CW88 – Reconcilation: Rural Roundup

Owls lifting spirits

By Elspeth Taylor, Home Farm, Gloucestershire


We have a 200 acre farm just on the English side of the old Severn Bridge, in South Gloucestershire, 150 beef cattle, and 150 breeding ewes (Charolais/Texel).

Having struggled to make hay in these crazy weather conditions, my husband Robert spent all day turning, and we managed to bale late into the night. The rain then hammered down, with the bales still in the fields! We were unable to haul the bales up as we were also TB testing, so our days were completely taken up with driving cattle up from the grounds, and the usual 72 hours tense wait, to see if we were clear. By Friday we were exhausted, constantly getting soaked, and Robert got kicked hard on the knee by one of our cows during the test, so was limping!

Later that day he called me, very excited – he had just been standing under a tree in one of our fields, heard a chirp, looked up, and a pair of barn owls and chicks were sitting looking down at him from the branches. We have longed for barn owls to breed on the farm. but haven’t even seen one here for 25 years. What a great gift from God to lift our spirits, carry our weary bodies, and lighten our steps through the day, after a really tough week!  He always knows the precise moment when we need a little miracle to perk us up and appreciate his creation.


‘He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms

and carries them close to his heart; He gently leads those that have young.’


Isaiah 40:11





CW86: Growing Together in Townend Community Garden

By Mary Craner

On a prayer walk a couple of years ago, Lorraine Brown found herself in a conversation with members of Chapel-en-le-Frith Methodist Church about their vision of converting a small field the church owned into a community garden. Interestingly, the Minister of the church had already mentioned this idea to her a year or so earlier, so she knew God was stirring this church up. Were they brave enough to move into outward-focused mission?

Yes, they were!

Following consultations with the church and community, a planning group was formed comprising both community and church members. They applied for planning permission as the field was part of a conservation area and started fundraising.

Once planning permission was granted in July 2019 the project really took off, and in September a very successful open day was held on the field. Over fifty people attended on a hot sunny day, tea and cakes were served, everyone who came was very enthusiastic, and we were excited when ten volunteers signed up to join in with creating the garden.

A generous donation from our Methodist circuit, a Methodist Insurance grant and local fundraising had already raised a total of £10,000, so work on the main structure of the garden started in October with the building of raised beds. A low wall around the communal area went in over the winter and the orchard was planted in February by some enthusiastic volunteers, undeterred by the pouring rain.

The church, Girls’ Brigade, local primary and high schools, a local centre for adults with learning difficulties and a mental health support group were all keen to enjoy the benefits of working and playing in the garden. We agreed dates for each of the groups to start dates but then COVID-19 hit, and the project had to stop for a while.

As time went on and restrictions eased, volunteers were able to start caring for the garden again, planting beds, preparing a wildflower meadow, and creating fully accessible, safe paths.

Because of the garden project, Chapel-en-le-Frith Methodist Church was able to gather for worship once national COVID-19 restrictions began in lift. On Sunday afternoons during August and September, two of the ministers in the town shared an act of worship outside, allowing isolated church members a very welcome time of sharing in a safe outdoor space.

In time, local groups will be welcomed into the garden, and we hope that in spring 2021 we will be fully open to all. Our mission is to be a safe, accessible haven of peace and friendship where we can contribute to the health and wellbeing of local people.

The enthusiasm from our volunteers has been heart-warming. The mother of one family told us, ‘the garden has brought a fantastic feeling of community pride in what we have achieved. I am so happy my children have been part of it’, while the father of another family said, ‘my daughters and I love being outside. Attending on a Saturday morning puts us all in a great frame of mind for the rest of the day.’ A gentleman of 84 told us that he had ‘hugely enjoyed the companionship’.

What wonderful accolades!


Mary Craner, Project Co-ordinator

Chapel-en-le-Frith Methodist Church


Deacon Lorraine Brown, Peak Park Rural Officer



This article first appeared in Country Way 86: Mental Health & Wellbeing, February 2021. Go to for more information about how to subscribe.

