International vision for 17th century Norwich church
- Credit: Archant
A hidden Norwich church has an international vision for promoting Christian heritage and especially the key role of the Puritans.
Just a short walk from Norwich city centre, close to the River Wensum, is The Old Meeting House Congregational Church, in Colegate. This originated from the Puritans where meeting houses were plain buildings where 'church meets'.
The building was of enormous significance at that time, as it marked the end of the fathers who founded the Old Meeting House Church from having to meet and worship in secret.
Dr John Clements, the current minister, and a close group of loyal supporters, have been busy putting on a programme of services and events for those who wish to better understand the Puritan faith and those who want to understand the historical importance of Oliver Cromwell and other Puritans who were associated with the chapel.
The building and its history are considered important to the city of Norwich and to the Congregational Church, which has a worldwide membership of over 2.4m.
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The early non-conformists in Norwich played a significant role in laying the spiritual foundation for the Church in the United States of America. Architecturally, the building is of special interest as the first important example of Free Church architecture with, reportedly, the first building in Norwich to have had sash-windows.
'It is hoped that the chapel will become a national centre for promoting the Christian Heritage of the UK,' said Dr Clements on his vision for the church.
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'Apart from the unique historical setting of the chapel, we have other rooms for talks and discussion groups and to provide catering for visitors. For example we have a series of talks monthly entitled 'Light from Old Paths' running from January to June 2017, with eminent speakers,' he said.
'On March 13, we are looking forward to a full day conference Delighting in God and His Word, with Prof Dr Michael Haykin from the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, on his first visit to Norwich. Meals will be provided nearby at Norwich Central Baptist Church - also significant as, as far as I know, this is the first time since 1700 that the two churches have done anything together,' said John.
In addition, there are regular services, and Sing on Saturday on the third Saturday of the month at 3pm.
It is a time to sing the old hymns that many churches no longer sing, accompanied by the organ which was built in 1660. There is no sermon, but Dr Clements shares a little background about how the hymns came to be written and often unpacks some of their meaning.
Dr Clements was excited by the increasing international revival of interest in the Puritans: 'We seek to provide an internationally-recognised tourist environment focus based on faith with its roots established in and around Norwich and Norfolk which will, of course, bring further economic benefits to our fine city.'
The Puritans were a group of English Reformed Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries who sought to 'purify' the Church of England from its 'Catholic' practices, maintaining that the Church of England was only partially reformed.
In 1662 the Act of Uniformity ejected any minister who could not or would not adhere to official Church of England doctrine. Some of these dissenting clergymen simply did not feel they could agree to the 1662 Prayer Book, and were forced to leave the Church of England.
Many of the leading dissenters of Norwich were Congregationalists, and they included among their numbers some of the wealthiest and most influential members of Norwich society.
In 1689 the Act of Toleration made it legal for dissenters to build and own property. As a result, they could officially own their own meeting place for the first time. The result was the Old Meeting House, built in 1693, just over 3 years after the Act took effect.
Inside, there is a gallery on three sides, looking down on a pulpit. The pulpit was the centre of worship, unlike earlier Church of England and Catholic buildings where the altar is the major focus. There is a flat plaster ceiling supported on columns and the overall style is one of simplicity.
For more on Norwich churches, visit www.networknorwich.co.uk