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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk

Sacred Heart and St Margaret Mary, Dereham

Dereham Sacred Heart: homely, warm and friendly

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from the north-east from the south-east

    Sacred Heart and St Margaret Mary, Dereham
St Margaret Mary   East Dereham, or Dereham as it is now at the whim of a bureaucrat's pen, is a lovely little town. Apart from the grand Anglican parish church of St Nicholas there is nothing architectural that is particularly of note, but it has a proud, independent feel as befits a town that is so far from anywhere else of any size. It is the closest town to the centre of Norfolk, and as such may be thought of as its heart.

I always find it a mark of the civilisation of a small town that the churches are open to visitors. Thus, just as you can wander in to Dereham's main churches, so you can in Holt, and Cromer, and Wymondham, and Diss. But Thetford and Gorleston keep theirs firmly locked - what does that tell us about those towns, I wonder? And Norfolk is a county where most of the Anglican parish churches are open every day, but most of the Catholic churches are not, I fear.

Sacred Heart is a proud exception. Not only is it usually open, there is a keyholder listed for visitors when it is not. A simple single-celled brick building with what appears to be an added apse, it is very homely compared to the glories of St Nicholas, but warm and friendly with it. The light wood and blue carpeting were pleasant in the bright sunshine.

We arrived here on the Wednesday of Holy Week, just as Mass was ending. I have a passing acquaintance with many of the Catholic Priests of the Diocese, and so I popped my head into the sacristy door to say hello. As it turned out, the Priest was a man I had not met before, but he was very pleased to see us and asked us if we were on holiday. We explained that we were visiting churches in the area, and he shook his head sorrowfully. "I am afraid that you will find that some of the churches around here are locked", he mourned. "I simply cannot understand it. I think it is shocking - shocking - to lock people out of the House of God."

We agreed with him fervently, but I didn't have the heart to tell him quite how many of the culprits are Catholic churches. A few weeks earlier, the Bishop of East Anglia, Michael Evans, had asked in his Lenten Diocesan Letter for churches to make themselves more welcoming to outsiders. I had written to Bishop Michael to say that I agreed, and that one way to do this would be to make sure that the churches were kept open. I didn't get a reply.

Simon Knott, May 2006

   

looking east clothed for Lent I clothed for Lent II looking west

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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk