Baptists Together in Norwich
Baptists in the city famous for having the highest proportion of people with no religious belief recently a hosted a unique festival that has already brought the four congregations there closer together.
Festival 344 was a week-long series of events organised and hosted by Costessey Baptist Church, Norwich Central Baptist Church, Silver Road Baptist Church and Witard Road Baptist Church.
It's the first time the four churches have come together in such a way, and comes at a time when Baptists have been encouraged to rediscover greater patterns of associating and networking.
The festival featured events such as the Great Baptist Bake Off, a history walk and the Seriously Funny Tour of Jeff Lucas and Adrian Plass.
There were times of worship and prayer, and on the final Sunday all churches heard the same message during their Sunday morning service, which had been recorded the previous week and was delivered by the Revd Ian Bunce, Faith and Society mission and media facilitator.
Leaders believe it will result in greater unity and fellowship. 'The Bible tells us that it's wise to work together for God's Kingdom purposes,' said the Revd James East, minister of Norwich Central Baptist Church.
'We also know that times of unity gladden the hearts of God's people - and people have voted with their feet. Everything has been packed. We want to be together and strong and united, and there have been lots of opportunity to be together and interact, lots of serving and making new friends.'
Festival 344 was born out of a vision given to the Revd David Adams, minister of Witard Road Baptist Church, of greater Baptist unity in Norwich, with all four congregations sharing times of worship, outreach, fellowship and nurture.
The churches were also inspired by the example of their forefathers, and given extra impetus by the 2011 Census, which found that Norwich has the
country's highest proportion of people professing no religious belief (42.5 per cent compared with 25.1 per cent for England and Wales as a whole in the 2011 Census).
The first Norwich Baptists had suffered persecution as the state and religious authorities had rejected evangelical Christian belief, but nevertheless felt such a strong call to the city they founded an illegal and underground movement in 1669 - 344 years ago. 'God used the persecutions to unify and inspire his people to proclaim the Good News,' said Mr East.
'And we have felt God calling us to do something similar. The challenging news of the Census gave us the final nudge.
'At the worship evening on the Wednesday I felt called to preach using the opening words from Isaiah 6. It's set at a time of complete turmoil in the ancient Hebrew nation, but God says to look to the One who is permanently on the throne.
'In times of trouble he gathers His people together. God is preparing our hearts and minds to serve in a way that we haven't fully considered.
'Perhaps He will choose these times to unify and inspire us once again?'