Suffolk 2013 – a Faith Profile

The religious make-up of Suffolk is diverse and changing, and while it is possible to gain an overall view, it is easy to stereotype the various groups, or to confuse culture with faith.   The census for 2011 lists 443,632 Christians in Suffolk but there are numerous Christian denominations.  These include Anglican (Church of England), Baptist, Christadelphian, Christian Scientist, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Congregational, German Lutheran, Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Celtic Orthodox, Independent Pentecostal, Jehovah's Witnesses, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Salvation Army, Society of Friends (Quakers), Seventh-day Adventist, Unitarian, United Reformed Church, and various Independent and House Churches. There are also members of eastern Churches like Syrian Orthodox, Copts and Armenians among the asylum seekers and refugees in Suffolk and the migrant workers from Poland and Portugal have swelled the numbers of Roman Catholics.

Alongside these diverse Christian groups there are Baha'is (around 40), Buddhists (2100), Hindus (2300), Humanists, Jains, Jews (700), Muslims (6.000), Pagans (600), Sikhs (400), Taoists and Zoroastrians.  These figures are not accurate, as they omit the statistics of some faiths and underestimate others.  Significantly they do not show the different paths within each faith.  There are several strands of Buddhism in Suffolk – Triratna Buddhists, Tibetan Buddhists, SGI Buddhists, Thich Nhat Hahn followers and various others, who may or may not meet together regularly.  Muslims in Suffolk, originally mostly from Bangladesh, now come from all around the world and include significant numbers of Kurds, Iraqis and Afghanis.

The greatest diversity of faiths is found in Ipswich, which has many religious buildings including, alongside Churches, 3 Mosques, a Sikh Gurdwara, a Buddhist Centre and a Hindu Mandir.  The Suffolk Liberal Jewish Community meets regularly and celebrates its festivals in various premises, including those of the Salvation Army.  There is an Ipswich Pagan Council representing the many Pagan paths followed in the county.  People from minority faiths can be found throughout the county – for example, the 2011 census recorded 209 Buddhists, 152 Muslims, 78 Jews and 17 Sikhs in Mid-Suffolk District which is largely rural.

In Lowestoft, Bury St.  Edmunds and Newmarket, sizeable groups of Muslims meet for Friday prayer; there are at least two Mosques in Newmarket including one within the racing stables and small groups of Muslims meet together in other towns especially during Ramadan.  Some faith groups may hire rooms when needed or meet in members’ homes.  Hindus, Buddhist and Sikhs may well have family shrines or prayer rooms within their houses.  Lowestoft has a significant number of refugees, migrant workers and maritime students who come from various traditions, and Bury St.  Edmunds (where the newly built tower of the Cathedral has been described as a spiritual beacon for the new millennium) is also becoming more diverse.

A wide representation of faiths is also to be found in the prisons, where there are significant numbers of Muslims and also adherents of many other faiths, supported by multi-faith Chaplaincy teams; in the hospitals where the staff as well as the patients may come from a variety of faiths; and within BT which frequently receives personnel on short contracts from overseas.  People from many different faiths and cultures, speaking a great variety of languages, work in Suffolk factories.  It is easy to overlook this group and their needs often go unmet, especially as they are transported on a daily basis to factories in rural Suffolk and may make no contact with the local community.