New vicar takes over at Wigan’s historic church – just don’t ask him which rugby team he supports
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Rev Roland Harvey left the civil service – where he was an executive officer – after 15 years to re-train as a Church of England priest.
The dad and grandad-of-two, 55, hails originally from St Helens and has served in a variety of roles since his ordination in 2001 - including a period spent as chaplain to Wigan Warriors, which he did for three seasons from 2009 to 2011.
Rev Harvey, who is himself a St Helens supporter, said: "Being a keen rugby fan, I really enjoyed this time supporting the players, staff and supporters."
He said his decision to give up his civil service career and become a vicar had been "a calling," adding: "I wasn’t brought up in a religious household. I had no ambition or aspiration to be a priest.
"I started attending church in my late teens. I had begun a relationship with a young woman who is now my wife - she was a Christian and an active member of her local church, so I too started attending.
"It was during this time that I came to faith in a living God. As time went by, I became more involved in the mission and ministry of the church and it was the then vicar’s wife who suggested that maybe, I was being called into the ministry.
"I followed the calling – going through the Church of England selection process – and to my great surprise, was recommended for training for ordination into the Church of England."
Under a re-organisation by the Diocese of Liverpool, of which Wigan is part, the traditional historic role of Rector of Wigan with sole responsibility for All Saints ended when the last holder, Rev Will Gibbons, moved to a new post in Liverpool in February this year.
The role now involves oversight of seven church hubs, made up of All Saints (Parish Church), St Mark’s in Newtown, St Michael’s in Swinley, St Anne’s in Beech Hill, St Andrew’s in Wigan, St Catherine’s in Wigan, and Christ Church in Ince.
Rev Harvey said: "So much of the work of the Church lies outside of its traditional Sunday services – food banks, financial advice, practical support, friendship.
"These and so much more are now central to the work of the Church. The hubs are intended to make us more effective in this work.
"So I come not only as the vicar of Wigan Parish Church but as the leader of the worshipping communities of the seven churches which make up the Town Centre and Central Hub.
"I will be leading worship, baptising, marrying and helping people say ‘goodbye’ to loved ones, but also supporting the work of these parishes in the community where they are situated."
He added: "The Parish Church has always been a focal point for the people of Wigan.
"For centuries it has been the centre of worship for the town – dating back to 11th century – and at key points in history of not only the town, but the nation, it has played a vital role in bringing people together to celebrate, commemorate, lament and rejoice.
"Walking through the doors, you cannot help but feel the history of the place. Every aspect of the building has a story to tell and one can only guess at how many souls have worshipped there over the centuries.
"For many, the Parish Church remains central to their spiritual lives and for the community it is still the focus for those special and precious moments of life.
"There have been many clergy who have held this role of the centuries – each have brought something special and unique to the role, some having had a huge impact on the life of the town.
"My hope and prayer is that I can continue following in the steps of those who have gone before me and continue in their great work as a preacher and bringer of Good News to the people of Wigan.”