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Blackpool calling

02 September 2016

Leigh Hatts considers a life that acquired a sense of direction

Northern Soul: Football, punk, Jesus
David O’Brien
Onwards and Upwards Publishers £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.10



DAVID O’BRIEN has been a priest for just a decade, but already he is publishing an autobiography. His area bishop, Mark Rylands, appears to approve: “Ideal for encouraging Christians, spiritual seekers and those who have never heard the gospel,” is the Bishop’s verdict. George Fisher, Lichfield Diocese Director of Mission, contributes the foreword.

O’Brien knew nothing about church life or Christ until well into adulthood. A stranger to the faith will find the 104-page book read­able, as will a church member bene­fiting from a reminder of how others see them or, rather, do not at all.

The bells of St George’s, Stockport, were ever present in O’Brien’s childhood, and he knew the Lord’s Prayer, owing to its repeti­tion at school. But increasingly he became so lonely and detached that he stopped attending classes, to the extent that he was surprised when a friend told him that it was the holidays. A sense of fear and lack of structure lead to drinking and the seeking of excitement in football violence.

Conversion and commitment came not through the Church of England, but an independent Evan­gelical mission. A sales job involving personal interaction and working on his own initiative proved good training for later. Initial study was at Moorlands College, where students graduate in Christchurch Priory. It was in an Anglican Benedictine community at this time that O’Brien first discovered that outreach mission could be a presence rather than an intentional witness.

Although not put forward for ordination by Winchester dio­cese, he worked at Blackpool Co-op before being selected by his more familiar northern diocese and be­­coming curate at a church near by.

”This book isn’t about David O’Brien: it is about the grace of God and how he called me out of nowhere to follow him,” the author emphasises, having bravely laid his life bare not just to the reader, but also to his present parish.


Leigh Hatts is a writer and online journalist.

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