at St Christopher’s School, followed by a move to Accrington and Rossendale College to teach maths and computing.
Side by side with his teaching, Ed’s interest in politics led him eventually to election as a councillor and ultimately the leadership of the Labour group on Hyndburn Council.
Meanwhile, he and Pam enjoyed their growing family - two sons, Richard and David - but the nagging call to the ministry during this time was persistent.
“The selection process was hard work,” says Ed, “culminating in a national selection conference for three days in Chester: I spent three intense days there being grilled, which was an experience in itself!”
Ed trained for the priesthood in Carlisle, spending three years travelling from Lancashire up to Carlisle every Wednesday.
“I was really blessed: I never hit any bad weather driving over Shap on the M6 in the whole three years!”
Ed’s first curacy was close to home in Accrington and the family pitched up in the curate’s house of St John’s and St Augustine’s, on the Huncoats estate; a tough area to live and work in at that time.
“The house was in fact a council house that I had approved for sale to the parish when I was council leader!” said Ed. “Clearly there was no question of a conflict of interest as the sale had taken place some years before!”
“We spent an interesting three years in the parish, dealing with all the ups and downs that you would expect in a curate’s life. I did find too that families started to come to church that I knew from my previous work as an elected councillor and council leader.
Pictured right, in 2018, Ed, with Bishop Julian, launched the local end of the national ‘Clewer Initiative’, combatting modern slavery in relation to reporting suspicious behavior at car washes
“All of my work as a minister has been what I call relational: if you build up the right relationships with people, they will come along to learn more about faith and the church.
“If you get the relationships right, then people will trust you and where trust is built there is hope for evangelism.”
Then came two years at Standish St Wilfrid’s, working with the now retired Canon Paul Warren, during which time Ed provided valuable insights into the finances of the parish church.
“At my licensing as curate by the then Bishop of Burnley, Paul exalted me to enjoy myself at St Wilfrid’s, especially the following two weeks … as he was setting off on holiday the next day: so it was a real baptism of fire!”
“That period also gave me my first experience of the dreaded Death Watch Beetle, which we discovered had attacked the roof timbers.
The Standish community rallied round and the thousands needed to fix the roof were raised locally – a great effort by the parish, according to Ed.
Other achievements in Standish included setting up the ‘Adults, Babies and Children Club’ in Standish, another long term success which still meets to this day in the parish hall there.
But another change for Ed and his family was in the offing …
“I moved to St Luke’s Brierfield as parish priest in 1995 and one of the first things I did was replicate the Standish ABC club in what is known now as ‘Come and See’. That group is also still running and still attracting families to the Brierfield church, with a large Sunday School thriving there as well.”
Pictured left, Ed with one of his many inter-faith contacts in the region – Mohammed Ali Amla
Meanwhile Ed’s interest in the subject of social responsibility started to develop.
“I was invited to a Diocesan church housing conference; ending up on the board of social responsibility where I stayed for years.”
Ed’s involvement deepened when he took up a part-time post for the Diocese of Blackburn; focusing on racial justice.
Eventually he was asked head up a new-look social responsibility team. This led to a two-year period of juggling parish duties with putting together the new team. He subsequently became full-time leader of the team in 2011.
Ed’s vision was simple: “I wanted to get every parish involved with social responsibility in some way that is within their grasp.”
“I can’t find many examples in the Bible where Jesus says: come into the synagogue or the temple and I’ll tell you why you should do things. But I can find plenty of examples in the Bible where Jesus is actually out there doing things, with the despised, rejected and poor.”
Ed has seen the number of projects, causes and organisations supported by The Church of England in Lancashire greatly increase in his time, including Together Lancashire (a joint venture partnership between the Anglican Church, The Methodist Church and the Church Urban Fund); as well as a number of individual projects like St Phillip’s Family Centre in Nelson and support for The Clewer Initiative, aimed at combating modern day slavery.
Over the years, Ed has also played an important role in the Diocese’s inter-faith relations work and was even the key officer liaison for the Diocese in relation to emergency planning; working with other stakeholders across the region.
There are also examples of ‘word of mouth impact’ of Ed’s work.
He explains: “I was approached by a Primary Care Trust that heard of our work with prisoners in jail and offered us a budget to help improve the health and welfare prospects in a bid to improve the lot of people coming out of prison … and their families.”
“That led to another project helping women leaving custody; alongside the Probation service in Lancashire and, still further, to a relationship with Lancashire Police helping people who were being held in police cells for short periods of time to stop re-offending.”
“When I took the job my thought was ‘this desk is the desk nobody else wants, where all the paperwork lands that nobody else wants to deal with’!
But the impact today is clear to see.
In 2017, on the ‘national statistics for mission’ produced by The Church of England, Blackburn Diocese is now above average on every measure relating to what the church is doing with regard to social action.
They are statistics of which Ed is rightly proud: “We’ve helped to ensure social action gets established in parishes and communities all over Lancashire.
And so now, what of the future? A well-earned rest is surely on the cards for a man who has spent a good chunk of his life helping others?
Not so fast! Ed cannot countenance full-blown retirement: he plans to keep busy, including helping The Clewer Initiative spread into Cumbria in the next few months.
But the biggest beneficiary of his newly free time will be his wife; as Ed – a keen twitcher – and Pam, are planning several bird watching expeditions and caravan trips in the months and years ahead. Meanwhile, the couple plan to move from Brierfield to Burnley this year.
Ed concludes: “I can’t see me stopping: my head simply won’t do that. I will undoubtedly slow things down and there will be things that I will stop doing but there are plenty of things I haven’t done yet; so when this particular ticket runs out, can I have another one please?!”
Feature written by Mark Ashley