After 13 years as minister in charge, Fakenham rector the Rev Adrian Bell has bowed out at an emotional farewell service.
Dozens of extra chairs were needed to seat the more than 300 people from the town and around who packed into the parish church on Sunday.
They included representatives of groups with which Mr Bell had become closely associated during his ministry and whom he personally thanked in his address.
There were generous tributes to his clergy colleagues, the churchwardens, the choir and church members involved in running numerous voluntary activities. He said: “In particular I would also like to say thank you to the large number of people in the town who have helped my wife Marian and I serve the community and bring the town and the church closer together.”
Mr Bell said how proud he had been to take 174 weddings, 434 baptisms and more than 500 funerals since his appointment. In a poignant moment he read out the names of 14 of those whose funerals he had conducted in recent times.
During his ministry Mr Bell had been responsible for a number of key initiatives which had helped the church pay its way. Early on he revived the parish magazine, The Beacon, and made sure it was delivered free to every house in the town.
He set up the annual Christmas Tree Festival which over 13 years had raised around £400,000 and had become one of the most popular events in the region.
Half the money raised at each festival went to the church and half to the numerous charities involved. Improvements to the church building included the installation of toilets and the creation of the Trinity Room meeting centre.
Smiles were raised when churchwarden Alison Harding presented a potted biography of Mr Bell’s 43 years as a clergyman, accompanied by appropriate family photos relayed on to a big screen.
Anecdotes included a cautionary tale involving a lady police officer whose kiss on his cheek found its way on to the front page of the local newspaper.
The festive mood continued when gifts from the town were presented. A food mixer was wheeled up the aisle by two ‘kitchen ladies’ dressed appropriately in white, Mr Bell’s reputation as a soup maker having gone before him. Other gifts were a hand-crafted jewellery box and garden vouchers.
Following the service there was a wine and cake reception.
Mr Bell said: “Although I was really dreading my final day at church after 13 years the service was very moving and actually great fun. I will always remember Fakenham with great fondness. The people of the town have shown their love which has been very much reciprocated.”