Thursday, 19 September 2019

New parish priest arrives after 26 years in America

New parish priest arrives after 26 years in America

THE new priest-in-charge of Nettlebed says he is fulfilling an ambition to work in a rural ministry. 

Rev Mark Ainsworth, 55, has spent the last 26 years in parishes in America.

He was officially licensed by the Bishop of Dorchester Rt Rev Colin Fletcher at a packed St Bartholomew’s Church on Tuesday last week.

He succeeds Rev Brendan Bailey, who retired in 2017 after about 18 years, and will also be responsible for Highmoor, Bix, Pishill, Rotherfield Greys and Nuffield.

Rev Ainsworth, 55, who grew up in Chorley Wood, has come from Wyncote, Pennsylvania, together with his wife Claudia, who is from California and used to be an estate agent.

The couple met at a university lecture and they were married in 1991.

Rev Ainsworth went to King’s College, London, and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, before becoming a deacon in 1989 and being ordained a priest in 1990.

He served as assistant curate in the parish of Chipping Barnet in the St Albans diocese from 1989 to 1993.

He then moved to America, serving as assistant rector at the Washington Memorial Chapel in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, for two years followed by three years as assistant and associate rector at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Philadelphia, before moving to his last post as rector at All Hallows Church in Wyncote.

Rev Ainsworth said he first thought about a career in the church at a young age. 

“I did sense that God was calling me,” he said. “Some of my experiences growing up in a large youth group and parish helped me sense God’s presence in my life.

“I also did some work with the homeless in central London and those factors all came together and gave me a sense of what I should do.” Rev Ainsworth said he moved to America because he wanted a new experience.

He said: “I went out there for two years initially but that became longer. I wanted to experience something in my wife’s country and do something a little different but there is an old proverb which says ‘we make our plans and God laughs’. I had given all that I could and sensed that it was time to look for another post.

“After 26 years in America, we were looking in both countries  and the door just seemed to open wider and clearer here. My wife was very supportive in the decision to come back to England and, in fact, she was clearer about it than I was.”

Rev Ainsworth was put in touch with the area bishop through a friend when he applied for the Nettlebed post.

He said: “I had always wanted to work in rural ministry and I knew the region a little, growing up on the other side of the Chilterns. I felt comfortable here as soon as I came to the interview.

“I also liked the challenge of being in smaller churches and moving around — I have five churches to look after — so it is very much a fresh challenge. I also love the English countryside.”

He has given two services since he returned to England four weeks ago.

Rev Ainsworth said: “Peoplehave been very welcoming and understanding of our circumstances having to reacclimatise after 26 years — even opening a bank account is difficult.

“The church buildings are in delightful settings and people really care about them. There is a great spirit of volunteerism.

“The church was full for my licensing and the liturgy was moving, particularly the bishop’s blessing. It was just wonderful to see so many people there.”

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