Bradstock Reviews Neville’s Book

40 Years of Ministry in Liverpool, self-published, 2023, 120pp, £12.50 inc postage.

Copies available from the author – call 07970 235817 or email

This is both a primer in urban ministry, and a frank, heartwarming account of an
exceptional parish priest and follower of Jesus.
If urban ministry is still in the ‘too hard’ basket for many in the Church, this book
suggests why. To be effective it requires less a seminary ‘training’ than a commitment
to root oneself in a community, get alongside people where they are, and innovate and
reassess continually. Vision, enthusiasm, and a determination to succeed also help,
and while the author has these, he can also acknowledge his mistakes and
As an evangelical ministering in the inner-city, Black had to re-think his theology
early on: to see salvation as relevant both to individuals and ‘communities like
Liverpool 8’, to prioritise ‘kingdom’ over church, to commit to ‘going out to’ rather
than ‘bringing or fetching in’. If that was unremarkable, it’s the stories Black tells, as
he works all this out, that make this book: the response of a conservative priest when
asked if salvation might be anything but ‘personal’, the reaction of evangelical church
members to those wanting to help but not necessarily believe or join the church. ‘I had
to learn that mission was not about me confronting people about their need for God,
but God leading people to take tentative steps towards a church community’, Black
So here is no detached overview of urban ministry, rather conversational-style
anecdotes and pen portraits, bringing to life the communities the writer knew and
tensions he discovered and sought to resolve within them. Black’s love for the city in
which he ministered for forty years is clear, and the ground-level stories he relates
about its tensions, including those between the police and the black community, are
telling. The latter famously spilled over in Toxteth, where Black was serving at the
time. Black’s role in ministry initiatives, such as the Evangelical Urban Training
Project (now Unlock), are also discussed, as is his clearly fulfilling marriage.
From a self-confessed man of action, this is a remarkably reflective book. There are
constant references to ‘the benefit of hindsight’, and ‘questions for reflection’ to end
each chapter. Black’s comments on the bishops he worked with are revealing; Blanch
and Jones come out well, David Sheppard less so, with class difference clearly a
Hilary Russell once observed that Sheppard’s contribution to Liverpool came from his
being rooted in and identified with the city, while ‘to some extent above the fray’.
Black’s comes from being very firmly in the fray, out of which he has written an
absorbing and inspiring memoir

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