Monday, December 07, 2009

Love was his Meaning

Above the steamy warmth of the café, in the still prayerfulness of high arched church, a steady stream of people quietly come and go and light floods in through clerestory windows.  Here the shop-weary can find sanctuary from retails restless rat race and allow themselves time to respond to Wisdom’s bumper bargain.

Mancroft is not alone in offering such space. There are two cathedrals  and St.John, at the top of Timberhill ( between John Lewis and the entrance to the Castle Mall),  is always open.  But best of all, and a short walk away, is St. Julian’s Church just of Rouen Road

In the 14th century this was the commercial centre.  In the midst of the teeming city  Mother/Lady Julian lived out a solitary life of prayer and reflection the very embodiment of Wisdom in the Marketplace. Her book, still in print after all this time, sums up The Reason for the Season in four short words, “Love was his meaning!”

Wisom in the Market Place

Christmas shopping and the January sales will bring many into Norwich this winter. In a time of financial crisis people will be looking for value for money while trying to stay within budget. It can be quite trying! For Christian shoppers there are other considerations, not least The Reason for the Season.  How can we celebrate the Christ in Christmas with the cards and presents we give?

The Norwich Christian Resources Centre, in St. Michael at Plea Church on the corner of Redwell Street and Queen Street,   is one  place where you might find that special gift.  While there take advantage of the in-house café. It’s an oasis where a shopper can relax  and re-fuel.  There are similar Christian cafes dotted around the city: at the Kings Church in King Street, the Salvation Army in St.Giles, the All Saints Centre in Westlegate (opposite John Lewis) and the ever popular Octagon at St. Peter Mancroft.

Wisdom  in the Market Place is a striking picture on the way into the Octagon Cafe. It draws on  Proverbs Chapter 1 where Holy Wisdom offers her wares - free to those who seek!  The artist -  Juliet Wimhurst – has imagined  a motherly, much sought after, lady, next door to the Guildhall. In reality St. Peter Mancroft Church has set its stall out at the other end of the market. 

Above the steamy warmth of the café, in the still prayerfulness of high arched church, a steady stream of people quietly come and go and light floods in through clerestory windows.  Here the shop-weary can find sanctuary from retails restless rat race and allow themselves time to respond to Wisdom’s bumper bargain.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Via Beata (1)

Going to mid-day prayers with the Carmelite sisters at Quiddenham I encountered a mother and child. The child was grievously ill – all floppy in his mothers arms as she carried him out of the Children’s Hospice. Two nurses accompanying her gave support and carried the oxygen that was keeping the little lamb alive.  It was a heartbreaking! And yet the love and care was beautiful to behold. Such love! Such pain! I was privileged to catch a glimpse of something so precious.

After prayers, contemplating the  Stations of the Cross,  I was able to put the experience in context. Such love! Such pain!  As I set out on the next stage of my journey there was plenty to turn over in my heart.

By footpath, bridleway and quiet lanes, I was making my way from Eccles, via Quiddenham to Steve and Gill Eggleton’s home in Banham. The route forms part of a project that they and friends are working on.

Via Beata (2)

Imagine a string of beads – precious gems - stretched out across the heart of England and Wales, from Lowestoft Ness in the east to St. David’s in the west. Each bead representing an artwork communicating the Christian Gospel, set up in a place where people can stop and ponder.  The string that joins these way stations  is a pilgrim path – part of which I had walked - by which seeker and pilgrim  can travel either the whole length ,or over shorter sections. They call it the Via Beata. (Way of Blessing)

The first artwork has already been set up in a summerhouse/shelter by the front gate of  Steve and Gill’s garden. It is a carved triptych telling the story of the Return of the Prodigal Son.  You are invited to visit. The address is: Rowancroft, Kenninghall Road, Banningham. NR16 2HE .

During the summer a small organising group has begun to pioneer some of the paths, talk with people about suitable artworks and places to display them and given some attention to publicity. If you think you might like to be involved do contact them  Their phone number is 01953-887579 or on their website at:

Over a  simple shared meal, around their farmhouse kitchen table,  we met, chatted and prayed.  When I took to the road again it felt as if Banham was a lot like Emmaus (Luke 24.13 ff) .

