Singing a New Song of the Rural Church

by Gerry Lynch last modified 20 Oct, 2016 03:50 PM

National conference hears of strength of rural church and allows best practice to be swapped

“The bottom line is that a greater proportion of people in rural communities belong to, or have contact with, the Church, certainly than in urban and suburban communities.”

That’s the view of the Bishop of Ripon, the Rt Revd James Bell, speaking at a major national conference on the rural church last weekend.

200 Christians gathered in Coventry for the Germinate Conference to explore how best to support people to grow as disciples of Jesus in rural churches, and how to reach out into their local communities more effectively.

The conference brought together speakers and facilitators from across the Christian denominations, alongside representatives and resources from key parachurch organisations, including Fresh Expressions, Messy Church and HOPE.

One of those who attended the conference was the Revd Claire Maxim, Rector of Ludgershall and Faberstown, who was enthusiastic about the event, saying, “It is a great place to meet rural practitioners and exchange ideas for good practice in ministry. It was an inspirational, spirit-filled, day.”

Designed to equip and encourage all those involved in rural ministry, the conference heard from a range of contributors, including keynote addresses from Revd Dr Roger Walton, 2016-17 President of the Methodist Conference, and Pete Atkins, Team Co-ordinator for Fresh Expressions.

In his closing remarks to the Conference, the the Bishop of Ripon, reminded the conference of the responsibility and privilege of rural Christians to challenge negative preconceptions of rural life and church and to celebrate the role of the rural church in bringing new life and hope to the countryside.

“It’s time to tell a new story”, said Bishop James in response to the reflection of a Church of England vicar-in-training who said, ‘All I ever hear is how hard rural ministry is but today I’ve heard inspirational stories and I’ll go back to college with a new sense of purpose.’

The Bishop continued, “There’s a good foundation which means there are huge opportunities to present the gospel of Jesus Christ in imaginative and attractive ways.”

Canon Jill Hopkinson, National Rural Officer for the Church of England added, “This is such a great opportunity to hear real life stories from delegates which back up the theory being offered by speakers from the front.”

Jerry Marshall, CEO of Germinate: The Arthur Rank Centre, which put the conference together, said, “There is no organisation on earth like the Church when it's working well, and growing disciples is key to building the church in local rural communities.”

The Arthur Rank Centre, now in the process of changing its name to Germinate, is an ecumenical Christian charity which serves the spiritual and practical needs of the rural community through a programme of community and social projects, resourcing and training.

A video of the conference is available here.

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