Influential Norwich church holds final service
After playing a major role in the life of Norwich for 200 years, Princes Street United Reformed Church held its final service on Sunday.
Following a survey in June 2019, it was revealed that nails holding roof tiles in place were corroding, meaning the entire roof would need replacing. In August a church meeting agreed by a clear majority that repair bills for the building were simply too high for the congregation to meet.
Preaching his final sermon at the church, Rev John Potter said: “It will soon be time for the tent to move on, to find new horizons in God’s company…The end of this congregation will not be the end of the story…Faith is not fixed in one place. We move on, and so does God.”
As members of the congregation lit candles to represent various parts of the church community, a liturgy offered to God “the gritty stuff of our lives…the questions and challenges”. A poem by Barbara Searle discerned “faint echoes in the walls of worship past” and prayed that “all we who have loved this place be led by Christ on new paths to new joy in Him, wherever that may take us”.
Just over 200 years ago, Rev John Alexander had founded the iconic church in Princes Street, which in its heyday saw a congregation of over 800. Alexander was a prominent city leader, the chairman of the Norfolk and Norwich hospital, and a great supporter of the anti-slavery campaigner Thomas Buxton.
In the nineteenth century worshippers at the church included J.J. Colman, the mustard manufacturer, and Oliver Tomkins, a missionary who was murdered by cannibals in Papua New Guinea.
Rev Sydney Myers, who took over as pastor during the Second World War, was instrumental in founding both the Norwich Council of Churches and new congregational church in Ipswich Road, whose ministry continues. He also set up the Wednesday Club for people with a handicap, which became BUILD and continued on the premises right up to the final service last weekend.
Rev John Marsh, the last minister dedicated solely to the Princes Street congregation, arrived in a whirlwind of energy in 2000 and before the year was out had welcomed Christian Aid as it founded its first office in Norwich at Princes Street. He also brought in Rev Henry Ipatau from Western Samoa, whose youthful enthusiasm overflowed onto the city streets as he pioneered a role as community chaplain.
After John Marsh retired in 2005 Princes Street became a member of the Norwich Area United Reformed Church, sharing its minister with other congregations. Speaking of the tabernacle in the desert, Rev John Potter reminded the congregation that “God’s house was a temporary structure, but God’s everlasting kingdom carries on.”
Pictured above is the final service at Princes Street and, below, the iconic façade of the church.