A CHADDERTON man has been bestowed a rare papal honour for his unstinting support for a church he has attended from being a babe in arms.

In a surprise ceremony on Easter Sunday, the priest of St Herbert’s RC Church, Father Peter McKie, presented 74-year-old Michael Lawson with the Benemerenti medal on behalf of Pope Francis.

Michael - who is an organist and choirmaster at the Broadway church, a former St Herbert’s school teacher and retired headteacher of Holy Family primary, in Limeside - was given the honour in recognition of his long-standing service to the church and the parish.

He said not only was it a complete surprise, it was also very humbling.

“It was quite unexpected,” said Michael, also secretary of Chadderton Historical Society since it began in 1975.

“I was called to the front of the church and presented with the medal and scroll and everyone applauded. I didn’t have a clue. It was really emotional and to receive it on Easter Sunday made it truly special.

"The church was packed with people.

“The church has always been a big part of my life and I really enjoy being a part of it.”

Michael first attended St Herbert’s - then “an old tin church” before it was rebuilt - with his parents when he was just 10 months old and has been going ever since.

He is instrumental in organising the installation of the crib at Asda Chadderton every Christmas and wrote a book on the history of the parish of St Herbert’s to mark its centenary in 2016.

Father McKie, who nominated Michael for the honour through the Apostolic delegation in London, said: “He has done so much for the parish I thought it was time he received some recognition.

“I have only known of two others in this parish to have received the medal in my 20 years here.

“It is a very rare honour.”