Diocese of Portsmouth

    New island priest will be visiting on a Vespa

    22 Jan. 2024

    THE new priest-in-charge of four parishes on the Isle of Wight will be easy to spot – he’ll be haring around the countryside in leathers and a dog collar.

    Bishop Jonathan has appointed the Rev Tony Lawrence as priest-in-charge designate for four parishes in Shanklin, Lake, Godshill and Ventnor. And he’ll enjoy travelling between the churches and people’s homes on his Vespa scooter.

    Fr Tony has just completed a two-year curacy, serving in St Catherine’s and Holy Trinity, Ventnor, and in Bonchurch.

    He was keen to stay on the Isle of Wight after living there for 25 years, and these churches fitted in with his Anglo-Catholic tradition. The parishes of St Saviour’s-on-the-Cliff, Shanklin; Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake; All Saints, Godshill; and St Alban’s, Ventnor, are all members of the Society of St Wilfrid and St Hilda.

    He was actually part of the congregation at St Saviour’s, Shanklin, when he was selected for ordination. He’d come from a non-religious family, but felt a calling from an early age to become a priest. Yet he was working as a gardener and felt his lack of education would hold him back.

    Tony starting biking, got into drink and drugs and was even contemplating suicide at one point. And it was a prayer to God that saved him.

    “I had this strong desire to be a priest, but felt God wouldn’t want me as my education hadn’t been great,” he said. “I’d roar up and down the country on my Vespa, and I got into drink and drugs. Things hit a low point when I disappeared with the intention of taking my own life.

    “I decided to jump off the Severn Bridge, but made a bargain with God. I found a phone box and prayed: ‘If my friend Andy picks up the phone, then I won’t go through with it.’ Andy picked up the phone within two rings and I ended up staying with him for three weeks.”

    Tony met his wife Jules, and started attending his local church in Cheltenham. They moved to the island in 1999, and in 2004, Tony had an epiphany at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk.

    “My wife had been on these pilgrimages, but it took me 20 years to actually get there,” said Tony. “The vicar of St Saviour’s, the Rev John Howard Davies, organised a trip, and while I was there I had this real sense of calling. It was like a feeling of warm water being poured over my head. I knew what I had to do.

    “On the way home, my wife said she knew something had happened to me, and suggested I sort it out. I asked Fr John when we stopped at some services if I could come and see him. When I did, I said I wanted to look into the priesthood, and he replied: ‘Thank God for that!’. He’d seen it in me, but didn’t want to influence me.

    “I trained as a Reader for three years to start with, and then the Archdeacon, who was Peter Sutton, said he could see me as a priest. So I trained for another two years, and it was strange for an uneducated man such as myself to be studying at St Stephen’s House in Oxford. It was possibly the toughest thing I’ve ever done!”

    The Rev Tony Lawrence and his Vespa scooter
    The Rev Tony Lawrence and his wife Jules with (right) Bishop Jonathan and (left) the Bishop of Richborough, the Rt Rev Norman Banks, at St Saviour's Church, Shanklin

    Tony was ordained as deacon in 2021 and priest in 2022, and served his curacy under the Rev Hugh Wright, who has now retired.

    “It has actually been really interesting, as the churches in Ventnor and Bonchurch offer a number of different styles of worship, and it’s been good to see that. I also arranged an island-wide pilgrimage to Walsingham last year, which was great. We took 44 people from across the island.

    “I did want to stay on the Isle of Wight after my curacy, and an opportunity arose. It just so happened that these parishes nearby became vacant. I prefer the Anglo-Catholic style of worship, as I like the structure of the services – no matter which church you go to in that tradition, it will be the same. And the fact that they are all more traditional does shows there is diversity and variety of churchmanship across the Church of England.

    “The new role will give me plenty of opportunity to ride the Vespa around the parishes. I prefer two wheels to four, and it’s ideal for pastoral visiting. I was part of the scooter rally on the island this year, and I’ve done a ride-out from church.”

    Bishop Jonathan led a celebration service at St Saviour-on-the-Cliff, Shanklin, last night. He will formally license Fr Tony as priest-in-charge of Lake and St Saviour’s Shanklin, and of Godshill on a date to be announced.

    Godshill (All Saints)

    Church Hill, Godshill, PO38 3HY

    More info

    St Alban's

    St Alban's Road, off Zig-Zag road, Ventnor, PO38 1DE

    More info

    St Saviour-on-the-Cliff

    Queen's Road, Shanklin, PO37 6AN

    More info

    The Good Shepherd

    Sandown Road, Lake, PO36 9JT

    More info

    Latest News

    More news