ALTHOUGH Roger Preece has only been the vicar at St Mary’s Bowdon for four years, he has certainly made his presence felt — for instance, his bold decision to conduct a sermon whilst wearing roller-skates caused such a stir that he was asked to appear on ITV’s This Morning — however, the roller-skating priest’s decision to enter the clergy is a more remarkable story still.
This is because before entering the priesthood, Roger had been the chief operating officer of a small international bank, worked as a senior business consultant and co-founded a management sonsulting company which raised over $250 million in its first two years — but he decided to give it all up because, in my words not his, he is a genuinely nice person.
Roger said: “I loved my work, I loved the challenge and stimulation of it, but I’ve been a Christian all my life, so the church and wanting to serve God has always been a part of me.
“So I felt a bit restless and started to think about next steps, what I might do in the future.”
Soon after, Roger was given a leaflet advertising what could be termed a ‘recruitment conference for priests’, which he promptly threw away, thinking it wasn’t applicable to him.
However, on receiving it for the third time, Roger thought he might as well go along and have a look.
The 48-year-old said: “I was just amazed when I met all these priests and I heard about all the work they’d done in the community and for young people and I suddenly thought, is this for me? It was like something inside just clicked.”
Upon running the idea past his wife, who Roger said did surprisingly not think he was having a mid-life crisis, but rather told him that if God really was calling him to a career in the priesthood, He would have to make it blindingly obvious — the couple decided not to tell anyone for the time being.
However, after a series of incidents, the most of convincing of which being his five-year-old daughter having a dream that he became a vicar, Roger decided to take the plunge.
This involved moving his very settled family to the grounds of Oxford University, where they lived for three years while he studied for a degree in theology.
“It’s really interesting to go from a position where you’ve had lots of responsibility and been in quite a senior role in your own world and then suddenly you’re a student,” said Roger.
“I didn’t think I was so attached to those sorts of things, but you just have to let go of it all which is quite humbling.”
The family then moved again, to Marple for two years while Roger completed his training, before settling in Bowdon in 2009.
Roger said that while he sometimes feels wistful when a Ferrari drives past, he does not regret his career change for an instant as happiness is not made from money and he is more than happy with his vintage Saab convertible.
“I absolutely love being a priest, to feel that sense of welcome from the community and to be part of something,” said Roger.
“To be invited into people’s lives, to feel the joy of a new birth, or working with people in their deepest grief and helping them to make sense out of something terrible is a privilege.”
Members of the community, who have worked alongside and become friends with Roger during his time in Bowdon, paid tribute.
Graham Brady, MP for Altrincham and Sale West, has worked alongside Roger and knows him well.
He said: “Having chosen to leave a well-remunerated city career to join the church, Roger’s background is perhaps unconventional for a vicar, and helps him to understand the breadth of the community; those who generate wealth and provide jobs, as well as having a good understanding of what most of us do for a living.
“I have really enjoyed working alongside him and have been struck by his commitment to the community.
“He is well known for his originality of approach, together with a remarkable kindness and sensitivity.”
Doctor Jacqueline Campbell, chair of Sale and Altrincham Chamber of Commerce, said Roger has greatly helped Bowdon businesses to come together to support each other.
“We have grown to regard Roger as 'padre' to our business community.
“His own successful business background makes him totally aware of the factors that drive business, as well as the pressures that business people face.
“This factor has never been more so during these last years of recession.
“He attends our events, supports our initiatives and has also established his own Bowdon business group, operating on the pattern'of our business show case events.
She added: “I think he is a man who likes communities and our chamber is a community which benefits from his membership, care and undoubted wit.”
Bowdon councillor, Michael Hyman, said he has worked with Roger on a number of occasions, as they both seek to look after and represent the people of Bowdon.
He said: "Under Roger, the church is taking an increasingly proactive and beneficial role in the community, in particular through the range of youth groups that flourish under his guidance, giving young people a focus and keeping them from the dangers of not having interests.
“Roger weaves the thread of strong Christian values into all he does.
“As a fellow governor of Bowdon Church of England Primary School, the emphasis on Christian principles and ethos is clear to see, especially within the school's curriculum.
“Roger's past commercial background is evident in the way that he has brought the Bowdon business community together in the very popular annual business fairs, and his allowing St Mary's to be used as the venue for Bowdon Festival concerts is helping to keep culture very much alive in Bowdon.
“He recognises the diversity of our community, encouraging links with the nearby South Manchester Synagogue, and reaches out to all faiths.
“Roger is a tremendous asset to the Bowdon community and his positive and enthusiastic contribution is felt by many, whether churchgoing or otherwise".