A decline and shortage of resources in rural churches has recently been a major concern to many church leaders. According to a report released by Christian Research for Rural Ministries in May, churches in rural areas are losing members twice as fast as churches in towns and cities. Even the Anglicans churches, the denomination that makes up 57 percent of rural churches has encountered the problem. The Anglican rural ministry is diminishing and churches are beginning to combine their activities, and many share one minister or pastor.
Many pastors have tried to respond to this issue and think up feasible solutions under the “endangered” rural church crisis. For the Methodists, a handbook named ‘Presence’ that provides guidelines to reshape the way rural churches work will be launched in the upcoming Methodist Conference next week.
The editor of ‘Presence’ and Chairman of Cumbria’s District Methodist Church, The Rev David Emison, recognizes that “an effective Christian presence in rural areas will always be ecumenical and the Anglican-Methodist covenant provides a new and exciting context for ministry in rural areas.”
This proposal encourages churches of different denominations to come together to achieve a common goal - to meet the spiritual needs of people and serve the needy, especially those who are faced with poverty and social exclusion, and to sustain a Christian presence in rural areas.
Actually, such an approach has been adopted in Llansanan, a deeply traditional village in North Wales, investigated by The Council for World Mission (CWM). In the small village, there are presences of various denominations including Baptist, Congregational, Anglican and Presbyterian.
Reported by CWM, nowadays the Presbyterian and Congregational churches share a pastor and they worship in the Presbyterian chapel whilst Baptists sometimes share in the running of the Sunday school and take part in community activities. There is also a strong relationship between the Presbyterian and Congregational congregations as well as the Anglican and Baptist congregations. The drive has also spread across to neighbouring villages.
Through these joint activities, human resources, financial resources, facilities are gathered together and thus become abundant. A wide spectrum of ministries are organised almost everyday throughout the week, responding to the different spirituality of women, men, elders, children and youths.
Rev Meirion Morris, minister at the Presbyterian Church of Wales in Llansanan, was interviewed by CWM. He believed that “Community groups like this are key to ministering to the village”, supported by the growing number of church members from around 40 to 120.
Another advantage of this approach, according to his interview with CWM, is that it allows everyone to find a role in his or her churches. He cited an example: a single church is too weak to open a cafe for young people's activities in the church, but now it is made possible after churches cooperate together.
On the other hand, the ecumenical approach of Llansanan Presbyterian Church is not without difficulty. Rev Morris told CWM, “It took a long time to get people to accept more unified church activities, and it remains a sticky point with some of the older generation.”
In contrast to the Llansanan Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church of Wales (PCW) as a whole, there is a different picture, as reported by CWM. The CWM-member PCW is uncertain about movements such as that shown by the Llansanan church. Rather than joining hands with other denominations and trying to expand, PCW considers it better to cut the number of its chapels from 800 to 500 and to urge all its churches to join up.