A POPULAR Westhoughton church leader is retiring from his duties after spending 11 years in the town.

Reverend Gary Lawson, aged 61, the team rector of Westhoughton, said he has mixed emotions ahead of his departure at the end of the month.

Rev Lawson, who has previously worked in Bolton and Wythenshawe after being brought up in Warwickshire, said: “Many people have said they will miss me and of course I shall miss Westhoughton and the relationships I have built up here.

“It is a strange time — obviously retirement is something you look forward to.

“I will move to Stockport and have a break before I attach myself to another church and I will have more time for walking and music.”

A special party at St Bartholomew’s Church has been planned for Friday, Rev Lawson’s final day in the job.

The Houghton Weavers are due to put on a performance after guests enjoy a pie and peas supper.

The hunt is now on for his successor, although a permanent appointment is not expected for a few weeks.

Rev Lawson has been based in Westhoughton since January 2003, and he oversees St George and St Thomas churches, as well as St Bartholomew’s.

He said he has been extremely lucky with both St Bartholomew’s and his home at the Rectory in Market Street.

Rev Lawson added: “I’ve lived in old houses, a council flat when I was in Peckham, but the church and my home are nice and modern and offered no problems at all.

“I feel very lucky to have spent 11 years here and will be sad to go.”

Team vicar Gareth Thomas is staying and he, with some outside help, will be fulfilling Rev Lawson’s duties until a successor is found.