By Canon Jim Mynors
Over the 25 years I have served in rural parishes there has been a welcome growth in the amount of relevant literature and websites available. This book helpfully brings together the best of the last few years’ thinking, as one would expect from the National Rural Officer of the Church of England and the Arthur Rank Centre Training and Resources Officer. With a self-consciously rural angle, it helpfully distinguishes different models of mission and signposts how ministry can be more effectively shared. Likewise it provides a guide to the plethora of new approaches to discipleship training and nurture. In addition there are shorter contributions from others such as on worship in the rural context and working with children (by our own Rona Orme).
On the realities of multi-church ministry the book makes the obvious point ‘the active involvement and leadership of lay people, with clergy offering a role of oversight, will increasingly become the norm’ (page 43). Yet shouldn’t this have been a priority long ago in every type of parish? Only in the rural context has it now become appreciated as such a necessity that the rural may be able to model the way for large urban churches. Personally I find it a relief not chairing most of our PCCs, or negotiating the development of all our buildings, and sharing the leading of our worship on Sundays as one of a team of half a dozen. Nor do I regard myself as having a monopoly in giving pastoral care.
This book encourages such an approach. Yet I’m glad to say as well as being earthed with modern examples ‘Resourcing Rural Ministry’ also draws on the New Testament material supporting this approach, notably Ephesians 4:11-13 Romans 12;4-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-28. I would want to add Philippians 2 since this style of ministry particularly requires humility – and in addition to Paul’s epistles would want to make more of the example of Paul’s strategy for establishing churches and leaving them to local leaders – as recorded in the Book of Acts.
Although the book has less about rural society, agriculture and history than older titles (like Anthony Russell’s classic: The Country Parish – still widely circulating although out of print), this latest collection of contributions it surely just what is needed in today’s church climate.
The final chapter on ‘Church buildings: serving the community and ministry to visitors’ will intrigue many because it is written by Becky Payne. Becky’s background in English Heritage and the Church Buildings Division of the Church of England just goes to show that not everyone associated with those bodies is determined to prevent imaginative developments in our churches. And for those in rural ministry often responsible for a number of buildings this is a big issue. Yet it is the rural context where our church buildings have potentially the most to contribute. And it is a fitting end to this book to find a passionate plea that we unlock that potential.
The book is published by the Bible Reading Fellowship 2015, is 203 pages £8.99
Canon Jim Minors is the Rector of Adwincle, Clopton, Stoke Doyle, Thorpe Church, Titchmarsh, Pilton and Wadenhoe