Out and about..thinking Rural…

I’ve been let out of my Diocese this week – I had the pleasure of going to Holland House near Evesham in Worcester for the Annual Conference of the Rural Theology Association.  We were talking about the impact of the Big Society and government on local rural communities – although I suspect a lot of what we discussed would apply in urban contexts too.  

I had a swift introduction to the Localism Bill, which is the attempt to enshrine the ideas of the Big Society in legislation.  It struck me that the idea of drawing communities together to address the local common good is one that has been alive and well for a very long time in rural life.  Knowing who your neighbour is becomes highly relevant to daily life if you have to rely upon each other in reality as well as in theory.  And of course, the Christian second great commandment is to love your neighbour as much as you love yourself.  

We discussed the role that churches could take under this legislation – at National level, much good work has been done by the church, both officers and bishops, to influence the way the bill is written.  But it is locally, in the implementation, that the role of different churches may be very different.  Some may become the neutral brokers between different communities with different viewpoints.  Others may be the prophetic voice in their community, reminding people to honour those on the margins, as well as those with a clear place in our society.  Active church congregations are very likely to come across this legislation sooner or later. 

This conference reminded me of my connections with the national church and with the political life of this country.  As a still new curate and priest, I’ve spent a lot of time over the past 18 months concentrating on the communities where I am.  But if I am to serve those communities as well as possible, then I must be alert to what is happening elsewhere – which may be national and regional, as well as local.  

What else did I do?  Met old friends, made new friends, and got voted on to the Executive. There is a clear parallel here with “an incomer” moving into a village and getting involved with everything all at once!  But it was a pleasure to find more like-minded people, to know that the issues I struggle with are not unique to me, and to know that support is out there if only I take the trouble to look and ask.

This may be my first post on the RTA, but I suspect it won’t be the last! 

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