Norwich conference explores Christian witness
2007: Social action and evangelism as part of the Christian witness in Norwich
was the subject tackled by a range of speakers at the Transforming Norwich
conference on Saturday June 2. KEITH MORRIS
Over 70 representatives from churches and Christian organizations across greater Norwich heard Transforming Norwich chairman John Betts (pictured right) opening the conference by saying: “Transforming Norwich is here to be of benefit to the wider community. As churches where we can work together we should work together. We should also work together with the statutory and voluntary agencies and help Norwich become the fine community we all want it to be.”
In the first of three panel presentations and discussions, YMCA Norfolk chief executive, John Drake, speaking on social action, said: “The challenge is not should but how we engage in social action. Our job is to display God’s love to those outside the church. Make sure you display your DNA, be who you are.”
Bob Cronk, head of community services at Norwich City Council, said: “Norwich is at a crossroads. It contains the most deprived areas within the whole Eastern region. The City Council values the strong partnership with Transforming Norwich and the city’s churches but would like to see that at a neighbourhood level and really making a difference.”
Norwich Cathedral Dean, Very Rev Graham Smith,
said: “As part of the Norwich Local Strategic Community Partnership Board, we see an opportunity to move Norwich to the next level of economic development. A study by Will Hutton of the Work Foundation concluded that the key is to increase our capacity in the knowledge economy. Some 41% of local people are already employed in the knowledge economy with the media, UEA and the John Innes research centre as examples.
“The Board wants all of our communities to move forward together, particularly in the most deprived areas. We are looking to the existing community, including churches, for ideas on how we might expand the local knowledge economy.”
Opening the second panel, on Public Witness, Eldred Willey, of Christian Aid, said: “Campaigning is the public face of the solidarity we have with the poorest people across the world. We will be campaigning in the open air about climate change over the next few months.”
Major Ray Begley, from the Salvation Army,
(pictured right) said: “125 years ago William Booth visited Norwich and said: ‘Get a drum and rouse the people of Norwich and tell them the good news of Jesus Christ.’ We are still doing just that today.
“When we go on the streets, we do not talk much but it is all about music, drama and action. There are more people shopping in Norwich on a Sunday than in church. We must take the Gospel to them. Some 41% of people say that they would go to church if only someone asked them to.”
John Betts said: “Speaking out is not a popular activity but the church which does not have a prophetic edge is in danger of failing the Lord. We should speak out about climate change, poverty, same sex marriages and abortion. But we must maintain respect for each other and our different opinions. Attack the issues not the person.”
In the final panel on Evangelism, Norwich YFC director Mark Tuma, said: “If we are not engaged in evangelism as well as social action we have missed the point.
“We can’t be happy with just 5% of our city’s population attending church. We may have allowed out churches to become clubhouses for the comfortable. We need a new approach for a new generation. Each age-group needs a different approach and every congregation member should be missionary-focused. Events like Reality and Hope ’08 can transform those who take part into missionaries.”
Geoff Lawton leader of Alpha Norfolk and pastor of Norwich Vineyard
, (pictured right) said: “Alpha is an invitation to explore Christianity. It invites people to come and find out what it means to follow Christ. We have fun and build relationships, which are what keep people in churches.”
Rev Stephen Mawditt of the Fountain of Life at Ashill and organizer of the JJohn Just Ten Mission, said: “Putting on an event we can invite people to, is a way of helping people muster up the courage to do that that.
“Big events often give us the opportunity to get behind something and take a Kingdom perspective. It can be a cathartic moment and sow seeds which we often do not know about.”
The panel presentations were followed by small group discussions on the topics raised, followed by the Transforming Norwich AGM
Pictured are the panels and speakers at the Transforming Norwich conference.