We all recognise what a beautiful and unique city Bath is. It is not only a city of heritage but it also sits in some beautiful countryside. Bath lies toward the southernmost part of the Cotswold area of outstanding beauty. It is also a relatively small city and because of this around the periphery of the city is the open countryside. Much of this is centred in villages within which stands the local Parish Church. These villages form a necessary hub for the city and beyond as they often house people and families who either work in the city or commute from the villages to larger centres of population for work. There are some who have lived in the communities for many years, even generations but increasingly people moving in from outside because they prefer the country, and afford the housing and love the small primary schools to which their children can go.
Most of the City parishes around the edge of the city have one or more rural churches as part of their benefice. When these were formed I am sure it was anticipated that the larger ‘city church’ would have the person power and ability to sustain the work in the villages as well as the work in the city. This has not always worked, sometimes because the need for ‘workers’ in the city far outweighs the much smaller needs of the residents of these rural villages. At times it works well if the ‘main’ church has a good staff team.
So what can I do to help?
I have been tasked with finding ways in which being more imaginative about the use of what we have in every community can bring people closer to the church and therefore bring us all nearer to ‘living and telling the story’ of Jesus wherever we are. Often the parish church is the largest meeting place in a village and with imagination and courage can become a gathering place to house a drop in coffee place, messy church venue, perhaps a café church, or a parent/carer and toddler group. If the church receives investment and imagination to provide somewhere warm, comfortable and welcoming, people will use it.
In my own parish of three villages with their parish churches we have looked at ways of making our worship more accessible to those who don’t yet attend and modelling ideas that work in similar churches and communities. Our ideas include a Café church on the 5thSunday of the month, a Celtic evening worship, a praise and worship service with more contempory style and our ‘Family Focus’ service, deliberately held in the main morning slot of the fourth Sunday of each month (during term time) to attract parents with young children and families whose children are not playing sport on Sunday morning and this is growing slowly. I am more than happy to talk with your congregations and leaders about what I have found does work and maybe discuss some of the ethos of pioneering new ideas. We are also in the process of planning for the refurbishment of one church having already created useable space in the other two.
I believe the people who live and love their village church are glad to do what they can locally even without supervision if the know how to and are supported to have a go. I would love to talk to church leaders, wardens and congregations about the possibilities.