When Mark ‘Shirty’ Shirtliff took on the Hare & Hounds on Church Street, Booty Bridge, the pub was in the doldrums. It had acquired a reputation as a drugs’ den and was subject to several police raids during the 1990s. Shirty’s predecessor had tried to clean things up, but didn’t stay long enough to make a real impact. The pub had become increasingly dependent on the very in-crowd who were keeping everybody else out.

Until Shirty arrived. The man with a penchant for wearing rather rude T-shirts over his ample girth had made all the difference.

One evening a few months ago, I brought a group of men down from the church for the quiz night – I noticed the sign advertising it outside the pub and thought that would do very nicely for our outreach amongst men. Free grub was on offer and our little church team won the quiz – £10 worth of drinks behind the bar.

The whole feel of the Hare & Hounds was different; it had a happy atmosphere; people were laughing and joking and tucking into the food laid on. I got chatting with Shirty at the bar and heard his story.

Shirty realized what he had to do after only a few weeks in the pub. He had to face down the old crowd. It came to a head one night. He told them straight, T don’t want you and I don’t your money,’ and they left. Of course, Shirty took a serious short-term financial hit, but gradually things began to turn around. The new initiatives were paying off, new people were coming in, and word got round the village that the Hare & Hounds was worth bringing your girlfriend to.

I pondered Shirty’s tale as I walked back up Church Street and contemplated the church silhouetted against the evening sky – the parish church called to bear witness to the Saviour who ‘came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ Substitute bullying and snobbery for drug abuse, and the parallels with the pub were uncanny. How humbling for a card-carrying member of Reform to learn lessons in church growth from a publican with a bad taste in T-shirts!

Julian Mann