Parishioners welcomed the Bishop of London for a special thanksgiving marking the 30th anniversary of a church community centre and to honour a long-serving headteacher.

Dame Sarah Mullally used the visit to St John’s Friern Barnet in an address on Bible Sunday to pay tribute to its church school headteacher Graham Gunn, who retires next month after 44 years.

“The importance in providing warmth, shelter and community like St John’s as we approach winter cannot be overstated,” the bishop said afterwards.

“It was a great joy to visit St John’s on Bible Sunday to witness the work being carried out in Friern Barnet. They are truly blessed to have had Graham Gunn for the past 20 years.”

Graham, who has taught in Barnet schools since 1980 and been head of St John’s Primary School in Crescent Road since 2003, was awarded the St Mellitus Medal by the Bishop for his lifelong service.

The bishop’s visit also marked 30 years of St John’s parish centre, opened in 1993 by the then-Bishop of London, the Rt Rev David Hope.

The Rector of St John the Evangelist, The Rev Dagmar Wilkinson, said: “I am pleased to see the parish bouncing back after the pandemic, with the community centre serving and bringing people together, where everybody is included and nobody is excluded.”

The centre has been “a warm focal point for the community” for three decades, housing activity groups such as the parish play group, dance classes and even a junior church.

But it wasn’t always so cosy, the bishop learned. Churchgoers previously had to use the old Victorian vicarage, which was “draughty and dated, with just a single outdoor latrine”. There wasn’t even a kitchen to make tea, so washing-up was done by worshippers living nearby who had to cart everything home to rinse, dry and prepare for the next service.

St John’s parish church in Friern Barnet Road was built in 1910 as a chapel-of-ease for the 800-year-old St James the Great in nearby Friern Barnet Lane, which is thought to date from the 12th Century and was rebuilt and expanded in the 19th Century as the population grew.