Archive for April, 2010

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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Early in the morning a couple of weeks ago Happy, the Vicar’s Apprentice who is also our lodger and all round good thing, was using the computer. He was logged into his Hotmail account, then logged out to do something else.

When he tried to log back in again his password didn’t seem to work. When he went to the fogotten password option, the details he put in didn’t seem to work in order to get him back into his account.

Later Happy’s mobile phone, which hardly ever rings, started to light up like the M5/M6 junction on a Friday afternoon. It was family and friends telling him that they’d received an email, purporting to be from him and sent from his Hotmail account. The email claimed that Happy was stuck in Nigeria and needing funds to get home.

So Happy telephoned everyone he could remember was on his email contact list. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a copy of his email contacts list. He was also able to get put a plea in to Hotmail to change his password back – he contacted them at their Windows Live ID Validation page with his details.

On Saturday Hotmail restored the account to Happy. Since he was away on a conference, I dealt with things for him. From his inbox, I could see that most people had spotted this for a hoax. However, a few friends, who don’t speak English as a first language, were fooled by the panicked sounding email, and offered to help out.

As I read further, I realised that two of Happy’s friends had actually sent money. One was able to put the £50 she sent down to experience – Happy managed to speak to her. However, the second friend sent far more – all her grant money for living on her foreign exchange in fact.

I immediately emailed all Happy’s contacts and told them not to send any money. The girl who’d sent the most money was able to put a stop to the second money transfer she was making. The way in which the hoaxer had manipulated her kindness was awful to read.

When Happy spoke to her last week she thought she might be able to recover the money, but it’s been a stressful road for her.

Once I’d sent the email, we logged out of the account and were immediately locked out again and had to go through the same application to Windows Live in order to regain access, which didn’t happen until a few days after that. Very frustrating!

There are a couple of things that we learnt from this episode that I’d now advise any user of an on-line etherspace account to do:

  • Make a copy of your contacts list. Then if your account is hijacked and your friends asked to send money to Nigeria, you can open another email account and make them aware that it isn’t you!
  • If you are locked out and regain access, don’t log out again until you’ve changed all the password and access information. When we finally got back into the account a second time we saw that Happy’s birthdate and other details (including alternate email address) had been changed.

Happy has now closed his Hotmail account and working at overcoming his phobia about using email. It felt like a real invasion of his privacy – not just the scam, but also the way in which the hoaxer replied to normal emails (like the one about the hymns for the evening services) purporting to be him. The scammer even signed the emails off with Happy’s normal greetings.

I don’t have a copy of all the correspondence (it didn’t seem to copy from the Hotmail account when I forwarded it) but here’s the original email asking for the money:

To: “Happy ” <Happy@hotmail.co.uk>
Date: Thursday, 15 April, 2010, 10:06

How are you doing?hope all is well, I”m sorry that i didn’t inform you about my traveling to West Africa Nigeria concerning the welfare of the coming, 2010 FIFA World Cup that will be coming up in South Africa so am here in Nigeria now for an Urgent Seminar.I need a favour from you as soon as you receive this e-mail because i misplaced my wallet on my way to the hotel where my money is and other valuable things were kept, i will like you to assist me with a loan urgently. I will be needing the sum of 520 pounds to sort-out my hotel bills and get myself back home.I will appreciate whatever you can afford to help me with, i’ll pay you back as soon as i return. Kindly let me know if you can be of help? so that i can send you the details.
Your reply will be greatly appreciated

:* Happy

One friend of Happy’s said she knew it was a scam because he was claiming to be at a World Cup football event. She said she’d might have believed it if he’d been claiming to be at a world cake icing competition (Happy has a background in catering)!

I decided to post this today (it’s been sitting in my drafts file for a while) because someone I follow on Twitter just had their Hotmail account hijacked but managed to get back in pretty quickly. The Windows Live team took more than the promised 24hrs to get back with access details for Happy’s account because they are very busy just now. It could happen to you soon….

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A few things I saw on my trip to the local shops just now, 4pm on a sunny Thursday afternoon:

  • The white lady behind me in the Asian supermarket bought a four pack of Scrumpy Jack cider, a bottle of wine, a small bottle of vodka and some mouthwash. I worried about her liver.
  • The kids from a family from school all dressed up in their best Asian clothes were trooping off to mosque. ‘Hello miss’ they called to me. I count as a teacher because I read with a couple of them in school.
  • A black lady in her dressing gown and what looked like her daughter, sitting on plastic chairs right by the pavement in their tiny front garden, enjoying a glass of orange juice.
  • My kids and a whole multi-cultural group of local friends all mucking about on the church’s playground,  squealing happily. Beautiful.

How are you enjoying the sunshine?

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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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It’s been a bit of a doorbell day here at the Vicarage. They are always brought on by sunshine. Kids calling for our kids, and neighbours calling with news.

Ding dong. Is the Vicar in? Or his wife?

I was asked to call the out-of-hours doctor for Glamourpuss, who was laid up in severe pain and without any credit on her phone. Later, other parishioners ring the doorbell and keep me updated – she has been called back by NHS Direct… the ambulance is on its way… there she goes off to hospital with suspected DVT.

Then, as the kids are off to bed and we’re hoping for a bit of a chilldown, the doorbell goes again. It’s Lostboy, a lad with learning difficulties, who is almost impossible to understand. He’s on his scooter and I think he’s asking where the Vicar is, but I’m not sure. I tell him where the Vicar is (upstairs, putting his children to bed) and he seems to be happy. He’s called round daily for the past few days. Hopefully he’ll find what he’s after.

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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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Now that Gordon Brown has finally called the General Election, I thought I should share this with you. Grumpy Grandpa sent me a pic of a third candidate whom he thinks will be standing in our local constituency at the General Election. The decision about who to vote for is getting even more difficult.

The Remove Candidate (Bunter)

Watson (Labour Candidate) and supporters

Tory candidate (Thompson)

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A couple of weeks ago the pink form arrived from the Church Commissioners. This is the form that heralds the arrival of the new tax year, which begins today. I loathe doing the tax – we both have to fill in the forms and I am not a Belbin completer-finisher so I often start it in time and am then frantic at the last deadline as I’ve not quite got it ready.

So here’s a great sketch about doing your tax:

[HT: Bishop Alan, who blogged Dan & Dan’s Daily Mail sketch]

I might ask the government to stop subsidising local councils in their production of pointless glossy brochures.

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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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