Andy Norris is an evangelist with Hillfields Church, Coventry. He shares with ET about his experiences working in deprived areas of the city.
ET: What’s the background to Hillfields Church?
AN: The church’s origin stretches back to 1849, when a group of believers gathered outside for worship in the yard of a wholesale grocer named Mr Barber. Among this gathering there was a desire to build a chapel where God’s people could meet.
The Lord wonderfully provided a space, and so the church was originally called ‘Rehoboth’ – meaning ‘room’. Christmas day 1857 was the date when the chapel was officially opened in Hillfields.
The first pastor was W. Garner. He was succeeded by T. Colsell (1881–1896), A. P. Brooke (1917–1924), P. M. Rowell (1965–1983), and Paul Watts (1985–2020). James Young and Simon Hook are currently joint pastors.
In 2011, the church launched a major fundraising appeal to increase the floor space in the church by over 70 per cent. The vision was to see God glorified and the gospel spread in Hillfields and the city as a whole. God kindly enabled us to raise the money, and the new building was opened in July 2014.
In 2017, the church wanted to respond to a request for help from Hillfields Evangelical Church. This led to the two churches amalgamating under the name Hillfields Church, with meetings taking place on both sites.
Having another site has given the church an ideal location to reach out to share the gospel in the local community.
ET: What is the area like?
AN: Hillfields is very diverse in its demographics. English working class, Muslims, Hindus, and many from Eastern Europe are common. It is the second poorest area in Coventry.
Prostitution, gang violence, alcoholism, and drug use are also common. There are several high-rise flats, many council houses, mosques, and Hindu temples in the area.
ET: Are there other evangelical churches in the area?
AN: Yes, there are several: Mosaic Church, and also St Marks. They also seek to reach out to the Hillfields estate with the gospel.
ET: What does your work involve?
AN: We’ve recently started an evangelistic outreach in the afternoon on Sundays at 4 p.m.
Anyone is invited to come along. We provide food and a gospel talk is given. There is also opportunity for conversation between Christians and non-Christians.
We want to love the people who come along and build friendships with them in the hope that they will come to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.
Besides this, I spend my week meeting up with non-Christians for Bible studies, knocking on doors in the estate, and walking in the parks seeking to share Christ with the lost.
ET: How did you get into the work?
AN: I came to Coventry in 2009 to study criminology with the desire to train to be a probation officer. I was encouraged to do the internship course at Hillfields Church, and I’ve been here ever since, though my role has changed a lot since then. I now serve as the evangelist on the estate.
ET: What kind of challenges are common when evangelising in Hillfields?
AN: As anyone who is involved in the work of evangelism will know, people can be very dismissive of the gospel, and it can grow very challenging sometimes, continually sharing the gospel day after day when most reactions will be apathy.
But God is the one who sustains us through his Word and through his Spirit so that we may continue. I’m also thankful for the brothers and sisters at HCC who are praying for me.
Another challenge is that people can be quite aggressive sometimes. There was one occasion when I told a man that in order to enter the kingdom of God, he needed to be born again. He responded by tensing up with rage and shouting at me to leave immediately, because he said he was going to hit me.
Another man, after saying that there was nothing wrong with the immoral life he had been living, told me that I was wasting my time around here: ‘No one will ever believe!’ he said.
But I am comforted and encouraged by Jesus’s words when he said, ‘I will build my church.’ Nothing – not even the gates of hell – can stop Christ building his church.
Please do pray for the work in Hillfields, that we would see many lost people come to trust, love, and know the Lord Jesus.
ET: Can you share any recent accounts from your evangelistic work?
AN: Certainly. I was once out in Swanswell Park, and saw two men by the lake fishing.
I introduced myself and asked them both if they had ever considered why Jesus had died on the cross.
Steve replied, ‘That’s a load of rubbish, there is no evidence for any of this stuff. After all, there is no God.’
Kieran and Steve went on to share how they believed in aliens. They had seen footage on the internet which ‘proved’ that aliens were real.
Even if this is true, I said, what difference would the existence of aliens have on their lives now? Kieran replied, ‘It doesn’t really make any difference.’
I shared with them the parable of the Prodigal Son. As Kieran heard how the father in the story mercifully embraced his own son after he had blown all of his father’s money, Kieran commented how he could see something good and right about the father’s actions.
‘That’s the way things should be,’ he added. ‘Yes!’ I said, ‘and that is the way things are, because God is a loving Father who welcomes people like you and Steve to come home to him.
‘But the big difference (compared with whether or not you believe in aliens) is that if you do not believe this, you will be lost forever. One day you will not be able to come home to God.
‘But right now, today, God welcomes anyone to join his family, and he will make them his own son.’
They replied, ‘We will never believe, our minds are set, and you will never change us.’ I said, ‘You’re right, I can’t change you, but I know someone who can.’