Engaging rural communities with the Gospel
Most of the country's population may live in cities and urban areas but there are still thousands of communities dotted across the British countryside and they present their own challenges for churches.
Jessie Walrond is a young graduate who has been employed as a Rural Evangelist to work across the county of Norfolk.
After completing her postgraduate studies at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, she will now be working to enable, equip and encourage people in rural churches to share their faith.
Based in the village of Swainsthorpe, which is part of the Tas Valley Benefice led by the Reverend Sally Gaze, she will work in partnership with local churches to support them in serving their communities.
A staggering 93 per cent of Britain is classed as 'rural', a much bigger figure than many might expect, although 80 per cent of the UK population live in towns and cities.
This low population density in rural areas make these communities often among the hardest to reach in the UK. An estimated 900,000 people are living below the poverty line and isolation, a lack of affordable housing, and the withdrawal of services and amenities make it incredibly difficult for local churches to share the Gospel.
A deep understanding of rural ways of life is needed to approach evangelism in this context, which is what Jessie hopes to bring to the role as she begins her new journey in Norfolk.
Jessie shared with Christian Today something of her vision for her new role, and her desire to see rural England transformed by the Gospel.
CT: Where does your passion for working with rural communities come from?
JW: I grew up on a small farm in Somerset, going to our local village church. My dad works on the farm and my mum works in our farm shop, and they've always been very involved with the local church. I think this is where my passion for working in rural areas comes from, because I've seen firsthand the really practical side of faith, lived out in the countryside. I learned the value of building good relationships, and how creative you can be in sharing the Gospel and making church accessible to the local community.
CT: What are your expectations for the job?
JW: It's hard to say! I really don't know how this is going to work out. It's a bit of a leap of faith to be honest! I felt God calling me here and so I've come. I'm not sure what he's doing, but, I think there are definitely some exciting things happening in Norfolk, so I'm excited to see what happens. I think the challenges are potentially huge, particularly with the nature of rural churches often being quite isolated and poorly resourced. But if people are interested in seeking God together and looking for creative ways to do mission and share Jesus in their local area, I'm in!
CT: Why do you think it's so difficult to engage rural communities? How are you hoping to go about it?
JW: In terms of the local areas, I'm just getting involved with anything and everything that's happening, so that I can meet people in the local area and build relationships with them. It's hard in villages. You have fewer people, often everyone is working and you have to catch them at weekends, and also in some places it takes you a very, very long time to be considered local, and to belong. I really think relationship is key, and also listening to people and finding out where they are at, rather than coming in with your own agenda.
CT: Do you have an idea of what kinds of things are you going to start or get involved in yet?
JW: In terms of projects, who knows? I imagine it will differ for each church, depending on the needs of their local area. For us here, it was a mums and toddlers, but I also hope in the future that we might start coffee mornings for the elderly. It could be any number of things! A significant part of my work at the moment is helping set up a network to connect young Christians in rural areas.
CT: Can you tell us more about that?
JW: The age group I'm going to work with is 18-30s. I'm working with some others who are also either already involved in young adults work or planning to be. Our initial focus is to encourage and equip young adults who are already involved with their local church, in a rural area, or who really want to be. How exciting if we could equip and send people out into their local churches, providing support and resources and training for them in that context. Then they can be released to serve with that church, and the church won't feel a burden to put them with others of the same age, because they would already be getting that support.
CT: And finally, what's your overall vision?
JW: To enable and equip people to become even more effective in sharing their faith with others. It's bringing God's kingdom here, in Norfolk, in any way I can. My prayer every day is 'Lord, use me today for your glory. I don't know how it'll look, but help me to bring light to this place'. It's terrifying, and daunting, and extremely exciting all in one. God's on the move...watch this space!