45% of Norfolk churches closed until September
Churches across Norfolk are starting to emerge from an historic 15-week lockdown and closure of churches – some cautiously and some much more confidently – but almost half will not re-open until September at the earliest. Keith Morris reports in the first in a series of articles on Norfolk churches and the Covid-19 crisis.
A Network Norfolk survey of churches across the county has revealed that 44% of churches have re-opened during July with a further 11% planning to open in August and 18% not until September at the earliest.
A further 27% said they currently have no idea when they will be able to or want to re-open their doors for public worship – one even mentioned next year.
Of the 44% of churches which have re-opened in July many are Anglican and Catholic churches – guided by their national leadership.
St John the Baptist Catholic Cathedral in Norwich was one of the first in the whole country to re-open its doors with a public Mass on Saturday July 4, followed closely by Norwich Anglican Cathedral which resumed services on Sunday July 5.
Dean of St John’s, Canon David Paul, said: “We have now come back as God's family to receive Jesus in the Holy Sacraments. Let us all see this as an opportunity to renew our faith and grow in love for the Lord with one another. We have been prepared over the last few months for this new beginning.”
Dean of Norwich Anglican Cathedral, the Very Rev Jane Hedges, said: “We are delighted to be able to open Norwich Cathedral’s doors once more for public worship and are looking forward to welcoming people to our daily services.”
Other churches which told us they were re-opening their doors in July included Cornerstone house church, the Open Door Christian Fellowship in Norwich, St Stephens in Norwich, Salhouse Baptist, North Walsham Methodist and The Way in Hunstanton.
Richard George, pastor of Cornerstone house church said: “We’ve been open throughout the lockdown. We have no building and have been meeting as before - but on Zoom.”
Simon Gay, pastor of Salhouse Baptist, said: “Nothing is stopping us - we've opened the first Sunday, July 5, that we've been allowed.”
The 11% of churches planning to re-open in August include Great Moulton Evangelical Church, St Andrew’s Eaton and St Nicholas Salthouse and the Fountain of Life church at Ashill - for a limited number, they add.
Some 18% of churches are planning a September re-opening of their doors. They include Bowthorpe Worship Centre, Kingdom Life in Norwich, Trinity URC in Norwich, Cliff Park Community Church in Gorleston and Heartsease Lane Methodist in Norwich.
The final 27% of replies said that they just don’t know when they will be able to re-open with some saying October and one even mentioning next year. They include Hope Church Thetford, Stalham Baptist, Gage Road Chapel in Norwich, Lighthouse in Sheringham and Taverham Evangelical Church.
When asked what is stopping them from re-opening straight away, 49% said taking appropriate precautions re sanitizing, cleaning etc; 41% said social distancing; 37% said the ban on singing; 34% said the ban on coffee, chat and socializing; 11% said that their premises were unavailable to them and 4% said that their staff were still furloughed.
Darren Woodward, from Oak Grove Community Church in Norwich, said: “We don’t know when we will re-open but the no singing and no coffee and chat is stopping us.”
Norwich Central Baptist Church do not know when they will re-open and quoted “most of the above” as reasons why.
Several churches said the reason they could not re-open earlier was because the premises they use are not available to them. They include Cliff Park Community Church (Anglican/Baptist) in Gorleston and Gateway Vineyard in Norwich which both meet in schools and Taverham Evangelical Church which meets in a community centre.
Bowthorpe Worship Centre has a different issue – they been running a food parcel service so the church itself is still full of boxes and long life food.
Wellspring Family Church (Relational Mission) in Dereham are another church which does not know when it will re-open. Elder Jon Beardon said: “Along with many other local churches, we are looking ahead and trying to discern the new things that the Lord is doing now rather than simply trying to return in haste back to where we were.
“Perhaps smaller in-person gatherings in more places combined with larger online meetings might help us to overcome the difficulty of not having a spacious enough venue to meet in altogether under current guidance? This might lead to an season of unanticipated opportunities for the churches to expand their mission all over the county and beyond.”
Articles coming soon: How Norfolk churches went digital in lockdown and How Norfolk churches responded to Covid-19 with social action projects.
Pictured top is the morning service at Heacham Parish Church on July 26. Picture courtesy of Diocese of Norwich/Heacham Parish Church. And above, St John’s Catholic Cathedral in Norwich was among the first across the whole country to re-open for a public Mass on July 4. Picture by Keith Morris.