‘It Shouldn’t Happen to a Methodist minister’: Mary Lean reviews Leslie Marsh’s memoir of an adventurous life

When Leslie Marsh qualified as a church minister in the early 1950s, he did not expect to find himself treading the boards as the leading lady in a pantomime. His life – as recounted in his memoir, It Shouldn’t Happen to a Methodist minister – has been full of such surprises.

Leslie was the son and grandson of Methodist ministers, but God only became real to him when he encountered Moral Re-Armament (MRA, now Initiatives of Change) as a schoolboy in the 1940s. “I suddenly saw with new eyes that I was the same as everyone else and, for the first time, was really interested in others,” he writes.

He took this new interest in other people into 44 years of Methodist ministry in the industrial heartlands of England and Wales, where he often got involved in helping his church members to resolve industrial and domestic disputes. In an attempt to reach out beyond the pews, he wrote a pantomime, undeterred by the fact he had only ever seen one pantomime – as a three-year-old – and had run out in fright before the end. To his astonishment his pantomime (where he stood in for the leading lady) provoked a double- page spread in a national newspaper.

He went on to convert a huge Victorian church into a theatre-church, the first of its kind in Britain. Encouraged by a veteran church member who told him one play had meant more to him than a thousand sermons, he and his congregation put on a series of plays, the first written by him and later ones by other MRA writers. They premiered Alan Thornhill’s musical about John Wesley, Ride! Ride! which went on to tour the country with a professional cast.

This little book is an easy read, full of anecdotes about the ups and downs, joys and sorrows of professional and family life – and of people finding inner transformation. It tells too of a new calling found in retirement, which had led to a series of books setting the New Testament and the life of Jesus in the context of their times.

It Shouldn’t Happen to a Methodist minister by Leslie Marsh is available from the IofC UK bookshop.  Buy your copy here.

It Shouldnt Happen to a Methodist Minister - Leslie Marsh

Mary Lean is a writer, editor and spiritual director living in Oxford. She has worked with IofC for over 50 years.


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