Richard Kirlew: ‘Mostly hills and sheep’

2014-10-07 18.57.29Mostly Hills and Sheep; a Rural View offered by Revd Richard Kirlew, National Lead Rural Life Adviser, Church in Wales.

Richard has a passion for rurality – and finds this means pushing boundaries and working outside the box, with farmers, farming unions, charities and very small rural communities, pub ministry.

(Download Richard’s PowerPoint presentation)

Views of rural life are shaped by the media – Emmerdale, the Archers, Heartbeat …   The chocolate box picture of cottages with roses round the door is not a fair representation of rural life – but can we still speak of ‘rural life’ or is it more like little bits of the town re-located in the countryside?

There are 3 million people and 9 million sheep in Wales.

  • 82% of Wales is rural, of which 79% is ‘deep rural’ defined as small hamlets with fewer than 150 households (some are under 30 inhabitants), at least 30 minutes’ drive from a population centre of more than 10,000 and with access to less than 5 main services.
  • People ask ‘Do I want to live or move in to this area?’

Building rural community.

  • Promoting village life can bring its own dilemmas – eg increased number of buses affects the peace of a village, an increase in visitors feels like the village no longer belongs to its inhabitants.
  • It can be like living in a goldfish bowl – and acceptance by a community is not the same as belonging to it.
  • Villages are less parochial because of life-style changes, commuting to work etc ….
  • … but there can be stubborn resistance to change which holds back changes in ministry and the way churches are run. Small congregations with a siege mentality dig their heels in.
  • Villages are not just farming communities – more like a community of communities that need to find a way to work together.

Farming comparisons

Richard compared a large family farming enterprise in Norfolk with a small Welsh upland farm and showed how the statistics stack up against the Welsh farmer who will be struggling on the breadline. Farmers are a more isolated group. Villages are populated with incomers who don’t understand them, and they feel forced out of their community and the church where generations of the family have worshiped. They don’t always realise that they suffer from stress and depression, become introverted and are statistically the highest suicide group in the UK.

Five major issues facing farmers:

  1. Bovine TB
  2. Milk prices – 3 dairy farmers went out of business every day last year in UK – not sustainable
  3. Isolation, leading to mental health issues
  4. Poverty and deprivation – not just financial
  5. Government regulations and restrictions, including push for all form filling and filing online –

Changing role for church

The Church needs to adapt; they start with a community role and their buildings are often used for the wider parish life. But there needs to be a change in role for clergy, who can no longer run all aspects of church life alone. Many rural clergy now cover many parishes, act as team leaders or managers, or have an additional diocesan role. We all have a distinctive role (see Ephesians 4:11-13)

Rural life is not as rosy as you might think, but it is still a place to minister and live out the Gospel. Lives speak louder than any words we can utter. We need to live as people who are good news, so that the bus driver from Peter Cotterill’s poem can be part of our Christian community.

11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness’ of Christ.

Rural life is not as rosy as you might think, but it is still a place to minister and live out the Gospel. Lives speak louder than any words we can utter. We need to live as people who are good news, so that the bus driver from Peter Cotterill’s poem can be part of our Christian community.