Tag Archives: Suffolk UK

Beautiful Beccles ~ CMS Link Visit No. 4 ~ YES!


Beccles in Suffolk is not just beautiful, it’s also busy, though you wouldn’t think so if you looked at the roads at a weekend – all empty!  But relaxing in the restaurants, climbing up the tower, and out on the boats at the quayside, there were lots of people.  And this past weekend it was very blowy and blustery too ~ real hold-onto-yer-hats weather.  Ah yes, I love a bit of fresh air!


Beccles is a charming old town (town sign photo above shows Queen Elizabeth I granting the town charter in 1584), full of quaint houses and lovely people, and this past Saturday the sun was out, the sky was blue, and it was perfect for a walk around: and so, welcome to beautiful Beccles!


I’ve been supported by the Beccles Parish of St. Michael’s – that’s the church in town, and St. Luke’s on the outskirts, for many many years.  My previous visit to Beccles was in February 2015 (see that report and photos here), when it was very cold and instead of meeting in the church, we met in the nearby Waveney Centre, which overlooks the River Waveney, down below.  Great views of the river around the town, and boats all over…


Beccles was once a river port, which explains why the church tower is built at the wrong end of the church, to stop it falling off a large cliff down near the river. The Beccles Bell Tower is 30 m (97 ft) tall, free-standing, and was sold to the district council for the price of one penny.  So the council own it and on Saturday it was open to the public, £2.50 entrance fee to climb the 120+ steps to see a glorious view over the town and river.


St. Michael’s Church is a huge building, with large noticeboards of all their mission activities.  This church is VERY supportive of CMS!

Since my last visit, sadly, we’ve lost Guenever who was the former leader of the CMS mission support group, but we give thanks to God for her life and ministry over the years.  Her son, Philip was ordained a few years ago, and now serves in a parish not far from the town.  Since my last visit also, Beccles has a new vicar, Rev. Rich Henderson, who was once the curate, so I’ve known him for many years too. He is assisted by 3 (yes, three!) curates. Wonderful!  He also has a whole group of retired clergy living in Beccles who help out, and one lovely retired bishop, Gavin Reid, who was running the parish during the interregnum when I was last there.  One of the retired priests, Peter Langford has famously just completed the Lands End to John O’Groats cycle ride – aged 85, and it’s his 3rd trip, his first was to celebrate his 75th birthday, his second at 80, and now his third at 85.  His son kept a daily blog of the ride, see here.  Amazing!   This is Rich and Peter…


Many thanks to Keith for his welcome and hospitality, and taking me around from place to place.  We started off on Saturday evening with a ‘bring-and-share’ evening at St. Luke’s Church, and I showed everyone my powerpoint about Taiwan.  What a great evening, and wonderful food!

On Sunday, I shared a little in an interview at the morning service at St. Michael’s Church.  The church is currently focusing on the theme of ‘Extravagant Welcome’ and has a sermon series on ‘Hospitality, Inclusivity and Diversity’.  So on Sunday, I also had the chance to hear a great sermon on Inclusivity from Ben, one of the curates.

This is Anne (below right, with me), a long-time and very faithful CMS supporter, who many years ago taught in Uganda; and Keith, and his double, Ray (below left) ~ and no they’re not related!

On Sunday evening, there was an informal and very moving service, and I gave the sermon. These lovely people who came along deserve a medal, some were hearing me speak for the third time in one weekend ~ and they were still smiling!

And on Monday, the sun long gone, replaced by drizzle and fog, and Keith led the way as I said goodbye to Beccles and we headed over to Norwich to join the Norwich CMS Prayer Group (kindly invited by Louise Wright, former CMS mission partner in DR Congo – in the middle below) ~ where I had the chance to share about what’s going on in Taiwan.  My first visit to that group – thanks to them all for their warm welcome and their great prayer support for CMS!


So a big thank you to Rich and Keith ~ and all the great people of beautiful and very blustery Beccles.  I received a wonderful welcome from one and all, and am grateful for many many years of prayer and support for me and CMS.  Thanks be to Almighty God for providing such faithful supporters and friends.  And to finish, some of Keith’s plants that grace his garden – beautiful!

Welcome to East Anglia!


East Anglia is a land of big skies. They go on forever, and change colour frequently at this time of year as an orange sunrise gives way to blue skies ~ that change to grey to black, and the storm clouds come, the rain pours down and then the sun comes out, leaving rainbows and white fluffy clouds. Never boring, in fact I spent half of the weekend chasing skies of different colours all over everywhere!


