Feltwell Chapel

Monday, 1 June, 2009

When Matt Finch became co-minister of ten Norfolk Methodist chapels in 2002, he inherited a fortnightly Bible study among the largely elderly congregation of Feltwell Chapel. It was well attended by six members of the church and several others from neighbouring villages.

Matt describes the 15 members of Feltwell as having

a passion to do things differently.

The Bible studies provided helpful fellowship, but while undertaking a CPAS course on evangelism, 'Lost for Words', Matt became aware of a deep dissatisfaction among the chapel members. The course helped highlight the despondency people felt about the state of their church.

They asked, 'What can we do with this?'

he says.

'We can't do a mission course and not change.' There were lots of mumblings about church not being right.

What needs to change? 'We can't do a mission course and not change'

Matt took a big sheet of paper to a Bible study and brainstormed with the chapel members how they would like church to look in the future. He typed up the results, brought them along to the next meeting and presented the chapel members with a clear picture of their 'desire to be connected'.

They were there every Sunday but never connected,

he says.

They wanted to know who sat in church with one another.

At that time a building project was under discussion. Now it was scaled down - bar essential changes such as disabled access - in favour of instituting a new way of being together on Sunday mornings.

Feltwell Chapel - membersSuch was the enthusiasm that the new model of church began the very next Sunday with each member offering to take responsibility for certain elements. They each agreed to play their part in arranging coffee before the service, to sit around tables and to have an interactive sermon and shared prayer time. To meet all needs, traditional services happen on occasion, still around the café tables.

'They were saying they had always had baptisms and communion but not community. Now they are sharing each others' lives.'

Because I wasn't there every week it was hard, but a real understanding developed,

Matt says.

They were saying they had always had baptisms and communion but not community. Now they are sharing each others' lives. Some of the members pray together regularly, and they are in pastoral circles in which they each take responsibility for one another.

This recognition of a congregation's responsibility to care for one another without reliance on the minister is especially important in a rural setting where clergy are spread over several locations. A key lay worker has also undertaken a commitment to Feltwell to assist when the ministers are unavailable.

Matt describes the chapel as still

a long way from being truly missional,

but since its changes in 2005 several non-churchgoers have become interested. A baptism family was so 'blown away' by how the chapel had changed that the parents now want to marry at Feltwell and even, if possible, have a café style wedding.

Matt puts down Feltwell's growing success in building community to a new freedom on the part of chapel members to question and disagree with the preacher, and to a new involvement with one another.

They weren't happy with what happened on Sundays, but they still wanted to worship on Sunday mornings,

he says.

Feltwell's worship is culturally specific, but the underlying principle is of something that connected with them and helped them to love one another.