Rural Norfolk church opens door to revitalisation
For the Fountain of Life, the restrictions caused by Covid sparked a church plant and introduced a revitalisation of its whole missional programme.
In spring 2021 when the government gave permission for churches to reopen, the Fountain of Life Church in Ashill was faced with a difficult problem. The risk assessment allowed a maximum of 70 people in the building at one time with the required safety measures in place and the first week the church was open 68 came to worship.
“We knew that number would increase,” writes the Senior Minister, Paul Wilkinson. “So we had to decide how we’d accommodate growth as people regained the confidence to come out again.”
The options were to double the number of Sunday services at Ashill or start an overflow somewhere else. The unanimous decision was to start an overflow with the location identified being Swaffham since that was the place the largest part of the membership was located.
“Within a week,” recounts Paul, “we had received the donation of a trailer and the loan of some much-needed sound equipment, secured the use of the community centre until the end of the year and cobbled together the rest of the equipment we needed to get going.”
At the end of the year the project was accepted into the Diocesan Church Planting and Revitalisation Programme (CPR) and was allocated a £25,000 grant. Eighteen months later the overflow is an established church plant that is seeking to find permanent premises so that it can offer ministry and outreach to the wider community.
“Two sports clubs have been established by our trainee sports minister," explains Paul, "one for kids and one for over 18’s, the existing work in a local primary school continued and new opportunities have begun to develop in others too. Much more would be possible if suitable premises were available to offer warm spaces, an affordable food programme, parent and toddler groups, youth work and potentially much more too.”
As the hub church in Ashill re-established itself, new faces appeared. “We’ve been able to reintroduce many of the programmes we offered before the pandemic,” writes Paul, “and have now begun to develop new things too.”
A sports and dance club started in the newly opened community hub at Carbrooke that led to a series of youth socials and discipleship groups, work in around 20 schools has mainly returned to face to face offerings instead of online provision and the monthly Kidz Klub gatherings have restarted and grown in numbers in Ashill and Dereham.
Fountain of Life also ran its Christmas Alive event in December with a new musical play, newly written music and a Bethlehem-style village built in the car park which was attended by around 600 people.
Paul is now looking ahead: “As 2023 begins we have just introduced a new programme of Sunday initiatives in addition to our morning services called ‘Closer’, ‘Higher’, ‘Wider’ and ‘Deeper’ designed to create opportunities for worship, prayer, mission and Bible study respectively.”
On the 1st Sunday in the month ‘Closer’ is an opportunity to rest or worship in the presence of God as the Worship Group leads ministry with music. On the 2nd Sunday ‘Higher’ is an hour devoted to prayer for a wide variety of topics. ‘Wider’ on the 3rd Sunday encourages people to do something missional – invite someone for coffee, call someone who needs a friend, do something missional with your home group, start or join a missional community. Finally, on the 4th Sunday the church has started a Bible study meeting called ‘Deeper’ which aims to give people the tools to dig deeper into scripture discovering the truths of God’s word for themselves. The latest addition to these meetings is ‘Gather’ which is specifically for 17-29 year olds.
“In many ways,” Paul concludes, “this new season is as difficult and complex as the Covid season was. We see the financial hardships society is facing, the worries and concerns people are wrestling with and the problems that we are all facing. But we also see the possibilities before us and want to see the light of Christ shining in all the places He leads us to.”
Pictured above are worshippers at the Swaffham Plant with Senior Minister Paul Wilkinson facing the camera.