A SOUTHAMPTON clergyman has retired after 21 years as a central figure in a city community.

The Rev Stephen Wilkins, United Reformed Church minister of Bitterne Park and Peartree Green, has decided to hang up his robes after a career that has seen him build up a host of memories.

Some of his highlights include visiting St Stephen’s Orphanage in Kenya, being the mayoral chaplain for Cllr John Slade, taking part in a church exchange to Hildesheim in Germany, and being the governor of Glenfield Infant School.

He was even the minister at his daughter Anne’s wedding.

He told the Daily Echo he thought the time was right to call it a day and has now carried out his last service at Bittene Park United Reformed Church.

Mr Wilkins said: “I was 65 back in April and 21 years here is long enough – it’s time to go.

“I have given everything I had to give and it seemed right to let the church move on and bring someone new in to lead them into the future.

“It has been a fantastic time. When I came here in 1993 there were children in the church that were eight or nine years old. I have watched them grow up into adults and baptised their children.

“You go through the joys and sorrows with them.”

Mr Wilkins was brought up in London but came to the city as a mature student to study theology at the University of Southampton.

He moved to Leeds with wife Sue but was offered a pastorate in Southampton by church moderators.

He added: “My wife’s family come from north Staffordshire and I said we wanted to move somewhere between Leeds and Oxford, so I came to Southampton!

“I did say that God moves in mysterious ways, but not as mysterious as maps used by moderators.”

Mr Wilkins was the mayor’s chaplain between 2006 and 2007 and says overseeing his daughter Anne’s marriage to husband Jack Flood was a highlight.

Daily Echo:

Stephen Wilkins officiates at his daughter Anne's wedding

He said: “I had the privilege of conducting the wedding service of my own daughter.

“I am sure every father’s heart fills with pride as they lead their daughter down the aisle, but very few then conduct the service.

“Sue has been wonderful supporting and putting up with me. Families have to make sacrifices and ministers are on call 24 hours a day – you never know what’s at the end of that phone call.

“I will miss my fellow clergymen and the decisions we make together, I will miss the joy of baptising children, and all the celebrations we have in the life of the church.

“For the next six months I will do nothing – there are many things to catch up on and that will be with my family.

“I would like to thank my two congregations in Peartree and Bitterne.”