Reflections of a Dartmoor Vicar: Being Church in a Village Community

In late June, we spent a fantastic day with representatives from churches on Dartmoor, sharing good practice and considering how the churches that serve the communities across the national park might work together to meet local needs and address local challenges.

Rev. Geoffrey Fenton, Team Vicar of the Ashburton and Moorland Team, gave some great, simple-yet-effective tips on being church in a village community, and we have summarised his thoughts below.

A man moved into a village and asked the person sitting on the Green, “Is this a friendly village? What are the people like here?”
And the man replied, “What were they like in the village you’ve come from?”
“They were miserable and unfriendly, I couldn’t get on with them.”
“You’ll find they are the same here.”

Another man moved into the same village and asked the person sitting on the Green, “Is this a friendly village? What are the people like here?”
And the man replied, “What were they like in the village you’ve come from?”
“They were friendly and happy, a great bunch. We got on really well”
“You’ll find they are the same here.”

By analogy, a church that greets a visitor by saying “I’m sorry there are not many of us here” will decline, and one that greets by saying “We are a small but very positive group here.” will grow.

 Questions to Consider and Ideas for Action

1. Start by working out how many people are involved in day-to-day church life.
How many people fit into these categories (you may think of other categories to add):

Widecombe Invite
Thank You Service Invitation
  • Irregular Sunday worshippers;
  • Families who come to some church events;
  • Flower arrangers;
  • Bell ringers;
  • Door unlocker(s);
  • Those who help at fundraising and coffee mornings;
  • Easter attenders;
  • Christmas attenders;
  • Children who have been baptised;
  • People who give money to appeals.

Place each person in one category only.
Place a mark against those who don’t live in the village/parish.
What is the total number of people who support the church?  There will be more than you imagine!

2. Think about everything else that goes on in the village. List all the different activities that take place, e.g.:

  • Bell Ringing;
  • WI;
  • Coffee Morning;
  • Community Choir;
  • Whist;
  • Darts;
  • Friday Night “Open Mike” Evenings;
  • Folk Group;
  • Sports Cub;
  • Flower Arrangers;
  • Parish Council.

Which of these are growing and popular, and which are declining? Try to work out why, e.g. cost, friendliness, skills required.  Which are truly local, and which attract “outsiders”?

Which of these activities is the church engaged in and how? E.g.:

  • Some church members go;
  • Organised by the church;
  • Supported by the vicar;
  • No connection.

Look for gaps in activities that the church could start on their own or as a village project, e.g.:

  • Pastoral Visiting Schemes;
  • Holiday Club;
  • Messy Church.

3. Does the church do anything that ensures every home is visited once a year? E.g.:

  • Christian Aid Collection;
  • Delivering invitation to a special service.

4. How many services do you have each year which newcomers can be invited to attend without any embarrassment? Why not plan for one special service a month to which anyone can be invited? E.g.:

Widecombe Special Services
Service card available to visitors at St Pancras, Widecombe in the Moor
  • Remembrance;
  • Harvest;
  • Mothering Sunday;
  • Fathers Day;
  • Plough Sunday;
  • Rogation;
  • Christian Aid (or other annual charity centred service);
  • Pet Service;
  • All Souls;
  • Back to Church;
  • Baptism families’ service;
  • “Thank you” service where all associated with the church (see question 1) receive a personal invitation;
  • Carol Service;
  • Christingle;
  • Crib Service.

5. It is worth reflecting on which is the church’s main focus:

  • Getting the community to come to church; or
  • The church being visible and engaged in the community.

Rev. Geoffrey Fenton
Team Vicar of the Ashburton and Moorland Team

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Reinvigorating Rural Worship

As Consultant for Liturgy and Music, I have been helping to lead and promote Wings for Worship courses across the Diocese for the last 6 years. Around 35 have been organised, with an average of 15 people participating in each: that’s an amazing 525 people who have been through five sessions of simple but effective training designed to develop lay confidence in preparing and leading worship.

The original Wings for Worship course came from the Durham Liturgical Committee; it has been continuously evolved to make it even more engaging and participative.  It hits the button on a number of important issues in the life of the Church today, of which the most pertinent is perhaps the matter of Shared Ministry.  This is certainly not about plugging gaps just because of clergy or Reader shortages.  Rather, it enshrines the vital principle that leaders are called ‘to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ’ (Ephesians 4:12), so that we encourage a full involvement of the whole people of God.  We need leaders with vision and skill, but they are to be facilitators as well, encouraging and supporting others to do the work.

Unfortunately, a hierarchical tendency in our denomination has, over time, produced a widespread passive, dependent and deferential attitude in the pews.  I’ve found many people with very little confidence in their own gifts.  Wings for Worship gives people permission and opportunity to take ownership and responsibility for their own worship as part of a team, under the authority of the local incumbent.  It has been a privilege to see very humble folk grow in confidence and engagement once they have started being involved in preparing and leading their own worship.