I had been greatly blessed on the Via Beata! You may be too!

Give Peace a Chance (2)

Walking around the town I thought I had glimpsed dawning light against the darkness of  warring madness.  As well as the castle, churches and old coaching inns I’d seen the Abbey, the Grammar School and the statue of Thomas Paine, Thetford’s most famous son.

The monks who built the, now ruined, Abbey had pioneered the Peace of God movement. It urged barons to use force as a last resort and insisted on protection for non-combatants as a Christian duty. In post-Reformation times their concern for education found expression in the Grammar School that lists Paine among its old boys.  His words inspired the American Constitution and the emancipation of slaves.  The publication of his Rights of Man marked a huge step in the recognition of human rights.   While his creed, “The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”  still has the ability to challenge.

The birds of war still flew in and out of USAF Mildenhall  nearby I sensed the  brooding dove of peace!

Give Peace a Chance 1

From Britain’s highest medieval castle mound the sea of green forest stretched to the horizon. I had followed the Heritage Trail around Thetford and climbed  the hill to watch and pray.

The town has an image of  being an unlovely London overspill and a centre for European immigrants, but  is much more.

Since early days it has been the Gateway to Norfolk . The first fortifications were built 500 years before Christ. It was from Thetford Queen Boudicca set out to avenge the rape of her daughters and when the revolt was over the Romans came and burnt it to the ground ! Saxons followed Romans and then came the Vikings, time and again, laying waste and burning. After them the Norman Conquest brought more of the same!

To-day, atop the castle mound the Normans built  all is peaceful but in the west I could see planes flying in and out of the USAF Mildenhall and I knew soldiers were training on the Battle Area.  In Iraq and Afghanistan victims of war still suffer as they had here. As I stood and pondered I saw a patch of woundwort  growing at my feet. Was this old stock of some long forgotten herbalist who had used their leaves to heal the wounds of war?  The words of hymn informed my prayers. “For the healing of the nations Lord we pray with one accord.”

Friday, July 03, 2009

Dancing and Drinking the Mosel

What brilliant hosts the people of Winningen are! Not only did they take Kemp's Men into their homes and hearts but into their cellars as well!

We danced, drank and chatted the festival through - renewing old friendships and making new ones too! Among them Romanetz a Ukrainian Dance group from Canada, a group from Treviso in Italy and others from Sweden, Belgium, Luxembourg, Benin, Columbia, Switzerland and dozens from around Germany.

What was it about? I think the words of the Evangelische Kirche's minister at an ecumenical service on Sunday had it about right - God plays the music of life and we all respond to it one way or another - sometimes just tapping a foot, at at othertimes "putting your whole self in!"

After the service there was impromptu dancing on the green outside - the Treviso musicians appeared to be playing "She'll be coming round the mountain when she comes." What asked my friend is the significance of that?

Here is my considered response - She is God who is coming at the end of the world to judge all flesh! It appears to me the community that the people of Winningen created for us for the festival was an approximation of the New Jerusalem (see the last chapters of the book Revelations)

When, on the last night of the festival, I saw the Rev'd Canon Phillip McFadyen dancing with the Weinhexe I was reminded of William Blake's "Little Vagabond"

And God, like a father, rejoicing to see
His children as pleasant and happy as He,
Would have no more quarrel with the Devil or the barrel,
But kiss him, and give him both drink and apparel.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pelican on Hickling Broad (?)

Well, no! I snapped this Dalmatian Pelican in the Danube Delta last week - where I was with with Honey Guide ( , being guided by Daniel Petrescu of ( see also Danny's website )

I had a brilliant time - thanks Danny - and found an almost uncanny similarity with my own Broadland haunts.

The birds were amazing and a little different from what I'm used to on the Broads. Not only White and Dalmatian Pelicans, but Squacco Herons, Night Herons, Little Bitterns, Red and Black Necked Grebe.

I think I'll start a campaign to twin the Broads with the Danube Delta - please join the campaign if you can!

In the meantime you might want to add your protests to those of other bird minded people against the planned errection of 21 wind turbines on the rocky saddle of the Bespeke Hills the only high land that divides the Delta from an adjacent lake. Pelicans and migrating raptors using the hills to gain altitude are likely to be minced!

