Norwich pastor Jon’s role after Texas church massacre
Norwich church pastor Jon Norman was guest preacher at a Texas church on Sunday November 5, the very same night that 26 men, women and children were shot dead in a Baptist church in nearby San Antonio. Mike Wiltshire reports.
Jon, who leads Soul Church in Norwich, was immediately invited to go to the scene where he prayed with church families and community members. Nine members of one family were among the dead.
Jon mentioned the heart-breaking event while sharing his life story at a monthly dinner of the Full Gospel Businessmen at the Mercure Hotel in Norwich recently. Jon also addressed the age-old question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
“I don’t have the answer,” said Jon. “There is so much we will never understand this side of eternity.”
Jon told his FGB audience that he grew up in Norwich, studied in Australia, married an American, helped lead a church in South Africa and now leads a 1000-strong church back in his home city.
Soul Church in Norwich, of which Jon is senior pastor, has plans to build a 1,000-seat church as part of a multimillion pound community complex at Heartsease Lane, Norwich. Phase one of the project will cost £7 million.
Jon (aged 38) and his wife, Chantel, a gifted musician and worship leader, first met at Hillsong Bible College – in Australia where officially dating was prohibited: 12 years later, they are happily married with two children.
Chantel has “an incredible story”, said Jon, who told how his wife survived years of abuse in a troubled home in eastern Los Angeles, but found healing and restoration through forgiving others and personal faith in Christ.
Jon, in contrast, “grew up in a Christian home in rural Norfolk” having made his first decision to follow Jesus at the age of seven.
At 17, Jon played in the Norfolk Christian Football League and was spotted by a scout for Norwich City. He was “invited for trials with some of the big names,” only to be crushingly told by a coach: “Son, you’re just not good enough! Maybe you’d be OK for Division Three.”
However, Jon went on to prosper in business – at 18, he was earning £1,000 a week with a software company in Slough before the firm suddenly closed down. So, with his parents’ blessing, he seized the chance to make his first trip to Hillsong Church in Australia in 2001. Later he joined the Hillsong Bible College.
In 2003, Jon was back in Norwich, pioneering the hugely successful ‘Wildlife’ youth ministry “which really lived up to its name as riot vans were in attendance on opening night, as hundreds of youngsters turned up for free pizza.”
Jon’s former church, Mount Zion, “really embraced these young people”, some of whom have gone on to become youth leaders. Then in 2006, after the church on Heartsease Lane burned down, Jon and Chantel moved to Hillsong South Africa where they helped to establish a church of 12,000. Meanwhile, Mount Zion found a temporary home at Mason’s Road, and renamed the church Norwich Family Life Centre (NFLC).
“I have often reminded myself that the God who worked so amazingly in South Africa is the same God we serve in Norwich,” says Jon, who is greatly encouraged by the fresh levels of unity among Christian leaders in the city. He has a passion to see the church at large reaching out to the 900,000 people of Norfolk.
In 2012, Jon was sitting on a couch at home when he “heard God speak into his heart – ‘one day you’ll have a church called Soul Church’.”
Jon had never heard that name before, but then he discovered that the website domain name (SoulChurch.com) was “readily available” for £1,500.
His mum, Gillian, gave him the money to buy it in faith. Since then, Jon has “turned down thousands” from those who would like to buy the domain name from him – as well as invitations to Jon to work for large churches in Canada and the US.
Three and a half years ago, NFLC pastor Trevor Pimlott “passed the baton” on to Jon as leader of the new Soul Church which has grown from 200 people to around 1,100 to 1,200 attending each week.
Canaries fan Jon is also chaplain to Norwich City Football Club and a canon at Norwich Cathedral. Speaking about his own life, he said: “It’s not what happens to you but what happens in your heart that defines your life… life is too short to hang on to bitterness.”
He said he was learning that “it’s not what I have in my life, but who I have in my life” – meaning Jesus Christ. Being a public success but a private failure is not a success, especially in the unique calling as a son, husband and father.
“I believe that everyone would live a vastly better life if they knew Jesus Christ… the ‘arms of the Cross’ are a powerful picture of God reaching out to the world. We Christians are called to reach out to those who have not yet heard the Good News of Christ.”
Pictured above is Jon Norman speaking at Soul Church in Norwich.