Churches in the countryside should consider setting up farmers' markets and using school buildings after hours to organise café-style events to reach out to rural communities, argues a new book released today by the Church of England.
Mission-shaped and Rural
, written by the Rev Sally Gaze, comes one week after a report supported by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs showed that the actions of people of faith enhance and sustain vibrant rural communities.
The book sheds light on how traditional models of the Church's work in the countryside should be complemented by emerging forms of ministry in order to meet the needs of today's rural communities.
The insights of Mission-shaped and Rural
have been praised by Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who said: "Rural faith today is in the process of finding its own distinctive voice in a climate of enormous cultural change and economic challenge. In this informed and inspiring guide Sally Gaze affirms the distinctive and complex quality of rural life today while courageously exploring new possibilities for ministry."
Mission-shaped and Rural
is the follow-up to the highly successful Mission-Shaped Church
, first published in 2005, which has already been credited with sales of more than 20,000 copies - a record-breaking number for a non-liturgical Church of England publication.
This latest book seeks to transform the aspirations of the original report into further reflection and recommended actions specifically for those engaged in rural ministry.
Its publication follows that of Mission-shaped Children
earlier this year, and its contribution to the debate marks another important step in creating the Church of England's desired 'mixed economy' Church where 'fresh expressions' of being church are developed alongside more traditional models.
Sally Gaze, team rector of a number of parishes in Norfolk, draws on her decade of experience in rural ministry to survey recent periods of "substantial and unsettling change" in the countryside, driven both by major national crises in the agricultural sector and changing patterns of population and tourism.
It is against this backdrop that Sally is issuing a direct challenge to today's Church to "prune the vine to bear more fruit" in a "careful, prayerful, and discerning". She wants to see rural churches increase the use of their church buildings for a range of purposes other than worship and to reconsider elements of existing church structures such as multi-parish benefices.
Through a range of case studies illustrating new worshipping communities - such as mid-week Communion services in local pubs - Sally also vividly demonstrates how rural churches are challenging stereotypes: "Country parishes are often perceived as more traditional in outlook than those in cities but my experience suggests that there are many examples of rural churches creatively using their slim resources to help serve their surrounding communities," she says.
Mission-shaped and Rural: growing churches in the countryside
(ISBN 0-7151-4084-1) is priced £7.99 and available from Christian bookshops including Church House Bookshop, 31 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BN, tel. 020-7898 1300, e mail email@example.com, or on the web at: www.chbookshop.co.uk
(mail order available).