A visit home, a Germinate conference, and several publications have me thinking once again, but this time for a different perspective about rural church. I want to think about the deeply ‘incarnational’ nature of rural faith. What I mean by that is that Faith doesn’t get talked about much, other than in terms of practicaties. But then again, nor does gardening, building a wall, baking a cake….
Looking back lack at the congregation where I grew up, from a vicar’s perspective, it was a bit of a disaster. About 15 in the congregation on a good day. Everyone in the same pews week in week out. BCP. 1st Sunday Evensong, 2nd Sunday Matins, 3rd Sunday Holy Communion, 4th (& 5th) Matins. Children’s work on a separate evening during Lent and Advent, provided there were enough children. (There was always me at the children’s stuff, generally 2 others, sometimes more). Fete. Where everyone did the same stuff every year. If visitors came, and they sometimes did in summer, if they sat in someone’s pew, there was a pause and a moment of calculation, as the usurped relocated to an empty pew. There weren’t many empty pews, because most were occupied by someone known, even if they’d been in the churchyard for a few years. There was always chat after the service, it was the only gathering place for the village. It had about 25% attendance most weeks, and about 200% for Christmas.
When I went back yesterday, I looked at the notices. I recognised a church warden as a smashing family friend, who didn’t come to church then, but obviously does now. To everything there is a season. The PCC appears as large as ever, with names I recognised and names I don’t, and photos evidence around a dozen weddings this year. The share is fully paid. The weekly service pattern continues.
This church, “my” church (for it will ever be thus) is not a hive of missional activity. I suspect that in a cluster, it would be regarded as the ‘problem’ – small, serving a small population, reliant on a very few people, highly change resistant (although it was had a woman Incumbent for a good number of years now). But this church nurtures people with deeply held quiet faith. The words of the service seep into our bones. If required to talk about out faith, we would find it hard to do so as a group, but when out with others, I’ve seen some very articulate expressions of what it is to be Christian from people who, if asked directly, would blush and mumble.
For me, this is rural church. It may well be a dying model. But don’t ever class the individual expressions as dead. After all, this particular place has been the stable base for some wonderful Christians. Yes, and it has grown at least one priest.
(If you want to know what actually has changed, please read the next post!)