Rural ministry applies to most charges in this diocese – and indeed to many in the SEC. Even those in towns like Oban, Dunoon or Campbeltown have rural dimensions. The Church Times has a telling piece summarising a report ‘Released for Mission: Growing the rural Church’ from the Rural Affairs Group of the C of E. The article has a very familiar ring.
It says: ‘In some parishes, if all the possible places on the PCC were filled, they would outnumber the regular congregation’. (For PCC read vestry although it is not, as readers will know, a direct equivalent.) It goes on, ‘It is clear that congregations and communities are determined to keep their church open, though this is frequently not acted upon’. It was observed that there is ‘a reluctance to make any changes, to develop new initiatives, encourage more people to join the congregation, or make the building more useful or financially sustainable’. Some congregations were not open to new approaches but ‘still desperate for people to come to church to ensure that their building stayed open and familiar worship continued.’ I’m guessing that most people would claim to be willing to accept changes if it ‘brought people in’ – so long as they are the changes they favour. As we have a variety of views and preferences, this could keep us talking until there are only a few of us left in the conversation.
The report identifies a collegiate style of clergy ministry and well equipped lay ministry as being key factors in the growth of rural multi-church groups. In my visits around Argyll & The Isles, I have heard some objections to lay ministry. Certainly, lay readers and leaders need to be well trained and supported, certainly we all have preferences when it comes to styles of worship, but if individual preference is holding back the mission of a congregation, it may be time for a rethink.
The report concludes that there is much to celebrate in rural ministry and that ‘multi-church groups’ could be ‘vanguards in rethinking mission and ministry’. Bishop Kevin reminded us at a recent gathering that the point of worshipping together is to experience and then to share the news of God’s love. ‘Desperate’ to keep churches open? Or desperate – passionate might be a better word – to share our faith?
Read the article here