West Norfolk’s new Vicar moves from Pakistan
In March the Rev Riaz Mubarak moved from Pakistan with his family to take up the role of Priest-in-Charge of West Winch and the surrounding parishes. Jenny Seal meets the new West Norfolk vicar and finds out about his journey so far.
In March the Rev Riaz Mubarak (43) flew from Pakistan to the UK with his young family to take up the post of Priest-in-Charge of the parishes of West Winch with Setchey, North Runcton, Middleton and East Winch with West Bilney, in rural West Norfolk.
He left his home country with a thriving parish ministry having held the position of Vicar at St Luke’s Church Abbottabad within north eastern Pakistan for seven and a half years. (Abbottabad is the same town where Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011). Within that time the church had enjoyed considerable growth.
Riaz said: “It was a small congregation when I started ministry there. There were about 37 families but we left with 115 families. It was a bigger, growing church and I baptised some of the non-Christian people there.”
In Pakistan Riaz was an influential figure both in his town and province. He specialised in interfaith dialogue; speaking at, and organising, seminars and conferences on the subject. He joined the parish in the aftermath of a disastrous earthquake, and so for four years he and his wife, Mary, ran a free medical camp providing free medicines, check-ups with doctors and treatment for the poor who couldn’t otherwise afford it.
Since arriving in the Diocese of Norwich Riaz and his family have enjoyed a warm welcome. On April 3 he was licensed by the Lord Bishop of Norwich the Rt Rev Graham James and on Sunday April 6 installed at a special service by the Rt Rev Jonathan Meyrick, the Bishop of Lynn.
Riaz already has a great fondness for his parishioners in his new parishes, but he is aware that his congregations are elderly and have been on the decline. He is eager to see the churches grow and attract more young people and families. He said: “There is a big challenge for me to bring younger people into the church and I hope God will help me.”
He is already planning different ways to engage with families including starting a Messy Church service. As part of his role he has become a School Governor at the Church of England’s Middleton VC Primary School and will be taking assemblies in the West Winch Primary School. As he and his family are friendly they expect to meet people in the shops and around the villages and at community events and build relationships naturally. He also has been given the responsibility of Chaplain of King’s Lynn Police.
He said: “My family are very friendly. We open our house to everyone and back in my country we opened our church to other denominations to use. I made my church a welcoming church. Here I’m working on it to make these four parishes welcoming parishes so that people can feel at home.”
The journey to West Winch began four years ago. Although his success had made him a strong candidate for promotion he was looking for God to use him practically.
He said: “I left a good position back in my previous Parish and look forward to serving all and hope to develop good relationships with other denominations as well as with other people of faith. We were praying for many years that God would show us where to go next because we were not the owner of that church but simply stewards to serve. We were there for a certain time, now God has called us to come here to serve. My wife and I were praying that God may lead us where He can use us in a better way.”
Riaz had completed studies at a Seminary in America and had previously visited the UK four times, preaching in different churches and completing an Army Chaplaincy course in Portsmouth in 2012.
His search for his next post was international, but despite doors opening and closing, it was not until Riaz came upon the West Norfolk position online that he found success. He applied in February 2013 and got a response three months later having forgotten about his application. When he approached his Bishop in Pakistan for a reference he agreed, whereas for previous applications he had refused.
Riaz said: “This was a divine sign that God was moving and calling us to these parishes as the Bishop saw that perhaps God had a purpose for me here. Hopefully God will show me that purpose.”
Riaz grew up in a Christian home and was baptised at an early age, but it wasn’t until he became ill at 18 that he found a personal faith. He realised that he couldn’t rely on his own talents and strength and so in 1988 his life changed. He began ministry as a Sunday school teacher before becoming the Youth Officer in his church.
He also served as an evangelist and was captured twice by Muslim Imams and sent to jail in Pakistan. But as he spoke to the officers in jail they found him not guilty and released him after receiving copies of the Bible. For 10 years he struggled with whether to become a priest until two people spoke into his life, and his decision to become a full time minister was confirmed.
Reflecting on the differences between his own culture and the western culture, he observes that in Pakistan the ‘picture of God’ has become muddled with personal faith being forced and claiming ownership of God. In the UK Riaz says the ‘picture of God’seemsto have been broken at some stage in history, and we collectively need to work on it for it to be restored.
He said: “In the 20th century Christianity was squeezed into buildings and secularism played a vital role by taking people away from their spiritual understanding of God. That is the point where we need to work with people and need to bring them to their spiritual track. I want to work so that people have the proper picture of God and there might be a restoration of the picture of God.”
“My slogan in Pakistan was ‘We serve but Christ heals’, and here I see my ministry as‘Christ heals and works in lives so that people may be able to find their Saviour Christ’. I believe that God will transform lives and bring them to His House to serve.”
In the end he says: “I go with the Christian faith. That’s what I have learned in my ministry: that faith works and serves.”