‘Soul, Soil and Society’ was the theme of the recent Rural Symposium, organised by the Rural Hope team. The Symposium, held at St Paul’s Church in Salisbury, brought together over 70 rural ministry and mission experts from across the South West and South Central regions and beyond. The aim was to give a ‘voice’ to the Rural Church and provide a balance to increased emphasis on urbanisation.
The scene was set by Keynote Speaker, Dr Steve Aisthorpe, who used environmental rewilding as a metaphor for new ways of doing church. Picking up this theme, further sessions covered the Mixed Ecology in the Rural Church with Julia Hill and Rob Walrond (Bath and Wells) on Rural Pioneering and Sarah Keen (Salisbury) on Collaborative Leadership. This was followed by Mission in Community with Ben Lucas on Missional Listening and Pete Atkins on Missional Church in the Community; and then New Generations with Lucy Moore, Head of the Growing Faith Foundation, on Growing Faith in Rural Families.
The Symposium concluded with a panel of experts taking up the day’s themes: Bishop Andrew (Soul), Luke Rake, Principal, Kingston Maurward College, (Soil) and Revd Jo Neary (Society). The Symposium as a whole was presided over by Bishop Karen.
The day proved a lively and interactive one with plenty of audience participation. We all learned a lot more than we perhaps expected about agricultural practices as these were used as metaphors for the points made by guest speakers. Ben Lucas’ recommendation about approaching people with empty hands rather than full ones (i.e. listening to what people need rather than feeling we have all the answers) also struck a chord with fellow speakers and listeners alike.
The Symposium demonstrated that the rural church is very much still alive and kicking both within the church walls and outside in the community. A long-standing spirituality among those who work the land and a renewed interest in the environment among young people are leading to a wide range of new forms of rural worship and discipleship. The rural ministry story is therefore a positive one and the Symposium placed Salisbury Diocese at the heart of this conversation.
A podcast of the day’s talks is being developed and this will be accompanied by a written online resource to ensure that the themes of the Symposium can be made available more widely.
The Revd Sarah Keen, Programme Manager, Rural Hope