CW86: CALMtown Wellbeing Movement


By Revd Matt Finch


‘A minister, a mayor and a pub landlord…’ sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but actually it sums up the start of a wellbeing movement in the market town of St Ives, Cambridgeshire. It is called CALMtown, a project that seeks to raise awareness of mental health issues and become a community where everyone is comfortable talking about their mental health or listening to someone who needs to talk.

It began with like minds coming together. I was about to turn forty and my sons had challenged me to cycle from London to Paris. As a Methodist Minister I was increasingly meeting people struggling with their mental health, and so I decided ride for the suicide prevention charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably,

As I was beginning my training, Tim – the aforementioned mayor – was talking honestly and publicly about his own mental health journey and his desire to support people when they struggled. Around the same time, Phil, the pub landlord, tragically lost one of his patrons, Carl, to suicide. St Ives is not the exception, and in the UK around 125 people a week will take their own life (

As community leaders, Tim, Phil and I realised we could use our influence and connections to make a difference. So, one Monday morning on market day, we met over coffee to see what we might do together. We decided to dream big, and CALMtown was born.

We began meeting others in the town and on a cold November evening we invited them into the warmth of St Ives Methodist Church for a drink and the opportunity to hear about what we hoped to do. It is fascinating how easily we overlook the gift our churches can be to our communities, simply through offering a cuppa and a space to gather. On this occasion, the tea, coffee and biscuits were provided by the local funeral directors who wanted to support our initiative, motivated by their first-hand experience of the impact of suicide on families.

I had no idea who would turn up, if people would be scared off by a dog-collar, if people even cared about the mental health of St Ives. Perhaps it was still too much of a taboo subject, almost like the word ‘cancer’ use to be; the ‘C-word’ no one would speak about.

Looking back now, it felt like a moment when, if the walls could speak, they would have said ‘here is the answer to all those heartfelt prayers for the town over 200 years; this is why these bricks have stood so long, to hold this community when it needs care’.

A young man in a leather jacket stood up and shared his struggles; a headteacher spoke of her hopes for her pupils; a young mum spoke of her post-natal depression; worried people spoke of wanting to support struggling friends. Sharing together in this way was not about finding a solution but the beginning of acknowledging that we could all make a difference.

So, with the vison affirmed the work began. The plans were grand: big events, every person joining a wellbeing group, the entire project being setup in a year; in reality, it has been a long and at times frustrating journey. We have seen ‘mustard seed’ responses, micro-actions aimed at tackling a huge problem, an invitation to every member of the town to make their contribution and, together, making a big difference.

The CALMtown team meets regularly to guide the project. Once or twice a month a group of us – the landlord, the mayor, a mum, a headteacher, a personal trainer, a local businessman, a property developer, a student and a solicitor – gather in the Floods Tavern. We’re planning small things that encourage people to get help and reduce the stigma around mental health.

So, what does a CALMtown look like?


The most successful initiative so far has been Meet the Street, a simple way to reduce the isolation which is one of the key factors in poor mental health. A couple of weekends a year we encourage one person on every street to put the kettle on and invite their neighbours in. This low-cost idea has seen people connect; folks who have lived on the same road for years and not known one another’s names now stop for a conversation. Our last Meet the Street happened three weeks before lockdown and many have said that getting to know their neighbours at that event made a huge difference to that experience.

It has been important to signpost people to the help that is there already. Through social media and in the local printed press we have repeated the message that it is OK not to be OK and that there is plenty of help available. Local GP surgeries have told us patients tell them that CALMtown is the reason they’ve made an appointment.

Our poetry project has displayed snippets of inspirational poetry in shops, pubs and schools. We have a CALMcouch that pops up at key events, and in key spaces, in the town, raising awareness and demonstrating that in St Ives there will always be someone available to sit alongside you.

