A POPULAR priest is preparing to bid a fond farewell to his 'extraordinary' parish after nearly a decade in charge.

Canon Robert Springett will leave his role as rector of the Parish of Wanstead at Easter, to become Archdeacon of Cheltenham.

The 47-year-old father-of-two has become a well known and respected figure both within the congregation and the wider community in the area since taking up the post in June 2001.

The number of worshippers at Christ Church and St Mary's, has grown and diversified significantly during his tenure - highlights of which have included the celebration of the parish's 800th birthday and the installation of a magnificent organ at Christ Church.

Another high point has been the development of links with a community called Gulu in Northern Uganda where the parish has paid for the refurbishment of a school.

Canon Springett, who has spent the past 21 years working in the Diocese of Chelmsford - which includes Wanstead - described leaving the parish as "a tremendous wrench" for him, his wife Helen and their children Charlotte, 16, and Alice 11.

He said: "Wanstead is an extraordinary community. We have been made to feel tremendously welcome here, and have a very strong sense of connectedness.

"There have been so many wonderful memories from my time here. Among the most special were when the community came together for the celebrations of our 800th birthday and the crib sevices at Christmas when the church is packed with hundreds of parents and young children.

"It's chaos, but it's quite delightful all the same.

"A key challenge in a parish like Wanstead is to avoid becoming to inward looking, and I am particularly proud that we have begun to develop strong links with the outside world. In particular with Gulu in Northern Uganda, which I will be visiting with six others in March.

"We've had a wonderful time in Wanstead. It's a very special place.

"I'm confident that whoever follows me will continue to take the parish forward."

Canon Springett will conduct his last service on Sunday, April 25 before leaving to take up his new post in Gloucestershire.

Rev Liz Horwell will lead services at the two churches until a new rector arrives in the parish in about a year's time.