A busy programme of autumn events aimed at small and rural church leaders has kicked off with a Continuing Ministerial Development day, followed by a rural lecture.
How Village Churches Thrive, based on the practical guide of the same name, is a diocesan-wide events series, bringing the joys and challenges of rural ministry to the fore. The programme kicked off on Tuesday 27 September with a Continuining Ministerial Development (CMD) day at St Mary's Convent in Wantage.
Leadership in rural contexts
Exploring how leadership can be exercised in a rural context, clergy were encouraged to attend alongside a lay leader to help support their planning for the year ahead. A hugely popular event - selling out twice - the day proved to be a fruitful time for all.
The Revd Talisker MacLeod, rector in the Benefice of Cherbury with Gainfield, lead a session on seasons of ministry, encouraging those present to consider what season they and their churches are in. Drawing inspiration from tending a garden, Talisker says;
"If growth is going to be in any way healthy or sustainable, it is not in any way perpetual or linear - just look at nature... In order for new things appear, we have to let some things die."
Group discussions touched on the challenges of being in a different season personally to that of your church, as well as the tension of having to balance multiple seasons across churches in multi-parish benefices.
The Revd Margot Hodson, associate vicar of the Shill Valley and Broadshire Benefice, also led some of the day's six sessions. Considering models of leadership, Margot shared some of her personal experience in a previous benefice, and encouraged conversation on Rothauge's examples of family-focused, pastor-focused and network-focused church leadership.
With 40 people, both lay and ordained, in attendance at the sell-out event, conversations flowed throughout the day.
Flourishing in mission and ministry
That evening also saw the diocese's inaugural rural lecture, where the Rt Revd Dagmar Winter, Lead Bishop of Rural Affairs, spoke on flourishing mission and ministry in today’s rural context.
Joined by over 60 people via Zoom, Bishop Dagmar addressed a range of topics. Giving strong praise to lay leaders in rural contexts, she praised the work of Licensed Lay Ministers and encouraged clergy to "honour the distinct calling to this ministry", describing it as complementary to ordained ministerial roles.
Bishop Dagmar also praised the value of parish ministry, noting that it was at a parish level that churchgoers feel the strongest sense of belonging.
"It's in the parish where the rubber hits the road."
The Rt Revd Gavin Collins, the diocesan lead bishop for rural churches, introduced the event and hosted a time of questions and answers afterwards, which considered the prioritisation of training clergy for the specifics of rural ministry and the challenges of being stretched over multi-parish benefices. The lecture is available to watch back at any time.
The programme continues
Attendees at each of the day's events were gifted a free copy of How Village Churches Thrive, an inspiring, practical guide from Bishop Robert Atwell and others, that draws on a wealth of expert information to present practical inspiration for all who work and worship in village churches. Packed with real-life examples, the handbook addresses ten core themes at the heart of church life. One clergy member emailed to say they 'haven't been able to put it down' since receiving it.
The rural-themed events continue over the coming months, with a rural forum via Zoom on 11 October and a rural read-along of How Village Churches Thrive starting on 19 October and running monthly into the new year.
The read-along is a chance for colleagues across the diocese to come together and discuss what struck them in each chapter of the guidebook. Subject area experts from across the diocese will also be in attendance to signpost helpful resources and answer any questions arising that week.
The upcoming events are still available to book, and Bishop Dagmar's lecture can be watched back here.