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

St Helen, Hoveton

St Helen: view from the street

Read the captions by hovering over the images, and click on them to see them enlarged.
car park - this is where the extension will be

  St Helen, Hoveton
clean lined   Hoveton down by the river is part of the hellish tourist blackspot of Wroxham, but this clean-lined modern church sits out on the Coltishall road, almost opposite Hoveton and Wroxham railway station. As usual in East Anglia, the response to the needs of local Catholics in the form of new church buildings came in the early sixties, just as discussions in Rome at the second Vatican Council were changing the shape of liturgical spaces forever. If it had been built ten years later, it would probably have been quite different.

The sanctuary is rather traditional, and the curious asymmetrical organ on the south side is helpfully matched by decoration on the north. There is a large galilee porch, with a glass screen across the body of the church.Although St Helen probably has the single largest congregation of any church in the Wroxham and Hoveton area, it isn't actually a parish church at all, being served as a chapel of ease from North Walsham. As such, it is kept locked, and is therefore a source of considerable annoyance to the likes of me who thinks that Catholic churches should be kept open if they are to fulfill their proper liturgical function.

What on earth is the point of reserving the blessed sacrament if the faithful are to be locked out of its presence?

I sound like I am complaining. In fact, I arrived just as they were opening up for the Saturday evening vigil Mass, and the people I met were exceptionally friendly and welcoming, showing me around, telling me the history of the place, almost convincing me to miss my train so I could attend Mass, and certainly making it impossible to fit in nearby Hoveton St Peter on this trip. They showed me the plans for their expansion, a doubling in size of the church to accomodate their ever-growing congregation, in the form of an extension to the south, making the church L-shaped about the sanctuary.

  the view east

They also had a good moan about the Bishop, something I experience again and again when visiting East Anglian Catholic churches at present. Bishop Michael has jumped in with both feet, and his consultation exercise Forward and Outward Together has put the future of outstations like this in doubt. This seems insane; East Anglia is one of the fastest growing Catholic dioceses in western Europe, with congregations on the up almost everywhere. However, the exercise is intended to address the impending rapid decline in the number of Priests in the Diocese. How silly. As far as I can see, the situation makes the case for married and women Priests stronger every time I think about it.

Simon Knott, April 2005

Postscript: In March 2006, I received a communication from Father Mark Hackeson, Private Secretary to the Bishop of East Anglia, Michael Evans. He writes: You state that the Bishop's Diocesan Pastoral Plan puts the future of outstations in doubt. Whilst this may be true of some such churches, it is clearly not true of St. Helen's, which as you yourself point out already has plans in place for an expansion. I must also admit to being somewhat upset by your attitude to the Diocesan policy as laid down in the Diocesan Pastoral Plan. Some of your comments, particularly those personal to the Bishop, seem to me to be rather ill-informed, to an extent that they are simply opinionated rather than objective. As you rightly point out, Diocesan policy (arrived at after extensive consultation with both laity and clergy) seeks to address the current shortage of priests. One of the principal aims is to ensure that every Catholic parish has its own Parish Priest and access to Sunday Mass. This has meant in some places looking at the possibility of closing or moving Mass centres to take account of population movement and growth, and also the greater mobility of most Catholics. Many of our Mass centres were established before most people had access to their own car (or a lift from fellow parishioners). However, in other places it involves looking at expanding present buildings (as at Hoveton, Poringland, St. Laurence's, Cambridge and elsewhere), or replacing them with new, larger churches (as at Diss, St. Boniface, Hellesdon, Norwich and elsewhere), so that the whole community can meet to celebrate Sunday Mass together - which of course is not only a "noble aim" of Bishop Evans, but very much in line with the theology of the Sunday Mass. You state that you find the Diocesan policy "silly" and suggest, despite your statement in the entry for Harleston, that it merely is designed to address the decline in the number of priests in our growing Diocese. Such a suggestion is untrue - the desirabililty of gathering all of the Faithful together to celebrate one parish Sunday Mass arises much more fundamentally from the nature and function of the Sunday Mass. It is something to which we should be moving, even if the number of priests were to rise (as I am sure it will).


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