A bishop is to bestow special awards on a couple who have each devoted more than half a century to volunteering at St Edmundsbury Cathedral.
Alf and Doreen Whitelock are to receive the Order of St Edmund during a special service in Bury St Edmunds next Sunday (November 23).
The prestigious award, which only 10 people have ever received, is a special honour given by the Bishop to people who have demonstrated exemplary or unusual service to the cathedral.
“I was a bit overwhelmed quite honestly,” said Alf, 83, of receiving a ‘delightful’ letter from the Right Rev David Thomson, Acting Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, who he is looking forward to meeting in person.
“We’re very pleased. Certainly we’re very chuffed but there are a lot of people who’ve done a lot of years,” said Doreen, 84.
The couple, from Great Barton, have held a number of roles during their time at the cathedral but say that helping others simply became ‘ a way of life’.
Doreen’s family have always been involved in church work – her grandfather founded a church in South London, her father served as a church warden and her brother-in -law, John Waddington, was the cathedral’s first provost.
Her volunteering at the cathedral began with helping her sister, John’s wife, Marguerite, cater for lunches. She then founded and served as secretary of the young wives’ group, which evolved into the ladies fellowship that she also led for six years.
She helped in the cathedral shop for around 20 years and now runs a successful secondhand jigsaw puzzle stall at Bury’s Christmas Fayre, which raised as much as £1,200 for the cathedral last year.
“I was a choirboy somewhere else when I was young but I wasn’t really a churchgoer until Doreen and I were married,” said Alf, who began volunteering as a server.
He founded the cathedral’s men’s club and started and ran the cathedral’s former Cub pack for around five years.
As a retired banker, he has also served as finance officer for the Christmas Fayre and other events.
One of his proudest and most ‘nerve-racking’ moments came in the early 60s when he was crossbearer for a Festival of Remembrance service at the Royal Albert Hall, attended by the Queen.
The Very Rev Dr Frances Ward, Dean of St Edmundsbury Cathedral, said Alf and Doreen had shown dedicated Christian service which had not only supported the mission and ministry of the cathedral, but also enriched the lives of the many people they had encountered while going about their duties.
The couple have organised a lunch with their three sons next weekend to help celebrate their special day.