Pastor Dave Solt lightheartedly refers to himself as “the cowboy from Arizona”, owing to his Stateside roots, but says he has “come home” since being invited to lead Wycliffe Memorial Evangelical Chiurch on Tulketh Brow, Ashton.
“It’s been a dream,” he said. “The church voted unanimously for me to come and I feel like I have the best of everything here.”
Dave became a born-again Christian during the mid-80s while stationed at the now-closed RAF Bentwaters near Ipswich during the Cold War, where he was a senior airman maintaining the USAF vehicle fleet.
He was given an honourable discharge from the airforce and went back to the America where he studied at Bible college. In 1996, he and wife Mary Beth were given a calling to return to the UK, and established a church in London.
In 2008, while helping a church in Blackpool, Dave visited Preston, and in 2010, settled in the city to set up Faith Baptist Church in Cottom Community Hall.
Dave, 49, said: “It took off very quickly, with 40 people regularly attending services. That was very nice because it was a brand new church and nobody knew me and I didn’t know them.
“That’s when Wycliffe saw the value of what we were doing, and we saw the value of what they were doing, and it became a wonderful marriage.”
In December 2012, Dave took over the 101-year-old Wycliffe church from the minister of 14 years, Rev Bob Worswick, after a merger with his church in Cottam.
Bob, 82, said: “I had a great concern about the future of the church – I thought it would be closing in three or four years as we had no new members at all. Then this big fellow arrived one night asking to use a room for his own fellowship and things went from there. “
Bob, who was caretaker at Roebuck Primary School for many years before becoming ordained, said he did have to put Dave right on ‘a few cultural issues’.
He said: “He didn’t know what a traditional church like ours does, such as saying the Lord’s Prayer, receiving a collection and giving a blessing at the end of a service, but Dave has his own style and accepts my suggestions – he asks at the end of a service how it has gone and I tell him.”
Dave added: “I didn’t have a lot of direction on British culture, so I followed my own style from what I’d learned in the States.
“But Bob has been a tremendous encouragement and mentor, and has taught me the more traditional style that’s taken a while to get my head around.”
Dave said his style is “laidback, compassionate and straightforward”, the latter quality he claims sits well with his Lancastrian congregation.
He said: “The people of Preston are very kind and very forthright. We tell it the way it is, and the congregation appreciate it.”
He added: “I’m also very approachable and down-to-earth, and I think people find that refreshing.”
To boost numbers, Dave has begun speaking to people on Preston’s Flag Market, holding fun Bible study and games sessions for youngsters and is distributing 35,000 leaflets around Preston. Something certainly seems to be working well at Wycliffe, with up to 100 people now regularly attending Sunday services.
He added: “Things have gone very well – it doesn’t feel like two churches now and we are growing.
“This is a place of safety where people can come and feel welcome, and find out about God and the Christian faith. There is such a feeling of calm and bliss here, it’s heavenly. I would be quite happy to spend the rest of my days here.”