Hope for the Future at our Rural Day

by Michael Ford last modified 19 Sep, 2019 09:59 AM

Around 150 attendees gathered at Kingston Maurward College near Dorchester on Saturday (14th September) for our first-ever diocesan Rural Day.

Bishop Karen was clear from the outset: "Farming is about risk and faith."

"It’s about 'going' but it’s also about faith sharing... When we step out things begin to happen."

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Luke Rake, Principal of Kingston Maurward College, spoke of its history, set up after WW2 to ensure effective food production, and evolving a more holistic approach than merely to 'put a lot in and get a lot out'.

With the college seeking to be the hub of Dorset’s rural community, he likened fields to factories, and said:

"There is a mission for us to communicate across this county, but also Southampton and other cities."

"Thriving is not just about economics, nor urban-based solutions. After 10 years of austerity, there are challenges!"

"Is veganism the solution? Some of it comes down to evidence, some of it comes down to gut reaction."

Perhaps surprisingly, students came from mainly urban catchments, as far afield as Weston Super Mare.

Keynote speaker Mark Betson asked:

"What makes a successful rural church? Let’s not just focus on 'success', but we do want our churches to grow... A satsuma is not a failed orange."

He cited rural challenges, including an ageing population, an exodus of young people due to wages and house prices, access to transport and services.

He also asked "What has Rural got [to offer]?"

Mark noted the British aspiration to live in the country- including it being seen as a mark of success; local life, safety, fresh air, scenery; families who have lived there for generations; it being a shop floor for industry; wildlife; community and innovation; and a place for being close to God, as in Job 38-39.

Given that 10,000 of the 16,000 CofE churches are rural, he offered ingredients for success, including:

Trying something, such as a Rural Coffee Caravan in Suffolk. In Sussex, every village that set up a cafe filled it with people, with young mums alongside the elderly. 'Wanting a shop' turned out to be a desire to meet other people.

Gateways in the Scottish Borders, a fresh expression of church, complements traditional church, reaching those not in traditional churches with a family-friendly Gathering once a month and a Fellowship (a discipleship gathering), again once a month.

He gave examples of family worship services, with children moving away to university and the church looking to reach young families; keeping key elements such as Eucharist, but keeping services short; trying ideas and getting feedback; and getting a service people were happy with.

Basics also included welcome, good signage, a decent parish magazine, a web presence, and social media.

He addressed misconceptions about Festival Churches: that they are not mothballs, they are opportunities - to reduce governance, transfer some responsibilities, remove a requirement of weekly worship, and focus on significant festivals.

Asking key questions, and above all -

"How do you ground all this in prayer?"

Access his PowerPoint here

Attendees responded with questions of funding, mobility, inclusivity (such as subtitles for videos), and comments that the likes of Open the Book, single dads, and children over the age of 8 are often overlooked.

Before coffee, attendees used post-its to write down one question to put up on the wall, for the Panel session featuring Rural Hope Manager Sarah Keen, Mark Betson, CEO of the Arthur Rank Centre Claire Maxim, and Archdeacon Sally Gaze from Norwich Diocese.

Archdeacon Sally, the first Archdeacon for Rural Mission, spoke of Growing in God in the Countryside, aiming to make 1,500 new disciples over 5 years, and said enthusiastically:

"The best thing about the Church is GOD!"

Claire Maxim, former priest in this diocese and now CEO of the Arthur Rank Centre, said she wanted to develop confident Christians in every community, encouraging rural-urban understanding informed by research, and quoted Archdeacon of Sarum Alan Jeans:

“If you really want your church to grow, it will!”

In the Q&A, the Revd Claire Hillman hoped that rural voices would be encouraged to speak beyond their locality, to hearty amens from the panel and a suggestion that such voices stand for Synod, to represent the realities and value of rural life, and as a ministry supported in prayer.

The Revd Dominic Doble asked how we get into schools with older members - replies included support from our Baord of Education, including Open the Book, and the Growing Faith pilot project looking at overlaps between church, school and home in developing faith, culture, and practicalities.

Gillian Cross said, "We would love to have 10-12 in church on a Sunday," not least in communities where the church is all that’s left after the closure of the post office and the pub. She asked whether we might redefine parish boundaries, and consider how we operate with small resources.

Claire Maxim responded that a response would come out of the local context. One parish she knows has no inhabitants, but offers refreshments to passing ramblers. Sally Gaze said "Imagine your boundaries aren’t there, and ask what God is calling us to do together": to pray, work in partnership, and see who is in front of us.

Comments from the floor included celebrating the small, as some churches are always small and elderly because farm workers retire before thet are free to get involved; and that parishes might take turns to host Eucharist.

The Revd Jane Williams said that many elderly are isolated and hoping to be visited; Calire Maxim said that Germinate has a resource for this. Sally Gaze added that Mum and Toddler groups might visit care homes, as this works well.

The Revd Jo Neary asked "How can Resource Churches work in a rural context?" Mark Betson said that there were 2 types: a church that has resources, and a church that goes out and supports other parishes. The latter would work best, in partnerships. Sally Gaze added that, in Suffolk, 3 resource churches are being planted, alongside a sports project, and work in a local agricultural college with many SEN students.

After a lively, positive morning, Bishop Nicholas said “I get up in the morning because of love of God and of neighbour,” and encouraged delegates to make the most of the day, in order to take back what they had learned.

After lunch, workshops included 'Worship Through Schools' (contributing to collective worship, and churches meeting in schools), 'Using Modern Communication' (such as graphic design, social media and other ways to interact), 'Church is not just for Sundays' (a critique of this assumption and what we might do in light of today's work and life patterns), 'Rural Missional Communities' (the main prionciples and how to apply them in a rural context), and a tour of the college grounds.

The day concluded with a short Closing Worship led by Bishop Karen, with contributions from Claire Horton and Rhona Floate. Attendees were given a runner bean - not to plant, but as a reminder to sow seeds of life and hope.

Click here for Rural Hope resources

The Rural Hope page link is https://bit.ly/ruralhope.

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