Welcome to the website for the Upper Wensum churches.
My name is the Revd Robin Stapleford. I am the Rector and parish priest for the churches and villages. My contact details are on the home page.
The Upper Wensum is a group of 12 Church of England parish churches just south of the market town of Fakenham in central north Norfolk. A collection of churches that share services and a minister are known collectively as a benefice.
The benefice takes its name from the River Wensum. The river’s source is in the middle of our parishes between Horningtoft and Whissonsett. The Wensum spirals out through the benefice clockwise, before making its way south east to Norwich, where it joins the River Yare which flows in to the sea at Great Yarmouth.
The benefice consists of seven medieval churches, dating back about 700 years and more. These churches are in regular use and are illustrated on the home page of this website. In addition there are two churches that are officially redundant, but still hold a service at least annually: St Peter’s Dunton, now part of the parish of Shereford; and, in the parish of Colkirk, All Saints Oxwick which had its roof removed half a century ago. Some evidence of three ruined churches remains in the hamlets of Little Ryburgh, Testerton, and Pattesley.
Your parish church is your church! It is not just for ‘religious’ people, but for anyone who values spirituality, and anyone who finds significance in gathering together in a special place with friends and family to mark the seasons of life in a formal and ordered event. In short, it is for anyone who cares to use it.
Our parish churches are in a unique position to serve all our communities for their spiritual needs. Our churches are available to all parishioners, not just those who enjoy attending regular Sunday services.
Our churches remain open during the week for casual visitors who wish to experience the peace and tranquility offered in these ancient, sacred spaces, and who are interested in, and value their history and architecture.
Anyone is welcome to attend services including Sundays and weekdays, and on special occasions such as the Christmas season. There is no entrance fee, but the collection plate is normally passed around during one of the hymns, in which coins or notes or cheques may be donated as a free will offering! As our churches are registered charities, Gift Aid envelopes are available in the pews as this scheme increases the value of your donation.
Every resident has a right to have their child christened (or baptised, which is the same service). Adults can also be baptised in their parish church. A short service of thanksgiving for the birth of a child that does not include the rite of baptism is also available.
Every adult resident has a civic right to get married in their parish church, regardless of religious affiliation. And indeed to marry in a church where one or both have a specific connection. The only potential bar is a previous divorce. However, if a prospective marriage partner has been divorced, the service may still take place at the discretion of the Rector according to C of E guidelines, depending on individual circumstances. The renewal of wedding vows, or the blessing of a marriage, can also be arranged For example, to mark an anniversary, or following on from a wedding ceremony in a Register Office.
Every resident, regardless of church membership, has a civic right to burial or for the interment of their ashes in their parish churchyard, as long as it remains open for use.
Our medieval parish churches are the natural place to join together for a special event to mark the start of life’s journey, or the adventure of a committed relationship, or at life’s conclusion. Generations before you have done the same within these sacred walls. The churches are steeped in history, and each has its own unique atmosphere.
For further details of our services to mark the seasons of life, follow these links:
Some Aspects of Our Church Life
Our pattern of Sunday services across the Upper Wensum Benefice covers all seven working churches over the course of a calendar month. Services are held one to three times a month depending on the size of the community.
Services are led by either the Rector, Revd. Robin Stapleford, or by our licensed Reader (a minister without the white collar!) Mr. Richard Hirst, or by one of a number of local retired clergy, or sometimes by members of the church.
Types of service include:
Communion, where specially blessed or consecrated bread and wine is distributed, to commemorate the life of Jesus. Those who have been confirmed (see below), or who belong to another church, may receive the bread and the wine. All attending, including children, are welcome to come to the altar rail to receive a blessing from the priest. The 8.30 am Communion at Gateley and Horningtoft is without hymns, and with unaccompanied hymns at Shereford. The Gateley service comes from the traditional Book of Common Prayer (1662 Prayer Book) and the service is candlelit. All other Communions use a contemporary liturgy (wording) known as Common Worship.
A short Family Service usually takes place on the second Sunday of the month in Whissonsett church at 10.30 am. The service lasts about 30 minutes.
The ‘Morning Service’, traditionally called Matins, includes hymns but not Communion, and lasts up to an hour.