During the autumn of 2020 we focused on enabling people to feel comfortable talking about mental health, and local business and community groups have begun a program of mental health first aider training. Our hope is that eventually every business and community group in St Ives will have a mental health first aider, and we have asked every business to train one person and pay for training for one community group. Over time this will build into a network of mental health first aiders, able to spot the signs that someone is struggling and be there for them.

As a teenager, the passage that convinced me of God’s interest in my life was John 10:10: ‘I have come that they may have life in all its fullness’. The Church has a message of hope for those whose lives are hard, that God cares and longs for them to know fullness of life. CALMtown is just one small part of sharing that message.



Revd Matt Finch, Pioneering and Church Planting Officer

Methodist Church



This article first appeared in Country Way 86: Mental Health & Wellbeing, February 2021. Go to for more information about how to subscribe.

CW86: ‘Not Good for Man to be Alone’: Reflections on COVID-19 from a Catholic Parish Priest

By Revd Rob Taylorson

The proclamation of the book of Genesis ‘It is not good for man to be alone’ (2:18, NKJV) is a sound foundation for a COVID-19 lockdown anguished cry of lament. It shows up the flaws in any attempt to live with ‘self’ alone at the centre of our perception of everything else. The human spiritual nature is incomplete without others. As Christians, having received the revelation that our essence is made in the image and likeness of the Trinitarian God (Genesis 1:26-28), the awareness that we are made for relationship is profound. As with God’s divine life, the relationship dimension of human life is deep and essential.

The life of priests

Today’s Catholic parish priests in the UK generally live alone. I am currently blessed to share accommodation with another priest, but much of my 31 years of priestly life has involved domestic solitude. The incompleteness and vulnerability of the solitary state is usually mitigated by the central day-to-day focus of communal worship, relationship and human/divine interaction which centres on the celebration of the Mass, the gathering together as the body of Christ in the Eucharist.

Most priests normally celebrate between six and ten masses each week. In city parishes this would include school masses and perhaps prisons, convents or hospitals; in rural parishes it more usually involves several church congregations. These celebrations are the springboard for taking Communion to the sick and other pastoral visits, for further community prayer activities, for awareness of the needs of the community and wider world through shared intercession and conversation. The Mass gives spiritual nourishment from the Word of God and Sacrament to the parish community.

The effects of COVID-19 restrictions

COVID-19 restrictions have deprived us of much of our incarnate interaction with others. For many Catholics the loss of the Eucharist is an added deprivation. Yes, Mass is celebrated in church buildings, but – depending on the restrictions in place at any given point – with limitations on the size, or complete absence of, the congregation, often only in front of a live stream camera. Jesus’ words ‘unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life within you‘ (John 6:53) bring an echo of sadness in times when the Eucharist cannot be shared. Lacking the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood we are weakened. We, as Church, lack a central element of life.

Stress and anxiety have intensified for most of our communities: jobs and businesses disappear; socialising and other activities dry up. Lockdown is widely recognised as having contributed to a rise in domestic abuse, and the National Board of Catholic Women’s booklet Raising Awareness of Domestic Abuse has been acclaimed as timely. As with other denominations, many Catholic groups have developed and intensified pastoral schemes for supporting the needs of others. My own parish has seen a big increase in the number of parishioners who are getting involved in local food banks or volunteering to shop for, or deliver prescriptions to, those who are shielding. Social phone calls have also increased.

Priests’ lifestyle means that for them domestic arguments and violence are unlikely. Neither are we going to be made redundant, though for some their parishes’ financial viability is challenged by the current diminished weekly collections, so financial worries have increased. My own diocese, in addition to inviting priests to discuss any parish financial problems with the diocesan finance department, has circulated reminders to priests of the availability of counselling services for clergy. It is good to be reminded of them.

Surveys of priests through the years have generally indicated that their level of happiness is higher than that of the general population. This does not mean, however, that we are immune from the stresses and frailties of life; the frailty in mental health which has grown in the general population in the last six months is a reality for us too.

