Church offers a beacon of hope in Thetford
Nurturing change and growing hope as a beacon of light on a Thetford housing estate is a mission that Rev Matt Houghton wholeheartedly embraces. Sandie Shirley reports.
Matt became Team Vicar of Cloverfield Church last November and alongside the church’s leadership team has been steering it through the Covid pandemic.
He says: “I have a heart for discipleship and mission and making Jesus known by relevant means.”
This church cum community centre began nearly 30 years ago and is a local ecumenical partnership between the Diocese of Norwich and the United Reformed Church. It was planted on the edge of an exploding housing estate in Thetford which has residents of diverse culture, age, and social standing.
Matt’s life journey has helped prepare him for this role in a town of “much need and potential.” Personal hardship and difficulties have bred empathy. He has been out of work on three occasions during his life and knows the challenges of limited funds, uncertainty, and the expectations of providing for a young growing family.
“I needed to make sense of what God was doing,” reflects Matt. Several years ago, he was involved with voluntary work in Essex including Christians Against Poverty and Foodbank before embarking on a five-year pathway to ordination as an Anglican priest, something he felt called to do from the age of 21.
Matt’s faith was grounded during childhood and as a young man he followed in his father’s spiritual footsteps and example to pursue faith, enterprise, and Christian service. He became a church youth worker and pioneer for young people working in various churches around the country as well as with a nationwide youth charity. Now he is planning to channel that experience into exploring vision, discipling and growing community geared to their needs and growth.
With the rising issues following the pandemic one of the courses Matt is keen to run for the local community is ‘The Wellbeing Journey’ – a course exploring issues surrounding mental health to help those of faith or no faith address key issues including emotional, spiritual, relational, and vocational wellbeing with contributions from leading experts in their field.
‘Silver Threads’ (a church group run by Moya Brown) provides a vital source of hope for older folk in the community, hosting teas, outings, visiting speakers and musicians. During lockdown, the church became a welcome voice of comfort and friendship with regular supportive telephone calls.
Existing church and community partnerships are now gaining traction following the lifting of lockdown restrictions. They include the return of various community groups which are based in the church building. These include Thetford and District Dementia Support group, a weekly drop-in centre, providing support and fellowship for those with dementia and their families, friends and carers.
Prayer is the power and ignition behind every venture: it changes everything endorses Matt. Throughout the year a weekly prayer rota covers every road on the estate which is plotted on a map.
Says Matt: “In the autumn I am hoping to engage the church in a process of conversation, prayer and seeking God for our future.”
Pictured above is Rev Matt Houghton.