Clergy Report on Support Provided through Growing Rural Parishes Project

Clergy Report on Support Provided through Growing Rural Parishes Project

Last year, we received funding from the National Church to develop the diocese’s Growing Rural Parishes project, a programme aimed at helping our rural churches to grow through extra support and resource. As a result of the 2023 selection process, the Benefices of Bright Waters/Overton (joint project), Sherfield, and Thorngate were selected as beneficiaries. We caught up with the clergy from the three churches to find out how it has helped them…

Covering Extra Costs

The Benefice of Bright Waters received a joint funding award along with the neighbouring Overton Benefice which has primarily been used on shared administration resource, as well on their websites.

Revd David Roche has described how it has given them a lot of freedom just to “get on with stuff. When the money is there available to be spent it’s meant we haven’t agonized or had PCC squabble about justifying its use! It’s not a huge amount but the money has given us permission to try new things and to experiment with new types of service, to say to our PCC let’s give it a go.”

Similarly, Revd Mark Anderson of the Benefice of Sherfield on Loddon, describes how the funding has given them “more intentionality and purpose” about making changes, which has included employing a benefice administrator for across the four parishes. It has also “brought the parishes in the benefice together to work more closely and strategically so that now all clergy and wardens meet together regularly as a team of ten.”

Rogation Walk in Sherfield on Loddon

Revd James Pitkin, who leads Thorngate and Blackwater Benefice which was only formed in July 2023 following a pastoral scheme, said the funding has come at the right time for them in their journey as a multi-parish benefice. It has helped them invest in both more ministry and consultancy support. “We are only 2 months into a 2 year project but it has helped us be strategic and identify that we all have different strengths to build on, not all churches have to do everything.”  Since the new benefice came into being, they are delighted to have experienced 1% church growth and also two new lay vocations.

Rural community activities in the Thorngate and Blackwater Benefice

Greater Sense of Community

All the parishes involved in the programme said that bringing together others involved in rural ministry has been a key benefit. As well as the grant, the project includes regular Learning Days open to everyone from clergy, to the warden, to PCC members, where all the teams could meet together and learn from a guest speaker.

Revd Mark said that “It was great to have the training, support and encouragement at these meets, as well as the regular input from the Archdeacons. Learning from others also helped us to identify gaps which we could plug, so we could share good practice. And of course the sense of community that came from coming together, as rural ministry can be quite isolating.”

Revd David agrees that the GRP Project has been valuable as it “feels like the rural is being listened to and felt to be important. There is acknowledgement that ministry in the rural and urban is so different, and it’s given us the trust to work in our own context.”

“GRP says to me that the Church of England is starting to take this seriously the unique needs of rural churches,” said Revd Mark. “This doesn’t come with unrealistic expectations, and there is an acknowledgement that things move more slowly in the rural context and can get neglected because fewer volunteers. But it has offered us a framework and structure to do things properly in our context”.

More Funding Now Available

The diocese is now in line to source the second round of funding – £30,000 each for a further 3 rural benefices in order to help them grow. The funding will be spread over 3 years, so the 3 chosen benefices will be supported over the period 2025-2027. Rural parishes who might benefit were contacted via email earlier this month. Further details and how to apply can be found on the application document.

The deadline for applications in this round is close of play on Friday 20 September 2024. Please send your application to Jon Whale –