The Norfolk and Norwich Christian community website

Monk in the marketplace publishes his story

Ray Simpson, the founding pastor of the ecumenical church in Bowthorpe, has published an autobiography called Monk in the Marketplace.

The book begins with his war-time childhood and then maps his early ministry assignments and his calling to be a pastor, which became reality in the ‘divine experiment’ of Bowthorpe.
Leafing through the autobiography the reader will stumble across many well-known Norfolk figures, including John Drake from YMCA and Paul Hodgson from the Church on the Way, who both climbed the haystack in the centre of Bowthorpe to pray over what would become the site of the new church.
Bowthorpe Church was launch in a packed village hall during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in January 1978. Ray Simpson was commissioned by the Anglicans, Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, Quakers and United Reformed churches, accompanied by the Salvation Army Band, with the Pentecostal and Community Church leaders offering the right hand of fellowship, ‘to establish one family of Christians for one neighbourhood.’ 

The Anglican Diocese purchased an empty shop unit in Clover Hill, and Ray initially lived above it, opening it daily for prayer, newspapers, and coffee. He named it The Open Door, and it became the first home of the one family of Christians. 

Those involved in the project decided to form Bowthorpe Community Trust as a separate entity. They turned derelict stables into wood workshops and a shop, sponsored a listening and counselling service and opened a house of prayer, run by a Franciscan Tertiary who offered refuge to battered women or pilgrims. 

After the church was constructed, Ray set up daily morning and evening prayer, and asked a Norwich museum to donate an ancient Bowthorpe church bell from centuries back. It was tolled daily at 9.00 a.m. and 7.00 p.m. 

After a decade in Bowthorpe, he was granted a sabbatical leave and visited the cell of Brother Klaus, Switzerland’s patron saint. It was during this time of retreat that he had the inspiration to turn a derelict forge next to the vicarage into a prayer cell dedicated to St Walstan. 

Ray’s interest in Celtic Christianity drew him towards Lindisfarne in Northumbria, the tidal island from which St Aidan launched the Celtic Church in England. When the time came for him to feel that his mission in Bowthorpe was fulfilled, Ray moved to the island and founded the Community of Aidan and Hilda. 

He has now written some 40 books, including Exploring Celtic Spirituality, Soul Friendship, Celtic New Monasticism for Everyday People and Liturgies from Lindisfarne. Monk in the Marketplace was published by Darton, Longman and Todd on March 31.
Pictured above is Ray Simpson

Eldred Willey, 14/04/2021

Eldred Willey

To submit a story or to publicise an event please email: web@networknorwich.co.uk