Thursday, 15 July 2010


A Theological and Practical Handbook
edited by James Bell, Jill Hopkinson and Trevor Willmott
published by Canterbury Press

available from Diocesan Rural Officer
or from the Arthur Rank Centre

Review written by Canon Glyn Evans  in January 2010for the Muilti Parish Benefice conference :
Intentionally or not, coming as it does on the cusp of the 20th anniversary of that seminal report Faith in the Countryside, Reshaping Rural Ministry updates, affirms , strengthens and presents a view of the rural church which the last 20 years has worked with and developed. It is a collection of essays ranging from an analysis of the rural context , a thoroughgoing reimagining of theological education which befits contemporary rural ministry through a robust reaffirmation of the need for a realistic approach to collaborative styles of ministry for the success of the contemporary rural church. 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 is bringing it all together .

As I read this book I kept asking myself, “Who is it for”? The skill of the writers is to make it accessible and challenging to a range of readers. Church policy makers who struggle with recognising the reality of the rural context will want to read it to get more on board with issues of rural equitability as their policies affect the rural church. New rural clergy having taken up a new post with not a small amount of rural idyll in their mind set will be surprised and one hopes excited by the issues they find here. Congregations wanting to come of age and shrug off the clerical dominance which has ordered their parish strategies will feel released by the permission this book gives to explore new ways of being the church in small parishes which are not dependent on clerical dominance but on a mature collaborative approach to kingdom building. Theological educators might think again about silo styles of training which ignore the rural context. Old stagers in rural ministry will find under one cover a range of refreshing ideas including thought provoking questions to re-energise them; and the way forward will be to develop strategy together with equally forward looking colleagues from the pew. The occasional repetition of ideas and examples throughout the collection from different authors serve to both underline the issues for this range of readers and also at the same time bring the chapters together to complement each other.

If I can find one fault it is the lack of mention of the partnership work which should go on with the Rural Community Councils. Morley and Winter in their chapter on Pastoral Ministry write about the need for partnership working alongside those who provide such a ministry “beyond the sphere of influence”. The kingdom is built; the community is built sometimes by those who are not seemingly motivated by overt Christian theology or pastoral principles. Models of community development including the all important process of community led planning and agenda setting provided by the Rural Community council’s methodology is vitally important for the future of sustainable rural communities. I coined the phrase the church is a “community developing agent” elsewhere and if this is true then the rural church should see the local county RCC as an ally and a partner in the process of both understanding and responding to the rural context where the mission of the rural church is defined and set. This lack of robust attention to the RCC is for me a serious gap.

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. I predict that its influence could be immense.

posted July 15th 2010
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