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Diversity of worship in Norfolk churches

Norwich Quaker and magistrate, John Myhill, continues his visits around Norfolk churches. He is amazed at the diversity of worship and has seen that all the churches are growing, a reason why we need to take ecumenism even more seriously.

 


 This is the third quarter of John's visits around different churces. Click here to read his previous report.

  1. The Christian Socialist Group had invited me to address their AGM. A great honour as their last two speakers were bishops! I spoke about ideology and the means of production and questioned the meaning of Socialism. Are there rules which can prevent people from destroying the planet? Are Consumerism and Capitalism ideologies? This is a highly intelligent bunch of people and we had a deep and rational exchange of ideas.
  2. Green Pastures Christian Fellowship at Ormsby St Margaret.  Inspired Ministry from Colin, David, John, Paul and others.  Each spoke as the Spirit moved them, just as in a Quaker Meeting for Worship. The idea that we should be humble and realise that God has more to teach us, spoke to my condition. Unlike Quakers, there was 30 minutes of praising God before the Ministry and 30 minutes of Bible teaching afterwards. There was some speaking in tongues and a great sense of love and joy. The music reminded me of Country and Western singing. Like Quakers, there is no paid ministry only volunteer elders.
  3. Bishop Michael’s funeral.  Even the standing room was full in the huge Catholic Cathedral. Splendid choirs, amazing soloists.  Generous loving words from the Archbishop of Westminster and from Bishop James. The singing of local schoolchildren was especially moving.  Michael was a True Friend. He had planned the service, so there was room for laughter and tears. The service was over two hours but it was spectacle and beauty combined.
  4. Fountain of Life (Church of England) Ashill. A combination of New Wine and Alpha.  Here there is talk of a New Reformation, amongst denominations that recognise the fire in each other’s eyes: “the sprit transcending tribal boundaries”.  I felt that this church and particularly for a young missionary called James, there was much to be learnt from James chapter 5: the need for patience when facing people torn apart by past conflict. I was surprised that they were asking God for revival in the church, when I have seen in my travels that this is happening everywhere. The worship took me back to days of Toronto blessing, the flag waving to Tibet!
  5. The Norfolk Ecumenical Justice Group: a talk from the Minister of Justice. The big thing that the churches have to offer is our faith in the possibility of transformation, so a prayer would have been good. It is easy for some to forget that God is in charge and not the politicians.
  6. This Sunday morning I missed the bus to Norwich but spent the hour in conversation about the power of the Spirit. How churches wish to welcome the Spirit into their congregations, but continue to follow worldly ways (appointing people because of their qualifications and experience, rather than their spiritual transformation).  How quickly people who show spiritual gifts are absorbed into propping up old institutions, rather than saying what God has given them to say. (This could not be said of my “ancient mariner”)  So in the evening I propped up a service of hymns and readings at Bracon Ash: Lammas and the First Fruits. Truly rural and local, but not parochial, stretching us from the Horn of Africa to the deaths of missionaries in South America. A small community feeling part of the Universal body of Christ.
  7. Proclaimers: a large dark warehouse for 1990s dance music, boldly set to Christian words. A mainly student audience,. There seemed something of the economic message, “give to the church and Jesus will give you material prosperity”, but I met many loving, caring, thinking young people, who could cope with the Australian Hillsong. Their pastor was on mission in Thailand.
  8. Kings Church with older musicians, more of a 70s sound, easier to sing to.  A young man speaking for the first time analysed a long psalm, with much helpful detail. There were lots of families here, despite the holiday season, and most people stayed after the service, each with their own story of coming to Christ. Their pastor is on mission in China.
  9. Potters HousePotter’s House on Dereham Road. [pictured] Another family church, with about 30% black and 20% under 20. Most people, including the children were wearing suits. 9.30 to 10.30 Bible study on the final chapter of Revelations.  The singing was terrific and reminded me of the group “BoneyM”.  The 45 minute sermon was on the subject of “God wants to bless us so that we can be a blessing to others”.  Some young people spoke movingly about their experience of “Boot Camp”, where they experience military discipline and exercise until they are exhausted. I was impressed that this was bringing young people from London riot areas to Christ. The struggle against Satan is very real for this congregation.