Creativity is another important element.  When people share the planning of worship they bring their different ideas and perspectives to bear, which in turn feeds the imagination, the sense of ownership and the corporate ethos of what is created.  The whole approach of Common Worship relies on people having a greater understanding of how liturgy works and the ability to handle the many resources with skill, imagination, wisdom and sensitivity.  Wings for Worship encourages all of this.

Wings for Worship also impacts mission.  If you have been involved in planning and preparing worship, have gained a sense of ownership and have been excited and encouraged through the process, might you also be more likely to invite friends and neighbours to come? Wings for Worship has the potential to maintain and grow the worship life of churches that are currently struggling.  It honours the deep attachment many locals have to their own church, and enables them to offer regular worship in a ‘Service of the Word’ form.

Wouldn’t it be exciting, and get to the heart of who we are and what we are about, if we were able to reinvigorate and raise the quality of our worship?  One way to start might be to focus on a particular festival in the Church year, patronal festival or some other theme or event in the life of the local community.  Why not convene a representative planning group with a mix of talents to prepare a special service which encourages community involvement and participation, and puts the church at its heart?

If you are interested in hosting a Wings for Worship course in your area, please raise the idea with your leadership team and send me an e-mail.  This is a free service sponsored by the Diocese and, by the way, I am a lay person too!

Andrew Maries
Consultant for Liturgy and Music, Diocese of Exeter

Andrew Maries

‘Stories on the Street’ and the Shirwell Mission Community

It is a great privilege for us to be partnering with the Diocese of Exeter in bringing ‘Stories on the Street’ to Shirwell Mission Community.  This resource has been  highly influenced by our first international resource for churches, ‘Umoja’ and it is exciting to hear about the connection between Shirwell Mission Community and Thika in Africa, where ‘Umoja’ has been adopted and paved the way to bring community transformation.

Rev Rosie Austin of Shirwell Mission Community was part of a vision trip along with Bishop Robert and others  to see the effect that ‘Umoja’ was having on community life in Thika. They were particularly touched by the joy in the hearts of the poor; Bishop Robert reflected that ‘the people in Kenya have so little and what they have they share with such joy.  I have found that deeply and profoundly moving’.

We see a similar picture in Acts 4. The early Church thrived and grew in numbers daily as a result of this unselfish living. As we look at our country, this kind of life may seem like an impossible dream, but Africa reminds us it is possible. The UK is considered a rich country and Africa poor in many ways, but spiritually they are so much richer than us. There is such joy in survival, and a love of God and people which is inspiring and gives us a longing to see the same in our own country.

Here, physical and economic poverty undoubtedly exist, but the overriding poverty is of a different kind – it is social, emotional, psychological poverty, bringing with it a sense of hopelessness. 94% of our country do not know Christ, and in some places the Church is dying. If the Church is to survive it needs to be relevant to the community that surrounds it – it needs to reach out to those who have lost hope, it needs to be a safe place for everyone, whatever they are struggling with.

Mosaic Creative Image 1‘Stories on the Street’ is all about relevant church. It is about church members being salt and light in their communities, bringing the joy of Africa to our tired streets, with particular emphasis on walking alongside the vulnerable and marginalised. The Bible studies are creatively presented to envision church members with a new passion for the Church’s role in community, and the simple effective practical tools will equip them to work alongside community members to identify the issues that exist and work together to address them.

One of those issues is undoubtedly mental health. Statistics tell us that one in four peopleMosaic Creative Image 2 will struggle with a mental health issue – often depression or anxiety – at some time in their life. It is alarming the number of young people who suffer in this way, but maybe not surprising bearing in mind the pressures of life in this country, including peer pressure.  Mosaic Creative has produced eight films based on the experiences of individuals with mental health issues, each with advice and questions for the Church as to the best way to respond. They can be found on the Mosaic website.

‘Stories on the Street’ is an exciting opportunity to realise the Church’s potential, however small or isolated. At its core is the knowledge that we are all made in the image of God, and are invited to join in with what God is doing in our world. We all have something to give and we all need each other’s help.

Jackie Mouradian and Bill Crooks

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Celebrating and Sustaining our Rural Churchyards

The rural churchyard, God’s acre, is one of the most enduring features of the Devon landscape, and is a very powerful symbol of shelter in our culture. Together with the church, it forms the physical and spiritual centre of the rural community.  The churchyard is the most sacred and usually the most ancient enclosure in the parish, and the memorials – both public and private – are a tangible link between the inhabitants today and their forebears.

Churchyards are also a peaceful haven for wildlife, containing old and distinctive trees, wildflowers, lichens, rare fungi, mosses and ferns.  They provide food and shelter for many animals including small mammals, amphibians, slow worms, insects and birds, and are also the perfect places in which to identify and learn about a diverse range of edible plants.  Foraging for wild foods in churchyards is a gift from our past, a heritage skill passed down through generations: from elders to their children and their grandchildren, and so on. It is a traditional means of feeding and nourishing ourselves and, while foraging, we can spend time reflecting upon the lessons of our forefathers.

