Last month’s ordinations in Wakefield Cathedral were a sharp memory for Canon Tony Macpherson, the Sub Dean there.
For, on the exact same day in the same place, 39 years ago, he was first ordained deacon and now, almost four decades later, he is preparing to say goodbye to the cathedral community, the city, the diocese and the region to serve three parishes in Northumberland.
Wakefield Cathedral has changed a lot in that time. The pews are gone, the stained glass windows bright and newly cleaned, but its inclusive welcoming heart, remains the same and Tony has been at the very core of that.
It is his pastoral ministry that has defined his time throughout his four decades, Tony has never strayed far from Wakefield, a curacy in Morley and Churwell in the early 1980s; rural Penistone from 1983 to 1988, Grimethorpe, just in time for the closure of the pit there in 1993.
Then into the city for St Michael’s, Westgate, from 1995 when he also picked up Chaplain at Wakefield Hospice, Rural Dean and Priest in Charge at St Mary’s, Horbury Junction before arriving at Wakefield Cathedral in 2007 as the Canon Missioner for the old Wakefield Diocese. He was made Sub Dean of the Cathedral in 2015 and was Acting Dean for almost a year until the new dean, the Very Revd Simon Cowling was appointed last September.
“In all those places, I have tried to respond to the needs of people in the communities I’ve been, because I think that’s the place of the church. We talk about Jesus becoming human so that God could share and transform human life; I believe the church is placed in communities to do that same task,” he says.
Tony recalls his first pastpral encounter in 1980 when he had been called to carry out a funeral for a twin that had lived less than two hours. “I remember accompanying her mum to the chapel of rest to look at her baby, and the raw grief of that situation was palpable.
“People might not be overtly Christian but they have suffered a massive trauma, and they just want you there to sit beside them, to listen, and to pray sometimes. Pastoral ministry is a great privilege. Whether it’s the closure of the pits or the day- to-day pastoral situations of visiting the sick or being alongside people who have had a tragedy. It’s all the same.
“People can come into the Cathedral with a great amount of brokenness, anxiety, pain. A lot of what I do is sit, listen and pray. Some will come back and some won’t ever come back. But so be it.”
The Church of England has come a long way in the last four decades – there have been undoubted improvements in people’s understanding of diversity and inclusivity.
Wakefield Cathedral began a ministry for Iranian refugees in 2016 spearheaded by Tony. Since that time the Cathedral community has gained volunteer vergers, welcomers, kitchen assistants and translators. “The church has certainly come a long way; not far enough in my opinion when it comes to same sex relationships, but it is remarkable really. There has been massive change and an opening up of ministry to a much more diverse set of people.”
Tony and his wife Lynne and family are moving to the North East where he will work in the Diocese of Newcastle. It’s what he sees as a noble profession. “And it’s never a one person ministry; I’ve learned that much. It’s all about working together with people, collaborating, sharing.”
He’s excited by this new chapter which helps take the edge off leaving. “That’s what’s hard. It’s the people, you see. I have such a great emotional attachment to this place. It’s been part of my life since 1980.”
Canon Tony’s last service is at 10am this coming Sunday.