Globe-trotting Anglican priest Steven Rutt has travelled the world, preaching about his faith. Now he has settled in Preston and speaks to Sonja Astbury.
Native American Steve Rutt has brought his own brand of salvation to deepest Preston, and is swelling the congregation at a “forgotten” church.
When Rev Rutt took his first service at St David’s, just eight seats were filled.
Nine months on, the last children’s service saw 140 people cramming into the Ashton church.
Until his arrival from Phoenix, Arizona, in October, St David’s had not had a full-time priest for more than 40 years.
Rev Rutt, founding vicar of Saint Andrew’s Reformed Episcopal Church, a congregation within the Anglican Province of North America, has been impressed by the tenacity of the congregation of this 100-year-old church.
“What they did was bring in a minister on Sunday so they had a service, but there was nothing else other than opening the hall for the Girl Guides and Boys’ Brigade. They weren’t really connected with the Church either, just used the room.
“The Church in England is very different to America,” he says “In America churches are well-attended and people use them through the week.
“There is a whole sense of community and belonging.”
In fact, people from the Rutts’ church back home are helping support Steven and his wife Sue while he is in Preston.
“I’m actually a full-time student at Lancaster University and a voluntary clergyman at the church.
“I sold my house in Arizona, my children are all married with children and when we heard the Church here was in need of help the Synod approved for me to preach here.
“I am being supported by friends and the church over in the USA.”
And it is that community spirit he is bringing back to St David’s.
“The Roebuck School is across the street so I’ve spoken to the headteacher and they are getting more involved.
“The Guides and Boys’ brigade are getting more involved and I’ve re-instated church parade at our services, and I’ve started children’s services so the whole family can come to church.
“When we have children’s services now there are about 50 or 60 children there and at the last one there were 140 people.”
He’s a great believer in having faith in the young. As well from being a dad to his own four children and grandfather to five more (with another due later this year) he’s spent a huge part of his 34 years in the ministry working with young people.
Since his ordination in 1976 he has worked as a missionary with children and young people all over the world, from a correctional facility in Canada to youth camps in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe.
He says: “In America people go to church and I think in Europe they have become disconnected.
“Among the youth I see a real movement back towards God and the Church, with people asking questions.”
He’s already making moves by enabling recovering addicts to use the church for support group meetings and is hoping the Church will become a bigger part of the community.
Rev Rutt is doing a Phd in theological studies and said he feels so at home he will happily spend the next four years or more in Preston.