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Sharing for Growth

by Gerry Lynch last modified 02 Jan, 2018 02:03 PM

Rural clergy meet up to share and learn on rural church growth

Two residential gatherings have been held to help clergy in rural areas share ideas on reducing the administrative burden they face, and help their congregations deepen their prayer lives, serve their communities better and, ultimately, grow in numbers.

The rural residentials are part of Rural Hope, a 4½ year programme supported the by the national church to help rural congregations in the Diocese grow, and be a model for flourishing rural parishes across the Church of England.

The Revd Mark Windsor, Team Vicar in the Vale of Pewsey said, “Perhaps most significantly of all for me personally has been the sense of being affirmed in a specific calling to rural ministry.  Often God is slowly, patiently, faithfully at work amongst us by his Spirit and at other times he accomplishes a lot in 24 hours!”

One key presentation was from the Revd Simon Weeden, Team Rector of the Whitton Benefice outside Marlborough, on how the benefice had managed to move from five PCCs to one Team Council plus flexible church councils. This means that instead of 80 lay people being required to fill all legal posts, only 19 are now. Whereas clergy had been legally required to attend 61 meetings per year before, they need attend less than 20 now. This means more time is available for growing the church and caring for people.

One of those who attended was the Archdeacon of Sarum, Ven Alan Jeans, who said, “Meetings, meetings, meetings! If only I didn’t have to go to so many meetings, I might have time to do more ministry!

“That was my thought as I drove to spend twenty-four hours in residence with clergy serving rural communities. My mind was occupied with people, issues, and decisions that demanded my attention. No doubt, every person gathered felt the same. There was a high level of commitment, and a high level of expectation projected on these twenty-four hours.

“There were keynote addresses and that fascinating presentation on rural simplification from the Rector of the Whitton Benefice, but many of the real benefits came from conversations in small groups before the normative immeasurable quality time in the bar.

“In attendance was a colleague from the Diocese of Llandaff in Wales, and it was good to hear some reflections from someone looking over the fence.”

The Revd Andrew Sinclair, Rector of Bratton, Edington and Imber, Erlestoke and Coulston, said, “We are moving beyond a culture that assumes that the rural church is struggling and about to die towards a vision that looks to grow the rural church in faith and numbers, and looks to encourage the wider church to share in that vision.

“The best thing about the rural residentials is that those of us in rural ministry get the chance to share good practice with one another, as we seek to make that vision of growth a reality.”

Mark Windsor concluded, “I found that I was affirmed in my belief that it is often the apparently mundane things - such as simply attending village fetes or events and meeting the people there - that are of great significance in and for our rural communities; a ministry of presence.  Not the sort of activities that would look impressive on a CV!  That is not to say that we should be naive about our circumstances but we do need to think carefully about how we can best measure the fruit of our labours for God.

“The rural residentials have been among the most helpful times for me in reviewing my ministry since taking up my post.  There has been an invaluable atmosphere of mutual support at each one. In particular I, and the rest of the group I am sure, have benefited from the honesty and vulnerability of people leading the case study and discussion sessions; real food for thought. Living proof that we often learn as much from our mistakes, or things we could have done better, as successes.”

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