officer of Liverpool Archdiocese, as he reflects on a route travelled from studying Biochemistry at the
University of Glasgow to spending 17 years working for the Anglican Diocese of Manchester via serving as a Labour councillor in Stockport.
If unanticipated, it has certainly been a fascinating pathway – 'Amazing,' he affirms – and the latest turn has brought the 53-year-old to Liverpool, to the newly created role he stepped into in September. 'It's an exciting role,' he says. 'I was conscious of the fact people have been anticipating change for some time and mine wasn't just a new face but a new role for them to relate to, so I'd have understood if people had been hesitant about me but absolutely not. They've been amazingly welcoming.'
In Manchester he worked for ten years in social responsibility before becoming Anglican Diocesan secretary. How does he view his task here? 'The task now is to think how we further develop what we're doing and better connect it into our parishes and schools, so we're seen to be the servants of where our Church really is, which is out there in those parishes and schools,' he says. 'That's not just about the functions we currently deliver at LACE but about the whole life of the Archdiocese – what is it the Archdiocese wants from us so whatever we're doing is relevant to the real needs out there.'
With the 2020 Synod on the horizon, he considers this a moment of opportunity; while the Anglican Church has 'very developed synodal structures, structures of governance with a very definite lay participation', for the Catholic Church in Liverpool this is a chance to create a new model. 'There's real excitement about this journey of rediscovering the synodal way of working and the possibilities that holds for the re-energising of the Church.'
Yet, he continues, a two-fold strategy is required. 'The Synod process will bring high-level clarity and an overarching vision, but we still need to be talking to people about how that is translated into reality for them on the ground.' And he sees similarities with 'change processes' undertaken in Manchester which 'were difficult for people who'd come through the traditional culture of the Church'.
That is for the weeks and months and years ahead. First things first, though: a proper introduction to this Celtic-supporting father of five daughters (aged nine to 21) and parishioner at St Ann's in Cheadle Hume. As a schoolboy he spent five years at the junior seminary of the Xaverian Missionary Fathers in Coatbridge. In his twenties, he embarked on postgraduate studies in Biochemistry before deciding 'I had to move out of science'. A more enduring thread was his interest in politics: he has stood as a parliamentary candidate for Labour more than once and is 'still heavily involved' in the party.
His political background, as a councillor in Stockport, led him to apply for a position in the Diocese of Manchester in 2001 when they were 'looking for somebody who could do public policy analysis and get them involved in regeneration schemes. I got the job and gradually moved up.' First to director of church and society, then to diocesan secretary, and now to Liverpool and a whole new challenge. 'The synodal journey and the chance to re-energise the local Church by engaging people in this exercise is absolutely phenomenal,' he says, 'and if you look at the five open meetings, almost 900 people have already come out on some cold, dark evenings to participate.' A new pathway has begun.