One discovers a myriad of interesting of interesting facts while researching Community history. For example, I knew that the Norwich Mission House had at one point been in an old silk weaving works on Colegate, but I didn’t know the number, nor could I find where silk weaving had taken place there. The information mentioned St Clement’s, so I was assuming that it was towards that end of Colegate, rather than near St George’s church. More, I knew not. It’s not essential information, nor really what I was looking for, which is more focused on individual Sisters. But I was very excited to find in both the 1901 and 1911 Censuses the actual number: 14 and 16 Colegate Street. I subsequently took a walk along there, and have identified the building, as best I can.
Both Census returns add to our information about the house, as well as those who lived there. The 1901 Census has ‘All Hallows Nursery’ written alongside. Now I knew we had a crèche in Norwich at the time, as it is frequently mentioned in our magazine East and West (published between the mid-1880s and 1919), but it was interesting to have it confirmed in the Census, as well as the fact that it was based at the Mission House. The idea behind it was to provide somewhere for pre-school age children, that they might be adequately cared for while their mothers were at work. It is also interesting to see that Sr Ann Mary was the Sister in Charge in both 1901 and 1911, as well as two other Sisters being based there in both years, Sr Ethel and Sr Winifred (not the one you may remember, an earlier one). Also present is a Parish Nurse, Elizabeth Dredge or Dudge, again present in both years, and living with the Sisters.
What the census doesn’t tell us is whether the Sisters lived separately from others living alongside them, whether they had their own Chapel, or whether they worshipped solely in their parish church. The 1911 census tells us that there were 23 private rooms, and 11 public ones, so it’s possible one of those was a chapel, alongside the Nursery and presumably rooms for other parish work. I think the Sisters by this stage worked in various parishes in Norwich, while living together in the Mission House, so it’s difficult to say how much work took place in those parishes, and how much at the Mission House. I do know that the Community established two Guilds: the Guild of St Agnes for children and young women, and the Guild of the Holy Family for women. I believe that both these Guilds had branches in Norwich and Ditchingham, and it’s likely that the Norwich meetings would have happened in the Mission House. Assuming, of course, that it was just one Norwich branch, and not linked to different parishes.
Of course, we know intimately many of the buildings connected with our history, based as they are at Ditchingham. Others are unfindable – one of the houses we had in Norwich was on Bethel Street, and was bombed during the Second World War. Many of the buildings that do still exist are no longer connected with us, and others are used by different organisations. But knowing where the buildings are that we once lived in still has an impact. On a larger scale, many other places are special, whether because they are linked to a specific person (such as the Julian Shrine) or because they are places of peace and worship or because they have a long or interesting history. We treat such places carefully, ensure they are well-kept and, where appropriate, encourage their use or draw people towards them as places of prayer.
I suspect many of us will remember the joy of entering these buildings again after their closure during the first lockdown. We need places of prayer, places that help draw us closer to God, and we respect them. But do we treat others with the same level of respect? It is so easy to take a judgemental stand against those we disagree with, especially if we have a ‘religious’ reason for doing so. That’s not to say that ‘anything goes’. Reading Paul’s letters makes it quite clear that he expects the Church to discipline those who have done wrong. But that is far from judging them. I’m not talking about the legal aspect of judging, more the attitude behind some of the ways we treat our fellow human beings, condemning or blaming them. Often, it has far more to do with us than them: a means of asserting our power, or our sense of being better than others; even a way of shoring up our poor self-esteem. Yet these are people God loves; the Church should be known by its’ love for others. Even when we disagree with them, we can still treat them as individuals loved by God.
But it’s so much more complicated than caring for a building; although that can get complicated enough. How do we know when we’re being judgemental, and how when we are sticking up for biblical standards? Even if others agree with us, that doesn’t always give an answer; it’s very easy for a group to behave exclusively, or judge others in order to reinforce their own boundaries. It’s also very easy to read beliefs into the bible that may not have been meant originally, or to twist it so it says what we want it to. Yet I still come back to that place of love. That we are each individually loved by God for who we are/can be. That does not mean we can get away with anything and, indeed, sometime the most loving action can seem to be painful. It is complicated, and we are all bound to get it wrong sometimes. But judging others negatively, condemning them to shore up ourselves does neither us nor them any good. It is said that you should not judge anyone unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. So often, the actions of others become comprehensible once we understand where they’re coming from. It does not make everything they do right, by any means. Yet maybe it is worth bearing in mind, as we find those places and buildings that are special to us, that those we dislike and disagree with are special to God. Just to view those we meet and those we pass during our day as loved by our Lord may revolutionise the way we relate to them – and, possibly, the way we relate to ourselves.