Many of us who have lived in rural places know that the local church is fragile and, at times, vulnerable. Yet, it can be absolutely central to a community’s life and future hope. In the ecumenical work with rural church settings, there is both hope and fear mingled together.
So, a timely book How Village Churches Thrive, whilst not specifically ecumenical, is a fine contribution to practically encourage those in rural churches to be creative and take risks to love and serve their communities.
Devised, and primarily written, by people from the diocese of Exeter, the ten chapters help churches see the great assets they have and find how to make the most of them. The opening chapter suggests all sorts of ways of extending a warm welcome – based on the idea of making your church as welcoming as your home whilst at the same time being honest that a church that wants to grow may very well need to change.
Chapter 8 includes a range of resources for churches wishing to engage with children and young people. It reminds us of the gift of church schools and the ways in which this can crack open communities for engagement with the church and vice versa.
The book is full of great case studies from across denominations to help the reader to re-imagine what small rural churches can accomplish and the significant impact that they can have.
Whether Anglican, Methodist, United Reformed, Congregational Federation, Baptist or whatever denomination, the village church can unhelpfully compare itself to city congregations with lots of people and resources. Bishop Robert Atwell, in his fine introduction, reminds us that a small church is not a failed church, any more than a satsuma is a failed orange!