MULTIPLE sclerosis has forced a dedicated vicar to take the difficult decision to retire early from his ministry.

The Rev Tony Morgan is standing down from the pulpit one final time when he conducts his last service at St Hilda's Church in York this Sunday.

Mr Morgan has been at the church in Tang Hall Lane since 2001, having previously been a priest at Newton Abbot, in Devon.

His early retirement follows a diagnosis four years ago of relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS).This is characterised by relapses during which time new symptoms can appear and old ones resurface or worsen, followed by periods of remission.

Mr Morgan is able to trace early symptoms of MS back about 12 to 13 years, but said it was only formally diagnosed four years ago and had made his role increasingly more difficult to perform.

"It is one of those diseases that is different for everyone. It has affected how effective I can be,"

admitted the 49-year-old. "That's why I am retiring. Certainly in the past year or so, it has made it difficult. I have a disabled scooter because my walking is badly affected.

"Until last year I was able to carry on in general, although early mornings weren't a good time for me.

You can do it for so long but I have realised now I can't be a vicar."

Mr Morgan said it had been a hard decision.

"When you have a life-time vocation, it is not easy to then make a realisation that you can't fulfil that. But then you look at what you can fulfil and where you are going."

An electrician by trade, he spent some time working as a farm manager in Zambia. He then became a vicar in the early 1990s after being ordained a deacon in 1991 and then a priest in 1992.

He and his wife, Lynne, are retiring to the village of Westhouses, just outside Derby, where they have family ties, and he is looking forward to spending more time with his family.

He also hopes to indulge in his hobbies including bird watching and work on writing a book about the early Anglo-Celtic church in England.

"That's one of my passions which has really taken off in the past four to five years," he said.

Mr Morgan also hopes to be able to conduct occasional services once he has settled into his new home.

Looking back, he said: "The biggest highlight of my time at St Hilda's was the new modern church building which is a multi-use building and was consecrated in 2002 by the Archbishop."