Fakenham and Fulmodeston Benefice

Francis Mason and Stephen Miles talk about what their churches do in their area.

Fakenham Parish Church

“Now is the time to enjoy Fakenham more” reads the recent headline in the local paper as it starts a new campaign to market all that the town has to offer. However, most people seem to enjoy living here already judging from comments I have received.

Silvia came to town from rural isolation some 19 years ago and found to her delight that “When you smile, people smile back”. Likewise, Gail finds that “someone will always stop and say hello.” That has been my experience also. Indeed, there is no such thing as a quick trip to the shops.

Fakenham is typical of many market towns in East Anglia in that it has its leafy roads of prime residential property, but it also has significant signs of poverty. Light industry has succeeded agriculture to provide local employment, along with four supermarkets and other shops, and a major road haulage contractor. Most people have heard of Fakenham and wonder ‘Why?’ It is because we have a large racecourse often mentioned in the sporting news.

Christmas trees and mission

The parish church is well known among the 8,000 residents (and further afield) for its Christmas Tree Festival. A recent review on Google says: “Went to see the Christmas tree displays, absolutely fantastic…”

We were an early adopter of this now common practice as a means of raising funds, not just for the church but also for other charities. Over the years and with the experience that gives, we have refined the event and its organisation to the finest detail. It can only run with the cooperation and help of the charities and other townsfolk and this has forged many friendships beyond the church.

The festival is important for the town and is seen by us as a major mission opportunity, not least because thousands of people come through the door each year. Since early days it has included a pause and prayers each hour.

Another Google post reads “I would recommend visiting Fakenham Parish Church if you are ever in the area. It’s in the town’s centre and all the town’s shops are very close by…if you’re lucky enough to visit the church on a coffee morning. Well it would be rude not to have one cup or two.” That would be a Thursday, which is Market Day, and it is a weekly opportunity to listen, build relationships and just sometimes pray with the people who come with more than the burden of shopping.

All this sounds wonderful, but the church community faces some significant challenges. We have a good-sized and very committed congregation, but we are all ageing fast! We have strong networks across the town and are very welcoming to anyone who comes to worship (we know how important that is) but we are not good at sharing our faith with friends and family. The green shoots include a thriving toddler group, and, thanks to the determination of our Messy Church team, who have continued through a long period of poor attendance, we are now seeing significant growth.

Discovering Jesus

Our programme for the next five years is to encourage in one another a greater depth of spirituality, become better acquainted with our faith, broaden the worship style and enhance pastoral care. This seems on the face of it to be inward-looking, but our overall motivation is outward.

Our vision is to be a ‘church which is fittingly resourced with people, finance and facilities to meet the spiritual needs of the parish. It will be a safe place full of light, colour and blessing, fully engaged with our local community and reflecting God’s love for all.’ In short, we would like to be the catalyst that helps others come to discover the risen Jesus and enjoy life in him forever.

Christ Church Fulmodeston

How does a church situated in a rural village that is surrounded by farmland serve the local community? That is the continual question posed at meetings of the church council. The church community is not large, but its members are committed and are often part of other bodies in the village.

This means that the church has its finger on the pulse of parish life, where church members are part of the parish council, book club, food production club, history group, etc. When your priest in charge is a member of the keep fit group, it comes as no surprise that members agree to lead the crib service!

Community outreach

Christ Church is fortunate in being associated with Fakenham Parish Church and helping to pay for the worship team through the parish share. Christ Church attempts to provide cohesion and a focal point to the local working rural community and to use the church building for as many services and special events as possible, including concerts, art fairs, book sales, lectures, etc., as part of the church’s outreach both to the locality and beyond.

It provides all these free at the point of entry so that anyone may be included and contribute to the work of the church both in religious and secular activity. It is vital to help all to feel needed and valued and to provide in a considerate and compassionate way for baptisms, marriages and funerals.

Fundraising is increasingly a struggle, as is the need to balance the books. It has become clear that a constant clamour for funds can alienate possible donors. Matching the income with the financial and physical expenditure can be difficult to balance. We hope visitors will respond to the quality of the service provided.

Arts and music fill the pews

Christ Church is fortunate to have contributions from those who work in the arts at a high level and who are also to be found in the pews on a Sunday. The annual visits of the Purcell School Outreach Team over 12 years have been a wonderful way to fill the church with people and music and showcase the church as a welcoming, relaxed place to visit.

Breaking down barriers is important, so that young people can feel at home in a place of worship. Fêtes outside the church building also help to provide an inviting atmosphere where families can have fun and perhaps learn about belief during their visit.