From Harriet Ryan
Sir, - As the General Synod discusses reform and renewal of the
Church this week, I suggest that all this discussion will not throw
light on how we are to cope with our beautiful rural churches and
grow the Church at the same time.
We held a very successful benefice morning with our six
churches, carrying out a healthy-church audit - to help shape the
way forward for the benefice. We ran it in one of our churches,
which could accommodate 60 people working at six long tables.
We turned the heating on to constant the day before (estimating
that we would have to spend £300 to get the church to a reasonable
temperature - which it wasn't). A wise member of the ministry team
brought bags of blankets to wrap up our elderly congregation
members. They just about survived.
For the Sunday-morning services, the temperature had dropped to
9° again. We wouldn't put babies or elderly people outside in this
temperature; so why do we think they should have to endure church
for an hour on a Sunday? I am fed up with freezing each Sunday in
churches (six to choose from).
We are not a backward-looking benefice, as the church we were
using has an award-winning south aisle converted into a
meeting-room, kitchen, and facilities for the disabled. Our
churches have worked hard to provide lavatories despite the cost.
Our benefice cannot afford to rebuild the churches to make them
energy-efficient - nor, I expect, would we be allowed to. We do not
have the luxury of church offices or halls.
So we cannot be surprised that the young families don't want to
leave their centrally heated houses and come to church regularly.
We can provide activities, events, and facilities to welcome them,
but we can't keep them warm.
What do rural churches have to do to survive beyond being
beautiful buildings? We had so much enthusiasm at the benefice
morning, and yet we will always be defeated by our beautiful, cold
buildings. You have to be very hardy to attend church here in rural
Benefice secretary, Winterborne
Valley and Milton Abbas
The Rectory, North Street
Blandford Forum DT11 0NL
From the Revd Chris Mitchell
Sir, - At least the report Released for Mission: Growing the
rural Church (News,
6 February) seems to recognise something of the reality of life
in rural parishes. Many parish structures seem to have been
invented with large town parishes in mind, and impose an impossible
burden on small country parishes.
For example, tiny village parishes are expected to produce two
churchwardens, a PCC secretary, a treasurer able to meet
increasingly exacting standards, and a representative for the
In a parish with a population of fewer than 100, and a
congregation of a dozen (on a good day), this is a totally
unrealistic expectation. The clergy often spend a great deal of
time in a frustrating attempt to fill vacancies. Often the result
is that one person takes on most of the positions, or these are
filled by people with relevant skills but little commitment to the
Christian faith or to worship. Occasionally, an instance of the
latter can result in those individuals' growing in faith, but more
often it simply weakens Christian witness and mission in that
42 Melton Avenue
York YO30 5QG
From the Revd Geoffrey Squire
Sir, - Once again we see a report on rural ministry including
the increasing number of parishes and churches, sometimes 11 or
more, under the care of one parish priest; but rarely is reference
made to the serious result thatthe faithful in those parishes are
deprived of a weekly eucharist.
Part of that problem is the refusal in many places to
acknowledge the presence of very able, willing, and experienced
non-stipendiary priests who may go for many Sundays without
celebrating the eucharist, or are one of several concelebrants in
These priests may havevery little scope for ministry where they
are, because they are "not counted". If more of these clergy were
appointed as incumbents of some of these parishes, it would
dramatically improve the situation, and might encourage many more
to offer themselves for this form of ministry.
To take the matter further, there are many clergy, stipendiary
and non-stipendiary, who have retired or reached the compulsory
retirement age of 70, and who would be delighted to continue
exercising the light duty of being priest-in-chargeof a small rural
parish, but church law prevents it; so the faithful are deprived of
the eucharist, and the priest concerned may not be able to
celebrate the eucharist. It is nonsense.
What is required is a complete rethink of the position of
experienced non-stipendiary clergy and active and willing retired
clergy, together with whatever changes in church law are required
to enable much greater flexibility.
Little Cross, Goodleigh
Barnstaple, Devon EX32 7NR
From Mr Nigel Holmes
Sir, - The General Synod report Released for Mission:
Growing the rural Church ignores the key to keeping the rumour
of God alive in the countryside, the parish magazine.
Ours, which is paid for, reaches at least a dozen times the
number of people who attend worship in a given month. From a clear
Christian perspective, it carries information about the wider
community as well as about the church, and helps to weld a
multi-parish benefice together.
Too many rural magazines, though, are rather thin. Could
diocesan communications officers offer magazine editors an
electronic feed of interesting material month by month to enrich
the editorial content?
Nor does the report mention social media and other forms of
electronic linking ideally suited to the rural setting. If it is to
turn the tide of decline, the Church must redeploy resources,
including paid posts, to connect more effectively with younger
Cherished clerical autonomy and unrivalled job security might
frustrate this, but, in an age suspicious of supposed certainties,
we must be prepared to think radically, and deploy our considerable
resources to spread the gospel by all available means.
Carlisle CA4 8LL