How Village Churches Thrive
A Practical Guide
Church House Publishing, 2022 (ISBN: 978-1-78140-219-1, 186pp, £9.99)
The Church Times’ 2014 church ‘health check’ offered a multitude of opinions on what was wrong (or right) with the church and on how to fix (or maintain) it. Eight years later, the volume under review offers another group of voices, though with a slightly tighter focus; rural, practical, and positive.
The foreword by the Bishop of Exeter notes that churchgoing is greater in rural areas, so there is no need to be apologetic about supporting this ministry. With many ministry resources assuming an urban or suburban social template, this book offers thoughtful consideration of a quieter context. Doing so in a practical matter does not exclude theology. Inevitably, readers across the Church of England will come to this volume with a range of gospel emphases, and none would deny that this is naturally the starting point and crux of their ministry. Many practical resources will be on hand to serve such ministries, from parish officers to vestry cupboards, from dusty prayer books to church schools. This book adds to the collection and assists in considering how to capitalise on others. As for the positivity of the book, the difficulties of rural ministry are alluded to – shortage of volunteers, neglected buildings, disinterest from wider church – but not brooded upon unnecessarily. This is a book to innocently brighten the day of a rural incumbent or churchwarden.
Ten ‘basics’ are outlined which ‘can contribute to the revitalisation, recovery and renewal’ of the village church, including ‘making the most of life events’, ‘celebrating our heritage’, and ‘reaching the isolated and lonely’. Note ‘contribute to’ – no promises are made, rightly, that this is the miracle cure. No attempt is made to replace the gospel with a mere management formula! Each chapter is written by experienced rural ministers and thinkers, many of whom serve national charities or church bodies working in the field (pun entirely intended). Case studies drawn from real life examples of rural ministry innovations are shrewdly chosen and insightful. Though intentionally practical, the book does seek to place its advice in some rooting of Bible texts and gospel lessons, with varying success.
The parish I serve looks like a village but in reality is rather suburban. Nonetheless, there are salutary encouragements and ideas to be taken from this book for immediate deployment!
Edward Keene, Little Shelford