THE first Archdeacon for Rural Mission, Canon Sally Gaze, has said that she will “take risks” in her mission to tackle isolation and loneliness in remote communities in the UK.
The post, created by the Bishop of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, the Rt Revd Martin Seeley, is to be funded by the diocese and the interdenominational mission agency Rural Ministries.
The Bishop said on Wednesday: “Like many rural dioceses, the Church has been an integral part of the life of our villages and market towns; but, with small and declining congregations, our presence in many of these communities is becoming unsustainable.”
The Archdeacon for Rural Mission would help to strengthen and increase church attendance in rural communities, and develop “new forms of worship, witness, and service for people who may have little or no contact with the Church”, he said.
Canon Gaze was appointed last Friday. She has been the Dean for Rural Mission Consultancy in the diocese since 2017, and was formerly Team Rector in the Tas Valley Team Ministry in Norfolk, where she planted a Fresh Expressions church. In 2006, she co-wrote Mission-shaped and Rural (Church House Publishing).
She said on Wednesday: “Multi-parish benefice structures, clergy isolation, minister models, solutions to large numbers of under-used church buildings, the ageing demographic, and financial issues are challenges for many rural churches — but they are also symptoms of a bigger challenge: that society has changed beyond recognition in the last 100 years.
“Decline in rural Church is like an early warning system for the national Church. It is also part of the same cultural change which has led to a loss of social capital and an increase in loneliness and mental-health issues in rural areas.”
The solution involves both mission and evangelism, she said. “We need to take risks for mission so we learn what works. We will answer questions such as how more young families can find faith, or how we can enable people who have become isolated to be cherished.”
One of her goals is to evangelise 1500 people in rural areas in the next six years. “It sounds complicated, but it is about simple Christian practices: listening, love, and prayer.”
The Bishop of Dunwich, Dr Mike Harrison, encouraged Canon Gaze to bring her rural mission work to the area. “Sally has a proven track record of rural community engagement and of growing various kinds of worshipping communities.”
Canon Gaze, a former Honorary Canon of Norwich Cathedral, will be installed as a Residentiary Canon of St Edmundsbury Cathedral next month, but will continue to work in a rural Suffolk location, where she lives with her husband, Chris, and their two children: Matthew, 19, and Katie, nine.
“Mission is the whole of what God sends us to do,” she said. “We need people to serve and love the countryside and its people. I will be trying to be one of them.”