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Is rural ministry still worth it?

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Posted by Chris Moore, 8 Oct 2019

Chris Moore asks whether there is still any value in rural ministry, and finds that there are enormous opportunities out in the sticks.

Is there still a point in rural ministry? It’s a question worth asking when most people live in cities, and there is a strong argument to say that scant resources should be focussed on areas of population density. And who would want to be a rural vicar? The prospect of looking after multiple parishes, with multiple PCCs, and small congregations isn’t really that appealing. Better, surely, to seek a nice suburban parish. Who would want to minister in the middle of nowhere, where evangelical ministry is scarce and the population scattered?

Me.

Ministry in an urban or suburban context is essentially attractional in nature. There may be some links to parish organisations - such as schools - but the churches are essentially congregations gathered from surrounding area. There is competition from other churches, and a regular turnover of population as couples move in and families move out. As a result a lot of energy is expended in making connections with people and building a fringe which is not stable.

Making connections in a rural area is far easier. The population of my benefice is 2,200 people, and I am confident that the vast majority of them will know me by face and by name. There are 300 children in the two church schools, who all know me, as do many of the parents. Rural populations tend to be more static, the family of one of my Churchwardens has lived in the village since the twelfth century, and so over time you get to know the entire family as you conduct their weddings, baptisms and funerals.

The cohesion of village life also means there are great opportunities to connect with people outside of the church too. Last year saw hundreds of people in our garden for the village fete, and around 550 people attended one of our carol services.

Rural areas are more traditional by nature, and this presents enormous opportunities for the gospel. Those parishes which use the Prayer Book are, of course, steeped in Gospel language, and preaching is often telling people what they believe and why they believe it. It is giving people the language to express their beliefs. Since rural villages are neither metropolitan nor contain elites, the progressive tide is not so strong. I have been surprised at how bold I can be in preaching without encountering strong opposition. There remains a widespread assumption that the prayer book and the creeds witness to the truth of the faith, and that the Bible is reliable. Much of my ministry has simply been telling people they are allowed to believe the Bible, and the traditional beliefs of the Church. And, I have discovered, that has come as a relief to people.

View from within Chris's parishes

In all, rural ministry is good old-fashioned Anglican parish ministry. It still works, and gives tremendous opportunities for the gospel. People are open to the church, and relationships are rich. It is very possible to build a good, steadfast evangelical ministry and see people come to faith. You may have to spread your congregations over five churches, but you will often see a hundred on a Sunday and large numbers at Christmas, Easter and Harvest. You do not have to come from an agricultural background yourself - I was born in Dagenham - just be willing to throw yourself in and ask questions. On top of all this, the quality of life is rich and the scenery beautiful.

It may lack the glamour of a large suburban parish, but the rewards of rural ministry are very great indeed.

Chris Moore is Rector of four rural parishes in the Diocese of Hereford

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