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Spalding vicar The Rev John Bennett looks back on 40 year career as he gets ready to retire to Bridlington

‘A great privilege’ is how a leading clergyman has described a career which has spanned four decades - and has made a difference to countless people.

The Rev John Bennett has been a pillar of strength in Spalding for 14 years and fought for good causes across the town but now his is preparing to leave St Mary and St Nicolas Church to embark on his next chapter - a well-earned retirement.

John will be saying a fond farewell to congregation and the friends he has made across the town during a final service on June 30, when he and wife Mary will walk out of the church together for the final time and move to Bridlington.

The Rev John Bennett, Laurence Harper and Spalding Civic Society Chairman, John Bland with the plaque
The Rev John Bennett, Laurence Harper and Spalding Civic Society Chairman, John Bland with the plaque

Over the years, John has highlighted social issues in the town, such as the much ignored traffic regulation order in Spalding town centre, along with reassuring the public in the wake of a number of tragic incidents in the town.

He said: “It is an amazing privilege as you get to speak to people at the most personal moments of their lives - particularly with funerals and sitting with the family to talk about the person.

“I have got such an insight into the way people have lived their lives. I have learned more about Spalding by talking with families at funerals. If you were married in the 1960s there is every chance you met your partner at the Corn Exchange dances.

Rev John Bennett led the service. Photo: Chris Lowndes
Rev John Bennett led the service. Photo: Chris Lowndes

“It is the same with weddings. Sitting with a couple, we only spend an evening together, asking them questions about their relationships. It is amazing that by building trust with people and they can be so honest and that is a privilege.

“And with christenings I get to cuddle babies which is gorgeous. A baby born today has a 50/50 chance of living to be 100. Looking at these children they could reach 100 years old and what the world will be like. It is amazing.

“There are so many aspects of the job that are fabulous. Being able to turn up at someone’s door and they will welcome you in - which something I have taken for granted for 40 years.

The Rev John Bennett
The Rev John Bennett

“You become someone that people open up to, someone that people will talk to about anything. You get to know people that just want to talk to someone - never met me before.”

John took over the reins of the historic church in 2010 after his wife Mary had spotted the job being advertised in The Church Times and felt that it would be perfect for him.

He said: “I have been very happy and have loved being part of the church here.”

Earlier in his career, John worked with a council to help build a church and community centre in the Yeovil area and used that experience to undertake changes to the church building.

The main entrance has moved from the Church Street side and its inaccessible steps with the first views being pillars, to a bright and welcoming entrance which is open to all.

The next phase of the vision saw the back of the church altered to create a servery and he is also, rightly, proud of the transformation of The Vista Hall.

John said: “Two things happened. We had a lot of vandalism at The Vista Hall and if there was a silver lining to that it give us a lot of publicity so people became aware of the hall as a facility that they could use.”

The hall has been renovated with greater decoration, kitchen and replacing the windows.

He said: “I am delighted that we hosted the Flower Queen election which was very nice that we could be used. It is now predominantly a community hall.”

John has been working with schools in the area and has been leading services with primary schools and has been a governor with Spalding Grammar School (which had been part of the church for 300 years) and Spalding Academy.

Music - which is shown by the guitar in his sitting room - has been another enjoyable aspect to John’s time at the church.

He said: “The music is a great delight for me. Nick Pitts, director of music for more than 40 years, has always managed to have a really good choir and always able to recruit youngsters. Many Sunday nights at Evensong and listening to the singing, I think I must have done something right to be sitting here and be part of it. Such beautiful and wonderful music.

“Something that I am delighted about was to have girls as part of the church choir. We have recruited a lot of girls to sing in the choir.”

John felt that one of his achievements was the way the church handled and bounced back from covid. The church, which is the only one in Spalding open 365 days a year, now has 150 people attending the two services after a low of 20 in the aftermath of the pandemic.

He said: “I will be sad to leave.

“There are a lot of lovely people and I have enjoyed making connections outside the church with the schools.”

John will be leaving Spalding shortly after his final service to move to his new life in Bridlington where he expects to do some volunteering but wants to take a well-earned break. He moves in on July 4 and has already registered to vote in his new home.

He said: “It will be a bit of decompression. I know people think vicars only work on Sundays but it is a six days a week job. I go over to unlock the church at 7.50am and I can still be working until 9pm. When you are working 12 to 13 hour days at 66 it gets a bit much week in, week out.

“We will get to know the town and I am sure that there will be things that we want to get involved with. I am sure we will want to do some volunteering.”

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