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Build your own church

PUBLISHED: 06:05 12 May 2014

Father Stephen Weston is priest of the tiny St Fursey's Church in Sutton, which is based in a shed built in his back garden. His congregation is growing so he now wants to build a new parish church.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Father Stephen Weston is priest of the tiny St Fursey's Church in Sutton, which is based in a shed built in his back garden. His congregation is growing so he now wants to build a new parish church. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2012

A tiny chapel, built in a garden in the village of Sutton, near Stalham, is the Orthodox church of St Fursey. It was built, plank by plank, by its priest, Father Stephen Weston, and is believed to be the smallest functioning church in Britain.

With just his faith and an A-Level in woodwork to guide him, Father Stephen and a group of friends built the chapel on to his end-of-terrace house.

Inside, the walls glow with more than 300 pictures of saints, although just a handful of worshippers can fit into the 18ft by 13ft chapel for services.

Father Stephen, now 65, was a Church of England priest for many years, and was rector of villages including Sutton until 1998, but he found himself increasingly drawn to the ancient Orthodox tradition.

“A lot of people don’t realise how ancient the Orthodox church is in Britain. There was only one church here for 1,000 years and it was the Orthodox church,” he explains. “Becoming Orthodox is about returning to our roots.”

He based his designs on the church unearthed in the Roman ruins of Silchester in Hampshire. He dug the topsoil from his garden, put in foundations and constructed a timber-framed room with rounded Byzantine-style arches. “I wanted a dome but the council wouldn’t let me!”

There are just six seats, but Father Stephen explains that most people don’t sit. “If you can stand, you do. There is a lot of movement, bowing, signing of the cross, even a protestation right on the floor. It’s the original way of Christian worship. The idea of pews in church is very recent and a bit lazy! We couldn’t afford a lot of hand-painted icons, so we have one of St Fursey, our patron saint, and the rest are printed.”

A regular congregation of eight is swelled by visitors and Father Stephen says: “When we get double figures in our little church we struggle, and we want to grow.”

He is hoping to build a new church in Stalham – complete with a golden dome, topped by a cross.

St Fursey facts

St Fursey’s is part of the Antiochian Orthodox church, which has also has congregations at St John the Theologian in Norwich and St Spyridon in Great Yarmouth.

An Irish monk, St Fursey helped establish Christianity in East Anglia and had an abbey at Burgh Castle, near Yarmouth.

St Fursey’s will have services during the week leading up to Easter, and services will be held throughout the day on Good Friday, known as Great and Holy Friday, and at 10am and 4pm on Easter Sunday, known as Holy Pascha.

St Fursey’s runs quiet days and talks, and operates as a study centre as well as a church. Members make mounted icon prints for sales, run stalls to publicise its traditions and there are facilities for overnight stays.

St Fursey’s Orthodox Christian Study Centre, St Fursey’s House, 111 Neville Road, Sutton, near Stalham, NR12 9RR; 01692 580552.

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