At this time of year, the fields are full of sugar beet – or corn stalks after the harvest, or green grass of the common land, being grazed by a few friendly horses.  Cows too, nearby…


The village of Mellis in north Suffolk is one of my CMS Link Churches, and I’ve just been staying there for the weekend. Actually it’s part of the benefice now called South Hartismere, and one of 4 parishes that my father took care of as vicar, way back in the 9 years before he retired in 1996. These days there are 8 parishes, wonderfully taken care of by Rev. Julia Lall, and they’ve been supporting me for many years. On previous visits, I’ve always stayed with Julia, churchwarden of Thornham Magna, but this time, I’ve had the honour of staying with the churchwarden of Mellis, Betty and her husband, David. So hospitable and welcoming. Even the cats love to share their space with visitors. Thank you!  This is Betty lighting the candles in the church, ready for the service, with the church teddy bear, Fr. Ted all ready too…


Mellis is very unusual, in that central to the village is a huge unfenced common, and virtually all the houses are built around the edges of the common. Most are hidden behind hedges and hard to find, with just the roofs peeping out above the trees, many of them thatched. This being Suffolk, lots of the houses are pink. Suffolk is famous for its pink houses, due to the whitewash traditionally being mixed with oxblood – as a binding agent, or maybe to ward off evil spirits, or both.  These two are actually in the neighbouring village of Thornham Magna ~ the left photo is of the Four Horseshoes…

Also peeping out behind the trees on the edge of Mellis common is St. Mary’s Church. This area has lots of churches dedicated to St. Mary.  The church took ages to find, despite lots of signposts to ‘St. Mary’s Church’! Eventually I found it hiding behind the trees, and on Sunday at 10:30 am, it was the Mellis Harvest Festival – in the pouring rain, which stopped mid-afternoon, and the sun came out. But the church looked stunning anyway. We had a lovely service, with children from the local school and over 40 people there. I did the talk and there was sherry on offer afterwards. Sherry!


Earlier on the Sunday morning, I also preached at the 8:30 am communion service at Thornham Magna, (also St. Mary’s, but Mary Magdalene) led by the vicar, Julia. I presented her with an artillery shell cross from Taiwan, also one for lay reader Jean, in honour of it being the 50th anniversary next year of women first becoming lay readers. These ladies are doing a great job in rural Suffolk!


Thornham Parva is not far away, the church is really incredible – and very famous, due to its thatched roof, and the retable inside. And of course, surprise, surprise, it’s also dedicated to St. Mary…


And finally there’s Gislingham Church, yes, another St. Mary. This one was closed for repairs. Gislingham is the largest village in the immediate area.


The telephone boxes of this area are interesting, the one at Mellis is now all stained glass showing local nature scenes, while the one at Thornham Magna is a bookswap…

And just up the road, in the neighbouring benefice of North Hartismere is my good friend, Adrian Watkins, he’s been vicar there for the last 3 years, based at Oakley.  Adrian was one of our favourite regional managers at Church Mission Society (CMS) in London and then Oxford, but then he left for theological training. Really miss him at CMS. So I just had to visit him. What’s more, he’s a successor to Rev. Christopher Idle, who was vicar at Oakley and some of the other churches in the area – and whose 80th birthday party and book launch I had attended last weekend in London. Gosh, it’s a small world! Adrian has a very large rectory and a very small dog. Quite some contrast. And he has lots of special hens and guinea fowl with all sorts of unusual names. And y’know what, his church at Oakley is not (repeat, not!) dedicated to St. Mary. St. Nicholas, in fact. Yippee!


And what else? Well, a visit to northern Suffolk would not be complete without a visit to Norwich, so that was where I went on Friday on my way to Mellis. Actually Suffolk is in the Diocese of Edmundsbury and Ipswich, but Norwich is, well, THE place to go. I went first to visit a friend, then down to Norwich Cathedral. It’s quite a place. Free to get in, suggested donation of £5. A bargain, guys! There’s a labyrinth in the cloisters, 3 beautiful modern windows and an amazing font kind of made of a chocolate machine (yes, true!), and the most stunning glass door to St. Catherine’s Chapel, with words from T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets engraved on the door. Not easy to photograph, but well worth seeing. Must visit! And one day I hope they’ll offer tower / steeple tours like lots of other cathedrals. I just love tower tours!

