Rector of Yarmouth retires to Borneo
2009: Canon Michael Woods, the former Rector of Yarmouth has bid a dramatic farewell to Norfolk as he prepares to move to the more tropical climate of Borneo.
But after a whole series of goodbyes involving the 22 different voluntary institutions in the town he has served - "not to mention all the official bodies and friends dating back to my schooldays" - the final curtain came last night at the town's St Nicholas' Church.
The special service, attended by the Bishop of Thetford, the Rt Rev David Atkinson, marked the end of Canon Woods' 17-year tenure as the Rector of Yarmouth, and his links with St Nicholas', the largest parish church in England, which go back nearly 50 years.
For a clergyman renowned for his strong, individual character and unconventional wit, it is hardly surprising that his retirement will not mean tending roses in the back garden of some Norfolk village.
Rather he will be nurturing tropical bougainvillea, hibiscus and bananas - and his "English-style garden using local plants" will be carved out of the secondary jungle of Borneo.
Canon Woods first made a mental note to return after visiting the world's third-biggest island as a teenager on a voluntary service trip with the church.
He had been worried by the prospect of encounters with poisonous spiders and snakes but found the people so friendly that he immediately began thinking, "I want to spend the rest of my life here".
His varied career following his ordination at North Walsham Parish Church in 1967 included a five-year stint in Borneo and it was a life-long relationship with a family forged then that paved the way for his retirement to Kuching - "a city the same size as Coventry" - in the predominantly Christian Sarawak state.
He said: "I arranged for a young student to come here under my sponsorship to study at sixth-form college and go on to do his degree and masters' degree. He now has a doctorate and is lecturing in the US.
"His father said to me, 'We have got no money but I have got land. How many acres do you want?' At the age of 65, I said one acre would do me nicely."
Canon Woods will be staying in temporary accommodation while he oversees the design and construction of his new home about seven miles outside Kuching.
Already a fluent Iban speaker, he is looking forward to continuing his work as an unpaid priest supporting local clergy at the cathedral in Kuching.
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