Passionate About Rural Placements

by Gerry Lynch last modified 20 Sep, 2018 05:33 PM

New programme gives every curate in the Diocese a chance to experience ministry in the countryside

A programme of placements in rural parishes being rolled out to every curate in the Diocese has come highly recommended by one of its participants.

Andy Muckle, who is in the third year of his curacy in the Gillingham Team Ministry, spent a placement in the Three Valleys Benefice south and west of Sherborne in West Dorset, and says it might change the course of his future ministry.

The programme is part of Rural Hope, the Diocese’s programme aimed at being a beacon for the rural church across the country.

“All curates in my year now spend two weeks in a rural benefice, regardless of the context they are currently working in. Three Saturday training days at Sarum College are intermingled with these, where we had guest speakers talking about rural ministry and mission

“The Three Valleys is what you might call the deep countryside: seventeen churches in sixteen parishes, yet with a population only of a few thousand. My supervisors for the placement were Team Rector Tony Gilbert and Team Vicar Richard Kirlew.

“Although my career before ordination was a vet working in the countryside, I had only worshipped or trained in market towns or suburban parishes.

“The placement was almost like a Road to Damascus experience for me. I had little experience of rural ministry, and was gifted the opportunity to experience the unique way of ministering in rural multi-parish benefice.

“The other benefit was how it allowed one to reflect back on one’s own context for curacy, whether that was rural or urban. I found that I got a deeper understanding of some aspects of my ministry in Gillingham through context and contrast.

“I really enjoyed going with Richard Kirlew to Salisbury Market a few times. As a former vet who worked with farmers, I felt I could speak the language in the market, giving me a common language as an ordained minister.

“I also got a lot out of visiting Future Roots, a project which enables children in secondary schools to do placements working on a farm. They are often kids who need a bit extra TLC., some of them really finding themselves through working on the farm.

“On the same site there is the Countrymen’s Club, which is like a day care centre for gentlemen from the farming community. Many farming men wouldn’t find a standard day care centre of interest, but get huge benefit from going to a farm with their own area, tools available, things they have used all their lives. Even many men with serious dementia benefit because things are familiar. They also get a good traditional farm lunch.

“Because I run a Memory Café in Gillingham, there was a huge benefit in reflecting on that.

“I have not heard of this kind of placement being done anywhere else other than this Diocese.

“I enjoyed my theological training at Mirfield, but we did not touch on rural ministry at all. All my placements were urban. It was a big gap in provision. This is such a valuable experience, especially in this diocese which is so heavily rural. From my placement, I have come to appreciate that rural ministry often involves a completely different model of ministry.

“With so many churches in a benefice, laity are the feet on the ground, and clergy may not get to every church every week. They certainly cannot spend so much time in any individual parish. So the laity do the work of the church in these villages, often with huge community involvement.

“I was delighted at how welcomed and how much part of the team I was from day one. I would happily have been there longer than two weeks.

“Before this placement, I would have been wary of applying for a rural post; I’m not now and will consider rural ministry when I’ve finished my curacy.”

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