A year in the life of the Norfolk faith community
Norwich Quaker and magistrate, John Myhill, completes his year of visits to churches and faith services across Norfolk to experience the diversity of worship and spiritual gifts.
The past 12 months have been a deeply inspiring experience, and it will be strange to return to my silent Quaker Meetings from January.
I am happy to visit any church to talk about what God is doing in Norfolk through his one church or to dialogue with anyone about future plans.
1 Unitarians at the Octagon chapel. Sermon on Michael Servetus. I would love to hear this lady preaching this story at St John’s Timber Hill, whilst Martin Smith preached the truth of the Trinity to this congregation! Apart from the clear importance of this doctrine, other matters appeared to be as open for discussion and acceptance of difference as amongst Quakers. The organ was beautifully played by Anne Duarte. Unitarians have set many famous poets to music and their words were familiar to me as poems rather than hymns. It would be good to see this beautiful chapel full of worshippers.
2 Great Walsingham for the funeral of John Miller. A beautiful, large building full of light. John’s remarkable ecumenical life was presented by Methodist, Quaker and Anglican speakers, but it was his grandchildren’s words that moved me most.
3 A “diversity day” at Blackfriars Hall with an Inter-Faith stall. What people do is the only evidence we have of what they really believe. Then on to the Theology Society, at St Luke’s, for a talk by the president of the Baptist Union, Pat Took, who emphasised the importance of individual conscience within the shared statement of principle. Can we distinguish between individual conscience and following the will of God?
4 A weekend with the national Quaker Committee for Christian and Inter-Faith Relations, which seemed to me too busy with too little time for worship.
5 The Justice Service at Norwich Anglican Cathedral was coloured for by my visiting the “Occupy” camp, beside St Peter Mancroft church, on my way. We had a good Quaker hymn from Greenleaf Whittier. Robin Griffith-Jones, Master of the Temple, mentioned Mrs Jarrold, MP and Quaker, in his sermon, which was delivered with much drama, like a speech from Shakespeare. How would the “Occupy” people view the history of consumer rights, or the great and powerful who gathered to listen?
6 Living Water Pentecostal Church at the community centre, Long John Hill, was vibrant with singing by ladies from Zimbabwe, and brilliant keyboard playing from a boy wonder, in the style of the group “Madness”. The personal testimony was very moving, providing hope for the world. The 45-minute Bible study was all about living in the spirit, using the power of the Word to overcome all obstacles: a life-changing experience.
7 At Hethel church for a service of thanksgiving for the lives of local friends and relatives. The list of the dead exceeded the congregation of the living. A moving address from Louise Wright that benefited from 20 years experience in the Congo, where untimely bereavement is tragically common.
8 Roman Catholic church in Wymondham had a symbolic start when the entrance door shut and locked just in front of me. A dozen Catholics had assembled before the door was unlocked from within. The Bible reading was the story of the wise and foolish virgins (you will remember that those without oil found themselves locked out from the wedding feast!) And the sermon emphasised that we must be prepared for death at any time, or we may find ourselves locked out of heaven. The church was packed with a couple of hundred people, mainly families with small children, and the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed. The unfamiliar tunes were easy to sing and the solo singing was very beautiful. This was the only church where everyone knelt down for the prayers (in most churches it has become unusual.)
9 11/11/11 at Notcutts garden centre the two-minute silence was deep and respectful – peace, where there is usually none, is so powerful. Norfolk and Waveney Churches Together had a very interesting talk on Domestic Violence. It is so important that abusers and abused realise that their situation is not unusual, and that help is available to break the cycle. Plans were made for the Olympics and the Royal Norfolk Show.
10 The Seventh Day Adventists: 50-minute sermon from the president of the Adventist Conference, Sam Davis; covered a great deal of the old and new testaments, showing how God speaks to us and how we need to listen. The church was founded by Ellen G.White who taught her followers to abstain from many things that have since been found to be harmful to health: alcohol, smoking, animal fats, salt and sugar and caffeine. Fresh air and exercise make this a church where people believe and prosper.
11 Oak Grove Chapel
(once a Brethren church, now a free evangelical) meet at Catton Grove primary school, so there were lots of small children and their families. They see themselves as a mission church (pictured right). Gareth
and Jenny Irving
spoke about their mission community in Coventry,
where acceptance of calling leads to forming relationships in the local community and telling one’s personal story to those who will listen. A healthy tree must produce fruit and this health mission is producing fruit in Peru
The music was a bit slow, sometimes like Simon and Garfunkel sometimes almost Queen! A great idea was having coffee and chat half way through the service: a very friendly church.
12 MIND conference on Diversity at Kings Church: with a dozen relaxing forms of therapy and massage from around the world. Tendai’s cakes and the African music and dance were wonderful.
13 Induction service for Geoffrey Hewitt at Princes Street United Reformed church, with Paul Whittle presiding and an interesting exposition of Thessalonians by Nigel Uden from Cambridge. There were many welcomes from local churches together and five nice hymns.
14 Morning at the Cathedral considering rural mission with Graham Jones, National Rural Officer for the Methodist and URC churches. The diverse use of local church buildings (post office, CAB, farmers market, cafe and shop, art gallery, play group, tourist centre, IT, library etc.) was truly inspiring. We were an ecumenical group learning from each other, all members of the one Church.
15 Norwich Family Life Church. The high standard of pop singing from the stage was taken up more enthusiastically by the older members of the congregation than by the younger ones. Mark Pimlott’s sermon threatened the fires of hell to those who started the slow downward journey by watching soaps on TV or spending time alone with someone before they were married. This church provides mission to young people, and to India and the Philippines, and provides a foodbank. Is this a mega-church in the making? And what separates them from similar churches I have experienced like Proclaimers, TLC and Eternity?
16 A warm welcome at the Elim Pentecostal church off Vauxhall Street. Folk music with traditional guitars and beautiful singing from the congregation. The sermon emphasised that, like Mary, we should all be reassured, knowing that we are valued and nothing is impossible for God.
17 Induction of new Anglican chaplain, Dr. Oladapo Sotonwa, at Norwich Prison, by Jonathan Meyrick, Bishop of Lynn, and plenty of other chaplains. The service had to be hurried through as the men arrived late from their cells but had to return on time. Food and basics are tougher in prison now than they were 15 years ago, when I was a Quaker Prison Minister here.
18 The Reformed Jews did not meet at the old congregational church on Colgate, this month, so instead I enjoyed Christmas carols sung at the entrance to the Assembly Room, and the Salvation Army band at Chapelfield.
19 The sermon at the Norwich Reformed Church really spoke to my condition, as it was taken from Revelation 3:12: “him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my god and he shall go no more out” (a suggestion that I will stay with Quaker Meetings in future!) Alan Clifford, gave a learned exposition. It was interesting to see that Surrey Chapel is one of very few other churches acceptable to this Reformed church. The hymn tunes were complex and largely new to me. The congregation was six from one family and half a dozen others.
20 Up at 5-30 for a meeting at 111 Buckingham Palace Road, of the national Inter-Faith Network, who discussed organisational structures and government policies effecting faith communities, rather than Faith itself. A Quakerly silence was the only act of worship we could all accept. Currently 9faiths are recognised, but should pagans, be included?
21 Carol service at Hethel, where a suitcase was emptied by three engaging little girls to illustrate the Bible journeys of Abraham and Mary and Joseph. And on Christmas eve at Bracon Ash the same crib animals were brought up by a dozen children, as part of the Christmas story, as related by a donkey, a sheep and a camel. I was the camel. A very full church. “God bless us everyone.”