Church on tour?

“We don’t travel well…” – this is one of the characteristics that rural church communities often acknowledge about themselves.  It may be acceptable to drive to the nearest large supermarket, but going to a neighbouring village to worship in a different church… that’s a whole other thing…

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I was musing about how this is so as I prepared for our annual pilgrimage for Rogation between 3 village churches in the team I work in.  It’s one of the best things we do together, this tour, and such a great way of celebrating and praying for our beautiful rural context.

We may be happy to do this once a year, but I suspect we wouldn’t want to move around every Sunday.  The debate about how far local presence and a local worshipping community matters is the focus for some research in the latest issue of Rural Theology.

This dip into the detail tracks attendance by a travelling congregation in a parish made up of 7 villages and 7 places of worship.  The study – mapping congregation numbers over 4 years – found that at most services, the largest proportion of attenders were from the “home” village.  It also found that where the were fewer services on a Sunday, attendance at the remaining service(s) was not largerand that more services were associated with higher overall attendance.

No surprises here, perhaps.  But it is good to see some numerical data, rather than just anecdotal evidence, even though it’s just one group of churches.  The author argues – from this data and other evidence – for clergy and laity alike to rethink their roles.  The key message is that it’s the local church – not the vicar – that needs to be the focus for Christian faith and church life in a particular place.

Incidentally, if you’re planning rogation services, why not have a look at the Diocese of Chelmsford’s agricultural festival resources, which you can download from our Rural Issues webpage.

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