Tas Valley Team Ministry
Newton Flotman, Saxlingham Nethergate, Shotesham, Swainsthorpe, Tasburgh and Tharston (all in the Domesday Book) are the six parishes, led by the Revd Dawn Davidson and located south of Norwich, that make up this team ministry.
It also includes Tas Valley Cell Church, supported by the first Bishop’s Mission Order to be granted in Norfolk.
At the beginning of the year, we welcomed our new Team Vicar, the Revd Austin Uzoigwe, with a wonderful service in St Mary’s Church at Tasburgh, bringing together people from different nations. Austin is originally from Nigeria and his wife, Annette, is Dutch. Dawn and Austin are ably assisted by a lay reader, four authorised worship assistants, two readers in training and a community outreach worker.
Committed to sustaining and growing rural church, we seek innovative ways of encouraging faith. Communities easily drift apart and become isolated without facilities such as shops, pubs and post offices, but we have risen to the challenge to reach out and build networks within our benefice retaining traditional events such as annual fetes, harvest festivals, carol services, coffee mornings and open gardens.
Originating from an Alpha Course, Tas Valley Cell Church appeals to those who might not usually attend a parish church. Meeting on a weekday evening in a member’s home, sessions are structured around Welcome, Word, Witness, and Worship.
Why “cell”? Cells are designed to grow and divide to form new cells – so are we! Meeting in small groups makes for a more personal experience and is conducive to nurturing discipleship effectively. Each cell has its own focus and is very much involved in the community; for example, the youth cell, known as JAM (Jesus and me), meets regularly to encourage faith.
There are a variety of church services available to suit all tastes and we come together for a benefice service (with an invited speaker) whenever there is a fifth Sunday in the month. This enables us to deepen our awareness of the worldwide church, celebrate our faith and face challenges together. Occasionally, services are held outside, such as a pet service, the patronal service, and Remembrance Day services. In Tharston, Carols by Candlelight have proven popular.
Creating community is important. Newton Flotman Café Church is well established, running monthly in our local primary school, starting with a light-hearted quiz and ensuring there is a craft or activity for the children. We are also blessed to have teenagers involved in the music group and operating the Powerpoint® presentation. Our aim is to provide a relaxed, family-friendly venue where the Christian message is offered alongside refreshments and fun.
We have regular involvement with our three Church schools, enjoying Open the Book sessions with the children which provide them with opportunities to hear Bible stories and to join in and dress up as the characters, a fun, learning experience for all.
Whilst outreach extends further, with the benefice supporting the local food banks and being long-term supporters of the Operation Christmas Child Appeal, active involvement in our local communities remains essential.
Newton Flotman has welcomed a new outreach Post Office on Tuesday afternoons in the Church Room. It is also looking to reorder the Church building to make a more flexible space for worship and community use. The benefits of doing so have been recognised in Swainsthorpe where a community friendly space was created by replacing the pews with comfortable chairs enabling more freedom and creativity in worship.
Tas Valley Cell Church, with financial assistance from the Fountain of Life Network and Rural Ministries, supports our community outreach worker who has introduced a monthly lunch for local parishioners and regularly visits and provides a worship service at the local care home.
Building upon our heritage
While looking to the future, we remember the past and seek to preserve our rich heritage. Several parishes have experienced the joys of bringing heritage projects to fruition:
- In Saxlingham Nethergate, a full set of eight bells was recast and attracts visiting bell ringers from across the country. There is nothing quite like sitting out in the garden on a summer’s evening listening to bell practice.
- In Shotesham, it was decided it was time to find a way to hang a sixth bell which had been cast in memory of Robert Mayhew who died at the age of 12. The project to restore the tower and rehang the five existing bells and the one new bell was recently completed and culminated in a service of dedication for the new bell and rededication of the existing bells.
Participation of parishioners in both projects in terms of donations, fundraising and volunteer assistance strengthened community links.
On the conservation front, St Mary’s in Saxlingham Nethergate requested the Broderers Guild to undertake major restoration of one of the altar frontals. With funding from an anonymous donor, the work was completed, and the altar frontal is now much admired and will be treasured for many years to come.
Last year, we commemorated the end of the WW1 and honoured the sacrifices made by those who lost their lives while serving our country:
- In Swainsthorpe, a local artist gifted a newly created stained glass window depicting the poppy fields for permanent display in the Church.
- St Mary’s Newton Flotman set up a Heritage Group, complete with its own YouTube channel. Activities have focused on renovating the wooden War Memorial housed within the Church with a new name added to it. Twice-yearly, villagers get together to reminisce and add to the archives.
- In Saxlingham Nethergate, the history of the fallen from WW1 and who are remembered on the village and church War Memorials was researched. Over the period of the last four years, each person has been commemorated in the issue of the local village magazine published closest to the 100th anniversary of his death.
Looking forward, we have a relatively new staff team and are working to deepen our unity across the Team Ministry. Our focus is on loving God, building his church and serving our local community. www.tasvalley.org