I was raised in a rural community of Inverhaugh, Ontario, in an era when, even as a child, I knew everybody's name. My aunt and uncle lived back the sideroad and cousins lived around the corner. Our farm was on one corner of the concession, S. S. # 4 Pilkington Public School was on the next corner and Bethany United Church was on the exact opposite corner to our farm. In fact, when I took the cows to the back end of our farm, it wasn't far to continue the walk to the church if I was involved in a group - although it was a lot more fun to drive the Massey '44 tractor along the ditches.
Everything I needed as a child was right there in one concession: a loving family, aunts, uncles, cousins, a caring church family and the Grand River to take our Saturday night weekly dip. I attended Bethany until I was 40 years old. When I left that community, I was sure that all of Christendom did things the same way I'd been taught. Not so! Even as I adjusted to new opportunities, I was sure that they wouldn't be that much different than what I knew in my previous church. Not so!
Over the years, I've had opportunity to experience various styles of worship, leadership and service. Because I heard new voices in different settings, messages of change, exploration and development coloured my world. I am grateful for my childhood and early adult life in this community as well as the opportunity to serve in many capacities in rural churches. It is out of these experiences that my love for rural communities and their churches has been nurtured.
As I worked and served in the small church setting over many years, I always enjoyed leading worship, kitchen table study groups, after-church coffee times, parking lot laments, and more lately the opportunity of emails and blogs where people discussed faith issues, filled out surveys and told me what worked in church for them and what didn't. These valuable discussions, responses and questions became chapters for a congregational workbook to work through similar areas of church life.
What is Rural?
The rural landscape is changing, in terms of seeing busy rural churches on the corner of farm concessions or on a village side street. This gives the local motorist a different view when traveling down a country road, or through sparsely populated areas. Rural churches can find themselves scattered across the country landscape, tucked away in small villages and on the edge of a city's horizon.
Those congregations realizing that change is inevitable are asking justice questions about good stewardship, part time ministry, use of gifts, and lay ministry. A passionate question, "Where is God already at work and how can I join this effort?" is being asked through the church in general.
Churches beginning to explore amalgamation, realignment or clustering learn ways to bring pastoral charges together to offer people a worship or mission experience in a shared environment.
Some folks meet different challenges with a new sense of hope, while others turn their heads with a critical eye. Sometimes any of the above tried and proven solutions have not been enough, and choices become even more limited.
If a congregation decides to close their building, some parishioners turn off the light, shut the door and walk. Others prefer to celebrate their ministry and service to the community and plan their last year to include people, meals, fellowship and prayers for the future.
Is there a good process to take the church to the community? Is there a healing way for a congregation to close their building and continue to be the church in another space? Is there a future for the rural or small membership church as it remains today? And what will the church look like as it risks change?
And is there anything new under the sun?
FAITHFUL CHOICES A Workbook
for Rural and
Finding Common Ground
by sharing your gifts
with God's mission
Rev. Dr. Donna Mann
“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope …” (Jer 29:11)
When God calls us into something new, do we respond like Peter? "Surely not, Lord" (Acts 10:13). (NIV)