Action stations for Norwich Salvation Army couple
Majors Mark and Andrea Sawyer were appointed leaders of the Salvation Army Citadel in Norwich last summer bringing energy and enthusiasm to their new roles and have already made a big impression. Helen Baldry reports.
The citadel, located on St Giles Street in Norwich city centre, is a warren of rooms, floors and flights of stairs. It houses an impressive 500-seat hall, as well as offices, a kitchen and St Catherine’s cafe. Mark said: “We’ve inherited something that has so much potential.” He is not just talking about the physical building but of the opportunities to further develop relationships with the community.
Andrea spoke of loneliness as one of the biggest problems of our time, a concern as rife in the 18 – 24 age group as with elderly people. Pastoral care is a high priority for Andrea, who has experience of women’s ministry in prisons and of working with children with special needs.
Mark and Andrea were called as part of the emergency response team at the Grenfell Tower fire, where they offered food, drink and emotional support to the emergency crews at the scene. They are people of action and are often visiting the Salvation Army’s community projects in Norwich, including the charity shop and the Arc, a drop-in centre for homeless and vulnerable people. Andrea said: “We don’t want to be chained to a desk. We want to invest in people.”
The couple are clear about their gifting; Mark is an evangelist and Andrea is a teacher. Mark enjoys bringing the Bible into everyday life and he shares his faith in a natural way. He said: “I love sharing the Jesus story and making it relevant to all ages.”
Andrea grew up in Cambridge and Mark in Romford. They have had diverse placements with the Salvation Army and travelled all over the world – including setting up a schools project in Ghana and leading the world youth convention in Sweden, with 126 countries present.
An early placement was in a deprived area of Middlesbrough where there was a high crime rate and many disaffected young people. Making church relevant to these young people was a real challenge and the experience gave Mark and Andrea a good – if somewhat eye-opening - grounding for their future ministry.
They moved on to a very different posting – a middle class area in Bourne, Lincolnshire - followed by a placement in Castleford in Yorkshire mentoring young people and leading summer camps. It was here that they saw phenomenal growth in the church family and describe it as a very special time, “Such a privilege to help people on their life’s journey.”
Over the years, Mark and Andrea have conducted 61 weddings between them – some of whom were relationships formed at the youth camps! Marriage is something the couple feel strongly about. “We realise life’s tough. We have to work hard in every department of life and marriage is no different. We invest in helping people to flourish in marriage and relationship.”
This year a Valentine’s meal was held at the church in Norwich and 40 couples enjoyed a meal and were invited to attend a marriage enrichment course. One couple had been married for 75 years. Mark said: “You are never too old. There is always more to learn.”
They have enjoyed their first few months in Norwich. Andrea said: “We love Norwich. It’s an amazing city full of history and character. Our heart is very much for the local community.”
“My goal in life is to keep the Jesus story alive,” said Mark. “This story of love and hope is going on all around us. My aim is to help people discover who they really are in Christ and build the kingdom.”
There are exciting plans to develop a carers group, grow the Messy Church ministry, establish a parent and toddler group, as well a vibrant women’s group, with support and encouragement at the centre of every activity. Mark said: “We want to develop a space so that whatever people are going through they can find something to help. As soon as they come through the front door they feel they belong.”
Pictured Majors Andrea and Mark?Sawyer in Norwich.