Mark Ashton (1948-2010)
Over 1000 people gathered at one or other of the two services of thanksgiving that were held for Mark Ashton at St Andrew the Great in Cambridge on 23 April. At the end of the services, everybody was offered a copy of Mark’s booklet On my way to heaven, which had just appeared in two instalments of Evangelicals Now.
After a very distinguished schoolboy career and a gap year in Pakistan, where he had read the Koran, Mark went to Christ Church, Oxford, resolved to read the Bible from cover to cover, not out of spiritual enquiry, but simply because he realised how much English culture had been influenced by Scripture.
Friends – recently converted to Christ – pestered him so much to go along to Christian Union meetings that he was convinced that they cared for him. He went along but argued fiercely against what he heard. But to his surprise, and very wonderfully, on 7 February 1968 the light of the glorious gospel in the face of the Lord Jesus shone in his heart and, on his own in the chapel of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, he surrendered to the claims of the Lord Jesus.
He began his ministry immediately as he set about seeking to win his friends for Christ. From that time on, this ministry was wonderfully blessed. It was an exciting time when the CU group in his college went from four to 40 within a year. Mark continued this work of ‘soul winning’ while training at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, and his ministry became ‘official’ when he was ordained to a curacy at Christ Church, Beckenham.
This was followed by a spell as chaplain at his old school, Winchester College, and then working for the Church Youth Fellowship Association (CYFA) – part of the Church Pastoral Aid Society. It was here that he wrote his book Christian youth work, which is still in print as the standard book on the subject.
As with many, Mark began his life’s work when at the age of 40 he was appointed to succeed Mark Ruston as the vicar of the Round Church in Cambridge. Mark Ruston had pioneered almost from nothing, and established a vital evangelistic, gospel-centred, Bible-teaching church, and Mark Ashton was greatly used to build upon this and develop it.
The work was totally unsuited for the cramped and curious configuration of the beautiful Norman church of The Round, so Mark oversaw the renovation of St Andrew the Great that had been empty and redundant for many years, and the Round Church congregation moved there in 1994.
Mark’s ministry was epitomised by very consistent, faithful and powerful Bible exposition. This was matched by his godliness, typified by compassion, courage and humility.
Hundreds of students and others will have been welcomed into the vicarage, where Mark’s ministry was, in effect, doubled by Fiona’s wonderfully warm and generous hospitality. It was no wonder that so many gathered to praise and thank the Lord Jesus for all that Mark meant to us.
Emmanuel Church, Dundonald, London