Old Meeting House Congregational Church (1643)

The Best Hidden Church in Norwich

John Belham

John Belham is a visiting speaker at The Old Meeting House Church.

Born in Great Malvern, Worcestershire, England, the Rev. Dr. John Belham has a scientific background, but for most of his life has had the privilege of serving with some very wonderful people, first in suburban ministry, then as Rector of a group of country parishes, and more recently assisting with city ministry. Married with four grown-up children, he delights in the Lord God – his word, his people and his creation.

His testimony:

A Praying Teacher, a Crystal Diode and Winter Wheat

A twelve year old lad, headphones on, oblivious to the world, sprawled out at the top of the stairs, right in the way – fiddling with a very simple radio receiver; a crystal set. Will it work? Only if he can get the little wire to touch on the crystal at such a point that it makes a one way electrical gateway; a diode. He tried this way and that, between times adjusting the tuning condenser to search for the different radio stations. Nothing. Then, suddenly, he hit the spot. The little wire, known as the cat’s whisker, was now making contact with a ‘sweet spot’ and the whole device sprang to life.

A live broadcast filled my headphones and ears. Was it music? Was it the news, the weather or a discussion? No, it was none of these. It was a preacher preaching!

Was it the preaching or the fact that the little, home-built radio set worked? I don’t know. But I listened right to the end and, when it finished, determined that I wanted to hear more. The preacher’s talks were being relayed by telephone line to a local church, and I asked my Dad to take me to hear him. No razzmatazz, no great build up, nothing visual, just a song and a talk. But through it the Lord God spoke as clearly as any voice, ‘John, it is you I want.’ I nudged my Dad but he was quite unmoved and, in talking with the minister of the church we attended as a family, he was assured, ‘Don’t worry, of course he’ll soon get over it.’ I would have done, but for Miss Gibbs, a teacher at school who taught both English and what was known in those far off days as ‘Scripture’. With hindsight, that lady plainly not only taught her youngsters but coveted them for the Lord and prayed for them. It was Miss Gibbs who recognised that the Lord God had begun a work in my life and patiently encouraged me to begin to read the Bible.

The little seed of faith began to grow, springing up like wheat sown in the mild autumn weather. However, as a family, we moved away very soon after that and the next ten years proved to be a very severe spiritual winter, with little or no Christian fellowship or encouragement. Spiritual life withered away, like the wheat in winter; yellowed and to all appearances dead and finished. Until, that is, a spiritual springtime in my twenties saw faith rekindled and the winter-sown wheat vigorously sprouting.

It was the second, tiny ‘chance happening’ under the hand of God. David, a friend in the local actors’ club, offered me a lift.

He was going to a church in ‘West Ken’, which I took to be a few miles down the road in Kent. It wasn’t, it was in Kensington – yet here was the vital Christianity I hadn’t encountered since a young schoolboy.

After a while, I was even willing to heed a long-known, nasty, nagging suspicion that the Lord God would have me ‘turn my collar round’ – to become a Christian minister. It culminated in a prayer that you won’t find in any prayer book, ‘O.K. Lord, you win.’ My employer’s reaction astonished me, ‘But of course,’ as did my landlady’s, ‘Yes, it is about time you stopped messing about.’

I have had the privilege of marrying, bringing up a family and working for many years among some wonderful people in both city and rural ministry. Day by day I remain thrilled and amazed by the gracious dealing, mercy and love of the Lord God, and just so grateful for his kindness, mercy and patience with such a difficult and wayward son. Yet an adopted son I find myself to be, and one rescued and redeemed by the precious cross of his Son. In the apostle Paul’s words, I gladly confess, ‘I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.’ Of course, ‘He’ll soon get over it.’ But, by the grace of the Lord God, I haven’t yet, and that was said over sixty years ago!

As you can see, it is the story of God’s gracious dealing with a rebellious and unwilling child and could well be summed up as it began – ‘saved by a cat’s whisker’.

It is in this setting of great thankfulness to my heavenly Father, that the phrases of the Lord’s Prayer have become such a precious spur to worship and guide and compass for life; so much so that I had to scribble a little book on it to share its jewels with others.

As mentioned above, he has written a couple of books:

Exploring and Applying the Lord’s Prayer A Prayer to Change the World

Given understanding and a willingness to take it to heart, the Lord’s Prayer will not only teach us to pray, it will revolutionise the way we think and the way we live. It is so much more than a gentle murmur. It is a prayer to change the world – beginning with those who pray it.

This is a book highlighting the practical out-working of this greatest of prayers. Chapter by chapter you are invited to explore and apply each phrase, as if you were exploring the rooms of a great mansion. There are questions for personal reflection or discussion.

It is as if you are personally invited to spend time as an honoured guest in a great house. You have complete freedom to enjoy the magnificence of the splendid rooms, but also have freedom to visit the more practical rooms – the kitchens, store rooms, even the bathrooms and security rooms. You are free to meet with members of the household, to admire the furnishings, to pause at the windows and enjoy both the lovely gardens and the fine sweeping views across the estate.

Such, and infinitely greater, is the wonderful invitation given to every disciple within the lines of the Lord’s Prayer. Rather than a prayer to be repeated, it is more like a magnificent house to explore.

‘Packed with a very great deal of Christian devotion and Biblical teaching . . . with a pastoral touch throughout.’ Richard Bewes, late Rector Emeritus of All Souls Church, Langham Place, London

For further details and to hear the accompanying podcasts visit or search online ‘exploring and applying the Lord’s Prayer’.

Exploring and Appling the Parables of Jesus found on the Gospel of Luke

For those with ears to hear, the parables of Jesus speak as sharply and relevantly today as they did 2000 years ago. If you are willing to be stirred and challenged – as the first hearers were – read on. The author invites you to an exploration of each parable in its setting, followed by questions for personal reflection or group discussion.

The book is not intended to be a specialist or academic text but has been written for a wider readership of Christian people. It is associated with a website, exploring and applying the parables, where podcasts of a number of the parables are offered.

'This is a book to read if you want to gain a deeper understanding of the parables taught by Jesus.' Dr. John Clements, Pastor of the Old Meeting House Congregational Church and author of Strangers and Pilgrims on the Earth.

'I really appreciated the careful and wide application of these texts.' The Rev. Martin Young, Vicar of St Andrew's Church, Norwich and Chaplain to Norwich University of the Art

For further details and to hear the accompanying podcasts visit or search online ‘exploring and applying the parables’.