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Tuesday, 14 November 2006

National Rural Ministry Gathering


From Rev. John Whaley

A National Rural Ministry Gathering was held at Culcairn NSW on 16th – 18th October, 2006. John Atkinson (WA Synod Resourcing Local Mission), Mac Forsyth (WA Synod Mid West Resource Ministry) and John Whaley (WA Synod Central South Eastern Region Resource Ministry) were included in about 20 people (lay and ordained) who gathered from around Australia. Each delegate displayed a passion for rural ministry and had a deep concern for rural communities. Culcairn is a small rural town situated north of Wodonga/Albury in southern NSW.

The purpose of the gathering was to worship together, share stories, joys and challenges, give reports about our regions, learn from each other and decide on some ways ahead. Local arrangements were more than adequate, yet with minimal impact on the Culcairn Congregation. The generosity and hospitality of the Culcairn folk was exceptionally warm, welcoming and plentiful and in the tradition of rural church.

Opening worship was focused through a clip from the film Chocolaté. Rev. Narelle Penman invited us to reflect on the issue of change, raising the question, “Are we open to a fresh wind?” The way we embrace change will be crucial to the future rural church. Geoff Wellington then introduced two questions: “Where do we find truth?” and “Is the Lord with us?” These questions are important and should be held before us; in fact, they often resurfaced in our discussions throughout the gathering.

The Culcairn Uniting Church provided for coffee breaks and lunch. Breakfast was at the local bakery and dinner at the Culcairn Hotel. These informal times of meeting and discussion proved invaluable (perhaps more than the main sessions) as people got to know each other, shared their stories, listened and learned.

Ross Neville (NSW Board of Mission and Coordinator of the National Rural Ministry Gathering) posed the question, “What do we hope to gain from this gathering?” The overwhelming answer was to recognise that, collectively we are on a journey together. We need to listen to each others stories and gain encouragement and support from our shared journey. And then we need to identify what is working and what is not, realising there are no “magic” answers; in fact the rural church is facing issues now that the city based church will have to deal with in the (maybe not too distant) future.

Much of the formal time involved listening to reports from NSW/ACT, SA, WA, and Vic/Tas. As each speaker talked about their work we imagined a rich tapestry of ministry offered to rural communities. Of particular interest was Ross Neville’s report on Project Reconnect, a DVD worship resource assisting worship in isolated areas. And from WA we heard of Mac Forsyth’s ministry into the Mid-West which is fully sponsored by the Light House Christian Fellowship of the Geraldton Uniting Church. Future directions focused on three main issues. Firstly, drought-related issues which raised more questions than answers: “How can we support and resource local churches to respond and address needs?” Secondly, the issue of: “What is Church in the rural Community? And then the issue of theological education and ministry formation for rural ministry.

It was agreed to reconvene as a National Group – 15th-17th October 2007, in Donald, Victoria.
If you would like to read a more comprehensive report contact Rev. John Atkinson via the WA Synod.