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Obituary: The Ven. Alan Wolstencroft

23 October 2020

Canon Chris Bracegirdle writes:

THE Ven. Alan Wolstencroft died, aged 83, on 15 September, two weeks before the golden jubilee of his ordination as priest, bringing to a close 51 years’ ministry in the diocese of Manchester.

Since his death, several people have said that it is the end of an era, some saying, “They don’t make them like that any more.” Alan would not have approved of such remarks. Wherever he was called to serve, Alan saw himself, first and foremost, as a servant of God who was sustained by daily prayer and regular participation in holy communion, which then formed the bedrock of a pastoral and preaching ministry to and among people. Alan argued forcefully that these were the essential elements of any priestly life, and so to suggest that “They don’t make them like that any more” would imply the ending of priesthood as many of us know and love it.

Alan was born and grew up in Clifton, what was then a small village roughly half way between Bolton and Manchester. From childhood, the village’s parish church played a significant part in Alan’s life, to the point that he was licensed as a Reader at the age of 28 and, after National Service and settling into work in the brewery trade, he thought that he had found the direction for his life.

This proved not to be the case, and, in October 1967, Alan arrived at Cuddesdon to begin a two-year preparation for ordination. In some musings about his life, Alan wrote, “I wondered what I had let myself in for. . . feeling overwhelmed by bright young men who were conversant with much that was new to me. However, I persevered and made a number of friends who thought that this northerner from a business background was a bit of a novelty.” Alan made good friends at Cuddesdon, and the cell group of which he was a part still meets.

With the bishop’s permission, in 1968, Alan married Christine, whom he knew from Clifton days. Following ordination in 1969, Alan served curacies in Bolton and Prestwich, then incumbencies in Wythenshawe and Sale (during which time he served as area dean and was made an honorary canon of Manchester Cathedral), and then Bolton, where he expected to serve until retirement.

Then came the call to a new ministry, which was a surprise to Alan, but not to those of us who knew and valued his ministry. In 1998, he was invited to become Archdeacon of Manchester and a Residentiary Canon of Manchester Cathedral. Here, as everywhere else, Alan served with energy and a clear love of his work, never losing those valued foundations of his priestly life.

Retirement in 2004 meant a change of direction for Alan and Christine, but apparently not for Alan a change of pace. There was more time for leisure; Alan and Christine enjoyed several holiday experiences in which Alan served as chaplain to cruise liners and to communities all over the world. Bolton Wanderers Football Club had enjoyed Alan’s support for much of his life and now there was more time to enjoy the beautiful game.

But church life was never far away. During retirement, Alan served as Synodal Secretary to the Convocation of York (“a mouthful”, he once remarked), and as an outstanding officer for retired clergy, widows, and widowers in the diocese of Manchester. Alongside this, he was much in demand as a preacher, and as a priest to provide cover in vacancies.

For me, as his successor but two as Vicar of Bolton, it was especially moving that he preached for the final time in January of this year at Bolton Parish Church — a sermon that had lost none of the clarity, fire, and humour characteristic of Alan’s preaching throughout his ministry.

A man of forthright views who would gently but firmly explain to you why — in his view — you were wrong, traditional in his commitment to priestly ministry, and always ready to stand up for what he believed to be right, Alan was loved and respected by lay people and clergy across the traditions in and beyond this diocese. His was a life well lived, and his legacy is immeasurable.

Alan leaves his wife of 52 years, Christine, two children, and four grandchildren.

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