THIS Sunday Tavistock Parish bids a sad farewell to a key figure in its spiritual life when the Very Revd Dr Christopher Hardwick retires after nearly seven years as vicar of its four churches, writes Juliette Bowers.

On October 17, Vicar Chris holds his last service at St Eustachius’ Church.

He said: ‘I have enjoyed the time here, and met some really lovely people in the church and in the wider community. It’s true to say it’s a tremendous privilege to be a vicar, and in Tavistock, because you come to meet so many people in so many different ways; through the work you do in the Church, through the schools, the nursing homes, the civic and community links; not forgetting all our many visitors to the town, who are interested in what we are and do, and in our history.’

The priest has loved sharing his time in the wider area, as vicar of the two Brentor churches, St Michael’s and Christ Church, and St Paul’s, Gulworthy, plus working with Tavistock Area Churches Together, which encompasses churches of different denominations.

Vicar Chris, soon to be 64, said he was particularly pleased to see many plans for St Eustachius’ come to fruition. Among them was the success of ‘Messy Church’ for children and parents, the development of the choral tradition, and the appointment of a children and families’ worker, alongside the daily pattern of worship and prayer. A particular highlight had been the church’s 700-year anniversary in 2018, packed with events celebrating its past and future life.

‘I have been fortunate to work with some excellent colleagues, both ordained and lay people and together we have built a large and active ministry team across our four churches.

‘It has also been a privilege to train five new priests during my time here.’

He said covid had had a dramatic effect on the Church’s ability to worship as a gathered community.

‘As a church we have worked hard to worship and pray together online during this very difficult time and to care for one another in our community. As the restrictions are gradually easing our full pattern of worship, prayer, and outreach is returning.’

Vicar Chris was pleased to report the successful completion of a number of church improvements, among them the replacement of the vestry roof, which was largely achieved through the ‘Sponsor a Tile’ scheme: ‘People in the town have been very generous and supportive’. He also mentioned St Eustachius’ new heating system and new sound system and said it was very close to upgrading the toilet and kitchen facilities within the Church - ‘Something the church has been planning to do for many years!’

He added: ‘All this has only been possible because of the way we work together as a church community. I want to thank people for helping to make it happen.’

Vicar Chris, who comes from Lichfield, Staffordshire, was in banking for 15 years when, in his early 30s, he felt ‘called’ to the ordained ministry. He trained at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, Oxford, and was ordained in Worcester in 1992. He gained a PhD in Theology at Birningham University in 2000.

In the South West he became Dean of Truro Cathedral and also chaired the Truro Diocesan Board of Education. At national ecclesiastical level he was elected to the Church of England’s General Synod in 2004 and served for ten years on the Church Commissioner’s ‘pastoral, bishopric and cathedrals’ committee and board of governors.

Looking back, he said: ‘I was called to leave banking and follow a vocation to become a priest in the Church. It proved to be the right thing. You go from a well-established career into the unknown. You don’t know whether you will be selected or licensed by the Church, there are no guarantees. It’s a discernment process, which you enter in faith. You leave behind what you do. For me, it has been a very fulfilling calling and a privilege to be a priest.’

Chris and his wife, Sarah, and their family are planning to move to Cornwall for his retirement. He is looking forward to spending his leisure time pursuing his interests, which include cooking — many will remember his fund-raising cookery demonstration at the Parish Centre — and in pursuing his interest in antiques and visiting antiques fairs.

He said: We will all miss Tavistock, Gulworthy and Brentor and I will continue to hold everyone in our thoughts and prayers.’

Vicar Chris will not be replaced immediately. By Church tradition, the parish will have an ‘interregnum’ during which a new priest will be selected. The four churches will continue with the present ministry team, which, following their ordination by the Bishop of Plymouth, at St Eustachius’, last Saturday (September 25), will include assistant curates, the Revd Rosie Illingworth and Revd Hazel Butland (see right).