Epsom's St Barnabas Church bids fond farewell to its vicar of 27 years

This Is Local London: Photos: Nick Whitaker Photography / info@nickwhitaker.co.uk Photos: Nick Whitaker Photography / info@nickwhitaker.co.uk

More than 150 people turned out for a celebratory farewell dinner for a retiring Epsom vicar on Sunday.

Rev Michael Preston has said mass at St Barnabas Church, Temple Road in Epsom, for 27 years.

Among guests at the lunchtime event were Epsom and Ewell MP Chris Grayling and the mayor of Epsom, Councillor Colin Taylor.

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Mr Grayling, who first met Rev Preston when he was elected MP in 2001, praised him for the way in which he built inter-faith relations.

He said: "Michael has done more than anyone else I have come across to foster relations across the different faiths in the local community.

"I think that is his biggest legacy to the area.

"He and I went to Friday prayers together at the Islamic mosque. He is just as much a part of that community as this one. He has built close relationships with them over the years.

"People are very fond of him and very sad he is going."

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Coun Taylor first met Rev Preston in 2002 when they were both governors at Epsom Primary School.

He said: "Michael is a very, very wise man. When there were difficult situations he knew what to do - stay calm.

"He didn’t say very much but when he did say something it was worth listening to."

Dorothy Watson, Kites Club manager at the Sunnybank Trust, a charity based at the church and supported by this newspaper, said Rev Preston was part of the "fabric" of the charity.

"It’s really down to him that we’ve been able to support and work with all of the local community that have learning disabilities," she said.

"We wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for Michael. He is very helpful, he has a very open policy where he welcomes everyone.

"Whenever we have gone to him and said we’ve wanted to do something he has always been very supportive."

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Church volunteer Jo Campbell described him as a "shy, determined" man.

"He is very good on a one-to-one relationship," she said. "Frank Sinatra: do it my way. He likes things done his way. He is deeply spiritual."

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Dr Shakil U Rahman, consultant at Epsom General Hospital and former chair of the Epsom and Ewell Islamic Society, said: "Michael is a formidable figure helping to promote much-needed harmony and understanding amongst all of us."

Rev Sue Ball, from the Love Me Love My Mind charity, will say mass until a successor is found.

Rev Preston retires to Folkestone in three weeks’ time.

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