‘We need to be making a difference and transforming communities’
It feels slightly uncomfortable to describe an Archdeacon of The Church of England as having a wicked sense of humour, but that is definitely one of the many qualities of the departing Archdeacon of Lancaster, The Venerable Michael Everitt.
Among his many memories of his time in Lancashire he recounts several humorous incidents and exchanges: “When I was curate at Cleveleys someone stopped me to congratulate my wife Ruth and I on our second child, and we hadn’t even had our first at that point.
“The lady who spoke to me wasn’t having my gentle denial of the event and said: ‘What do you know about it, you’re only the husband!’
“Then there was a more sinister misunderstanding was when I was in Standish, and very seriously ill with pneumonia,” Michael continued.
“Ruth was stopped in the street by someone who offered their condolences on my death.
“It happened a second time and Ruth was able to compose herself and say ‘well that’s sudden, he was still with us when I left him five minutes ago’!”
Michael is leaving Blackburn Diocese after 27 years of service and taking his sense of humour and his other considerable gifts with him as he becomes Canon Pastor of Durham Cathedral.
His wide experience of ministry, both here in Lancashire and abroad, will be put to full use, as he prepares to take responsibility for the ancient Cathedral’s congregation and heading up the work of ministry to students at the city’s University and Colleges, the Cathedral’s education facilities and library and its important stock of collections.
But he leaves Lancashire with mixed feelings: “I’ve been able to grab most of the opportunities that God has given me here. I loved our three years out in South Africa, loved working with students at St Martins, adored my time as a Rector and enjoyed working across Lancaster Archdeaconry as Archdeacon of Lancaster.
“I certainly leave with a sense of regret, but that is countered by the anticipation of our move to Durham,” he said.
Michael, 50, was born and brought up in Banbury, and studied at Warriner School in Bloxham, Banbury, taking a theology degree at King's College, London, before ordination training at Queen’s College, Birmingham, and a year’s study at the English College in Rome in 1991. He was ordained in 1992.
He is married to Ruth, who teaches French, Spanish and Greek at Oakhill school in Whalley and they have two adult children, James and Rebecca, both students.
Michael’s first job in Lancashire was as Curate at St Andrew’s, Cleveleys, before spending a challenging three years in South Africa as Succentor and then Precentor of Bloemfontein Cathedral in the Free State. From 1998 to 2002 he was chaplain at St Martin's College, Lancaster, before moving to Standish as Rector, taking up an additional role of Priest-in-Charge at Appley Bridge All Saints during a vacancy there.
He was made Area Dean of the Chorley Deanery, before being appointed Archdeacon of Lancaster in 2011.
More recently he also took on the additional post of Vicar of Preston during a period of vacancy.
While Archdeacon, Michael has also Chaired the Diocesan Board of Education, and CIDARI, the Diocese’s Multi-Academy Trust.
Michael said: “It has been a tremendous honour to serve God through Blackburn Diocese and it has been a privilege to serve it over the last eight years as Archdeacon. The Diocese and Lancashire will remain in my daily prayers and close to my heart.”
What were his most significant achievements?
“I think my top achievement is enabling people to know and accept Jesus in their lives, and what a difference in their lives this faith makes.”
Michael continued: “It has been a particular privilege to work with the Diocesan Board of Education, and to work especially with schools, and to see how our work with schools continues to flourish, to see CIDARI find its feet and become an organisation of service to children and to schools and to the wider Diocese.
“I have also greatly valued welcoming people into the body of our church and helping people and parishes in dealing with difficult times and situations.”
Michael says he has had the ‘privilege’ of presenting something like 500 children for confirmation down the years and baptising about a thousand babies as well.
“Supporting families through challenging times has been a real high spot for me,” he added.
Michael’s profound sense of the presence and influence of God’s Holy Spirit in his time here is a lasting and treasured memory: “When I was ordained Deacon, I saw my mother cry for the one and only time in my life.
“Mother was a robust and solid person who rarely showed her emotions in front of others, but she cried at my Deaconing and that was a very powerful moment for me.
“I have also had the privilege of being spiritually involved in so many lives and enabling them to see God at work.
“My time in South Africa saw me ministering to diverse and wounded communities and watching them being transformed to cope with very difficult situations in which, without faith and without a knowledge of the Spirit at work in their lives, people would have crumbled. But they didn’t, they thrived and flourished instead.”
Michael is a man of considerable gifts, in the arts especially. How have helped his ministry?
“One of the most important gifts I identified at a very early age was the gift of the gab! Whilst I might struggle to write things down (my school reports confirm that) I do have a gift to talk the hind legs off a donkey, which for a preacher is a very useful gift indeed!
“Meanwhile drawing and painting has kept me sane! When in South Africa I learned that I was quite good at photography, but that all I could capture was what I could see.