The continued existence of our churchyards cannot be taken for granted.  Today, many historic churchyards and cemeteries are now full and have become neglected, though they may well contain buildings, artefacts and landscapes of great heritage value and interest. With appropriate design, planning and ambition, the potential health and environmental benefits of churchyards can be realised. They can provide green oases within built-up areas, places for rest and contemplation in a more general sense, offering opportunities for fresh air and exercise or simply a place for quiet communion with Nature.

The Devon Living Churchyards Project is an Exeter diocesan initiative which recognises that, as stewards of creation, our Christian vision is for a just and sustainable future. We are committed to promoting a deeper understanding of the environment and to minimising our environmental impact.  Together with other partners, such as the Devon Wildlife Trust and Get Devon Buzzing Scheme, we can help rural parishes to assess the potential of their churchyard and, while being sensitive to the needs of all the users and in particular to its primary function as a burial ground, we can help rural parishes prepare a comprehensive project brief which will be community focused and inclusive. It will reflect local character, issues and opportunities. For further information, please see the web pages of the Devon Churches Green Action, Eco Church Southwest  and the Diocese of Exeter,

Improving your churchyard will also contribute to A Rocha’s Eco Church scheme, an exciting initiative which will challenge and equip congregations to care for God’s creation in all areas of church life.  The free online survey and supporting resources are designed to equip your church to express your care for God’s world in your worship and teaching; in how you look after your buildings and land; in how you engage with your local community and in global campaigns, and in the personal lifestyles of your congregation.

David Curry, Voluntary Environment Adviser, Diocese of Exeter
Email David Curry

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A Day in the Life of a GtRC Project Officer

The day starts with the sunrise over beautiful Brixham, a fresh coffee and a quick walk with the dogs. I never cease to be in awe of the beauty of God’s creation in which I am blessed to live and work.

Quite often I’ll go straight to one of the projects I am working with. Every church and community we work with is unique, so no two projects are ever the same. Right now I’m working with people all across Devon as they run community consultations, apply for funding, set up Friends Groups and explore initiatives such as Champing, historic tourism, becoming an Eco Church and becoming a pilgrim destination. The passion of local people to keep these beautiful little churches open and serving their community is incredible.

At some point during the day I’ll head to the Old Deanery to check and send emails and upload all the progress on each project. It’s also my opportunity to catch up with Marian, Sophie and Flora, the others in the GtRC team. They’re a great team to be part of and we all support each other really closely with each project we’re working on. It’s also lovely to catch up on what’s happening with all the various children, dogs and lambs in our lives so we can support each other through the ups and downs of everyday life.

At the end of the day I head back to the car park, usually at the same time the Cathedral choristers are having their afternoon rehearsal in a room above with the window open. Every evening I listen to them as I get into my car and think, ‘Does work get much better than this?’

Sarah Blog Photo
Sarah Cracknell, Growing the Rural Church Project Officer

Growing the Rural Church (GtRC) publishes annual report: Our Year 2017

Front page annual report 2017We are really pleased to share our first annual report, Our Year 2017, with you. We have so enjoyed reflecting on our first year and hope you will too. The report will give you an insight into what we actually do in our three areas of work:

  • Increase capacity for mission
  • Develop sustainable uses of church buildings in partnership with local communities
  • Share our learning with others so all can benefit from the project’s resources

We share some of our project stories and our highlights and challenges as we’ve journeyed with some rural mission communities. You can see how we have spent our funds and what we anticipate 2018 will look like. You can also find out a bit more about our team and governance arrangements.

Do enjoy reading the report and we’d love to hear from you if you have any questions or comments. You can reach us on Twitter @GTRCDevon and Facebook or by emailing gtrc@exeter.anglican.org.

Welcome to the new Growing the Rural Church (GtRC) blog

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Marian Carson, GtRC Project Manager

Welcome to the new GtRC blog, launching today, exactly one year into our seven-year project. As we partner with our rural Mission Communities, GtRC aims to do three things:

  • Increase capacity for mission
  • Develop sustainable uses of church buildings in partnership with local communities
  • Share our learning with others so all can benefit from the project’s resources

Our new blog is all about that third aim.  As we journey with Mission Communities who are exploring how to use their church buildings to grow in prayer, make new disciples and serve the people of Devon with joy, we want to share our experiences with you. We also want introduce you to people, both as individuals and as organisations, who are part of what God is already doing in their churches and communities and are helping our rural churches to flourish.

Between blogs, you can keep in touch with us on Twitter, Facebook and on our webpages. Wherever you find us, you will see our new Logo, also launching today. Designed to fit with our Diocesan Pray, Grow, Serve icons, it helps us to remember that whatever we are doing, from facilitaing a community meeting to developing a social enterprise, at our core we are seeking to grow in prayer, make new disciples and serve the people of Devon with joy.

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