Evening services in the Upper Wensum Benefice take place on special occasions. They are not weekly, partly owing to the general absence of village street lights!
There is a regular schedule of midweek services, including Wednesday Communion at 10.30 am.
Short, informal Morning Prayer is held on Friday and Saturday. Again, anyone is welcome to these.
For the schedule of our current and forthcoming services, follow this link: Service Rota
House Groups explore Christian faith in more of a discussion-based context. The Upper Wensum House Group meets twice a month at 10.30 am on a Tuesday in Whissonsett. There are some social events, and a more formal study group meets just for the seasons of Advent in December, and Lent from Ash Wednesday to Easter. A ‘Julian’ (of Norwich) contemplative prayer group meets once a quarter at Colkirk Rectory, exploring prayerful silence together.
Norwich Cathedral hosts a Confirmation Service about three times a year for candidates in Norwich Diocese. The Diocese is our church region, consisting mostly of the county of Norfolk. This is an opportunity for anyone who has been baptised (christened) to ‘confirm’ publicly the Christian vows said on their behalf by their parents and godparents when they were an infant. At this service a Bishop also prays specifically over each individual candidate that they will be filled with God’s Spirit to help them in their Christian life and faith. Preparation for Confirmation may take place individually with the Rector, or in a small group. Adults who have not been baptised as infants can receive baptism in their parish church, or as part of the Confirmation Service itself.
There are three Church of England Primary Schools (Government Aided) in, or associated with, the Upper Wensum Benefice. The schools are in Brisley, Colkirk, and Stibbard, which includes children from Ryburgh. The Rector makes regular visits to the schools for assembly, and is on the Governing Body for Brisley and Colkirk. The Revd Veronica Wilson, vicar of the Foulsham Benefice that includes Stibbard, also has significant involvement with Stibbard school. The schools come to their respective parish churches for special services, as does Colkirk Pre-School, which meets in the neighbouring village hall. Year 6 children are at an age when they might be encouraged to give some thought to Confirmation. If interested, they should discuss the matter with their parents, who can then contact the Rector.
… or bell ringing. Two churches in the Upper Wensum Benefice each house a set of six bells. The bells are rung regularly by local teams from Ryburgh and Whissonsett and on special occasions such as weddings. Most of the other churches in the benefice have a bell that is chimed to call people to a service.
Each of the seven churches in the Upper Wensum Benefice has its own Parochial Church Council or PCC. Each PCC is made up of a small group of volunteers, including the respective church wardens. The Rector is chairman of each group. The PCC’s make decisions about the welfare and running of the church and its life. Each council usually meets at least four times per year. Around Easter time, they conduct a publicly advertised Annual Parochial Church Meeting. Anyone on the electoral roll of the parish may attend this meeting and vote for nominees for the twin positions of church warden. A Benefice Council, consisting of representatives from all seven PCC’s, meets four times each year, to look at the life of the Benefice as a whole.
The Upper Wensum Diary
This is the name of our monthly benefice magazine. The UWD, as it is known, can be delivered to your home for a small annual subscription, or collected from the back of churches. It gives details of forthcoming church, parish and village events, and reports on happenings.
As a full-time clergyman, I am available to offer a listening ear and a prayer, and perhaps some helpful thoughts, to anyone in the parishes going through ‘issues’ of any kind, regardless of whether you come to church! I try to take Monday as my day off, but the answer-phone is always on, and emails are read regularly.
I was ordained in Leicester Cathedral in 1996, having been sponsored by Ely Diocese. I served a curacy on the outskirts of Leicester, and then became Team Vicar in a large rural benefice near Melton Mowbray. I came to the Upper Wensum in 2008.
I have returned to an area I know well, having moved to neighbouring Hempton in 1979, where my parents still live. In the 1980’s I worked with Youth For Christ based in Norwich, and then in a Christian bookshop in Cambridge. I am married to Barbara and we have three (mostly teenage) children. Apart from priestly activities, I enjoy treading the boards in musicals and panto, and playing and customising guitars.
I am happy to answer to just my Christian name but Reverend, Reverend Robin, Father, Father Robin, Reverend Stapleford, Rector, Parson, Padre, etc, are all acceptable!
Revd. Robin Stapleford
Upper Wensum Rectory