AFTER a quarter of a century of service to the people of Ilfracombe and its surrounding communities, the town s best-known cleric is to retire. The Reverend Prebendary Nigel Jackson-Stevens, 66, will officially step down from his post as Rector of the Ilf

AFTER a quarter of a century of service to the people of Ilfracombe and its surrounding communities, the town's best-known cleric is to retire.The Reverend Prebendary Nigel Jackson-Stevens, 66, will officially step down from his post as Rector of the Ilfracombe Team Ministry, which covers Holy Trinity Parish and St Peter's churches in the town plus the parish churches of Woolacombe, Lee, Mortehoe and Bittadon.It is in fact 36 years since Mr Jackson-Stevens and his wife Sue came to North Devon, following a five-line letter from the then Bishop of Exeter, Robert Mortimer who, with little preamble, said: "My dear Jackson-Stevens, I wonder if you would be interested in a country parish in North Devon? The one I have in mind is Swimbridge..."He stayed in the village for 11 years, before being invited to become Rector of Ilfracombe and has remained a popular figure, ministering to both the spiritual and everyday needs of an ever-growing population.Mr and Mrs Jackson-Stevens have four daughters - Anna, Sarah, Rachel and Rebecca - and following Nigel's retirement will be moving to live near Barnstaple.An official farewell is set for Sunday, September 28, when there will be an open party-cum-lunch for parishioners and anyone who wishes to attend at the Pavilion in the Landmark Theatre.Since arriving in Ilfracombe Mr Jackson-Stevens has conducted some 300 marriages plus 700 christenings, while 350 children and adults have gone on for confirmation in the Church and he said it would be terribly hard to leave a parish he loves so greatly."But I just think it's time to make way for a younger person," he said."I would like to thank everyone for making Ilfracombe the most wonderful place in which to live and work."It's a remarkable community and when you think of events such as the lighting of the Christmas lights, where else would you have the whole community turn out and the church starting it all off?"There is so much good will here, it's unbelievable."Never far from the West Country, Mr Jackson-Stevens was born in Glastonbury, Somerset, and completed his theological training at St Stephen's House in Oxford. He was made deacon in 1968 and ordained as a priest a year later.He spent five years as curate at All Saints' Church in Babbacombe, near Torquay, before taking up the Swimbridge post."When I was there, the parish had 52 farms in it and in those days there weren't so many people who commuted to Barnstaple," he said."It was a very close-knit community and the church was the centre in those days. When we put the cross up on the hill at Easter, almost all of the schoolchildren would turn out for it, at 7am."Destiny seemed to be at work, because Mr Jackson-Stevens was invited to preach at Ilfracombe by the then Archdeacon of Barnstaple, Prebendary Chandler, who remarked that a previous Vicar of Swimbridge - in 1880 - had gone on to become that of Ilfracombe, and he wondered whether history would repeat itself. And so it proved...Mr Jackson-Stevens was Rural Dean for Barnstaple during the mid-1990s and during his time in North Devon has enjoyed a number of roles.Before ordination he spent four years teaching at the famous All Saints' Church in Margaret Street, London, where he not only met his future wife but developed a deep interest in formal church music, which continues to this day in Ilfracombe."It's been a privilege to work in possibly the last Devon church outside the cathedral which has managed to continue its men and boys choir, not least through the support of so many local parents," he said."There have been some really beautiful services here, such as the Christmas carol services and midnight mass, second only to those in the cathedral, I should think."He paid tribute to some of the great efforts shown by the church community over the years, including an impressive £60,000 appeal in the 1980s to restore the parish church organ.Later, the successful Ilfracombe Poverty Action Group came into being through the work of church members Doreen Reading, Ivan Frances and Ann Thomas.Although officially on sabbatical before retirement, Mr Jackson-Stevens is still taking those services for which cover cannot be arranged.But for visits, home communions, weddings, baptisms and funerals, people are asked to contact the Team Vicar, the Reverend Giles King-Smith, on (01271) 870467.