THROUGH thick and thin, kindly John Cowlin has dedicated his life to the maintenance of the beautiful 12th century church which helped to shape him as a person.

At the tender age of ten, John first walked through the doors of St John the Baptist’s Church, in Mount Bures.

He remembers escaping the bombs falling on Chelmsford when he first arrived in the village with his family during the Second World War.

From then on, the church remained an intrinsic part of his life.

It gave him his first job and he tied the knot with his wife Sheila at the church in 1958.

It isn’t just a one-way relationship though, as John, now 84, has spent 75 years giving his all to make sure the church will still stand proud for the next generation.

It hasn’t always been easy, with the modest deputy church warden citing the rise and fall of the congregation as the primary challenge.

“As a building it has developed very well, it has improved just as the congregation has gone down,” he said.

“I think in the main I have enjoyed the maintenance and looking after the church as much as anything.

“I also always appreciated the fellowship you find too.”

And it is that fellowship which has now formally recognised John’s enormous contribution.

The Rev John Chandler has nominated John in the Little Deeds, Big Difference competition, run by Ecclesiastical Insurance, with a grand prize of £10,000 for the church.

Mr Chandler said: “Churches do go through times of strength and weakness, and John can remember the day when the vicar turned round from the organ and said: ‘Sing up, John – there’s only me and you!’

“But our church is on the up and John has embraced modern services and worship styles, always keen to encourage people to join us.

“He has seen many changes over the years and has been part of them all.

“He remembers electricity being installed in 1948, but he continued pumping the organ manually for some years until it got its electric blower.

“He helped when the churchyard was completely renovated and old gravestones were removed, and can still remember names from those days.”

Throughout John’s steady tenure he has supported nine vicars and seen generations of families grow.

He is the first in and the last out, making sure the church is open every day and closing it each evening.

John even planted Christmas trees in his garden in order to supply the church sanctuary with a tree every year.

Mr Chandler added: “He’s even been known to make our communion wine from the fruit in his garden.

“He cares about the building very much.

“It is Grade I listed, so there’s always something to be done.

“John just gets on and does it.

“We’re sure there are lots of little things he does behind the scenes that we don’t even know about yet.”

John was there when the popular Mount Bures Flower Festival began at the church, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last weekend.

He says the church team is “well on its way” to finishing fundraising to build a much-needed kitchenette and toilet.

Churches have until August 31 to nominate a volunteer, for more information visit