Week 14: Now thank we all our God

Week 13: God is…

Week 11: We are all God’s creatures

Week 12: Stillness in the storm

Week 2: He is here

Week 1: Things are going to be different from now on


CW88 – Reconciliation: Bags of Blessing for isolating people during the pandemic

By Revd Sue Pegg MA Methodist Minister in West Yorkshire.              


‘May the Lord bless you and keep you;

May the Lord be kind and gracious to you;

May the Lord look on you with favour and give you peace’

(Numbers: Chapter 6)

It began with a phone call from Alison in the Arthur Rank Centre office, offering a lottery grant to fund work by churches in rural villages which would help ease isolation and loneliness during the difficult days of the pandemic.

At the time of the call the nation had been in lockdown for many months and despite making half a dozen phone calls a day to church and community folk, as well as embracing Zoom, I was becoming increasingly aware that many in our village communities were shielding in order to stay safe.

Being confined to their homes meant elderly folk were beginning to desperately miss the social contact usually enjoyed through various groups, coffee mornings and lunches. The offer of the grant money was a blessing as it had potential to ease their increasingly difficult situation.

Revd Val Keating, our local Anglican vicar, accepted an invitation to work together to reach as many folk as we could in the communities of five West Yorkshire villages, so we got together to share ideas.

Knowing that many were shielding and really missing family, especially their adult children and grandchildren, it seemed Mothering Sunday would be a good time to begin the work. Our first purchase was some small lace bags, like ‘favour bags’ often given to wedding guests. A lady in one village ran a local cottage business and made small decorative flowers from recycled plastic.

Thinking these would make ideal gifts we ordered 70 of them to put in the bags along with a Mothering Sunday greeting. Then, along with volunteers, the bags of blessing as we called them were delivered personally to those known to us who were feeling the pain of isolation as symbols of love and of hope. We were greeted with smiles and tears. The gifts seem to be very much appreciated.

The Mothering Sunday work encouraged us forward to an Easter project using similar bags. This time we wished people a Happy Easter with small chocolate eggs, a love heart, and an invitation to ‘Feel God’s love’. Once again there were tears and smiles and many stories about long hours spent shielding and in isolation. Eager to spread the love as much as possible, villagers from one church made a wooden cross and hooked some bags onto it. It was then placed outside church with an invitation to take a bag of blessing from the cross during the Easter weekend.

Despite the building being closed for services (which were currently held on Zoom) this enabled the church to reach out with love during the important Christian celebration.

We also delivered the Palm Crosses made by rural villagers in Africa, whose only source of income was from the crosses they made. It was a way of offering hope from one isolated community at the other side of the world to our local communities and it was felt a way both could receive God’s blessings.

The bags of blessing began to gain momentum and as a group of urban churches heard of our work in the countryside they too adopted the idea and as a result over 5,000 were distributed around our local town.

By Easter the pandemic was beginning to ease but it was noticeable that many, especially the elderly, and despite receiving Covid vaccines, were reluctant to leave their homes so we began praying about a way forward for the summer months where people could feel safe but also begin to reconnect with their friends.

To date the Rural Isolation Funding has enabled us to offer Gentle Exercise/ Pilates classes in two villages for eight two-hour sessions during the summer months. We hope the classes will entice people out of their homes to reconnect with others in the community in a Covid secure environment. The classes will run until early September when it’s hoped it will be safe for usual coffee mornings and lunch clubs to resume.

Our hope is that the Rural Isolation Grant used to finance the various aspects of the work has, in small ways, helped to elevate loneliness and isolation during the dark days of the pandemic to those living in the local villages and offered them peace and love. The bags of blessing certainly brought a smile to faces and perhaps, in the words of the Psalmist (Psalm 34) enabled some to ‘taste and see that God is good’ amid their suffering.

We pray that the exercise classes will provide a crucial link between the pandemic and normality of life resuming.

Our thanks go to Alison and the Arthur Rank Centre for making the projects possible through Lottery funding.

CW88 – Reconciliation: Lessons learnt from Foot and Mouth

Lessons learnt from Foot and Mouth

By Richard Betton, Regional Director (North), Farmers Community Network

As farmers, the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak is etched in our minds. Our tenanted hill farm, high in the North Pennines was surrounded by outbreaks. We could smell the stench of burning pyres drifting over the hills from Cumbria. In many ways it was like a child on a sandcastle watching the tide come in: would we survive or would we, like so many other farming families, see our stock washed away?

