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Our Daily Bread: From Argos to the altar — a priest’s story by Father Alex Frost

by
11 November 2022

This Burnley priest tells a truly Christian story, says Michael Coren

FR FROST is probably best-known for his excellent series of podcast interviews with various religious, political, and cultural figures. The appeal of those conversations — and the online competition is vast, of course — is based largely on the fact that, unlike some in the trade, Frost understands the importance of listening. And it is that gift of listening — in this instance, to people of his beloved home town and Anglican parish in Lancashire — that makes this book so compelling.

Part autobiography, part anecdote, part reflection, the book recounts his life from football referee, Argos manager, and stand-up comic to a priest in an often desperately poor inner-city parish, St Matthew’s, Habergham Eaves, with Holy Trinity, Burnley. This is not a typical preparation, perhaps, but the experience is vital. He was punched unconscious as a ref, and threatened with death as a shop manager. You can’t teach that in seminary.

The book gives us stories of poverty, prostitution, housing and NHS waiting lists, addiction, violence, mental illness, self-harm, crime, shattered families, and, in a nation as wealthy as ours, genuine hunger. All of this is inevitably magnified by the pandemic, lockdown, and economic and social consequences.

Yet, while Frost is understandably and righteously angry at it all, he is never “self-righteously” nasty or blaming. That is a rare and, I would suggest, poignantly Christian response. When he speaks of being “inclusive”, he means it. He is not party-political, he emphasises: he just wants people to know — and to do something.

The book is also genuinely funny, because people facing cement-like hardship often use humour as an escape mechanism. My Jewish taxi-driving dad used to tell the best Jewish jokes one could hear — because they were good jokes, because they were ironic, but largely because they provided release. Frost, for example, on his Christian formation: “It made gentle introductions, it left subtle deposits, just as my puppy does sometimes.”

At heart and soul, this is an account of street theology — which is by no means supposed to be a criticism, God forbid. It is the daily living of the deepest teachings of the Gospels applied to people in conditions of brokenness and challenge, the like of which many of us would consider foreign or of “the other”.

That “other” was propelled into our homes when the BBC aired its award-winning documentary The Cost of Covid: A year on the front line. Frost was one of the featured clerics, and millions watched, and were shocked at what they saw. Very little seems to shock Frost any more, but that certainly doesn’t mean that he is complacent — far from it.

He will never make me a Burnley football fan (sorry, Tottenham born and bred), but this book changed me, and will change other people. I’m so very glad that he wrote it.

 

The Revd Michael Coren is a priest in the diocese of Niagara, Canada. His latest book is The Rebel Christ (Canterbury Press, 2022).

 

Our Daily Bread: From Argos to the altar — a priest’s story
Father Alex Frost
Harper North £16.99
(978-0-00-855652-5)
Church Times Bookshop £14.99

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