Norwich church that puts its faith into action
By Mike Wiltshire
Although it is a relatively small church, the Christian Fellowship Norwich is making a significant impact among the 14,000 residents of Lakenham, Norwich.
"We aim to put faith into action," says Pastor Duane Elkins who, for six years, has led the Fellowship that meets at New Hope Christian Centre. "Our 'footprint' is bigger than our membership."
Duane's wife, Clare, is project manager of Community Action Norwich, a church-based team of 45 volunteers whose social work promotes tolerance, raises self-esteem and helps build positive relationships through a host of activities in Lakenham, Tuckswood and beyond.
These range from the Lakenham Day Centre for the over-55s, a befriending programme, a lunch club plus adult literacy work, advocacy with housing issues and bereavement support. The church has 150 children 'on its books' for a wide range of activities, including an allotment project that offers families 'hands-on' experience in cultivating the land.
"We love this area," says Duane, who was born in the US and once did Christian work among the 35,000 students of Southwest Texas State University. Duane felt led to come to the UK 16 years ago where he met Clare in Norwich. After a whirlwind romance they married and lived for a while in Texas before moving back to Norwich. Today, they have three children and are both school governors.
Duane, who is also a Street Pastor, is working with other churches in the area in a new charity called 'Share Lakenham' which aims to see a youth worker installed in an area where low-aspiration amongst youngsters and teenage pregnancies are high.
The church, in Martineau Lane, is involved in cafechurch outreach projects and has mission links with Romania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. It has also facilitated many activities including Norwich Foodbank, since figures show that 30,000 people in Greater Norwich are living on the edge of poverty.
Duane pays tribute to his parents-in-law, John and Doreen Betts, who retired from the senior leadership of church in 2006 after 40 years of Christian service in Norwich. They are both highly involved and Duane describes John as 'a spiritual entrepreneur' for all manner of projects at home and abroad, as well as being director of the annual Celebrate Norwich and Norfolk event in June.
New Hope remains a hub of activity where church distinctives include a love for Bible-teaching - four of its members have theology degrees - as well as showing practical love to local people.
"Everything is built around friendships and seeing lives transformed," says Duane, who admits he does not watch TV because he does not have one. "We are always looking for people who will roll up their sleeves and get involved," he says. www.newhopechristiancentre.co.uk
Pictured above is Duane Elkins outside New Hope Christian Centre.