A Theological and Practical Handbook.
Edited by James Bell, Jill Hopkinson, and Trevor Willmott.
Canterbury Press December 2009. £14.99 978-1-853119538
Reshaping Rural Ministry updates, and strengthens the thinking that has inhabited the rural church over the last 20 years since the publication of the seminal report Faith in the Countryside, This collection of essays deals with the rural context (Reading the Context) ,the state of the contemporary rural church( Distinctive Features and Values, Pastoral Ministry) models of clerical and lay leadership ( Leadership Models and Skills, Pastoral Ministry, Encouraging Vocational pathways, Lay Leadership and Development ) and presents a view on appropriate models of training for rural ministry( A Vision for Initial Ministerial Education) . For those of us who have worked with rural issues throughout the 20 years as practitioners in rural parishes and/or as specialists in rural ministry much of this book will be familiar territory; the triumph lies in collecting the thinking together
As important as the content is the question “Who is it for”? The skill has been to make it accessible and challenging to a range of readers. It is for Church policy makers so rural context can shape and inform their policies making them more appropriate and equitable to the rural church. It is for new clergy and old stagers, re-aligning new clergy who made have a rural idyll mind set and re energising old hands to look afresh at new approaches.. It is for the laity wanting to be empowered and enabled to engage collaboratively with strategies for local mission. It is for those responsible for training to encourage a process which celebrates and values the rural context. Ideas and information for all these and under one cover; each chapter is followed up with some thought provoking questions to help the readers engage with the material. The occasional repetition throughout the collection serves to underpin the thinking and bring the chapters together to complement each other.
For me a serious gap lies in the failure to mention the Rural Community Councils. In the chapter Pastoral Ministry the authors write, “The pastor living in a rural community need to work with the statutory and voluntary agencies in the benefice”(see page 88) Kingdom and community are built sometimes by those not specifically motivated by overt Christian theology . Models of community development, including the critical process of community led planning encouraged by the Rural Community Councils, is vitally important for the future of sustainable rural communities. The Church itself is a “community developing agent” and thus the rural church will want to see the local RCC as an ally and a partner when working with and in the rural context wherein the mission of the rural church is defined and set.
BUT this book should and must be read by the rural church – it needs to be in the hands of policy makers, local leaders (clerical and lay) and indeed every person in the pew. Its influence could be immense.
_______posted February 8th 2010 _______