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Ministry in rural multi-parish benefices: let’s not be too negative

20 February 2015


From the Revd Andrew Thomas

Sir, - I was sad to read the negative letters from readers concerning the state of the Church in the rural setting. Admittedly, one could legitimately argue that the rural Church is in the decline.

Nevertheless, the rural Church is an exciting and wholly positive place to be. I think the Church of England bean-counters need to take a long hard look at the way they count their beans and realise that rural churches don't count their beans in the same way as town churches. Just because we don't have 200 people in church on a Sunday morning and hundreds of pounds in the collection plate doesn't mean we are failing.

In broad brush-strokes, town and city ministry is where you see everyone on Sunday morning and no one Monday to Saturday. Rural ministry is where you see no one on Sunday morning and everyone Monday to Saturday. Rural ministry and church life is much more on the chaplaincy model. Sadly, this isn't conducive to statistics that are easily analysed.

I have thriving and exciting church communities. In my five parishes there are at least six church services most Sundays, we have a successful Sunday school on a Monday afternoon, and a growing Messy Church. I spend time at school taking assemblies, and with the staff and parents. I spend time with the local business, hunts, and cattle market. All part of the local make-up that attracts thousands of townsfolk each year seeking to escape the anonymity of the metropolis.

If the bean-counters want me to tell them how many people I "do church" with each week, it stretches into the hundreds. Does this mean that I am running a mega-church?

Country folk need church, and they need the Church. They need it to be there, where it always has been, providing a constant in an ever transient world. I wonder if the bean-counters could look at other ways of measuring church, perhaps more pastorally than on the default accountancy model; and maybe Church House could look at the many and varied ways rural communities are doing church.

The Vicarage, High Street,
Somerset TA22 9DW

From Mr Matthew Chinery

Sir, - I am not sure whether it will reassure or further sadden Harriet Ryan ( Letters, 13 February) that freezing churches are not an exclusively rural problem. The PCC at St Augustine's, Kilburn, in London, is currently trying to raise £250,000 to install an adequate heating system for the first time in the building's history (some radiators were installed in the triforium in the 1930s, but never connected to anything: we assume the money ran out).

We are halfway there, and hugely grateful for grants from our patron (the Society for the Maintenance of the Faith), the diocese of London, and various other bodies. It has been surprising, however, that so many "big ticket" funders, most notably the Heritage Lottery Fund, will not even consider grants for such a project.

One occasionally wonders about the point of investing so much time and effort keeping a (magnificent) Grade I listed building in such good condition when it is almost unusable four months a year. The project has the potential utterly to transform the outreach that we can offer as a parish. If there is a wish for a church to be at the centre of the daily life of a community, adequate heating is an absolute essential; it would be good if more funders recognised this. Otherwise, I fear today's cold church is tomorrow's closed church.

The Diocesan Registry,
Minerva House,
5 Montague Close,
London SE1 9BB

From the Revd Dr W. S. Monkhouse

Sir, - I suggest that new bishops, and those clergy identified early on as high fliers, are given the opportunity to experience for themselves what it is like to be a single priest in charge of a far-flung benefice of a multiplicity of parishes, each with its PCC, its challenges, its churchmanship and traditions, and its church officers who know nothing of email. I hope that they will take the trouble to find out what it feels like to be confronted Sunday by Sunday by only a handful of people.

I hope that they might begin to understand the sinking feeling that comes when diocesan advisers refuse to acknowledge that some of us simply don't have a critical mass of willing hands to indulge in yet another initiative - simply because the few people we have are already fully occupied in putting bread on the table, and looking after friends and family who are worse off than themselves.

I hope that the new pathway for clergy career advancement will mean that the bench of the future includes more priests who have come from the coalface on the periphery - from where, of course, the view is so much clearer.

The Vicarage,
Rangemore Street,
Burton upon Trent DE14 2ED

From Anne Coomes

Sir, - The report Released for Mission prompted Nigel Holmes last week ( Letters 13 February) to assert that "the key to keeping the rumour of God alive in the countryside" is the parish magazine. We agree with him. Parish magazines may be the only form of Christian literature that thousands of non-churchgoers ever see, never mind read.

When Mr Holmes then suggests that church-magazine editors would benefit from access to an "electronic feed of interesting material month by month to enrich the editorial content", we have excellent news for him: we are already doing this.

It was exactly out of concern for people like Mr Holmes, in churches that can struggle to fill their magazines, that we founded www.parishpump.co.uk in 1999. Everymonth, we offer exactly what he described: scoresof inspiring or informative articles and snippets, book reviews, poems, jokes and quotes,as well as front covers, cartoons, children's pages, and puzzles. Nowadays, wesupplychurch-magazine editors inevery diocese in England, as well as churches across the UK and Anglican Communion.

Parish Pump,
PO Box 236,
Cheshire SK10 4GJ

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