Norfolk church appoints first pastor in 120 years
2009: A rural evangelical chapel in Norfolk is bucking the trend of declining church attendances by appointing its first full-time pastor, 120 years after it was established.
And the move was greeted by a packed congregation and angelic singing, aided by the church’s secret weapon - the superb acoustics of its tin roof and walls. Tom Chapman reports.
Saxlingham Nethergate Evangelical Church eight miles south of Norwich reached a significant milestone on Saturday January 10, as a packed congregation gathered to witness the induction of Ian Masson as the first-ever pastor of the church.
And it’s been a long wait. Saxlingham Chapel is one of the original Tin Tabernacles, constructed from corrugated metal and intended as a temporary structure but still in use. The church, originally founded by Surrey Chapel, Norwich, celebrated its 120th anniversary in June 2007. Conservative in style and theology, its quaint building is located down a narrow lane in a small village in rural South Norfolk. Current trends indicate the outlook for such churches is bleak, and indeed for a while it seemed Saxlingham Chapel’s days as a viable church were numbered too.
At the induction service, local sheep farmer David Moore (61), deacon and committed Chapel attender since he was one week old, recalled the church at its lowest ebb: “At one members’ meeting, when there were only six of us, I suggested that we might reduce the number of services. My wife said no, we should continue – so I knew that must be the Lord’s will!”
The decision to continue has been affirmed by God. The church has developed good links with the village and children’s and youth work is prospering. The baptistry has recently been used for the first time in a decade and regular congregations have risen to over 30 with the building full on special occasions, and last year the church opened a new extension and facilities. The appointment of Ian Masson as Pastor represents the next step in a remarkable renewal of this little fellowship.
Ian (53), formerly a director of National Schoolwear Centres plc, first came with his wife Lynda and children to the chapel some 20 years ago, and soon realised this was where God wanted them to worship and serve. “I had no idea then that He was calling me into ministry. But over the last few years I can honestly say that God has been developing a pastoral heart in me.”
The service was chaired by Rev Roland Fidge from Axminster and the induction performed by Malcolm Laver, who also delivered the address from Joshua chapter 1, reminding the church and the new pastor to be strong and courageous, not terrified or discouraged, for God would be with them.
What has enabled Saxlingham to thrive against all expectation? There are no gimmicks; just a simple, authentic love for God, His Word and His people, which He is blessing in return.
The Tin Tabernacle also provides a secret advantage! The metal construction provides a superb acoustic, and the congregation are blessed with several excellent singing voices. I can honestly say that in Saxlingham Chapel I have encountered some of the best sung worship I’ve ever heard!
To find out more about Saxlingham Chapel, contact Ian Masson on (01508) 499121.
Tom Chapman is senior pastor at Surrey Chapel in Norwich.
Pictured above are Ian and Lynda Masson and the Chapel at Saxlingham.