Fernley was one of this year’s recipients of the Diocese of Truro’s Cross of St Piran awards at a ceremony which took place on 5 March.

The story of Fernley Rowe’s involvement with his parish church goes back to the 1880s.

He now represents the fourth generation of his family serving as churchwarden in the village of St Neot near the town of Liskeard in southeast Cornwall. Indeed, his family have so far completed a total of 99 years in service to the church.

Fernley will be celebrating his 78th birthday this year, and says he is looking forward to marking his family’s century of churchwardenship in 2024.

The citation for his award of the Cross of St Piran describes him as “a perfect example of a Christian in our community”. He is praised as a “statesman of the community” – “nothing seems to be too much trouble for him”.

Fernley has three sons. Their own involvement in their local church looks set to take the family tradition to a fifth generation.

He says, however, that at their age he hadn’t been interested in continuing that tradition himself. He had a young family and was running a farm. It was only later in life that he was able to find the time to grasp the family baton of such dedicated service to his parish.

Nevertheless, he’d been involved in the church from an early age. “When I was a small child, my first job in church was to pump the organ. I got thruppence a time for it, in old money,” he says. “I did that until we went electric.”

In his teens, he served as a sidesman, taking the collection on Sundays.

By the time he was 17, he was learning how to ring the church bells. “I still ring the bells now – not quite so often, but I’m there to ring them if I’m needed,” he says.

His extraordinary history of service to his parish is counterpointed by his own personal modesty. “I’m no good at public speaking or anything like that,” he insists, “but I’m here for everything else.”

In his late 50s, he became churchwarden. He has now devoted nearly eight decades to his local community.

“I’ve lived in the parish all my life,” he explains. “I’ve supported all the local organisations – from pantomimes to local historians, from the scouts to our local charities group.”

Faith is important to his family, in an honest and unaffected way. “We believe in Christ and the religion and all that,” he says. “I do try to encourage the young ones to come to church, which can be a difficult task.”

He has three granddaughters, whom he has also encouraged to join the church. “I think it gives them something more to think about, rather than being on their iPads or phones all the time,” he says. “It gives them a bit of peace. One of my granddaughters is particularly interested in it. I think it gives her a little bit more belief in Christ, and that gives her more belief in herself.”

He also helps to organise local school visits to the church. “You see the faces of the children who’ve never been into the building before – their little faces just light up.”

This large medieval church is renowned for its stained glass windows, which date back to the fifteenth century. Fernley is clearly very proud of his local church and of his family’s longstanding connection with it. Yet he remains in himself a deeply modest man.

He says that he is of course very happy to be receiving the Cross of St Piran award: “I’m honoured and all that, but I look around and see there are others who’ve done just as much as – and more than – I’ve done.

“But this award is honouring the whole family – all the years and the energy that the family have put into this – parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, children, grandchildren, husbands and wives.”