There’s plenty of other stuff in Norwich. Nearby is Mother Julian’s cell in a church. I went to check it out, but let me be honest, I didn’t like it, so there’s no photos to show you.  But I can highly recommend visiting Colchester, where I was visiting my good friends, Shelagh and Richard, for 2 days, in-between visiting London and Suffolk. The day we visited the town it was dull and a bit wet, but there’s tons of old Roman stuff to see, the castle and the walls and a huge number of churches. Some have been converted to music centres and theatres, but the most interesting was St. Helen’s Chapel which was built in the grounds of the Roman theatre, possibly by King Offa in the 8th century, then restored by the Normans in 1076, and these days is used as the town’s Greek Orthodox Church, with an amazing icon of St. Helen of Colchester, the town’s patron saint – she was mother of Constantine.  It’s a real surprise to enter the church and see what’s inside!

So a wonderful time had in East Anglia. Thanks to everyone for making me feel so welcome. This was the view as I left the area yesterday heading for the flatter lands of the fens. But hoping to be back in East Anglia in a few weeks time – for Part 2!


CMS Link Visit to Beccles, Suffolk

Just in case you think Cambridge is about as far east as it gets in England, well you ain’t bin nowhere yet!  Two long hours drive even further east from Cambridge and just before you hit the sea, you come upon the lovely little country town of Beccles, sitting on the River Waveney, at the gateway to The Broads, a sailing paradise of rivers and lakes in Norfolk and Suffolk. Beautiful!

Not that I went to the Broads this weekend, in fact only as far as Beccles itself, passing the lovely Billingford Windmill at Scole, Norfolk en route….


And so to a wonderful weekend at the 2 churches of Beccles Parish, St. Michael’s in the centre of the town and St. Luke’s Church Centre on the outskirts.  It’s a zappy little place, Beccles, and the churches are busy and bustling with lots of really meaningful things going on.  Right at the heart of community life.  Beccles has always been a very supportive CMS church, and people turn out in large numbers for all sorts of events related to mission ~ they’re really hands on, focused and know what they’re about!

Also humming with retired clergy who’ve settled in the town and got involved ~ they’re a great bunch!  There’s even a lovely retired bishop, Bishop Gavin Reid, who at 80 is now holding the parish together since the rector Rev. John Beauchamp left a few weeks ago for pastures new in London.  Bishop Gavin and his wife are helped by a fantastic team, including Rev. Andrew Platt, holding the fort at St. Luke’s ~ all doing amazing things in sharing the workload around.  Great example of shared ministry.

So, Saturday night, and we started off with a ‘Bring and Share’ Meal and Taiwan ppt at St. Luke’s Church Centre.  More than 30 people came along, it was wonderful!  And a very helpful young man called Ewan offered to take photos on my camera for the evening….

Then this morning, Sunday, a beautiful sunny day and off to St. Michael’s Church…..

Except that during the winter, the church is so freezing cold that the congregation worships in the nearby Waveney Centre, which is warm, cosy and has the most glorious view across to the river and of the boats ~ even a flock of goldfinches flying around today. Really inspiring.  Or really distracting, depending on your point of view!

Today I was speaking at the 10:30am morning service. Bishop Gavin was in the front row. It’s kind of scary.  But y’know, it’s so nice to meet a real UK bishop.  In Taiwan, we welcome lots of visiting bishops, some even bring their spouses. They come from all over Asia, USA, and elsewhere, they stay for a few days and we all get to know them a little.  But none ever seem to come from the UK  (not quite true, we once welcomed Tim Dakin when he was CMS CEO, and he’s since become Bishop of Winchester – but as he wasn’t yet a bishop when he came, he doesn’t count!)  And here in the UK, we only seem to see bishops at confirmations, we rarely get to know them as real people.  Just a different world, that’s all.  So today I was very happy to be so warmly welcomed by Bishop Gavin, although having him there in the front row was kind of scary.  Good job I was sharing about Taiwan and not some deep theological matter. And good job he’s so nice and kind and lovely!

A super weekend, kindly hosted by Keith, who organized such a great programme.  Thanks to everyone for all their support and such a warm welcome!  Hope you’ll come and visit Taiwan one day ~ please!

CMS Link Visit to Gislingham, Mellis, Thornham Magna and Thornham Parva, Suffolk

Yep, deepest rural Suffolk, full of quaint pink cottages, gorgeous thatched churches, woodland glades white with snowdrops, vast rolling fields stretching to the horizon, and oh, so quiet all day, and all night.  Idyllic.

Almost perfect.  But not quite!  Just don’t mention broadband speeds or mobile phone signals, or the lack thereof.  See a person perched on top of a log-pile in a far corner of their back garden or leaning out of their bathroom window?  Yep, they’re trying to send a text message or phone the neighbours.   Ah yes, the reality of life in the middle of nowhere!

