Every Sunday in a different Norfolk church
Norwich Quaker and magistrate, John Myhill, continues his experiment as a nomadic Christian and has visited numerous Norfolk churches over the past three months. On his travels he has learnt to expect the unexpected!
John enjoyed a lot of positive feedback from the first three months of his travels around Norfolk churches.
Click here to read the first installment.
Here John writes about another three months of learning from the rich diversity of Christians in Norfolk and beyond.
It does not get any easier, and these visits were challenging as well as cheering. There is delight in the life and growth of the spirit, yet sadness at the continuing separation of the body of Christ.
1) The Anglican Cathedral. The beauty of the music and liturgy are sympathetic to the medieval architecture, just as the Roman Catholic Cathedral’s more modern music and language reflected a more modern building. This is a very English experience for a very English congregation, so that even Lazarus and Ezekiel are transformed into ancestors rather than foreigners. A very welcoming community of priests and people. How nice it must be to belong to such magnificence.
2) I was also grateful to the Cathedral for making their beautiful new conference room available for the Lent bible study group: “Called to be Wrong”. When I prepared for the six sessions, I expected to have some challenging evangelicals, who would take every word literally. What God sent me was a group of argumentative liberals, who had to be dragged back to the text! How would I have coped with Martin Young and the gathering at St. Andrews, who came to listen to him talk about the importance of the Bible? Or even with those dedicated souls I listened to reading the Bible from cover to cover at the Forum!
3) “Good news” readers will be familiar with Chris Lee, who was on the front page, the week I went to hear him preach at Today’s Lifestyle Church (TLC). The large hall made the congregation seem smaller than it was. The screens and high tech music at the front reminded me of Abba and Eurovision in the 80’s. The message, that we should express our joy in the lord, especially when things go wrong, came through with great sincerity. Every crisis is an opportunity for the Lord.
4) Back at Quakers for Wednesday worship, I spoke about Daniel and the four beasts. Not the sort of thing you usually hear in a Quaker Meeting. But it was good preparation for the Norfolk Ecumenical Criminal Justice meeting, with the Crown prosecution Service. Jesus telling us to be “In the world but not of it” is a great challenge for all of us.
5) Good Friday I joined with my local Parish church in an hour of meditation before the cross. Easter Sunday was also our wedding anniversary, so I celebrated the resurrection with my family. Our youngest daughter had just become engaged. It was a perfect day to celebrate the beauty of God’s continuing creation.
6) Wymondham Baptists are warm and welcoming. The singing group put plenty of variety into the folk melodies. The preacher, Alan Davies, reflected thoughtfully on the Road to Emmaus. This is a congregation recovering and growing, with a new humility after the split of three years ago. Some very happy children were playing a full part in their community. They had eight baptisms that week.
7) The Hope Community Church in Wymondham started from those who split away from the Baptists, but now have over 150 people worshipping in the high school. The songs varied from Baptist hymns to heavy rock, with some excellent young musicians. There was a passionate exposition of the Prodigal son from Grantley Watkins. This is an emotional way to spend a couple of hours, and I felt uplifted and enriched by the experience.
8) The Judge’s Service at Peter Mancroft. I am sure the line in the hymn “Glorious things of thee are spoken”; “Fading is the worldling’s pleasure All his boasted pomp and show” was not lost on the congregation in robes, wigs, chains of office and ceremonial sword. Likewise the reading from Matthew 19:16-22 advises the rich young man to sell all he had. There were no members of the public, so that in my suit, I was distinctly under-dressed. Sat in the choir stalls I felt I had gone back stage at the theatre to sit with the actors. This was Church of England in Royal Wedding mode.
9) Wymondham Methodist Church: - David Ingham spoke of “Jesus the Door”; going out into the world knowing we have a safe home church to return to spoke to my condition. Hymns familiar to me from a Church of England childhood, sung with the lighter more jolly tunes of Methodism. Most of the congregation have retired from work, but not from life and the congregation is increasing in numbers, as they take the spirit of their community out into their daily lives.
10) On holiday I missed Rowan Williams at Bicester. At Wenlock Edge, a tiny town compared to Norwich, they had a large congregation of ordinary people at their judge’s service!
11) Norwich Central Baptist Church had a congregation of above 250 with plenty of young people and children. There was one traditional hymn at the end but otherwise modern repetitive songs, well led by two young soloists. An excellent sermon by James East on Elisha and the “chariots of fire”, which was much better than the film! The lessons the Bible provides for application in the ministry all Christians give to the world. A very sociable gathering.
12) Beating the bounds of my local parish, with a service for Rogationtide: a very rural festival with hymns from my childhood.
13) Wymondham Abbey for sung Eucharist, already the third service of the Abbey’s Sunday. More formal and ritualised than the Catholics, and a long way from Quakerism, but I found some pleasant silence whilst others took communion. An interesting sermon from deacon David Oldham, now a priest, about the role of the paid priesthood as acting on behalf of the priesthood of all believers. From Elijah carried into heaven last week to the Ascension this week, perhaps a metaphor for the experience of priesthood? Just at the point where a Baptist sermon would get into its stride the Church of England comes to an end! No coffee afterwards, but if you want anonymity, the abbey is the place for you.
14) Celebrate at the Forum was a memorable couple of days. The Café church at the Forum on the Sunday morning made the move from social chat to worship very easy for those who have never been to church. We had a quiz, won by the table with the most children! A dynamic speaker from South Africa expressed my experience of visiting other churches when he advised Christians to keep searching if they felt they were in the wrong church, because the diversity of denominations means there is a worshiping community for you somewhere, and every Christian needs to belong to a community of believers, in order to live the life. The discussion on my table was very lively. We then heard Brad speak of his transformation from a life of drugs and alcohol to the freedom of Christ’s work.
15) In Dunblane for British Quakers committee on Ecumenical and Inter-faith relations. Currently the committee is meeting with the Board of Jewish Deputies to discuss the Quaker decision to boycott goods from the occupied Palestinian territories. I was moved to read to them about Naboth’s vineyard which King Ahab coveted so badly that he brought about Naboth’s death.
16) St. John’s Timberhill for Corpus Christi pontifical high mass. This version of “bells and smells” makes even Wymondham Abbey and the Catholics seem Protestant. Not the Baptists, nor the Russian Orthodox, nor new Frontiers can make me feel like a heretic, but this service does. Graham James spoke about how he came to appreciate high mass and the significance of the sacrament in Liverpool. We sang in Latin, which is quite fun, as is the incense and the OTT costumes, but the hymn “Then came the unbelievers, they wrecked the house of God” as a reference to the Reformation, along with the devotion to the mother of Jesus, would have made the Pope blush for its patriotism for Roman England. For those of us who feel that Christ is within, independent of external symbols and sacraments and celebrate the diversity of creeds and forms, this felt like “Brideshead Revisited”.
17) Back to the start with another visit to the Anglican Cathedral to witness the installation of the new Bishop of Lynn. This time in the chancel with choir haunting in English and French: and legal documents read before an audience mostly in dog collars. This was a precision performance which deserved to be televised.
Click here to read the next instalment of John's visits to different churches