‘It’s like a big family in Melton and it will be very difficult leaving it behind’
He’s played a leading role in the Melton community for more than a dozen years but Rev Kevin Ashby is preparing to say a sad farewell.
His time as rector of the Melton Mowbray Team Parish has coincided with the biggest makeover of the historic St Mary’s Church in the last two centuries.
Rev Ashby had to cope with the building being closed for a year in 2017 while heating was installed, lighting was upgraded, flooring was levelled, toilets were put in and a whole host of other features were added in a monumental near £2million project.
And last year he faced the enormous challenges of continuing his ministry during a pandemic, giving services online and maintaining links with many elderly people who were confined to home.
On May 1 next year, Rev Ashby will take his final service in St Mary’s as he prepares for retirement with wife, Alyson, and spending more time with his three daughters - all of whom he personally married - and his six grandchildren.
I spoke at length to him this week about the highlights of his time in Melton and the wrench it will be for him to leave a parish he clearly loves.
NICK RENNIE: Why have you made the decision to leave a job you obviously enjoy so much?
REV KEVIN ASHBY: I could have retired last July but there was still so much to do here and so many things to take forward.
But now I’ve come to the point where it’s time to take a step back. We are looking to move not a million miles away because my children and grandchildren all live nearby. I have to have a six-month break because that is the law of the land but after that I will be helping out at local churches and making myself useful. I will be doing something which I really enjoy doing, which is the pastoral side of things.
NR: How difficult will it be for you when you give that final service in May?
KA: It definitely wil be emotional. You put roots down in a place. We’ve got very involved, not only with things to do with the church.
Also with the local council, the schools, with groups and organisations. So we really feel that this is home.
We are effectively leaving home for another home.
NR: What are the changes you’ve seen since 2009, when you started at St Mary’s?
KA: My predecessor had been her for 14 years and had done a great job. There were all kinds of doors that were already open and I was able to walk through them. A lot of new things have started during my time. One of the main things is our Saturday morning at St Mary’s event.
Last month we had over 300 people of all ages come along to that. I’ve seen things like the Christmas Tree Festival grow and develop. That’s a chance to meet so many new people. It puts Melton at the centre of a map for a short while.
Then there is my involvement in things like the pie awards and the cheese awards, and so on. It’s been a real privilege actually to be part and parcel of what we’ve found to be a very warm and welcoming community.
NR: The Re-Ordering scheme was a huge project for St Mary’s - would you say it has made a big difference to the way the building is used?
KA: That was absolutely amazing and so important for the future. The reason we did the work on the church was to make the building more accessible and useful for the wider community and it has proven to be the case. Events and concerts are beginning to come back now and it really is a special place for the town.
NR: What impact has the pandemic had and has it changed the way you do things as a church?
KA: The online services we’ve been able to give from St Mary’s were important for people during the lockdowns and the important thing is they’ve not dropped off since things go more relaxed.
It’s providing people who are housebound or who are away on holiday with an opportunity to still join in the worship.
We have members who are very elderly and can’t get out and who are living with relatives and they join in when we have services on Sunday.
On Christmas Day we will be pre-recording a service for people who can’t come to church, who are having family over but would like a service.
The church being able to stream things like Remembrance has been very important as well.
We haven’t got a built in streaming service at St Mary’s at the moment but it is something we are looking at bringing in.
It will be useful for funerals as well.
NR: Have things changed markedly during your time at St Mary’s and can you give some examples please?
KA I mentioned the Saturday morning sessions which attract the younger ones into church and we also have a Tiny Tots Service now as well.
We work very closely with the other denominations now. We are doing a service on Boxing Day which will be pre-recorded and that will from the Churches Together organisation. Being part of that relationship has been very important to me.
I am also invited to lots of things that rectors in other parishes do not get invited to, such going into schools, doing the prayers at council meetings and being involved in the Mayor-making. I’ve not had to go and knock on doors, people have come to me and asked me to do things. Being seen as part of the Melton community in this way has been a real privilege, as has being involved in the happy and sad occasions in people’s lives at baptisms, weddings and funerals.
NR: Do you see your role changing dramatically over the next decade for whoever succeeds you?
KA: The Bishop is currently working on a new strategy for the diocese to see how the church can move things forward, in terms of how we can better serve the community. Fairly soon conversations will begin to take place on how the ministry in Melton and the villages will be taken forward in a new direction.
Most of my ministry has been in market towns like Melton. I was curate at Market Harborough and I was at Buckingham before I came to Melton.
In market towns people very often work together and this has certainly been the case here. It will be interesting to see what changes come in.
NR: Finally Rev Ashby, how have colleagues and members at St Mary’s reacted to your impending retirement?
KA: Because it’s a few months away it hasn’t really sunk in yet. People are upset that we are going. I have worked very closely alongside people and so it’s like leaving friends behind. It’s not like leaving a job. We are leaving a place where we were part of a wider family.
It’s like a big family really in Melton and it’s going to be very hard leaving that behind, definitely.