A MORETON church will say farewell to its minister of the last 24 years this weekend when he takes his final service before retirement.

Rev Stephen Wookey has ministered at St David's Church in the town since 1996.

Church member Michael Payne takes up the story: "Many of us will know Steven from funerals, school assemblies, weddings or simply conversations on the street.

"But perhaps what few of us realise is just how much his ministry in Moreton, Batsford, Longborough and Todenham has been instrumental in change, both in the church and the community.

"He and Gillian arrived with their new-born daughter Bethan, to be inducted on February 29 1996, so he has either been in post for 24 years or six leap years!

"They were soon joined by Daniel and, in time, Anna completed the family.

"The church has been transformed during his time, both physically and spiritually.

"Steve worked hard to modernise the church building so it would be welcoming to all who might enter its doors.

"Whilst many churches find these kind of changes divisive, Steve worked tirelessly to explain and bring others along with him, meaning we now have a warm, modern building, and, most importantly a united church family!

"Steve soon had the vision to purchase the former grammar school building adjacent to the church,  from the county council.

"Although structurally sound, it was in desperate need of updating, so when it was submerged by a metre of floodwater in 2007 action had to be taken. The building was completely redesigned and extended so as to serve not just the church but the entire community: on a daily basis it sees the playgroup, various children’s clubs, Friday club for the retired, and many other activities.

"Buildings were not an end in themselves for Steve, but a way to welcome and serve people from all walks of life so they could meet the God whom he serves. Since Steve’s arrival he has co-ordinated a major events week every few years to invite the whole community, especially those who had never or rarely attended the church.

"Over the last 24 years the church has grown tremendously. A few years ago the attendance at the morning service in Moreton was frequently beyond the capacity of the building, as people travelled from all over to hear Steve’s preaching.

"In these strange times Steve’s passion for the gospel remains undiminished. The building was closed because of coronavirus, but he moved the church services and ministry online to the website – stdavids.org.uk– broadcasting a ‘thought for the day’ to 300 people, and the Sunday services have been enjoyed by people as far afield as US and New Zealand.

"A man of great energy, wisdom and courage, with a wonderful gift of expounding the scriptures, but also humble and caring, and if you add to this a mischievous sense of humour, you get a snapshot of the man God has chosen to use so wonderfully in Moreton. The man who we now thank for all that he means to us, and whom we are going to miss."

Rev Wookey's final service is on Sunday, July 19, and can be seen on youTube.stdavids.org.uk at 9.30am and 11am.