Television vicar quadrupled congregation

PARISHONERS have said an emotional farewell to a vicar who quadrupled the congregation of a village church in just four years.

Russell Claydon

PARISHONERS have said an emotional farewell to a vicar who quadrupled the congregation of a village church in just four years.

Tears were shed in St Andrew's Church in Great Cornard, near Sudbury, yesterday as Rev Jamie Allen, made famous by a television series, delivered his final service before taking up a new role in New Zealand.

More than 200 people packed the church to say goodbye to an “inspirational” figure.

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He shot to fame in 2003 when starring in the fly-on-the-wall BBC documentary A Country Parish - in which he made the switch from an urban parish to a small congregation in the heart of rural England.

When the motor-biking priest turned up at Great Cornard in November 2005 he arrived to a congregation averaging about 30, but his energetic work has since swelled the numbers to 120.

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Penny Thewlis, 69, a church warden at St Andrew's, said: “He has turned the church around.

“He is the vicar of the whole parish, whether they are congregation or not everyone knows they can come to Jamie. He has put so many things in motion that will continue in his absence.”

The 38-year-old father-of-four led a project to re-roof the building, giving parishioners the chance to sponsor a tile in return for having the name of a loved one engraved on it.

Gavin Clarke, 32, from Essex Avenue in Sudbury, a regular at his services, said: “He has been an inspirational figure here. My brother has gone on to train as a vicar now and Jamie was inspirational in helping him to get the confidence.”

Rev Allen, a former DJ who was born in Woodbridge, said of the service where he was presented with gifts: “It is really humbling, you always end up receiving a lot more than you give.

“With this role you are privileged to encounter people at really precious moments of their lives and you ending up forming a bond.”

He added: “It has been an amazing place to be. I have never known hospitality like it. People here are so warm and down-to-earth.”

He is flying out to New Zealand today to take up his position as vicar of St Mary's in New Plymouth, where he will later become a dean when it is given cathedral status in March. The service is due to be video streamed live back to Suffolk for his old congregation in St Andrew's.

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