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Gathering at The Village Pump

by Michael Ford last modified 19 May, 2022 12:36 PM

At the beginning of each month, a rural gathering, The Village Pump, takes place on zoom for rural clergy and laity. It's hosted by the diocesan Rural Field Officers, and we have had the privilege to catch up with RFO Richard Hancock, Priest in Charge of the Handley Benefice, to hear about why this gathering is so important.

For Richard, having spent much of his youth in North Devon, rural ministry has always been a calling and a passion. For over 20 years he has been in rural ministry in one form or another, and at present that comes in the form of being a Rural Field Officer.  

"Salisbury Diocese has always had a bit of a reputation of taking rural ministry seriously. Nearly four years ago, they received special funding to set up the Rural Hope Project. The key to that was the appointment of four Rural Field Officers, one for each archdeaconry - so there's three more of me around the diocese!" 

"We were deliberately called field officers, because the diocese wanted to emphasise that we weren't just another person sitting in Church House, but actually we were very much out in the field, working. All of us were also linked to parishes, so I'm half-time field officer, half-time priest, and my colleagues have similar setups." 

This setup for the Rural Field Officers means that they're not only out in the communities they're serving, but also that they can connect directly with rural Clergy, laity and church wardens, because they themselves are in the same contexts. One way that they connect is through The Village Pump, once a month, purposefully still online. 

"When COVID struck, we started doing a lot of online support, helping clergy that were desperately trying to broadcast services online, and people stepped up really quickly. We realised afterwards that meeting online could still be a really useful tool. So I was thinking with some of my colleagues and other rural clergy, how could we do a rural hub?" 

"One of the ideas pre COVID was to a monthly breakfast for clergy.  But of course the trouble with breakfast is that it means physically, people have got to drive to them. And once you're more than about half an hour out, you limit the number of people you have contact with. So it never really took off. Then, we realised that if we did this on Zoom, it would potentially open it up to the whole diocese very, very easily 

"I made it clear that it was for every party - we are brothers and sisters in Christ and we all have to work together in that mission. In rural parishes where you've maybe got one vicar looking after a number of churches, they are hugely reliant on the talents of their laity, so to not include them seemed nonsensical to me." 

And so The Village Pump came to be – the name inspired by the historical use of actual village pumps, in a bid to avoid a boring title: 

"I do quite a bit of photography. I was going around and I noticed in Dorset, lots of the villages had still have their village pumps. Some of the work some of them don't, but for the village, they are clearly still an important thing because they look after them and decorate them. Years ago the village pump was a communications hub - when you came to get your water, that's where everybody would have a good old gossip!"  

"I also deliberately called it the Village Pump because I wanted it to say that we were talking about the whole of the rural community - parishes is quite a churchy word, but anyone can come along and join in a Village Pump. If they're involved with their village and want to develop the life of their village, then they're more than welcome. The emphasis is that the church needs to engage with all aspects of village life and vice versa." 
This initiative is working because it's sustainable – it's simple to do, and doesn't involve huge expenses or too much energy from anyone taking part. It also works because it has opened up a space for people in similar contexts to share their ideas, and be understood by others who are rural too. And whilst numbers on paper look smaller than what you might find in more urban contexts, rural ministry is fundamental to the work of the diocese, because even small numbers add up. 

"Sometimes people look horrified when you mention that a church congregation averages 15 people, but when you point out that there's only 115 People that live in that village, statistically that's actually pretty successful."  

It's through these small numbers gathering together, that Richard has delighted in seeing God at work, watching the Holy Spirit use normal people to build community and live Gospel centred lives. Richard’s role as Rural Field Officer comes to an end in a few months, but as he takes up his post as Rector of Spire Hill Benefice, he will also become the first Rural Mission Enabler RME. This is the first part of the Diocesan planned legacy of the Rural Hope Project which means the Village Pump will continue along with other rural initiatives of the past few years.  

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