Just as in wider society, pastoral care concerning human mental frailty has in recent years become a more prominent issue in Catholic circles. One good example of this is the Catholic Mental Health project (; their COVID-19 resources are good and worth using beyond denominational borders.

The formation of priests and the human person

One of the changes in the formation of priests in the last thirty years has been an increased awareness of, and formation in, a deeper understanding of what it is to be human. Following worldwide meetings with bishops, in 1992 Pope John Paul II issued a document of clergy formation, I Will Give You Shepherds (Pastores Dabo Vobis). It explored four dimensions of priestly formation: human, spiritual, pastoral and intellectual (faith seeking understanding), with the human dimension being the basis of the others.

Of course, scripture, theology, biblical languages, prayer and liturgy, canon law, church history and a myriad of other subjects and activities still make up the usual six-year full-time formation for the Catholic priesthood. The fullest revelation of God, however, is in the person of Jesus Christ. This includes his desolation in his passion during which he makes the words of Psalm 22 his own: ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Matthew 27:46). The faith we have and share is faith in a God and God-revealing human person, who is Christ, and is lived by a person (fully human) who is myself, Christ’s follower.

Lifestyle changes bring the need for more support

Forty years ago, many rural inhabitants of the UK knew their neighbours well, with their work, social life, extended family life and prayer life all located in one community which often became a strong support network. This network is generally weaker today as different dimensions of our lives frequently involve different geographic communities. In many villages household size, too, has reduced as the proportion of young families diminish. More supports are now needed.

A similar changing scenario has occurred with Catholic priests. Training for the same diocese formerly meant a large group living together, cheek by jowl, for six years whilst in formation. The friendship bonds formed often produced golfing partners, holiday companions, and ready-made support networks lasting till retirement (usually aged 75) or beyond. In addition, larger parishes usually had several priests living together in the same household, so friendship support continued to grow through living in company with others.

Such support is now weakened. First, the number of priests currently in training and being ordained is less than a fifth of what it was forty years ago. Second, with parish amalgamations and clustering making much larger pastoral areas, the geographical distance of priests from each other is greater. Third, priests living together are now a rarity. In the same way that society needs to actively forge support networks and mental health awareness, so too priests.


Revd Rob Taylerson

Parish priest in the Catholic Diocese of Birmingham and trustee of the Arthur Rank Centre

 This article first appeared in Country Way 86: Mental Health & Wellbeing, February 2021. Go to for more information about how to subscribe.

CW86: Honest Conversation: Trauma, Lament, God and the Church

If the Bible were a person, it would be a person bearing scars, plated broken bones, muscle tears, and other wounds of prolonged suffering […] This person would certainly have known joys and everyday life, but she or he also would bear, in body and heart, the wisdom of centuries of trauma. He or she would know the truth of trauma and survival of it […] that person would not be pretty to look at. We might be tempted to avert our eyes. But for most of us, there will be a time when we need that person’s wisdom.

David M. Carr, Holy Resilience: The Bible’s Traumatic Origins


By Revd. Carla Grosch-Miller

During challenging times like the current COVID-19 pandemic, one of the tasks of leaders is to connect people to their resources. The pandemic will have been traumatising for some individuals, but it has also been a collective trauma that impacts whole communities, even nations. Fortunately, we have a Bible and practices for just a time as this.

Over the last twenty to thirty years trauma studies have become a big thing in biblical scholarship. A careful analysis of our sacred scripture reveals that it was substantially created and shaped by traumatising events: the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in the sixth century BCE, the death and resurrection of Jesus, the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. This means that our Bible is robust and resilient when it comes to adversity.

Through the book of Job, Lamentations and the psalms of lament it even provides us with a language for sorrow and suffering, yet the contemporary church in the West rarely prays these psalms. Though about one third of Psalms are individual or communal laments, few are present in the Revised Common Lectionary. Even then many churches omit the psalms in Sunday worship, preferring to streamline them out so that people can get home to their roasts in the oven.

