Souls and goals for Norwich City team member
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019
He started as a fan, dreamed of being a player and is now part of the team. We talk to NCFC chaplain Jon Norman.
Jon Norman, might be one of the few Norwich City fans who doesn't pray for a win.
It's one of the most frequent requests when people find out that he is the official chaplain of Norwich City Football Club but he said: "I never do it, because I just don't think it's my role. If I started praying for results and they started to lose, would people lose faith in God? I think God's a neutral anyway!"
Jon looks more like a footballer than a stereotypical chaplain, and indeed he once had trials for Norwich City's Academy, and still plays football for fun. But instead of saving goals Jon went into the business of saving souls, becoming a church leader.
His role at Norwich is to support players and staff. The day before most matches he will be at the Colney training ground to chat, and eat lunch with the first team and coach. He also meets players individually and sometimes with their families - and even enjoys a weekly informal kick-about at Colney with whoever is around.
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However, being Norwich City chaplain is not his main job. Jon is full-time pastor of the huge Norwich Soul Church - which regularly welcomes 1,500 to its Sunday services on Mason Road, Catton Grove. And sometimes, sitting among the regular congregation, there are footballers there too.
Jon grew up in Taverham, near Norwich. A keen footballer, he played in goal for Taverham High School, for Mount Zion church in the Norfolk Christian Football League, and for Norwich United. A Christian from childhood he went on to train as a church leader with the Australian-based international Hillsong Church.
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Six years ago Jon and his wife Chantel returned to Norwich after helping lead a large church in Cape Town, South Africa. They launched Soul Church, Norwich in 2014.
A friend had become club chaplain at Leeds and Jon wondered whether Norwich City had a chaplain. He discovered it did, but he was about to retire. Jon's name was put forward by the national organisation in charge of sport chaplains and he is now about to start his fifth season as Norwich City chaplain.
A few years back Jon, who was made a canon of Norwich Cathedral two years ago, might have been star struck, but now he says: "They are all humans.
"I'm there for anyone who's going through something off-field, anything other than football. It might be relationships, preparing for marriage, the effects of injuries or not being picked to play. They might be a very long way from home. It is a huge thing when a player arrives in a foreign country. The fans just see them as footballers, but they are actually people and they go through the emotions that we all go through.
"If you give people lots of money on top of lots of pressure you are going to get challenges in any walk of life and footballers are no different. A chaplain is a safe listening ear."
He goes to as many home matches as possible as well as spending time with playing and coaching staff.
Norwich City sporting director, Stuart Webber said: "Jon is an important member of our team at Colney and is always there with support and advice for players and staff who want it.
"Jon has a fantastic ability to show that the church and religion in general is about helping the community and has a great ability to bring people together."
And even Delia, whose strong Christian faith is well-known, has asked him to pray for the right result. "The trouble is, obviously the other chaplain is praying too!" said Jon.
This year he held an Easter service for the players and staff who might not have been able to get to church between fixtures. "Some of the boys really enjoyed that. It was just reflecting on the true meaning of Easter," said Jon.
His role is to be available to people of all faiths or none. "I think people are searching for meaning," said Jon. "As great at football as they are, there can still be a sense of emptiness. Faith can fill that void in their life.
"I think I could be busier this year. The pressure is bigger. Whenever you increase pressure on people it tells. The Premier League is the most challenging league in the world.
"There are some Christians in the team, and some will come along to Soul Church. When you come to church you are not a footballer, you are a worshipper, part of the community. People can come from all different backgrounds and feel acceptance.
"My wife has been really good at getting alongside some of the families. They might be a very long way from home."
Chantel brings personal experience of being far from home, having grown up in Los Angeles. She also knows how faith can help in difficult times. She left home at 14 and was fostered by church youth pastors. She eventually reconnected with her birth father, only to lose him to a drive-by shooting last year.
Chantel and Jon have a seven-year-old daughter, Miracle Joy, and four-year-old son, Justice.
This spring Jon and Lewis Blois, Norwich City Academy chaplain (and former Norwich City player and current Soul Church member), ran seven marathons in seven days to help fund Soul Church's new base including an auditorium, and youth, sport and community facilities, on the site of the Mount Zion church, Heartsease Lane, which was destroyed by fire 13 years ago.
Stuart Webber of Norwich City said: "The work Jon, Chantel and the team are doing at Soul Church is incredible and all the community should get behind this as what they do is so more than just about religion, it's bigger and we are extremely grateful that we are part of it."
Jon says there is always a Norwich City News spot in the Soul Church Sunday service - as long as there is a Canary win to celebrate.
This summer, as Norwich City joins the Premier League, and he becomes a Premier League chaplain, he is hoping there will be plenty more football news to share.