WHEN clergyman Paul Richardson arrived in Devizes 13 years ago St John’s Church was just recovering from a terrible fire.

When he bade his farewells on September 20 masks and a much reduced congregation were evidence of a new way of conducting ministry forced on the church by coronavirus.

One member of the congregation said: “Paul’s calm and considered approach has brought solace to many.”

Among those in the historic church to say farewell was Devizes Mayor Chris Gay.

She presented him with a gift of a picture from the town during the service which was live-streamed to an audience unable to attend in person because of the virus restrictions.

Those who managed to pre-book a space inside the church had to leave their details at the door.

Communion was given to people in the pews rather than at the altar and a chosen few members of the St John’s Choir sang. Anna Hallett performed a solo.

Curate Gerry Lynch, who joined St John’s Church, this summer had his ordination delayed by Covid-19 restrictions but the ceremony finally took place at Salisbury Cathedral on Saturday.

St John’s is now advertising for a new rector to replace Mr Richardson who has gone into semi-retirement in Oxfordshire.

Mr Richardson, 62, took over the post in 2007 after St John’s was closed for more than a year following an arson attack in September 2006.

He was welcomed to Devizes by a church packed with 350 people including a number from his former parish in Westbury.

He said at the time: “Devizes is Wiltshire’s heart. You can see it on a Thursday when it is market day. The place is buzzing with people who come from all over the county.

“The fire was a terrible thing but there is a silver lining in the sense that it has enabled us to start a fresh chapter.” Now another new beginning beckons.

On Saturday Mr Lynch, 42, was finally ordained at Salisbury Cathedral but coronavirus restrictions meant that he was able to take only one guest.

But he is no stranger of virus restrictions as his training at St Stephen’s College, Oxford came to an abrupt end in March with lockdown and his graduation ceremony was cancelled.

He said: “It is a privilege to be here.”