A BOBBY is swapping life on the beat to take up residency as a church minister after a calling from God.

PC Mark Bates is retiring from Lancashire Constabulary after 30 years of service to become a minister with the United Reformed Church.

The 48-year-old from Blackburn became involved in the church which has a base off Shear Brow after doctors told him he might not work again when he sustained a neck injury during a training exercise in 1994.

He said: “I just started getting involved in the local church and during one of the church services I had a feeling, a sense of God around me, a Damascus road moment.”

PC Bates joined Lancashire Police Cadets in 1978.

He was posted to Blackburn in 1980 where he has worked in a variety of roles including a response officer, community beat manager in Shadsworth and more recently working as partnerships officer at Hyndburn Borough Council.

PC Bates has been juggling his time with ministerial work at Royal Blackburn Hospital as well as churches in Bury and Bolton.

The married father-of-two is currently studying for a BA Honours Degree in Contextual Theology through the Northern Ordination College.

He hopes to be ordained into a pastorate in Summer 2011.

Mark said: “I have really enjoyed my time with Lancashire Constabulary and although I am looking forward to the future, I will be sad to leave the police family.

“There’s not much difference between being a police officer and a minister.

"But as a minister you offer spiritual help as well as the help you would offer in the community when you are a police officer."

Chief Superintendent Bob Eastwood added: “The police force can prepare people for a variety of different challenges.

"I am pleased that Mark will be continuing to help people and wish him all the best in his future career.”