Such is Suffolk.  A wonderful place, full of wonderful people. Life moves kind of slowly. Tomorrow will always do. No wonder it’s full of people who’ve retired to the countryside, or who come every weekend from London. Or who travel each day to work in Norwich, Ipswich, or even further afield.  A chilling out kind of place after a hard week of work.

But for the locals, there’s rural isolation, lack of affordable housing and lack of job opportunities – ongoing problems going back decades. Cue Thornham ~ and check out this great story….

Lord Henniker and his wife Julia moved back to the family estate in Thornham Magna in the late 1970’s and set about trying to use their land, buildings and resources to help the local community ~ setting up a field centre and cafe (with eco-friendly toilets, no less), nature walks all over the estate, the walled garden for horticultural training for those with IMG_2553learning disabilities, welcoming local craftspeople and artisans to set up workshops and homes on the estate, and plenty more besides.  An amazing place, truly inspirational. Charity and philanthropy at its best.  Lord Henniker died in 2004 and Julia continues the work, and I had the honour of staying with her this past weekend, along with other family members who were visiting.  Wonderful hospitality!

Spent at least an hour walking round the village taking photos of all the pink houses, and around the estate too.  Even on a dull day Suffolk looks just so beautiful!

My connections with these 4 villages go back to 1988-1996 when my father was the vicar, living in Gislingham and running the 4 churches.  These days the 4 have joined with another 4 to become 8, and all run by Rev. Julia Lall as the South Hartismere Benefice. Quite some undertaking. Imagine 8 (yes eight!) PCC’s!  8 ancient churches all needing taking care of.  8 churchyards.  8 everything.  Some clergy would see it as their worst nightmare ~ but not Julia, she loves the challenge, but then having been a teacher must be a great help.

The South Hartismere Benefice is part of the Hartismere Deanery and I was invited to speak at the Deanery Synod on Thursday evening, held in Burgate Village Hall. Showed my ppt about life in Taiwan, and met lots of really interested and interesting people.

On Friday, off I went for 2 lovely school visits, firstly to Thorndon Village School for an hour of sharing about Taiwan with the children, and then to Gislingham Village School for lunch with the children and another hour of sharing about life on the mission field. Fascinating. And wonderful to see the fruits of a British Council project at Gislingham School twinning them with a school in India, and 2 teachers leaving that afternoon to visit that same school for half term…

On Friday evening, a meal with 5 lovely ladies from the 4 parishes at The White Horse in Stoke Ash, organized by Betty, who took such good care of me all weekend ~ and how we laughed together!  Saturday lunch with the clergy ~ Julia and her NSM curate, Eleanor at The Black Horse in Thorndon, wonderful.  And then to Mellis, to visit my favorite pen-pal, Mrs. Dorothy Dye, now aged 101 ~ she’s lived all her life in Mellis, written her own life story, and now outlived the whole village too ~ just amazing!

Also went to check out the Mellis telephone box, no longer in use, but still standing, and the windows filled with stained glass all designed and made by local people.  The BBC even has an article about it here.  Definitely worth checking out if you happen to be passing, it is spectacular!

This morning, Sunday, first stop was the 8:30am early service at Gislingham Church with its high boxed pews… fortunately the service was held in the chancel, so I didn’t need to climb up the high pulpit to speak!

Then onto the 10:30am service at Thornham Parva Church.  Everybody’s favourite church building ~ stunning!  A real thatched roof and a very famous retable on the altar.  And in the churchyard is buried the famous architect of Coventry Cathedral, Basil Spence and his wife.  We even had fresh coffee brewing in the church at the end of the service, the smell was, well, just heavenly!

So, 4 wonderful churches, 3 delicious pub meals, 2 lovely schools, 1 happy weekend, and lots of fantastic people ~ THANK YOU EVERYONE!

IMG_2607PS. Don’t wish to lower the tone of this post, but, well, the toilet in Gislingham Church is really quite something. Not the actual toilet of course.  But its position.  Built at the back of the church, where the floor is all old gravestones.  So as you sit there and look down to the floor, well, there it is ~ a gravestone inscription with the words: “Here lieth the body of Thomas Sparrow M.A. who departed this life February 2nd, 1723, aged 72″…. so kind of bizarre, but I couldn’t NOT take a photo!

But just to balance things out a bit, Gislingham does have a churchyard full of beautiful spring flowers ~ gorgeous!

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A Valentine’s Day weekend in Suffolk, ah, such a romantic place ~ so belated Valentine’s Day greetings to you all, and thank you for all your support!