Sign-up for free e-newsletter

Viewpoint from Rt Rev Graham James 30/12/11

Bishop Graham April2011The Rt Revd Graham James
Bishop of Norwich
One of Great Yarmouth’s claims to fame is that it has the largest parish church in England. It’s bigger than some cathedrals. Three weeks ago I was delighted to make it a Minster at a crowded civic carol service. People have often heard of minsters, but don’t know much about them. York Minster is probably the most famous but there are parish churches which have been called minsters for centuries (Beverley and Wimborne, for example). Some have been much more recently renamed, e.g. Plymouth. Why?
It’s partly to do with history. Great Yarmouth has a remarkable story, well told in the Time and Tide Museum. The town was helped on its way when the first Bishop of Norwich, Herbert de Losinga, set up a priory and church here in 1101. He did the same in King’s Lynn (Bishop’s Lynn in those days – the name changed when King Henry VIII took over the Church lands). Bishop Herbert wanted both to be linked with his new cathedral in Norwich. They are. The Dean and Chapter of Norwich still nominate the Rector or Vicar
 dove left
Sometimes we need reminding of our history. We worry when people lose their memory. It can be a danger in communities as well. Minster status for a church is a sign that there’s a lot to remember in Great Yarmouth’s fine history. Michael Boon’s excellent new book about St Nicholas Church has been published in a very historic year, when we celebrate fifty years since the church was rebuilt after war damage. Great Yarmouth has much to celebrate
 Dove right
But a minster isn’t a museum. It speaks of God in our lives now. Ours is an age uncertain about faith and distrustful of institutions. Yet we are inspired by great buildings, especially when they are used to lift our spirits. The sparkling Christmas Tree Festival at St Nicholas early in December was a great community celebration. This huge space for the worship of God is also a place to gather people from all walks of life. It fosters friendship. “You are my friends if you do what I command you – love one another as I have loved you”. Those words of Jesus remind us of the importance of friendship. Minster churches, an invention of Anglo Saxon England, were great community centres more than a thousand years ago. That’s what Great Yarmouth Minster is now
Minster churches have always been places from which Christians have been sent out to tell the story of God’s love and the friendship offered in Christ. Minsters first appeared when England was nominally Christian. Peoples’ hearts had to be converted. Creating community churches to serve a wide area seemed an obvious way to do that work. England is nominally Christian again. Hearts need warming and spirits need raising. There’s nothing outdated about that. Great Yarmouth Minster is truly a place to go back to the future