At any one time, our team is supporting a number of mission communities across our Diocese. You can read about some of our current projects below.
St Mary’s Walkhampton is situated on the edge of open moorland in the West Dartmoor Mission Community. Following a significant reordering project in 2015, it has flexible space, modern kitchen and toilet facilities and free WIFI. The worshipping community want to open the church more than just on Sundays, to enable both local people and visitors to enjoy their building.
Through discussions with the Growing the Rural Church team, St Mary’s identified that it could fill a gap in the local economy by offering accommodation to the many walkers and tourists visiting the area. Growing the Rural Church has supported the development of a partnership between St Mary’s PCC and The Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) to develop the church building as a Champing™ venue. Champing™, a growing ‘slow tourism’ initiative, offers guests accommodation in the peaceful setting of rural churches. Groups of up to four people will be able to stay overnight in the church, enjoying its tranquil setting and unique accommodation. Bookings will be handled by the Champing™ team, while the PCC will manage cleaning and changeovers. Guests will make use of local pubs and restaurants for their meals.
Like many of our rural churches, St Mary’s generates significant annual maintenance costs. The proceeds from Champing™ will help towards this, while also welcoming more people into the life of the church. As Nick Shutt, Rector of St Mary’s says, ‘Walkhampton Church is not just a place where people come to worship every Sunday. There should be no divide between the sacred and the secular. We have to bring the world into our church and the church has to go out into the world.”
To find out more information about Champing™, click here.
Shirwell Mission Community is made up of 7 rural parishes which cover 50 square miles northeast of Barnstaple. The Rector, Rev’d. Rosie Austin, accompanied the Bishop of Exeter on his 2016 visit to our link Diocese of Thika, Kenya. There they saw the amazing fruits of a Tearfund partnership called Church and Community Mobilisation (CCMP).
Rural churches in Thika are encouraged to consider and trust that God has given them all they need to be a flourishing Christian presence in their communities. CCMP uses Bible study, workshops and initiatives to support community action by churches to address their local challenges. Thika churches say through CCMP, “We have had the privilege of continuing to be able to witness God transforming the lives of people in both our churches and communities.”
Growing the Rural Church and Shirwell Mission Community are partnering with Mosaic Creative, a Christian training organisation, and the Mother’s Union to pilot a UK version of CCMP: Stories in the Street. Representatives from all of Shirwell’s churches are meeting for 4 workshop days, and through reflective and dramatised Bible studies and community mapping, they are exploring how God is calling them to bless their communities with the resources they already have.
Shirwell Mission Community want the whole of their community to feel that the church belongs to them. The church has already organised a Christmas meal for the whole community where they hoped for 20 people and ended up with 60, including a large group of children who were very excited when Santa turned up! Having completed community maps of each village, they now have many plans for future opportunities for their wider village communities.
North Molton is a large village situated just below the Exmoor National Park. Very active in their community, the church was already in the process of applying for funding to conserve the tower of their Grade 1 listed building and provide modern facilities and flexible space for community use when Growing the Rural Church first met them in spring 2017.
Growing the Rural Church matched All Saints with Stir to Action. Funded by the Friends Provident Foundation, Stir to Action is a consultancy specialising in supporting communities to develop enterprise initiatives in church buildings, run in partnership with and benefitting the whole community. The community of North Molton are exploring the development of a community enterprise together. There are lots of ideas: a cinema, a business hub, a community energy company, a café…Once the community have identified what they would like to develop, Stir to Action will work with a project group to establish this.
It is anticipated that the project at All Saints will take a number of years to complete. However, they have identified clear outcomes that they are planning to achieve. As well as conserving their heritage and making it more accessible for people, local residents will have gained skills and established an enterprise benefitting the local community, links with schools will be strengthened and the church building will become a hub within the village community.
Find out more about Stir to Action here.
Two Rivers Mission Community: Exploring Community Involvement in Caring for Church Buildings with Devon Communities Together
Two Rivers Mission Community is made up of 11 rural parishes between the rivers Taw and Torridge, in north Devon. Through conversations with Growing the Rural Church, four parishes were identified as wanting support to engage with their communities to develop a shared vision for the future of their churches.
Growing the Rural Church partnered with our rural council, Devon Communities Together, to facilitate a range of community consultations. By holding public meetings, distributing questionnaires and attending community events, Devon Communities Together shared with us their expertise in getting under the skin of a community and identifying needs and shared solutions.
The story is different in each parish. For example, in the parish of Yarnscombe, a group of local people have formed the Yarnscombe Church Rescue Group (YCRG). They have joined the Parochial Church Council, specifically to support repairs and improvements to the building to provide a better space for both worship and community events. As Tim Farr, Chair of the YCRG says, “I have a really good feeling that this is the start of a new chapter in the life of St Andrew’s Church and its place at the heart of the village of Yarnscombe. There is lots to do and it will be a long time until we have finished it all, but we are on our way!”
At St Mary Magdalene in Huntshaw several people have come forward and offered their support to set up a Friends Group which will take on the responsibility of caring for the church building. Through being given the opportunity to talk with the PCC, local families have also been able to become involved in shaping the worship, and new family services are now planned alongside the existing monthly traditional service. The Friends Group is planning a programme of fundraising activities which they hope will place the church building back at the heart of the village community.
To find out more about Devon Communities Together, visit their website.