  10. Norwich Vineyard church blessed with a lovely sunny day for an outdoors service by the River Yare at River Green in Thorpe St Andrew. We all enjoyed a performance of two spectators in the crowd at the Feeding of the Five Thousand: a very fitting text for our setting. There was a great sense of holiday, open air and dependence on Faith. Vineyard are well known for their informality and joy.
  11. Service of thanksgiving at Christchurch Eaton. I had been attracted by Rev. Patrick Richmond’s public statement that the Church of England was heading for extinction. Certainly no sign of it in his own church, where the large enthusiastic congregation led the service with contributions about the many different forms of caring taking place within the parish and beyond. I felt especially welcome by the singing of a hymn by Whittier (the Quaker).
  12. Hethersett Reformed Baptist Church: 20 people and Wesleyan hymns. A splendid exposition of the story of Abigail and King David. Hearty singing, making a good noise before the Lord. There was one family with two children, a couple under 40 and the rest of us 60 to 90, all in their Sunday best. Very welcoming, but no tea or coffee. Some of the congregation are ex-Brethren, and the service felt Victorian and very rural. They are open to visitors, but are not expecting the “elect” to be a large number. I was delighted by their emphasis on Salvation by Grace.
  13. Memorial to the grace of God as seen in the life of Mabel Nichol, a Friend who died just short of her 100th birthday.  Sometimes it is hard to think what Jesus would do in the modern world, but it was easy to imagine what Mable would be doing: she would be opposing restriction on squatters, supporting those who had lost legal aid and campaigning against the cuts to the youth service. Her life certainly spoke of the light within her.
  14. Norwich Synagogue. Two and a half hours, so even longer than most Evangelical services! I managed to follow most of the service in English, spotting many prayers that have been absorbed word for word into church prayer books. The Torah is carried round the building as the Gospel is in the Church of England, with the congregation turning to follow its progress. The speed of delivery of the service reminded me of the Orthodox church. The sermon was in English: Deuteronomy chapter 22: which would certainly make a challenging Lenten Bible study (any takers?)  I was struck by the enormous erudition of the Rabbinical tradition, which most of us Christians could learn from. There was plenty of humour and respect and delight in the challenge of understanding the Scriptures.
  15. Calverley Chapel for 9/11 and Racial Justice Sunday. A California revival Servant church with a multi-racial congregation on the edge of UEA campus. I was the oldest person there (but there were several men with beards). The singing was led by young people in the style of 60s ballard singing. Another sermon on Revelations and the activities of Satan.  Preacher and congregation were all determined to get the right doctrine, and very keen to argue with me after the service. The strength with which they held to doctrines against Evolution and boasting would make them difficult companions for some other congregations.
  16. Area Quaker Meeting: with an interesting report from a young Friend about the Evangelical Quakers from USA at Yearly Meeting.
  17. Wymondham United Reformed Church where, apart from a young couple newly engaged, I was one of the youngest members of the congregation! Ezekiel and the water flowing from the Temple: Jesus as the living water “drink and ye shall never thirst”. The preacher was a Methodist and I was impressed by the close working of URC and Methodists. The history of Presbyterians and Congregationalists has much to teach the new churches of the twentieth century.
  18. York Minster for sung Eucharist (400+ people dwarfed by the size of the church). Sermon from an American curate, Dr. David Efird: Matthew 21 “by what authority” do you throw over the tables of the money changers in the Temple?  This spoke to my condition as I hate to see tickets and turnstiles in a place of worship. As he said, this is just the question the Dean and chapter would ask a Quaker (like me) who interrupted the service at the Minster today. And is rather more civilised than the imprisonment Quakers received when they interrupted services in the Seventeenth century.  “The unity of all those who share in the communion” will only come about when all Christians have the same understanding of what communion is. We have a long way to go. 

 



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