German pastors learn from Norfolk’s churches

A delegation of 25 German pastors are touring Norfolk to learn from their English counterparts and share information about the wider role of the rural church in modern society.

The group arrived on Monday and spent yesterday visiting south Norfolk churches in Hempnall, Woodton, Hedenham and Ditchingham. They also met a host of religious leaders at the Belsey Bridge Conference Centre near Ditchingham to discuss subjects including fundraising, the recruitment of volunteers, restoration and maintenance.

The group is led by Superintendent Horst H�rpel, of the Simmern-Trarbach Evangelical Church of Rhineland, who said he had noticed many differences between rural congregations in the two countries.

He said he was struck by the sheer volume of Norfolk's medieval heritage, and was impressed that two thirds of the churches were open to the public – although he noted there were fewer devoted churchgoers than in his homeland.

'We were amazed that here you have 652 churches,' he said. 'In our area there are only 60 historic churches but they are not open during the week. I think that the spirit of hospitality means the church should be an open building for everyone, whether for believers or non-believers. We do not want the church to become a museum and we have learned that we must open our churches. It is a very interesting project for us. In our area about 80pc of people belong to the Catholic or Protestant church, but here it is more secular. For us, perhaps what is going on here is going to be our future.'

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Mr H�rpel said he was dean of district with 36,000 registered members, all of whom were required to pay church tax. 'We have a lot of traditions of children getting baptised, and weddings happening in the church, so we have a very traditional situation, but we feel that other generations may be more free or will have lost their roots. That is what has happened here, but perhaps we have the chance to go in another direction.'

Jennie Hawks, historic places of worship support officer for the Diocese of Norwich, said: 'We are here to show them how we operate and they are learning how we use volunteers and how each church has to find its own funds – in Germany they are state-funded. There are also things we want to learn from them about how they manage their churches and how they relate to their rural communities.'

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Today, the group will take a guided tour of Norwich Cathedral before attending a reception with the Bishop of Norwich.

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