There are many similarities, even with subtle differences, between 2001 and the pandemic. Foot-and-mouth disease saw the countryside locked down while Covid saw the whole country locked down. In 2001 all livestock marts and movements were stopped almost immediately (in February) and didn’t resume until well into the next year. We had to sell our breeding sheep privately as the marts couldn’t operate to a farmer whose flock had been culled. Because of the movement restrictions we had to “put them to the tup” and look after them for a further four months until he was given the all clear by Ministry vets.

As foot-and-mouth disease dragged on both economic and mental health pressure built up for many farming families. If a licence to move stock could be obtained from the Disease Emergency Control Centre it seemed to take ages and then required military supervision and copious disinfecting. In some ways, not wanting to belittle the emotional anguish of “being culled,” losing your stock did bring some easing of those strains as fodder shortages, welfare issues and all the other associated problems of running a business under draconian restrictions disappeared.

Defra developed a system of “contiguous culling” which was then expanded to automatic three kilometre culls around confirmed infected farms. Farmers could reluctantly accept culling when foot-and-mouth was confirmed but it was rather more difficult to accept seeing healthy stock culled because that was what the rules said. In the heat of the moment things were said and blame laid that caused rifts in many farming communities that took a long time to heal.

The closing of livestock auction marts did have some long term and profound effects on the farming community. For many farming families the weekly trip to market was part of life. If there was no buying or selling to be done that week, one could still “see the trade”, order some feed, buy some wormer and get a new pair of wellies! More importantly for many farmers it was an essential part of their social life when they met their neighbour and heard the local news. For people who usually work on their own this was tremendously important for their social and mental wellbeing.

When restrictions did lift many farmers did not resume that weekly trip to the mart: they had got into the habit of not going. They had found other ways to do business and keep up to date with news, largely through the expansion of internet access and social media. Missing out on regular social interaction face to face has weakened the resilience of the farming community. Foot-and-mouth disease had increased the need for organisations like FCN to support farming families: the lifting of restrictions exposed new reconnection and reconciliation problems very similar to what we are facing nationally as lockdown is eased and relationship are renewed. The lessons learnt in 2001 are still relevant in 2021.

Country Way 86 – February 2020

Read the latest Country Way here, or download the PDF version

Using Zoom for church services

Using Zoom for church services


Submitted by Jerry Marshall

CW84: Coronavirus rural roundup

Like everyone else, we at the Arthur Rank Centre didn’t expect to find ourselves trying to work in the middle of a pandemic this Spring. As government advice was published, we worked from home and became proficient in using Zoom, particularly so that we could continue our office custom of having coffee together at 11am. This social time has been a blessing, particularly for those on the team who live alone.

CW84: Heaven in ordinary

Life will never be the same again.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard this refrain on the radio, the news, on social media over the last few weeks. In times of immense change, it can be hard to imagine life ever really going back to normal, and yet we all know from past experience as individuals and as Christian communities just how easy is it to fall back into try and tested patterns – good and not so good – after we’ve been through experiences that we think will change us forever.

Much of what this ‘new’ post-COVID-19 world will look like is – and will remain – impossible to predict, but we can, even now, begin to engage intentionally with its possible impact and in doing so equip ourselves to be better able to respond appropriately over the next weeks, months and years.

Easter 2020: Rural Reflections

‘I decided to write a Rural Reflection based on using the daily exercise walk. For those of us in rural areas, a walk in the countryside has the potential for offering spiritually wellbeing as well as mental and physical. This is at the heart of the reflections.’


This resource has been submitted by Revd Janet Nicholls, Rural Adviser & Agricultural Chaplain, Diocese of Chelmsford

Easter 2020: Rural Reflections – Easter Sunday

‘I decided to write a Rural Reflection based on using the daily exercise walk. For those of us in rural areas, a walk in the countryside has the potential for offering spiritually wellbeing as well as mental and physical. This is at the heart of the reflections.’


This resource has been submitted by Revd Janet Nicholls, Rural Adviser & Agricultural Chaplain, Diocese of Chelmsford

RMS 2020 Coronvirus reflection resources

As part of your Rural Mission Sunday 2020 celebrations, alongside celebrating another year of faithful Christian presence in your rural community, we want to encourage you to take time to stop and reflect on the last few months. To that end we have developed some resources for reflection that we hope you will find helpful to use individually, as churches and – probably with some adaptation – with your communities where that might be welcomed.

RMS 2020 Images for social media and Word documents

A set of images for you to use on Facebook, Twitter and any Word documents – such as service sheets – you might produce for Rural Mission Sunday 2020.