Faith and the Future of the Countryside
Edited by Alan Smith and Jill Hopkinson
Published by: Canterbury Press
For centuries, the Church in these islands has been actively engaged with rural communities. It’s not only been a prophetic voice but has also been actively and practically involved with every issue affecting rural life.
As times, technologies, trends and tendencies continue to change, this book, by Alan Smith, the Bishop of St Albans, and Jill Hopkinson, the Church of England’s National Rural Officer, seeks to provide insights into, and practical guidance on, key issues affecting mission in rural communities. It also aims to enable its readers to respond to contemporary needs with wisdom and imagination.
Smith and Hopkinson have gathered the perspectives of 12 eminent and not-exclusively-Anglican authorities on aspects of rural ministry including: rural communities’ changing profile; health and wellbeing; the rural economy; the local effects of climate change; the rural church’s pastoral mission, along with spirituality and the countryside. It examines issues such as the effects of the absence of affordable housing and the principles and practice of ‘just food’.
This country’s rural populations are still growing by some 80,000 a year. While agriculture is still a major factor in these communities, there is a changing spiritual dimension. Increasingly, humans’ intricate relationship with the natural world is being reflected in policy and decision making.
Rural areas tend to reflect a wider wealth distribution than do urban communities. Thus, rural communities include the very wealthy and the poor – with some 20% of rural households living at or below the poverty line. Poverty, especially among the young and allied to a lack of affordable housing, raises issues over some rural communities’ sustainability.
It’s disappointing that young people’s issues and rural schooling are omitted from this book’s specific discussions. Maybe, since the rural Church is already active in both these areas, the editors feel that there’s little to be said here that’s new. However, the issues which the book does choose to include are both pertinent and discussed with genuine and perceptive insight into the contemporary scene. Its pages offer the opportunity for theological reflection as well as suggesting themes for preaching, along with ideas for practical action in response to issues affecting whole rural communities – not just congregations – today.
By Bob Little
[This review was first published in The Baptist Ministers’ Journal, July 2013]