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Norwich Methodist churches ride rapids of change 

While some Methodist churches in the Norwich area are closing, others are experiencing strong signs of growth. Superintendent Minister Rev Andy Burrows makes sense of a season of change.

The process of change in the church is often synonymous with vision, relevance, mission and new life. We change in order to be better at what God has called us to do as church. But what if change appears to be a negative prospect, initially at least? 

Around a year ago, The Norwich Methodist Circuit embarked upon a review process. Review – now there’s a dirty word! Over the years, some of our people have lived through several ‘reviews’ and survived; but it’s not an easy journey, not if it’s done properly and with integrity.  

The first stage was rather melodramatically called ‘What is to be done?’ and was an exercise in holding up a mirror to each church, asking people to be brave enough to recognise the present reality of declining numbers and resources, alongside increasing age and demands. Church leaderships were not just encouraged, but urged, to be real with this and to identify what the future would hold if there was too little or no change. 

Some options were suggested as part of the document, not as alternative choices, but as scenarios where discipleship, fellowship and mission could continue. The problem was that, although the church is called to all three, all churches could not respond to all of them. Decisions had to be taken both to protect and nurture spiritually those who were running out of resources, but who still recognised their need for the ministries of pastoral care, fellowship and spiritual leadership.  

This led to some congregations deciding to cease to meet for worship and join stronger Christian gatherings elsewhere. This meant that those few who had been shouldering the burden for meeting their church’s financial and property obligations as well as filling the posts required by the church were able to lay down that burden (for now) and be gathered in by another congregation.  

Inevitably this kind of change will be seen by some as defeat, disaster, the end of a witness that dates back a hundred years or more. This isn’t surprising, for many of our people have given years of faithful service in sustaining a Methodist presence in their communities. My prayer for those who haven’t already understood or experienced that sense of being ‘gathered in’, loved and valued for who they are, not for the duties they perform, is that this will happen soon; and it is the responsibility of those receiving churches to understand the depth of feeling involved and respond as Jesus would respond. 

This change is by no means limited to endings, though. Stage Two was an invitation to dream, imagine and discern God’s calling. As a Circuit of Methodist Churches, we are committed to resourcing mission and growth, to doing all we can to see the Kingdom of God coming among us more and more; and this is why we believe that now is the time to embrace change – not to allow the status quo of diminishing returns to go unchallenged, but to seek out, test, and prioritise the visions of those among us who still have them. 

Our churches at White Woman Lane, Spixworth, Forncett St Peter, Attleborough, Long Stratton and Horsford have closed over the last few years and will soon be joined by Heartsease Lane. But there are strong signs of growth at Sprowston, Chapel Field Road, Wymondham and Morley. All have come through renewed vision and a commitment to investment in our communities. 

There is a long way still to go, but we are not afraid of change. 

Pictured above is Rev Andy Burrows. 

Eldred Willey, 10/10/2022

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