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Thank you to all our amazing volunteers

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Every church in the Diocese of Norwich relies on people who give their time and skills for free. Many of those people keep their churches running for decades doing a huge range of tasks: delivering home Communion and having pastoral responsibilities, maintaining church fabric, running Friends groups, organising events, producing information boards and guide books, looking after websites and social media, giving tours, ringing bells, managing accounts, serving on the PCC, applying for grants, cutting the grass in the churchyard, baking cakes, making coffees, opening doors, helping with toddler groups and even running major projects!

Read below a handful of stories highlighting just some of the great work our volunteers do week-in week-out.

There are many amazing historic church buildings in our diocese, but they quickly lose their value if they don’t serve people. It takes a lot of work to make this happen but this is exactly what Jennie Vere has been doing at St Nicholas’ church in North Lopham since 1976! Jennie and her husband Richard became involved in the church’s life as soon as they moved to the area: Jennie joined the PCC, the Deanery Synod, quickly becoming its Secretary, and the Diocesan Synod, while Richard became the Churchwarden.

Jennie has a passion for research and history and is also very keen to make people feel at home when they are in the church. This resulted in a range of wonderful things happening at St Nicholas’, including cake being offered after services, outdoor events such as scarecrow festivals and open gardens taking place since 1990, hymn marathons (when Jennie plays), exhibitions and festivals happening in the church since 2010 and a heritage weekend going ahead in 2019.

Jennie’s knowledge of local history, particularly of the linen manufacturers in North Lopham, was instrumental in producing a film about Lopham Linen. Her care for people and musical ability resulted in many a successful church service and her creative thinking led to a series of remarkable Knitted Bible festivals; when the whole community came together to turn the church into an exhibition space displaying knitted scenes from the Bible.

Many of our churchyards are places of not only peace and memory but also of outstanding beauty. This is thanks to the people who look after them. At St Peter Mancroft, in the centre of Norwich, the churchyard is an island of nature, always in bloom, because Brian Forder has been looking after it for over 10 years!

Brian was initially asked to help by the chairman of the Norwich in Bloom committee but quickly got more involved and carried on, taking the full responsibility for this large churchyard and ensuring there are always new beautiful flowers, which he gets from City College Norwich. Right now, he is in the process of planting geraniums. Brian comes to the churchyard once or twice a week, in any weather, and uses his own car to take the rubbish away. You can often see him doing a bit of weeding on a Sunday too!

As a result of Brian’s efforts, the churchyard at St Peter Mancroft has received a number of trophies in the Norwich in Bloom competition and once became the winner in the ‘Best Kept Churchyard’ category.

Looking after a churchyard is a big and often difficult job which frequently goes unnoticed. We hope that knowing a little more about it will make us all appreciate amazing people like Brian, who do this work with so much love and care, a little more too!

Money can be a contentious subject in the Church but one thing that is true is that an average Church of England church is not at all wealthy. This means that careful financial management is absolutely critical to the daily functioning of the church and people like Christine Minns, who has been doing exactly this for years, are incredibly important.

Christine always enjoyed maths at school, which led her to train in book-keeping and office administration. Being a farmer’s daughter, she became a ‘Rural Administrator’ (Farm Secretary) and later worked for a number of different farming clients, visiting their home office, and all with different business set-ups.

As a PCC member at Wreningham, Christine was the natural successor when the treasurer retired after almost a lifetime in the job. Over time most of the other PCCs in the whole Benefice found themselves without a treasurer and Christine eventually became treasurer for five of the PCCs and the Benefice treasurer. At some point over the last 10-12 years she also became the unofficial Benefice administrator!

Christine writes: “God gave me the gift for figures – not just so that I could make a living and have a career which I enjoyed but, as I have come to know him better, I believe he gave me this gift that I could use it in his service to my fellow church members. We all have different gifts – whatever yours is – the best way to thank him for it is to use it in his service.”

Many of us have paused to admire the sound of church bells before a service but not many know how much work and training goes into producing this sound! People like Paul Edwards, who is the tower captain at St Nicholas Dereham, have dedicated years of their lives to serving their churches through the art of bell ringing.

Paul learned to ring at Dodbrook church in South Devon at the age of 10 and rang regularly for Sunday services then singing in the choir during the service. His family moved to Dereham about 35 years ago, and Paul had to get used to a different style of ringing (method ringing as opposed to rapid call changes). Paul says he still is a call change ringer at heart in a land of method ringers!

Both of Paul’s children have become ringers too, while Paul, in addition to being a ringer, has also been a mentor. Having spent many years of his working life training aerospace engineers both theoretical and practical engineering, Paul took a logical step to utilise those same skills to teach other people to ring bells safely and has taught almost 100 ringers over the last 35 years.

For Paul, ringing is announcing to the population at large that something very special is about to happen at St Nicholas Church – whether a Sunday service, a wedding, or a funeral. While the COVID outbreak has curtailed all ringing over the past 12 months, the ringers are gradually returning to their towers, including the unusual free-standing one at Dereham. The wonderful sound of bells travels across cities and the countryside once again, thanks to Paul and other ringers!

An historic church building can be both a source of joy and inspiration and a reason for stress and headache. So many people who care for churches in our diocese know this too well! Ivan Barnard, who looks after St Mary’s church at Fishley and helps many other churches as a volunteer Church Building Ambassador, is one of them.

Ivan returned to Fishley, having lived there before, in 2006. The church was in a very poor state and looked abandoned so, together with the Churchwarden, Ivan started coming in regularly to tidy up and carry out minor repairs. Very soon other people started joining them, and when the church was vandalised even more joined willing to help restore the building.

The first money for repairs was raised locally through the incredibly successful coffee mornings, then through more and more ambitious fundraising. Alongside these efforts kind people have been offering their skills and services for free, so the church acquired a new gate, a new path, a tidy churchyard and some benches.

The church also grew in its service to the community – first it became open regularly on Fridays, brought people together through services, reunions and working parties and became a popular wedding venue. By contrast with the 16 weddings that were recorded at Fishley between 1859 and 2006, almost 50 have taken place in the last 15 years!

One of the most wonderful things about this story is how Ivan’s love for the church inspired other people to be involved. All of them are volunteers, many are not churchgoers, and yet they all have united around their church giving generously of their time and skills. Ivan says that it takes one person to start something, but then the ownership goes to all people through the work of the Holy Spirit. We can only add: Amen!

This week we have had only a quick peek into the stories of five outstanding people who make a huge difference in the lives of their churches and local communities. Hundreds of equally amazing people and equally inspiring stories have not been mentioned, and we really hope you don’t feel left out!

We would like to thank you all and also to encourage all parishes to celebrate the contributions of their volunteers. You are the people who make the Church a place of welcome, love, hospitality and beauty, and all of us working in the Diocesan House are so grateful to all of you – Churchwardens, PCC Secretaries and PCC members, Treasurers, Fabric Officers, Deanery and Diocesan Synod representatives, those who juggle a number of these roles at the same time and those who do not have a special formal title but do a lot of work in your churches.

You all are extraordinary! Thank you!