What has been lost in the excising of the psalms of lament is the capacity for a congregation to hold negative and uncomfortable emotions in a communal setting. Somehow, we have gotten the idea that God wants praise, not honesty. The biblical witness is otherwise. God affirms rather than admonishes Job for his plucky challenges. The psalmist rants and raves at God and demands a response. Lamentations ends not in hope but with this plea: ‘Restore us to yourself, O Lord […] unless you have utterly rejected us, and are angry with us beyond measure’ (Lamentations 5:21&22).

Faithfulness is honest conversation. Faithfulness is turning to God in extremis and giving voice to the full strength of our emotion. When we do that, space opens up within us.

When my daughter was six, I was working in a church that had a well-appointed, carpeted library on the lower level (my office was two floors up). She would play there after school on her own. One day as we drove home, she told me that a church employee had her sit on his lap and told her not to tell me. I swallowed my bubbling fear and rage and asked her to tell me more. It appeared that she was being groomed. That night after I put her to bed, I raged at God, standing with my Bible open to the book of Job, saying, ‘How dare you call me into ministry to put my child at risk?!’

After twenty minutes, I laid down exhausted and heard, ‘Did you really think you would be exempt from the suffering of the world?’ Of course, I would have said no if asked that beforehand, but the events of the day revealed to me that deep down I did expect it. The expression of rage before God opened me to see myself and the world, and righted my relationship with the Holy.

When a congregation, a community, a nation suffers a traumatising event, we will go through a period of disillusionment and de-illusionment. Our basic assumptions about the benevolence of the world, and possibly even God, have been shaken or shattered. Lamentation brings our brokenness to the heart of God and enables movement towards finding a new normal. In The Message of the Psalms Walter Brueggemann talks about how the psalms mirror the human experience. We have periods of stability (orientation), painful periods of disruption (disorientation, such as death, serious illness, job loss) and periods where we find a new normal (new orientation). The practice of lamentation assists us to move from disorientation to new orientation.

John Swinton offers a template for writing a lament in his book Raging with Compassion, based on the work of Ann Weems. I abbreviate it here: address God; make a fulsome complaint; express trust in God; tell God what you want God to do; and if you are ready – laments are honest – vow your praise. You may find that by the time you get to the end of the lament, you are ready to praise.

Brueggemann says that the task of the religious leader in times of cataclysm is to face reality, grieve the losses (lament) and offer hope. Not the kind of hope that says that everything will be all right. But the kind of hope that says: God is. God will not give up on us. God will continue to call us as junior partners in the work of redeeming the times and enabling the flourishing of life.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath give us plenty to think about, to grieve and to hope for. It has revealed the interconnectedness of all of creation, the impact of our animal practices and our vulnerability to zoonotic diseases, structural inequalities, the suffering caused by four hundred years of racism, the vulnerability of supply and distribution chains, our great need of each other and our mortality. There is much reality to be fierce with, some things to lament and a call to offer hope that is grounded in God’s love for all creation. We have work to do and the tools to do it.


Revd Dr Carla A. Grosch-Miller

Practical Theologian and team member, Tragedy and Congregations




Carla is the author of Psalms redux: Poems and Prayers and Lifelines: Wrestling the Word, Gathering Up Grace, both published by Canterbury Press. She also co-edited and contributed to Tragedy and Christian Congregations: The Practical Theology of Trauma (Routledge) and is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Exeter.


Further reading


David M. Carr, Holy Resilience: The Bible’s Traumatic Origins (New Haven, CN and London: Yale University Press, 2014), 250.

John Swinton, Raging with Compassion: Pastoral Responses to the Problem of Evil (Grand Rapids MI and Cambridge UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007), 128.

Walter Brueggemann, Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks (Grand Rapids MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014).


This article first appeared in Country Way 86: Mental Health & Wellbeing, February 2021. Go to for more information about how to subscribe.

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