Norfolk 2008 – a Faith Profile

Norfolk, the ancient pagan county of the North Folk, like its neighbour Suffolk, the county of the South Folk, is in a period of rapid change, and this applies to its religious identity as much as to everything else.  The “Fine City of Norwich” still has 32 medieval Churches, some of which may have experienced change of use, but there are now also Mosques, a Synagogue, a Buddhist Centre and a diversity of other religious buildings.  Walsingham, long a centre of pilgrimage, now hums with tourists and welcomes regular groups of school children for educational visits.  Yarmouth, Thetford and Kings Lynn have a significant number of refuges and migrant workers and are increasingly multi-cultural.  and this applies to a lesser degree to the whole county.  It is certainly not possible to give exact numbers for religious affiliation, especially as recent arrivals are not included in the 2001 census.

With regard to Christianity, the 2001 census lists 589,695 Christians, without differentiating between the numerous Christian denominations and their sub-divisions.  These include Anglicans, Baptists, Christadelphians, Christian Scientists, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Congregationalists, German Lutherans, Greek Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Independent Pentecostal, Jehovah's Witnesses, Methodists, Roman Catholics, Russian Orthodox, Salvation Army, Society of Friends (Quakers), Seventh-day Adventists, Unitarians, United Reformed Church, "black-led" Churches both Trinitarian and Unitarian, a Chinese Church and House Churches!  Some well established churches have declining numbers while others are thriving.  The Roman Catholics have recently experienced a considerable increase in numbers and a strain on their resources through the arrival of migrant workers from Poland and Portugal.  The presence of asylum seekers and refugees in Norfolk has meant that there are now also Christians from eastern Churches like Syrian Orthodox, Copts and Armenians.

Alongside these diverse Christian groups there are Baha'is (perhaps 60), Buddhists (1,158), Hindus (969), Humanists, Jains, Jews (865), Muslims (2,059), Pagans (600), Sikhs (326), Taoists and Zoroastrians.  These figures, drawn from the 2001 census, are not up to date, they exclude the statistics of some faiths and they do not show the different paths within faiths.  There are certainly 1400 more Muslims than are listed, and Muslims in Norfolk, once mostly from Bangladesh, now come from all over the world and include Kurds, Iraqis, Iranians and Afghanis.  There are various strands of Buddhism in Norfolk - FWBO Buddhists, Tibetan Buddhists, SGI Buddhists and various others, who may or may not meet regularly.  There are also adherents of many paths of Paganism found in the county, reminding us of the complexity of our religious and cultural roots.  The greatest diversity of faiths is, of course, found in Norwich, but people from minority faiths can be found throughout the county.  Faith groups which have no building of their own may hire rooms when they need them or they may meet in members’ homes.   Hindus, Buddhist and Sikhs may have family shrines or prayer rooms within their houses.  A wide representation of faiths is also to be found among the inmates of the prisons, in the staff of the hospitals, and in the work-force of chicken factories.  It is easy to overlook these groups and their spiritual, social and educational needs often go unmet.

Cynthia Capey, EEFA C.I.C.