The Gorleston church has been committed to growing and developing their community-based mission since Revd Price arrived five years ago, and in October 2020 he was awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to the community during the pandemic in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. Last summer he was asked by the Bishop of Norwich to take on the additional role of Bishop’s Advisor for Urban and Estates Mission.
Matthew said: “The Biblical priority of mission amongst the poorest has historically been somewhat overlooked in the national strategy of the church so it is wonderful that in the recent Diocese of Norwich Vision, urban mission has been identified as a key priority. I am now eager to support the working out of that in practice.”
Matthew’s role is to act as an advocate for urban and estates mission within the Diocese of Norwich and the wider Church of England. So far this has included a regular programme of online networking events to foster relationships across the Diocese and also connect to the wider networks and resources of the Church of England and the wider church in the area.
He also instigated an annual day conference where those leading mission in these urban areas can gather, share and learn about the opportunities and how to overcome barriers. The speaker at last year’s event was the chair of the Church of England Estates Evangelism Task Group, Bishop Lynn Cullens.
Matthew is also available to be consulted by individual clergy and lay leaders seeking to build their congregations in more deprived locations. He explains:
“Urban and estates ministry can be lonely and bewildering and so with a team of others, we are building up networks that seek to give companionship, conversation and training on the journey. I have been able to share some of the lessons we have learnt at St Mary Magdalene which has seen church growth from 20 to 90 people in the last five years.”
Revd Price feels that there are four key lessons he has learned from his experience at St Mary Magdalene. He identified these as:
Finding ways to serve the wider community, without pressure or expectation of any return
The church has been experimenting with ways of serving the community with very limited resources, putting on events and clubs that meet the needs in the wider parish, making best use of the gifts, skills and time of church members. He gave a simple example of their annual community pancake party: an after-school drop-in, with the promise of free pancakes, tea and coffee and an opportunity to play games such as tossing pancakes as high as possible inside the church building! Gradually the event has been building and this year over 200 pancakes were consumed.
Having faith that funding follows bold loving service
Matthew explains: “Having little money at the outset, we learned how to be creative, to use waste well and to share generously of ourselves. We worked hard as a team, believing that in reaching out to people, in a way that meets their needs, the Lord would assist us. We have found repeatedly that, as we have set out a vision, shared it and acted on it, funds have been forthcoming, sometimes beforehand and sometimes afterwards, covering all the costs. We now find that the wider community often donate money, trusting our church that we will be using it well to give back to the community.”
Nurturing Biblical faith and discipleship, one by one
The team at St Mary Magdalene make a point of respecting each person that comes through their door for their individuality and supporting them with whatever they bring with them, whether a disability, language barrier, social anxiety, financial hardship, or differences in educational needs, sexual preferences, gender identity etc.
Matthew says: “Each person is looking for that personal touch, that friendly exchange, that conversation, care and respect. Each person is made in the image of God and loved to death by Jesus; each person needs to know the deep joy and hope of knowing Christ as their Lord and Saviour. They need to be welcomed, honoured and included in the community and set on a path of journeying into the Bible, walking with Christ and learning what it means to follow Him.”
Working with partners outside of the local church
Matthew points out that we often fall into the trap of thinking that all the resources for mission need to be found within the local church itself, whereas experience has taught him that we actually benefit by being humble and dependent on the wider church and particularly the wider community to support the work.
He said: “We continue to ask for help, especially through social media, for volunteers and for funding. But I have constantly been amazed at the level of interest and support there is when you step out in faith and service of your community. Sharing the vision, sharing the good news stories and asking for help outside of the church has led to many really fruitful partnerships which have blessed us immeasurably as we have sought to be a blessing to the community.”
This article first appeared in the Good News for Norwich and Norfolk paper, published by Network Norfolk.