Different and Rural

What makes Rural Theology distinctive? What of we learn of God and humans in the sticks that we don’t learn in the suburbs and cities?

The obvious thing is God as Creator. If I stand on a street, most of what I see is a product of human ingenuity. If I stand in a field or a wood, I think of what I see as ‘natural’. The fact that humans have shaped the entire landscape of Britain is a fact I conveniently ignore. And yet I see a creative God in every leaf and stone.
I see death and resurrection in the changing seasons and in the empty chrysalis of a butterfly.
But I see human experience too. I see loneliness and physical isolation. Not a uniquely rural experience, but compounded by geographic separation as well as the barriers in our heads.
I see the rich folk in their gated mansions and the family who have been refused any more food parcels by the local food bank because they’ve had too many already (don’t you DARE start thinking about deserving and undeserving, don’t you flipping dare). Not a uniquely rural issue, but compounded by the lack of people who cross the social boundaries.
I see churches that want to welcome children – in communities that are only alive at weekends. That is perhaps more rural.
This post isn’t really a post, it’s a conversation. Do join in!

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6 responses to “Different and Rural

  1. The compounding effect of geographical separation is particularly interesting, particularly when it comes to poverty. People's perception of poverty is also skewed by their perception of the general affluence of an area.

    My current parish is an inner-city one with lots of “visible” poverty: people who are obviously unemployed, and those whose social problems make them unemployable, are people everybody meets just by walking down the street. And the poverty that exists in the area makes the area look “scruffy”: houses in poor repair etc etc. The result is that everybody thinks of this district as having poverty-related problems; indeed, they probably over-estimate the amount of poverty (it's really not that bad, by comparison to other districts in the city).

    My previous parish was a rural multi-parish benefice in quite a swanky area, and one prospering in spite of the recession. But of course there were still people (quite a lot of people) who were poor, and many really struggling. Only because the area as a whole was rich, and because even poor people lived in quite picturesque cottages with views of idyllic countryside, most people didn't see the poverty that exists in their own communities.

    I suspect it's generally true that poverty is underestimated by the average person in rural communities and maybe overestimated in some urban communities. I wonder also if (and this is not quite the same ting, but it overlaps) the incidence of poverty is underestimated in rich communities compared to poorer ones.

  2. It rather depends on what type of rural community you are in. Commuter belt country is very divided by wealth but in a truly rural community you are likely to find fewer really wealthy people and a community spirit that lessens the impact of poverty. Where everyone knows and trusts everyone else and there is a lot of reliance on each other for little things such as emergency babysitting and collecting prescriptions from the nearest town favours are passed around and needs spotted in ways that ameliorate rather than highlight differences in wealth. There is nothing demeaning about a gift of eggs or veg. or the passing on of outgrown clothes and rural pleasures are usually community based and a lot cheaper than their urban equivalent.

  3. In rural parishes, it is far harder to spot what is going on by “walking down the street”, which is why poverty is more hidden, I think.
    Your point about poverty being underestimated in richer communities is a good one. If a whole community has generally experience of “being poor”, they will have a finely graded sense of what poverty looks like. Richer communities won't have the same understanding. (As an aside, I read “Ballet Shoes” by Noel Stretfield as a child and couldn't understand how they talked about being poor, yet shopped at Harrods).

  4. Pidge, thank you for reminding me of the distinctive natures fo different rural communities. Where I am now is ostensibly commuter belt, where I was brought up was far more akin to your description of “truly rural”. However, much of this is to do with perceptions. The “network” of commuters never crosses with the network of the “local” community, which operates much more as you describe. I had a conversation a few months ago with a “commuter” which revealed they had no idea of the local networks at all – and of course, as a commuter, they didn't want or feel the need for the “local”. People living side by side experience very different worlds.
    This is where tensions arise in the churches – for some a second hand (let's be honest, jumble) stall at Christmas/Summer fund raising events is a sensible part of the seasonal round, for others it is an eyesore which detracts from the rest of the event….

  5. I know of one rural parish, not a million miles south of you, where one of the great joys (as well as on occasion a difficulty) is the lack of any other worshipping unit in the area – so there are Scots Presbyterian, Baptists, Catholics, Anglicans and those who 'got hooked' by dint of attendance requirements for a wedding in a pretty church, all worshipping together, and more to the point, now growing in faith and praying together at other times of the week as well as Sundays. Because it's their LOCAL/nearest church!(Even if they don't live in the parish, or live in one of those quaint, extra-parochial areas). I'm not sure you'd get the same thing happening in an urban environment with better transport links, and more choice of denominational flavour easily accessible.

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