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How a church in rural Norfolk struck water 

Stephen Mawditt’s new book ‘Redigging the Wells’ tells the story of the pioneering Fountain of Life congregation in Ashill. Eldred Willey offers a review.

With endorsements from a star-studded line-up including Nicky Gumbel and J. John, Stephen’s book hardly needs a review from me to commend it. The best I can do is to offer a local perspective on a national story.


As a landmark figure on Norfolk’s Christian scene, Stephen has been inimitable, unforgettable but occasionally somewhat mysterious, in that he so rarely makes a feature of himself. This book goes a little way in making up the deficit, filling in some of the unconventional story of how he and his wife Pippa came to Norfolk to run Letton Hall, and then moved as unpaid lay workers to join Martin Down’s church in Saham Toney, where the first missionary congregation in the Diocese of Norwich was about to explode.


It would be impossible to write a downbeat book about the Fountain of Life, any more than you could write one about the first transatlantic flight. Still, there is a sanctified honesty about this book, which involves mentioning problems without mentioning problem people. Stephen graciously avoids implying that those who chose not to come on the journey were wrong.


Readers who are studying church growth techniques will need to get used to some unfamiliar terms: Mental Health Summit, Lifeboats, Scrooge Revisited. The congregation seems to have had more than its fair share of wonderful characters, and those who are hoping for cameos of them will not be disappointed. 


Stephen recounts how the renewal at Ashill blossomed into major events at the Royal Norfolk Showground: the Just Ten Mission and the Living Water Conference, which was, in the words of Martin Down, a dream fulfilled. At a time when Christian conferences were riding high, this one was about as good as it gets.


The book is written as an account of the Acts of the Holy Spirit, but you cannot help noticing the man of faith and clear-thinking strategist who is behind it. Through the haze of flattery where so many people are being called leaders, Stephen emerges as someone who really is one.


Redigging the Wells (ISBN: 9781912726493) is published by Instant Apostle and is available from bookshops and online retailers. Christian Life and Mission, paperback, 256pp, £9.99.


Pictured above is Stephen Mawditt




Eldred Willey, 29/07/2021

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