Recently I spent an enlightening morning with the Rural Ministries team based in the Arthur Rank Centre just outside Coventry. I was impressed by the work they do to help Christians rejuvenate rural churches in a holistic way; covering everything from mission to economic development: returning the church to its position as the centre of the community (and hopefully returning Christ to his position in the centre of our lives also). Despite being a small team their work is really high quality. Some of you may already know that the URC and the Methodist Church jointly fund a full time post (the National Rural Officer) supporting rural ministry as part of the Germinate organisation (www.Germinate.net). At present this role is fulfilled by Revd Elizabeth Clarke, a Methodist minister.
I was left with two overriding memories from the day. Firstly, was the economic development work they do. They have a programme of mentoring and training that helps communities develop social enterprises and small businesses drawing on biblical principles. Secondly, I was interested in how similar lots of our churches are to the rural model espoused by Germinate. I had expected their definition of rural to be farming oriented but in fact it is defined by the population of the locality. Germinate use the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs definition which talks about a rural community being less than 10,000 people. Clearly, in many cases farming was the lifeblood of these small communities, but they can be a lot more diverse these days. It struck me that even some of our urban churches face very similar issues to small rural churches these days. One of the churches close to me, Cores End in Buckinghamshire, very much fits into the rural model, even though few of the local population have anything to do with agriculture. Cores End is a strong community despite being surrounded by the Thames Valley urban sprawl; and I’m sure that is similar to many of our urban churches. And my point is … that the materials and services offered by Germinate are much more widely relevant than you might at first imagine. So, take a look at their website and download some of their excellent (and free) materials.
Finally, let me mention a church I visited last weekend, Palmers Green in North London. It has a lovely, well maintained building, but more than that it is a vibrant and outgoing church. One of the interesting elements of this church is how many people from Palmers green have or do work in the synod (Thames North) or at denominational level. It is really encouraging to see a church engaged in supporting the wider church, for which they receive my heartfelt thanks.