General Synod: Rural Churches Face Discrimination

Members of the Church of England Synod claimed on Tuesday that the rural church faces discrimination from government and official agencies, despite the contribution it makes to the countryside.

Published 09 February 2006  |  
Members of the Church of England Synod claimed on Tuesday that the rural church faces discrimination from government and official agencies, despite the contribution it makes to the countryside.

|TOP|In a debate on the rural church, the General Synod backed a resolution “affirming” the future of the rural church. The debate, which was the first on the subject since 1990, also called for a new partnership between the church, the authorities and other denominations.

Michael Langrish, the Bishop of Exeter spoke of the situation of many rural churches: “Although much contemporary government rhetoric seems to recognise the immense value of what the Church contributes here, when it comes to being allowed to build on this potential by applying for community funding or joining partnerships for local renewal and regeneration, they are often discriminated against through prejudice or sheer ignorance of the role they can and do play,” reports the Church of England Newspaper.

Langrish also called upon the Church in rural areas to be more “upfront and confident” in asserting its role in the life of the community.

He continued saying: “But there is also a challenge to government and other partners to recognise what a major stakeholder in rural affairs the Church continues to be, and how much rural community development suffers when, for whatever reason, that recognition is not properly followed through.”

The Synod also had a debate on a recent report entitled, “Seeds in Holy Ground: A future for the rural church?” In it the Synod has urged the government to recognise the contribution made by the church in rural communities.

The Synod debate has appealed to the government to involve rural churches in decision-making processes. The Synod also warned that “excluding churches... from equitable funding is detrimental to rural community development.”

|AD|There was also a motion requesting the Archbishop’s Council to review the level of national support it gives to the presence and witness of the rural Church.

Anthony Russell, the Bishop of Ely claimed that before the 1990 report, “Faith in the Countryside”, the Church was itself a part of the problem. However, since then he said the Church now appeared to be a collaborator with local authorities and agencies.

Russell criticised the report and the motion on the grounds that they did not take into account farming. The Church of England is currently the second largest owner of farmland in England.

Russell argued that farmers constituted a major part of the rural community, providing food and maintaining the landscape of their local communities. Russell expressed a number of his concerns:

For example that there a number of agricultural colleges with no farmers, the tendency of farmers not to urge their children to continue in the farming business and most seriously the increasing suicide rates amongst farmers.

The Church of England Newspaper, spoke to a Mr Terence Mussen from a remote farming community in North Devon called Pyworthy. Mr Mussen spoke of how as a farmer he had to awake at 5am every morning, and worked 15 hours a day just to spend his evenings with his family.

Mussen claimed that modern farmers have to work for even longer as additional labour is now unaffordable in many cases. He said “We aren’t yet able to find a way of connecting with the spiritual needs of farmers.”

Dr Judy Hunt, an industrial missioner in Cheshire said that it was important that the government recognised the role of faith communities, but also that churches recognise their importance to communities as “contributors to social capital”.

Dr Hunt claimed that “We must send a clear message that we are here to stay in rural communities.”

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