Brancaster Ring

This walk has it all. Like Jesus you can walk by the seaside and on the hills above the sea. There are woods and wayside flowers, birds, heritage sites . And to top it all, there’s Noah’s Ark(!), or something that looks like it, the man in the moon (!) and a love story waiting to be discovered.

. I parked the car at Brancaster Staithe and walked east along the Coastal Path, past fishermen’s huts and boats high and dry on low tide mudflats. At Noah’s Ark I turned inland going a little of my route to look into Burnham Deepdale’s round-towered church.

Next to the busy coast road the cool interior is an oasis of calm. The church has some notable medieval glass – that’s where I found the man in the moon - as well as an interesting font with carved labours of the month around the edge. Across the road there’s a great café too!

Passing the café on my left, I took the next left uphill, along a metalled road through rolling farm land and into a shady wood with noble beech trees.

At Barrow Common I took the path that leads over the hill and down to the coastal road once more . Across the road is a large open space. An interpretation board identifies it as the site of Brandonium, the Roman shore fort. There’s nothing much to see. The once lofty walls were used as a stone quarry by later builders going into local churches and flint built cottages.

Sometime, in the 4th or 5th century, someone left a betrothal ring here. A tragic loss, buried for safe keeping, or thrown away? Who knows! There’s a love story waiting to be written! What ever the back story, the ring remained undiscovered until 1829 and now resides in Norwich’s Castle Museum.

The design is conventional. The heads of a couple face each other. The inscription makes it special, the oldest Christian artefact in the county. It reads “VIVAS IN DEO” – live in God. A recipe for Christian living then as now. At the edge of the marsh I turned right and walked back to the Staithe as swallows swooped over the reed beds

The walk is half Norfolk Circular Walk No.9 which you can find on the internet at You can get to and from Brancaster Staithe on the Coast Hopper bus service.

New Buckenham Common

I just can’t help myself! Each daisy and dandelion is a miracle , but I’ll still make the pilgrimage to New Buckenham Common to see the green-winged orchids! These flashy flowers also grow on the limestone hills of Galilee. I sometimes wonder if these were the flowers of the field Jesus spoke of who’s natural beauty far outstripped King Solomon’s designer label elegance. Conspicuous consumption on clothing and cosmetics are a near necessity for many who gauge their worth against the ever shifting orthodoxies of fashion. The orchid remains a fragile yet unchanging thing of beauty. Its scientific name is Anacampcis Morio, morio from the Greek for fool. The flower is said to resemble fools cap. Contemplating beauty and foolishness, I recall the well known phrase or saying, “if the hat fits wear it!”

Green-winged orchids maybe the stars of the show, there is also a full supporting cast on New Buckenham Common: buttercups, cuckoo flowers, meadow sweet, cowslip, meadow saxifrage – even the names are poetry. In the early summer whitethroats and blackcaps sing from the bushes. In and around the ponds, hidden from sight, great crested newts go about their business.

If you were coming by car you could park just outside the village of New Buckenham Turning left off the Norwich Road you’d easily find the car park by the swings. When you continue along this bye road you eventually come to a closed gate blocking your way, turn onto the common here and walk around the bushes and you’ll be close to the main populations of green – winged orchids

I suppose one aspect of our consideration for the flowers means that we ought to make our journeys with a minimum carbon footprint. Sadly, the buses from anywhere to New Buckenham are a dead loss. So maybe there’s a case of getting on ones bike.

That green-winged orchids grow in such profusion on New Buckenham Common is due to the consideration the Norfolk Wildlife Trust lavishes on them. The great thing is they, and other conservation organisations will have a reserve close to where you live where you’ll be able to enjoy all the wild-flowers without too much travelling. You can check them out on the Trust’s website or in their Reserves Handbook available either on line, or from one of the staffed reserves visitors’ centres, or by post from:
Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Bewick House, 22 Thorpe Road, Norwich. NR1 1RY Telephone 01603 625540

Friday, March 13, 2009

Easter Swallows

As spring unfolds and the birds begin to sing I look forward to summer Swallows swooping over field and fen. Today we can trace the swallows’ journey from winter roosts outside Durban, through Africa and Europe to East Anglia’s marsh and meadow. It’s an amazing story and many of us are glued to our televisions when Springwatch and other TV programmes unfold the wonders of our natural world.

