To everything there is a season

Friday, 28 April, 2017

‘Dying to Live’: Rural Fresh Expressions Gathering, 22nd-24th May.

Seasons, cycles, rhythms and change. Hot topics in any Fresh Expressions (FX) chat – but arguably nowhere more starkly observed than in the rural context. Whilst many of the issues and principles facing urban and rural FX practitioners are the same, the rural context can provide a unique set of circumstances which highlight the challenges in a bright-spotlight-in-your-face kind of way. Suspend potential urban mutterings for a moment whilst we consider these factors:

  • the geographical areas for Fresh Expressions to cover are bigger (likewise the inherited church) and so there is a greater distance to travel to gather or find like-minded folk;
  • the age profile tends to be older so there is less critical mass of children and young adults to sustain work amongst this demographic;
  • inherited church leaders are often required to maintain multiple-parishes and aging buildings, leading to less resource available for pioneering new FX outworkings.

And (unsurprisingly) a combination of these factors are leading to speedier decline in church attendance in rural areas… All in all, its tough out there amongst those rolling hills.

But, after that catalogue of reasons to despair, there is hope – and that’s what the folk at ‘Dying to Live’ will be exploring on 22nd-24th May at Hayes Conference Centre in Swanick. After all, if there are any people who understand the cycles of decline, dormancy and new life then it’s got to be those who live and work in rural settings -  where the seasons dictate the pace, and cycles of life and death provide patterns far starker than in urban settings. Analogies with the natural world abound and provide a rich vein for discussion and reflection, but these also fit hand-in-hand with Biblical and theological perspectives – if it all boils down to a Gospel of new life and the fingerprints of the divine through all creation, what does this mean in practical terms as the Body of Christ finds new expressions in situations of apparent death and decline?

The gathering at Swanick on May 22nd-24th will provide ample opportunities for story-telling, reflection and peer-led learning around these issues facing rural FX ministry. Moving away from front-led leadership, the gathering will focus on the experiences of practitioners and how best to enable and support – and a combination of Biblical engagement (led by Bishop Mike Harrison and Rev. Canon Sally Gaze), examining case studies and the principles they illuminate, and networking time reflect the hope that this is a time for reflection, encouragement and relationship building. Worship will interweave through the weekend, led by Sam and Sara Hargreaves, and will provide spaces to pause and consider creative responses through worship and prayer.

In addition to the central programme, planning has also taken account of what everyone knows to be the real ‘best bits’ of any conference type event – the stuff (conversations, encounters, idea sharing) that happens over the dinner table/at the bar/in the toilet queue…! Taking these incidental but crucial moments seriously, ‘Dying to Live’ will have two ‘conference companions’ on site throughout the gathering. Arthur Rank CEO Jerry Marshall and Bishop Chris Edmondson have an enviable if challenging job for the weekend – they’re there not to lead or direct conversations, but to sit back and listen. At the bar, over coffee, brushing teeth – they’ll pick up key, emerging themes and reflect these back at the close of the weekend. With one ear on God and one ear on the people and discussions around them, these ‘conference companions’ will be one very special way that ‘Dying to Live’ facilitates shared learning and reflection.

Anyway, no doubt by now any rural FX practitioners and enablers out there not already signed up are scrolling enthusiastically for a ‘book now’ button. Well, you’ll need to hold your horses as there has been a huge uptake for places this year and the team are currently creating extra spaces in conversation with the venue. If you’re interested, please do contact kath.atkins@freshexpressions.org.uk as soon as possible and we’ll try and get you sorted with a ticket. If, however, you can’t make the date there are still ways that you can get involved and benefit from the conversations and learning of ‘Dying to Live’. The planning team are hoping that rural FX soul-mates will be found, and that groups of like-minded folk will breathe new life into regional rural hubs that create spaces for accessing support and inspiration. Watch this space for ‘Dying to Live’ sessions, news and updates online – and maybe there’ll be a new local meet-up planned by the freshly energised near you soon!

Rural FX ministry is full of challenge and opportunity – there is a time for both, and ‘Dying to Live’ is a time where both will be explored and discussed alongside peers and partners for the journey. Making time, reflecting, praying, listening and learning – sounds like a great new season to us, and we can’t wait to hear what emerges from this special time together.

 

 

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