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How Village Churches Thrive edited by Robert Atwell, Gill Ambrose, and Helen Bent

15 July 2022

Grey indented towers: but how to build on the love of the building, asks Richard Greatrex

HUGH DENNIS’s carefully constructed foreword to How Village Churches Thrive highlights a great conundrum for rural parishes when he describes evident affection for his village church without once mentioning allegiance to the Christian faith. Similarly, although conversations on the streets of our benefice often include the question “How is the church doing?”, they seldom translate into regular engagement with our work and worship. Clearly, support for church buildings as a key component of what defines “a village” persists, particularly among older residents, while the Church is still cautiously perceived as an institution with a positive impact on community life.

Simon Jenkins, who starkly described the Church of England as “the museum of the country”, also stated that in church he experiences only “the memory of faith present in an old building”. How Village Churches Thrive offers a practical guide to building on the positives of the former statement, exploring how rural churches can assist neighbourhoods to discover what it has meant, does mean, and will mean to be living and connected communities. Simultaneously, through gentle probing and widespread examples of good practice, the book provides a fruitful response to the negativity of Sir Simon’s latter remark.

In ten short chapters, by a variety of authors with a range of experience, Anglican and ecumenical, it covers ten significant areas. They include extending a warm welcome, caring for God’s acre, cultivating festivals, reaching the isolated, and communicating effectively. Each chapter begins by flagging up three key learning objectives and provides a brief overview of the subject, a selection of case studies, and a collection of “Great Resources”, giving further depth and inspiration.

More detailed attention on how increasingly large multi-parish benefices might interconnect and develop as the Body of Christ, each parish contributing skills, resources, and experiences to a growing whole, would be extremely useful. But this project is a starting point, not a fully formed roadmap for a rural renaissance, and it does a commendable job in offering both space and stimulation for individual parishes, or benefices, to envisage imaginative strategies applicable to their own situations.

Having suggested to our benefice churchwardens and Readers that this is an ideal book to work through with a PCC or whole church community, I have received an enthusiastic response, and am hopeful that this timely volume will give encouragement and inspiration to many involved with the growth of vibrant and gospel-centred communities in rural settings.

The Revd Richard Greatrex is Rector of the Chew Valley East Benefice.


How Village Churches Thrive: A practical guide
Robert Atwell, Gill Ambrose, and Helen Bent, editors
Church House Publishing £9.99
Church House Bookshop £7.99

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