Many churches in rural areas were closed in the early 1960s – but Pastor Herbert Goddard was determined to do something about it.
At the same time Christian missionaries were returning home and could not afford suitable accommodation, so Herbert, also a director of a building contractors, revamped a disused church and built accommodation nearby. This was then offered to missionaries who took over the running of the church. It led to the formation of the Datchet Evangelical Fellowship which later became Rural Ministries, an exhibitor at CRE National 2019.
Herbert, a former president of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, died in 1981 but his vision to keep the Gospel alive in the countryside remains.
‘Every rural community is different, and we understand this,’ said Rev Simon Mattholie (pictured), chief executive officer of Rural Ministries. ‘Rhythms and seasons play an important part, along with a strong sense of history and the importance of a local place of worship. We want to help people see their community from a different perspective, to see what God is already doing among them and then join in.
‘Geographically, 93 per cent of the UK is rural, and home to about 12 million people. However, with “urban” being the main focus for many denominations, this sizable remnant is often left behind.’
Simon, who has served in a number of rural churches and for the past six years has lived in a smallholding, understands the loneliness of rural ministry. At CRE he wants to let people living in these isolated areas know support is available.
‘We want to speak to anyone whether they are a small mission initiative or a diocese supporting a rural parish,’ he said. ‘We want to hear their stories of encouragement and tell them ours.’
Life in the countryside has many benefits – a beautiful environment, a strong sense of community and proportionally fewer instances of ill health. But the low population densities and distance between residential and commercial centres, can bring challenges for those living, working and witnessing in the countryside.
Isolation through lack of public transport, networks of people or available resources is often a common theme. It can exist in villages near larger towns, where it is common for all the attention to be focused on supporting initiatives in the town.
‘Rural Ministries recognises and understands these, and many other issues, not least the impact they have on church life. We are here to help,’ said Simon.
• Rural Ministries are on stand FC5 at CRE National 2019