Conference explores unique challenges and opportunities of rural churches

First published on: 15th June 2022

Bishop Mark presides at the opening worship of the conference at Vindolanda

A group of around 100 people, passionate about the rural church, gathered at the Sill National Landscape Discovery Centre on Hadrian’s Wall for a conference on all things rural church.

The Small Faithful Rural conference, planned by a number of representatives from the Dioceses of Newcastle, Durham, Carlisle, and latterly Leeds and York before the Covid pandemic and twice postponed, finally met to achieve its aim of providing an opportunity to share in conversation and workshops focusing on the realities of rural church contexts.

A large group of people gather in Vindolanda for the opening worshipA number of delegates walked to the event, journeying with new friends through the spectacular scenery of Northumberland and Cumbria. 

In the company of three northern bishops, Bishop Mark of Berwick, Bishop James of Carlisle and Bishop Helen-Ann of Ripon, the pilgrims explored themes such as rural fresh expressions, social isolation in rural communities, pilgrimage and prayer. 

Friday evening saw the group gather for a windy but empowering Eucharist at Vindolanda Roman fort on the site of one of a number of recently discovered Christian churches from the sixth century.  John Bell of the Iona Community concluded Friday with a lively and inspiring talk on the beauty and faithfulness of small churches and Saturday included a good-natured Q and A session with the bishops on the challenges and hope of the rural context.Bishop James Newcome of Carlisle, Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley of Ripon and Bishop Mark take part in a Question and Answer session 

Representatives from the sponsors Ecclesiastical Insurance were on hand to discuss issues surrounding keeping churches open 24/7. 

After a series of workshops and more time for fellowship the conference concluded with worship, including an address by Bishop Helen-Ann Hartley encouraging the delegates to continue their work in affirming the beauty and faithfulness of the small, rural church. 

For more information about the conference, visit its website.

Bishop Mark is pictured at Heddon St Andrew's CofE Primary School with pupils and headteacher Andrew Wheatley. He visited the school during his two-day Hadrian's Wall pilgrimage en route to the Small Faithful Rural cconference

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