Michael adds: “With painting and drawing, I can capture a bit more of what I feel.
“And the gift of music has been huge for me. If you play in any sort of a band, whether it be a brass band or an orchestra or if you sing in a choir, you learn that you have to adapt what you are doing to others around you, get a multitude of different tunes playing and yet a vibrant, harmonious sound can come forth.
“For me that’s how we engage with scripture and with God. Everything is a mixture of both authorship by God and our own interpretation of what we see and feel. Music has a natural theological connection.
Still on a musical theme Michael added: “I am having two favourites hymns at the farewell service in the Cathedral. One is ‘All My Hope On God Is Founded’. The second is ‘Just As I Am Without One Plea’ which sums up how I view life.
Clergy, of course, find themselves in a variety of houses during their careers.
So, where did Michael and his family felt most at home in Lancashire? “That’s easy,” he says. “It was Standish Rectory. Big enough to use for entertaining and a great family home when the children were growing up. At one stage I can remember 14 people staying with us!”
Michael has been an ardent supporter and advocate of the Diocesan ‘Vision 2026 Healthy Churches Transforming Communities’ since its inception in 2015.
As he leaves, he is unwavering in his support for its principles: “It makes total and utter sense.
“The Church has to strive to be as healthy as possible. The Body of Christ will continue to have its wounds. We need to be making a difference and transforming communities and to be a transformational community ourselves, so that people who come into it become what God always intended them to be, which is in his image and likeness.”
Michael warms to his theme continuing: “How do we live that out? By making disciples, being witnesses and growing leaders in our church family – the key elements of Vision 2026 – which should be a natural consequence of our life together.
“We need to learn that things which we perhaps take for granted are essential, to work on them and get good at it!”
And how does Michael leave the Diocese now compared to what it was 27 years ago when he arrived?
Michael ponders the question and says: “We are a more honest church, we now know what our strengths and our weaknesses are.”
Turning his attention to the future and his hopes for the move to Durham, Michael says: “I was most definitely called to Durham. I’ve been Archdeacon for eight years. I’m not naturally an administrative or legal type, so I have been out of my comfort zone big time.
“I’m interested in people; making our faith personal, in how we engage with the legacy of the faith that we have, in how we connect with students, as well as communities.
“With this new role I will take care of our congregation, the people who we employ and our many volunteers at Durham Cathedral.
“I will work with Durham University and engage with students; and will also work with schools and children, all the while based in a magnificent building with its great history.
“The job is also to look after the medieval libraries and the vestments that St Cuthbert wore, and his Cross. It simply ticked all the Michael Everitt boxes.
There are other bonuses to his new role. Michael explains: “Instead of travelling 12,000 miles a year I will now be based primarily in one historic place.
“My wife Ruth is also excited about the move: sad to leave her school Oakhill of course, but Ruth’s mum comes from the North East so for her we are coming home as a family.”
“I also suspect Ruth is quite looking forward to seeing a little bit more of me in the future, although I can’t second guess her on that!”
Son James is entering into a Masters degree at Durham, and Michael did ask for permission from him before applying for the job!
He jokes: “It will be nice living close to him in Durham, but I don’t think we’ll be stalking the poor lad!”
Daughter Rebecca is about to enter her final year in the Northern Ballet School in Manchester and will be looking for professional dance opportunities after that.
Meanwhile Ruth has got a new job teaching in a school in Newcastle, starting in September; so the family ‘are well set’ according to Michael.
His final thoughts?
Again, Michael pauses for a moment before saying: “So far well done, now let’s concentrate on doing things even better in the future.
“I am preaching in my farewell service on the scripture where Christ describes how much more valuable human beings are than the two sparrows sold for a penny …
“The Church in Lancashire simply needs to realise the value that God places on it and then live up to what God calls it to be.”
Captions for pictures above (from top to bottom)
Archdeacon Michael delivering his final 'Visitation' message recently at St Cuthbert's in Lytham.
Michael with his fellow Archdeacon, the Archdeacon of Blackburn, Mark Ireland.
The Archdeacon with Vice Dean of Durham Cathedral, Michael Hampel at his new 'place of work'.
Archdeacon Michael with the BBC's Fiona Bruce and the Vicar and churchwarden of St John the Baptist in Tunstall, during filming for the popular 'Fake or Fortune?' series - when a painting in the church was discovered to be a £100k treasure
Archdeacon Michael and his family with our three Bishops at his service at St George's in Preston in 2017 to mark his 25 years in ministry.
Michael, wife Ruth and Michael's parents at his ordination in 1992.
Two pictures of Michael and his wife Ruth on the day of their wedding and 25 years later at the same spot when they celebrated their silver anniversary
Feature written by Mark Ashley