“You have a lovely tan!”
“Yes, I’ve just come back from a week in Majorca.”
It’s 1975 and while on a month placement at St Mary’s Edge Hill I accompany vicar, Alan Godson, as he pays his gas bill at Radiant House in Bold Street.
So far, so good.
But then Alan, never one to miss an opportunity to present the Gospel, responds to the startled cashier: “And do you know the sunshine of God’s love in your life?”
Stories about Alan Godson abound; most are true. He even changed his house number in Towerlands Street from 4 to JC4U.
Altogether a one-off, he had a passion for sharing the Gospel in every situation and with anyone who happened to be around. I always assumed that that part of his brain which registers embarrassment wasn’t in full working order.
The point about Alan is that you either loved him or the opposite. He once told me that people would try to hide as he approached.
That includes me, incidentally, when Alan is preaching. There is always that risk of being hauled to the front to be asked penetrating questions.
I recall one service at St Michael’s Blundellsands when he summoned a newly married couple to the front of church. “Do you know the Great Lover in your life?”
A remarkable evangelist, the Bishop of Liverpool took a huge risk when he appointed Alan as Diocesan evangelist to “flare the Christians and surprise the rest.” For Alan regularly caused havoc.
He caused havoc here at Christ Church on Harvest Sunday in 1998 when he came to speak at the 6.30 pm service and delayed the organisation of harvest parcels which in those days took place following the evening service.
I assume the Bishop had a large file of letters of complaint about Alan. But more to the point, an even larger number of people became Christians through his idiosyncratic ministry.
And that included two people in my life.
Somehow, way back in 1970 he invaded my world, that of 800m athletics.
There were five of us in the rankings: John Davies, Phil Lewis, Martin Winbolt-Lewis, Alan Carter (I think) and myself. Phil and I were the only Christians. He went on to be a missionary in Pakistan.
However, John and Martin – both excellent runners – were totally focussed. You would say ruthless. They simply had to win, even on those occasions when we ran together as a team. I have stories to tell.
The kind of people you would think would never become followers of Jesus. That is until Alan Godson got involved.
Himself a rugby blue (and one of the founders of Christians in Sport) he made a point of getting to know leading sportspeople, especially in the world of tennis. Alan had the knack of simply breezing into a social event and presenting people with the claims of Jesus, usually in the first 45 seconds. He had a strong first serve.
So I remember being taken aback at the Ceylon Tea meeting in 1971 when Martin told me that he had become a Christian. Somehow he had met up with Alan who promptly challenged him whether his life was simply running around in circles. (There are two laps in the 800m)
Martin’s was the only occasion I can recall of anyone announcing their acceptance for ordination through the pages of the Athletics Weekly. He recently retired as a hospital chaplain in Leeds.
And John Davies, the best and hardest runner of all of us? We were all a little frightened of John and yet through Alan’s ministry he too became a disciple. I have no idea how but the last I heard John was a church warden. I just hope his church members can cope.
(I have lost touch with John and so if you are reading this, John, please do get in touch).
The secret of Alan’s ministry? He once confided in me – it was being grabbed by the love of God.
For Alan, like all evangelists, has a passion for Jesus, a passion which overruled social conventions. For as the apostle Paul reflects: “The love of Christ compels us!” (2 Corinthians 5:14). Whether you finish up liking the messenger or not is simply besides the point.
Sadly Triumphantly his funeral service takes place this afternoon at St Mary’s Church, Grassendale. Alan was 86. Our condolences to Lesley and his three sons, Stephen, Jonathan and Andrew.
There used to be a regular feature in the Reader’s Digest – “the Most Unforgettable Character I Have Ever Met.” For me it was Alan Godson.