The highlight of our summer is Rural Mission Sunday, an annual opportunity for rural churches to celebrate who they are. In 2017 over 300 churches from across the denominations registered to take part on (or around) Sunday 16 July and stories are starting to trickle in. Here are a few that have made it into our inbox…
‘A trip to Sutton-under-Brailes is always a good one! Being in the open fields and fresh air is amazing and very different to Coventry.’
St Catherine’s Stoke Aldermoor is in an urban priority area of Coventry. The church was planted on the Aldermoor estate about seventy years ago and has recently moved from an old redundant church to temporary buildings on a piece of land in the centre of the estate. The congregation is a mix of all ages. In addition to bible and prayer groups the building is used daily for a variety of activities including the foodbank, cooking club, youth activities, parent and toddler groups, a weekly welcoming group for anyone who feels isolated. It is a very welcoming church, full of friendship and love.
HMP Lowdham Grange is a modern category B prison built on the site of a mid-20th century borstal for boys. Positioned at the top of a hill, its brick and concrete outer gate is rather imposing, the only entrance within the high walls. The prison is home to 900 long-term inmates, contained by the keys and security systems which keep prisoners inside and prevent the outside world from gaining access. 300 prison staff bring the total population to well over one thousand.
In stark contrast, for over 900 years St Mary’s Church has stood at the bottom of the same hill in a dell with a stream running through. Its grounds are demarcated by hedges and fences with a wooden gate for access. At one time the church door would have been open during the day for those who wished to come in and pray.
For years, Germinate: The Arthur Rank Centre CEO Jerry Marshall has been enthusing about our resource Equipping for Rural Mission but had never actually done it. Then an opportunity arose to work through it with his village church, stimulating a fresh initiative based on hospitality and welcome.
For eighteen months I made weekly visits to the Calais jungle. Home to ten thousand people on the move, the camp covered a couple of acres of wind-blasted wasteland at the back of the cement works by Calais’ harbour.
The camp was not an official response to the so-called migrant crisis. Rather it grew over many months as people who had been moved on from other parts of the city arrived and settled. It started as a collection of tents and became a community of wooden huts with cafes, shops and other businesses springing up to meet the needs of the residents that couldn’t be satisfied by the humanitarian efforts of a ragbag army of mainly British volunteers. I went because I sensed God calling me to go and offer the welcome of the gospel to people displaced by war and persecution. Yet on arrival I found welcome from some of the poorest, least settled people on the planet and I found myself asking God afresh, ‘what are you saying to me?’
The Ship of Fools website (ship-of-fools.com) has an interesting section entitled ‘Mystery Worshipper’. The premise: a brave soul ventures into a service at a church they have never visited before and reports on what it is like. The anonymous mystery worshippers have to answer questions about if and how they were welcomed to the service as a newcomer, what the experience of attending church was like, what happened afterwards and, crucially, whether they would consider going back again! All kinds of churches are reviewed from many different denominations with a huge range of styles of worship and size of congregation.
Chaz was on the run from prison and went to visit his ex-girlfriend who told him she had become a Christian. He writes:
‘She told me that God loved me and could change my life if I would ask him in to my heart. She told me that God wanted to forgive my past and this is why Jesus died on the cross. That night I thought about what she had said. I was sick of my life and wanted to change, but knew I couldn’t do it on my own. The next day I handed myself in at the police station and they took me to Lincoln prison. When I arrived, I put my name down for chapel. The next day I went to chapel and gave my life to Jesus.
Fosse Foodbank, part of the Trussell Trust’s UK-wide network, is administered by St Peter’s Church in Kineton, a village in south-east Warwickshire. The headquarters of the local foodbank is based here, along with the warehouse and a distribution centre. It works with a network of rural churches to provide support for people in need from Wellesbourne in the west to Bishops Itchington and Southam in the north. Most, but not all, of our volunteers are from local churches and we work ecumenically with the Anglican, Methodist, Congregational, Community and Roman Catholic churches in our area.
Rural churches across the UK are developing creative and innovative ways of engaging with their communities. Here are a few stories we’ve heard over the last few months…
One snowy February morning I was picking up a group of children from our local special needs school. While I was wondering what I was going to find for them to do on the farm the head-teacher began to tell me that he had observed the profound effect of farm animals on the development of children at another school, how they would love to have such a facility, but how they lacked the space. So began an idea.