Canon Michael Johnson, Vicar of Wroughton, is to retire in May, having served the parish since 1993. He has been Prospect Hospice chaplain for many years. Mr Johnson, 65, is married to Sue Dallyn, a teacher, and the couple have a son. In retirement Mr Johnson will continue to work in the diocese, including mentoring those considering ordination.

“MY father was a vicar,” said Michael Johnson.

“I always say that’s why I had to go off and do a bunch of other things before I finally got ordained.”

Those other things ranged from working in an off licence to serving in the merchant navy as a mate on coastal vessels.

He has a vivid memory from the scorching summer of 1976.

“I remember coming into the Thames Estuary. There was a remote control for the steering and I’d taken it out on to the bridge roof. I was sitting on there, steering the ship and thinking, ‘This is great – I’m being paid to do this!’”

Mr Johnson’s mother had been a teacher, but settled into the role of vicar’s wife as convention dictated in those days. The family - Mr Johnson has a sister – lived in North London.

He has been a Christian for most of his life.

“Yes, I was brought up in a Christian family. I was christened when I was three weeks old and confirmed when I was about fourteen. Fairly soon after that I regretted having done that because I wasn’t entirely sure whether I believed in God – I just wasn’t sure about the whole thing.

“But then, somewhat after that, having had that wobble I began to think, ‘Maybe there’s something about ordination that’s kind of floating around in the back of my mind. I kind of didn’t really want to know much about that at the time.

“It just seemed to be too difficult, too much of a responsibility, I considered other things – and that was one of the reasons I ended up going to sea.”

An early university stint - theology, sociology and psychology at Durham – ended when, as he cheerily admits, he was kicked out for not working hard enough. He says it was a formative experience.

He worked at an off licence and in London for an organisation called Mission to Seafarers, travelling aboard a small vessel to minister to crews.

“I have spent a lot of time with seafarers, and you rarely find an atheist seafarer. I think when you come face to face with waves falling over you in the middle of the North Atlantic in winter, then you kind of get to realise you’re not the biggest thing on the Earth…”

A second, successful stint at university followed. This time it was theology at Exeter, and his studies were interspersed with his time in the Merchant Navy.

At the university chapel one day, the chaplain told him of an informal Christian community in a house on the edge of Dartmoor, and suggested he visit.

“I thought, ‘I don’t want to do that.’ I went to tell the chaplain that I didn’t want to do it. He said, ‘Why don’t you go and meet them, and tell them you don’t want to do it?’

“So I went and told them I didn’t want to do it and ended up living there for about eighteen months while I was still at university, and engaging in ministry in the villages there.

“That was another step, moving towards ministry.”

His time at sea also propelled him toward his increasingly urgent vocation, albeit in an unusual way.

“I think I needed something to give up in order to be ordained, because when you’ve got a father who was ordained and was a brilliant priest, you need to know you’re doing it for your reasons and not out of a kind of family inertia. I think that’s why I’d sort of run away from it for about ten years.”

Mr Johnson was ordained at St Paul’s Cathedral in 1978 and served in London parishes before his move to Wroughton in 1993.

Why Wroughton?

“Ultimately it was the fact that people were so welcoming and friendly and willing, and seemed to want us to come.

“It’s a community where people want to be and want to stay. It has brilliant networks of caring. It’s small enough that things can happen – I’m thinking of the Wroughton Carnival, for example, and the Passion Play that we managed to get going last Easter.

“You can do those things in Wroughton. It’s a responsive community. It’s a friendly community – it’s not precious and it’s not a place where you have to be there for three generations before you’re accepted. People are welcomed right away.

“I think that’s good and I’d like to think the church plays its part in helping to affirm the good values that Wroughton stands for.”

Since 1993 he has seen many changes in church life, notably a move toward congregations being encouraged to take a more active role in church activities and events which would have been run solely by vicars in the past.

Some things remain the same, though.

“It’s still about pastoral care, it’s still about meeting people at significant moments in their lives. It is always a wonderful privilege to be able to share in the joyous moments when children are being baptised and people are getting married, and being able to sometimes allow folk to put into words the feelings that they have.

“For example, if you’re asking why they want to get married in church, and people will say, ‘Well, it’s traditional, my family’s always done it,’ or ‘It seems right.’ It’s then being able to ask what that means and being able to recognise that there’s something about the presence of God in the marriage relationship, and that you’re receiving God’s blessing as well as the affirmation of the state in a piece of paper saying you’re married.

“It’s providing a deeper dimension.

“It remains a huge privilege when you are entrusted at funeral services with the sad moment when people are saying farewell. It’s really important to do your very best for the family at that time, and to honour the person they have known and loved, and quite often who I haven’t known at all.

“That’s quite hard but it’s a huge privilege to be trusted with that – that’s the point I want to make.”