18th century naturalists supposed that swallows hibernated through the winter’s cold beneath the mud at the bottom of ponds, breaking forth from their earthy tombs for Easter days! Not an entirely silly idea! The first Swallows are usually to be spotted around Easter time and over or near water as they hoover-up bugs and flies.

Truer to our modern understanding of the Swallows migration is the ancient Egyptian myth in which the souls of the dead on the way to the stars are represented as swallows. Nearer to our own time is the Armenian folk tale in which swallows fly from the empty tomb with good news of Jesus’ resurrection.

Once, in a Galilean spring, I shared communion on the lakeside where the Risen Christ prepared a barbecue on the beach. Beside still waters, in the shade of trees, I was mesmerised as Swallows dashed back and forth, skimming the presiding priests head and diving low over the outdoor altar. These, I suppose, were the descendants of the birds who had woven an Easter garment with invisible threads around the Risen Lord and his fishing friends.

So this Easter a picnic by the water, with sandwiches of bread and fishes, in the presence of the newly returned swallows, is called for. Where will you go? Norfolk abounds with suitable places - broads and fens, the sea-side ? You could, with benefit, visit the Pensthorpe Nature Reserve and Gardens just outside Fakenham. ( ). It is child friendly with the possibility of pond dipping, feeding the birds and binocular hire and visitors can get an insight into the captive breeding programmes with animals as diverse as Blue Cranes and red Squirrels. What is more, Pensthorpe is on the X29 bus route from Norwich to King’s Lynn and wheel-chair access is good . And Springwatch will be broadcasting from there again this year!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Churches Together on the Broads Website

I'm more than chuffed having got the thing up and half decent. See it at

I am particularly happy with the bit on Broads Spirituality and Fishing. It was the fishing bit that made me offer to sort the site out.

Really when you think about it, Lots of Jesus' friends were fishermen then, what about now?

I'm glad to say the otters are not the only catchers of fish in our dyke. My grandson and I have pulled one or two pike out and several nice perch. Which is better than my record on evangelism!

Otters in the Dyke

Its brilliant there's otters in the dyke outside our home. We had one visit us last year. This year we had a mother and 3 part grown kittens. I'm really sad I couldn't get pics of all four together.

St. Saviour’s and the Surlingham Circuit

There is something special about St. Saviours Church, Surlingham. The ruins sit on a raised hillock above Church Marsh, looking out across the River Yare to Postwick.

The churchyard is the entirely appropriate last resting place of Ted Ellis. Ted’s weekly EDP articles and radio and television appearances did so much to educate East –Anglians about the wonders of nature on their own doorstep and encouraged people to think about conservation. Next to him, in death as she was in life, are the mortal remains of his much loved wife Phyllis. Their old home, just down-river, at Wheatfen now serves as a nature reserve. Church Marsh has been managed as a reserve since 1984. Together with land at Stumpshaw and Rockland, Church Marsh forms part of the Mid Yare Reserves National Nature Reserves managed by the RSPB.

From the churchyard I watched a Marsh Harrier, hanging low on the wind, quartering the marsh as it searched for its supper. Now, because of Ted’s pioneering work, this bit of God’s creation has been preserved for future generations. My heart sung as I gave thanks for marshes and Marsh Harriers and for conservationists in general and Ted and Phyllis in particular.

For a 2 mile circular walk follow the path as it leads past St. Saviour’s and avoid the temptation to turn off until you come to a metalled road. A left turn here takes you to the river and the Surlingham Ferry public house. Follow the old tow path where there are bird-hides open to the public. Then, after a while, turn left away from the river along a dyke and arrive at the round towered St. Mary’s, Surlingham . St. Mary’s is well worth a visit – historically interesting, well kept, showing signs that it is well prayed in and welcoming to tourists and pilgrims.

From the lych-gate go north and turn right at the corner of the churchyard. St. Saviour’s is down this track and only half a mile away.

St.Mary’s would be the obvious place to start and finish the walk if you came by car. By boat the moorings at Surlingham Ferry are best.

St. Mary’s Surlingham is a participant in the Open Churches project and is listed in the Church Staithe Guide.