On Saturday 24/3/18 Newcastle Diocese made available via dropbox their 12 page document on this subject. Previously they had set out their vision for the future of their Diocese “growing church bringing hope”, along with 5 key strands of activity of which “reimagining the rural church” was one – now known as the rural strand.
What follows is a summary of their Rural Strand document with the points that caught my eye. The purpose of the document is
“to distil many months of thinking, prayer and reflection into a single text that can be used to guide the reimagining of our rural church”
Where are we now and what is rural?
- Rural life is changing fast – i.e. there are a decreasing no. of jobs in rural areas.
- The countryside is less distinctly ‘rural’ than it was a generation ago – those living in it increasingly look beyond the immediately local for their services.
- Rural communities are extremely diverse – e.g. former industrial settlements, remnants of medieval settlement, newer settlements linked to forestry and water industries, estate villages, commuter estates and market towns.
- A nostalgic romanticism persists about country life that does not correspond to its reality, present or past.
- Voluntary organisations face the same problems they do everywhere else – its hard to persuade people to join and volunteers are getting older.
- Its possible to get to know people in a small community in a deep way which facilitates a persistence of neighbourliness and a clearer focus of ‘community’ ID.
The report then looks at the features of rural specific to their diocese. These are: a small no. of big landowners and thus a high % of tenant farmers; a large national park; large land use by the army and forestry and water industries; historic buildings contribution to tourism; low population densities; rural poverty defined by low income –
poor access to transport and other services – a severe shortage of affordable housing – and a significantly aging population.
The report briefly considers how ready the church is to engage with the rural context summarised above. It then goes on to set out …
Purpose, Role, Vision, Goals, Values
- a serving rural communities Purpose;
- a Role of acting as a catalyst for necessary change, drawing many strands together;
- a Vision for rural church of a growing church bringing hope;
- Goals for the rural church 5 years from now covering topics like: openness to new worship/congregation styles; developing discipleship; perceived as a significant partner by others in developing communities; valued as a sacred space sharing the Christian story and heritage; embracing a holistic and varied understanding
and practice of growth;
- Values it commits to in this work that use phrases like: attentive to communities and generous in response to them; respecting the past to re-imagine the future; committed to sharing the transforming Gospel; courageous in re-imagining church.
Achieving and Measuring Success
They propose using Lead Measures, (things they can influence in order to achieve the desired outcome), and Lag Measures, (things that have already happened that serve
to evidence the desired outcome), – both with a bias to action. The document gives the specific measures.
They also have an 18 month action plan to deliver 4 case studies to assess the implementation of their strategy and investigate new methods of collaborative ministry.
- currently bidding for resource church funding which they see as complimentary to their rural strand;
- working on how rural church buildings are aligned to the delivery of the diocesan strategy – and will publish a document in due course;
- developing a training programme for rural mission and ministry teams …..
- …. and created a Ministry Training and Theological Reflection group to support this;
- working on the future of rural schools;
- running a series of ‘contextual practice workshops’ to help explore how the rural church might respond to a fast changing rural context.