Vicar retires after 46 years at same church in Forest Gate

A vicar has retired after almost half a century at the same church in Forest Gate despite not being sure if he would fit in when he first arrived.

Reverend Canon John Williams, who was appointed as a minister at St. Saviour’s Church in 1965, held his last sermon, aged 76, at the end of last Month (September 30) before retiring to Wiltshire.

Since Mr Williams, originally from Devon, arrived the congregation has doubled and changed along with the immigrant population around the church in Macdonald Road.

After studying theology at Bristol University Mr Williams had worked at a church in Tunbridge Wells in Kent since 1953 before taking up the post.

Mr Williams said: “When I first came I had no experience of the area, but it was a good challenge. I thought I’ll try to fit in but if I don’t I’ll just move on.

“There was a lot of poverty after the Second World War, most people didn’t have a bathroom, a phone, or a car.

“The church was restored after it was bombed during the War but it was difficult to clean and heat after the roof had been raised.

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“Less than 30 people came to the Sunday sermon while 40-45 people would attend an evening service. Most of the congregation was White.

“The restored church was pulled down in the 70s and a Sunday school was turned into a church hall. More than 100 people attend now. The majority are Black, mostly Afro-Caribbean, but also West Indian, Asian and East European. Every continent except Australia is represented. “I’ve always found different cultures appealing.”

Heading to Calne in Wiltshire to be closer to his daughter Mr Williams will again try to fit in with a new community.

“I have mixed feelings about leaving. There are all sorts of problems here, such a littering in the street, and shooting and stabbings, which have affected people in my congregation. But I tend to like the people here.

“I won’t know anybody down there but there is also an element of excitement about that. I’ll get involved with a local church, and spend more time with family, and watch more cricket and rugby.”

Church secretary, Doreen Alexander, who has worked with Mr Williams for 18 years, said: “There was a lot of tears when he left. He has an amazing way of getting the best out of people and involving them with the church service.”