If you thought there might be a conflict between science and religion, Rev Dr Mike Kirby begs to disagree.
By weekday you’ll find the accomplished scientist and former hospital consultant lecturing at Liverpool University, sharing his knowledge of radiotherapy physics.
But at the weekends he has an entirely different role – as a curate at Blackburn Cathedral.
The Ribchester based cleric admits it’s been a challenge to his own expectations: “I never thought I would be in this position at this stage in my life, having been a consultant in the NHS and head of service and everything else that entailed!”
His work at Blackburn sees him stepping across to the market after Saturday morning service for sandwiches and coffee – and a chance to meet and talk to shoppers: “There are people who come with their problems and come to us for prayer....There’s a role for market chaplain for all the people there – not just Christians. It’s a significant outreach, rather than always expecting people to come into the cathedral.”
Rev Dr Mike was renowned for his work in cancer care across the region, having joined the staff of Manchester’s The Christie Hospital in 1988.
As a radiotherapy physicist he moved to the Preston area as part of the team which set up the Rosemere Cancer Centre at the Royal Preston Hospital.
Focused on his career and also utilising his talents for music making – he still runs the ecumenical Renaissance Choir in Manchester – he had no expectation of a second calling, but it became apparent around 2007/8 there could be new unforeseen challenges ahead.
“Work in Christie and the Rosemere was very much a vocation,” he said.
But the call towards ordained ministry “got stronger and stronger.”
Fast forward to 2010 and by then he was back at The Christie as a head of service and latterly was scientific leader for the creation of two pioneering satellite treatment centres – The Christie at Oldham and the Christie at Salford: “I resigned before I knew I had been accepted for training in the Church of England, quite a leap really!’’
He says he decided to “put God in the driving seat” .
Ribchester had become home in 2000 following his appointment to the key role at the Rosemere. But the path to ordination was not without its ups and downs – Mike lost both his parents in a matter of months.
He said: “It wasn’t an easy period because during that time my parents were very ill – my mother in particular. Just toward the end of my two years there I lost both my parents, My mother just before (my) exams. At times like that you realise how much your faith helps you.”
Some 40 days later his father died: “We made the decision to defer my ordination. That’s when I started my current job lecturing at Liverpool University.”
He believes the post is providential – it was just at this time the university needed an expert in radiotherapy and radiophysics.
He continued: “The intention was, all the time, to be a self supporting minister – to see whether I could balance working both in my profession and also in the church ... that enabled me to stay in Ribchester and the northwest and have the balance I do and I love it at the moment – I really do enjoy it.”
Ordained a deacon first, he was ordained as a minister last June.
He’s had an early taste of the big occasions which cathedrals host – including the Queen’s visit to distribute Maundy money last Easter. He is also welcoming the opportunity to go into schools
The future is full of possibilities –he talks with enthusiasm of the church’s role in Blackburn, outreach work into the community and healing ministry.
He sees his job as “all about people” and reflects: “There’s absolutely no problem between the science, particularly being a physicist and my faith...Theology is looking for meaning and truth rather than looking for mechanisms.”