Father Gary Priest in St Paul’s Anglican Church, Byron Bay. He will retire on August 30.
Father Gary Priest in St Paul’s Anglican Church, Byron Bay. He will retire on August 30.

‘Laughing’ priest leaves happy legacy in Byron Bay

He may be only small in stature, but Father Gary Priest has a big heart and an even bigger laugh.

 With a smile that lights up his face, Father Gary, who says his name is the brunt of many a joke, will retire as priest of the Anglican Parish of Byron Bay on Sunday (August 30).

He has been parish priest for five years and he and his wife Robyn will retire to Blackwood in Adelaide.

 Prior to his appointment in Byron Bay, Father Gary worked in Kingscliff for 10 years; Bunbury in Western Australia for 12 years and Balranald for five years.

“I have worked in four parishes during my ministry and each one has been unique and special,” he said.

“It’s like having four children, you love them all because they are different. I have loved my time in Byron Bay, it’s been amazing.

“I love the diversity here, the sense of celebration along with the struggle with the darker side. It’s a place of energy.”

Father Gary said he had been involved with the community and had worked with the homeless, indigenous people, backpackers, tourists and locals. He said the church community had also been wonderful and with the voluntary help from lots of backpackers, the church at Broken Head had been restored, the hall behind the church in Byron Bay had been painted and a new roof had been erected at the St Columba Church at Ewingsdale.

“Because this is Byron Bay, I also erected a meditation centre in the church, and with financial help from Cheeky Monkeys we have had new lights erected,” Father Gary said.

“It’s all been a great lot of fun and we have had so many laughs and many zany moments, but of course there is a serious side to my ministry as well.

 “It makes me happy that we have a faithful group of parishioners including a group of young people who have just made their Holy Communion.”

Father Gary said the church was still relevant in today’s society because of God’s love for everyone.
He said love never lost its relevance.

This down-to-earth priest with the infectious laugh will no doubt be missed by his parishioners and the wider community. But Father Gary will also miss Byron Bay.

“Robyn and I will also miss our weekly walks to the lighthouse and my weekly visit to the Byron Farmers Market, but I am looking forward to retirement and working in the garden,” he said.

Asked whether he was proud of the five years he had spent in Byron Bay, Father Priest chuckled and said: “Yes, there’s a sense of celebration here and joy and humanity in God, but you have to learn to just be your bloody self.”

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