January 01, 2018
THE STORY OF THE FOUNTAIN OF LIFE
A work of God’s grace
In the late 1990s an alternative service became a missionary congregation of the Church of England, the Fountain of Life. The parish church of St Nicholas Ashill had pioneered a new service in the village Community Centre. After two years the congregation outgrew their first home and moved to the Wells-Cole Community Centre in the neighbouring parish of Saham Toney.
By 1999 some of the more prophetic people were beginning to say that what we needed was our own purpose-built worship centre. The vicar, having just escaped from the burdens of one church building, needed some persuading that we wanted to take on the responsibility for another. But as the problems of having no church building at all became more and more apparent, he agreed to pray about it.
“Lord, if you want us to have our own building, please give me a sign,’ he said one day. Before his prayers were ended, a couple in the congregation who farmed in the village called at the vicarage and said, ‘The Lord has told us to give you an acre of land for a worship centre.’ This was clear enough, even for the vicar. The church formed a special group, the Cornerstone Building Trust, to undertake the provision of a new building.
So negotiations began, to acquire Planning Permission to build on this land. An architect was engaged to produce outline plans and these were submitted to the District Council. Soon the answer came back: Planning Permission refused. This was hard to accept, so the church agreed to appeal against the decision. Many months later our appeal was heard by a Government Inspector. Our case was put by an eminent barrister specialising in planning law, who acted for us pro bono, out of his own love for the Lord and faith in what we were doing. But again the answer was no.
At this point we had nowhere else to go; we were perplexed and discouraged. On the third day after the final refusal we received a phone call from the man who owned the garage in Ashill. He had a large work-shop, extended into a paint-shop, a large bungalow and over an acre of land. ‘I am thinking of selling up,’ he said, ‘I saw your news in the local paper, that you had not got Planning Permission on your field. If you think my property might do, I will offer you first refusal.’
Back to the District Council now, with an application for Change of Use from a garage to a worship centre. This time no one objected and some four months later we had permission to go ahead, but time was running out for the garage-man: he needed a quick sale. So in the middle of August 2000 we held a Gift Day. The asking price was £250,000 for the whole site. We held our breath as the money and promises were counted that Sunday morning. Then the news came in: the total was £292,000. A few weeks later we were the possessors of a four-bedroom bungalow, a large empty shed and an acre of semi-derelict land.
With what we had left from the purchase we set about converting the bungalow. Our most pressing need was for rooms for weekday meetings and offices: for Alpha, prayer meetings, Church Council meetings, Mothers and Toddlers, storage. Much of the work at this stage was undertaken by volunteers: internal walls were knocked down, doors widened for disabled access, additional toilets installed, and a new room built on for children’s groups. By the time these works were completed the money was gone and more than gone, and we still had an empty shed to convert.
After a pause to collect our breath (and our pennies), another Gift Day encouraged us to restart work on the old work-shop. Under the guidance of Terry Garrod, a local Building Manager, we put this work in hand phase by phase. There were times when our own faith failed for the money for the next phase. It was the builder who encouraged us to go on, in spite of the fact that we could not guarantee to meet his payments. ‘The money has come in so far, hasn’t it?’ he would say, ‘I am sure you will be able to pay when the time comes.’ And so it was.
Faced with a final push for completion we decided the only thing to do was to take out a mortgage for the last £160,000 (which we are pleased to say is now well reduced!). Another appeal to the congregation, this time produced promises, not of capital sums, but of an income sufficient to meet the repayments to the bank. This seemed a way of enabling those who had not had large capital sums to donate, to share in the project by contributing smaller sums on a regular basis over future years.
On October 28th 2004 the building was finished, a worship arena seating 200-250, a kitchen with facilities for preparing hot and cold food, toilets and storage spaces, a car-park for over 70 cars, roadways round the site, shrubberies and gardens. The Bishop of Lynn came to preside at the opening service amidst much rejoicing.
The project had cost nearly £750,000. If we had known that at the beginning we might never have started. We received virtually no grants; all the money came from the worshippers, numbering about 120 adults, like the Corinthians, ‘not many wise, not many influential, not many of noble birth’, not many rich, but many generous and all committed to the glory of God and the growth of his kingdom.
In 2012 an additional property valued at £300,000 situated on land opposite the church was donated which provides us with a church house, offices and additional meeting space. This has enabled us to redesign the Bungalow fit for the purposes of First Steps Pre-School and our children and youth work on a Sunday morning.
The church has experienced considerable growth since opening, both in terms of people and ministry involvement, with many new initiatives both within the church and the community. Ashill is one of the highest inhabited points in Norfolk, being on the southern end of the Cromer Ridge. For many years we have sensed that the Lord has a purpose in planting a group of his people here to shine the light of the glory of the Gospel across the surrounding area.
Edited in 2018