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Lessons and encouragement from rural spaces

Rural parishes present wonderful opportunities and unique challenges for family and youth work. Join the conversation of three practitioners from the Southwest as they discuss their experiences.

The Challenges

Tracey Hallett, Vicar of South Petherton Benefice:
I look after three rural churches. I’d say volunteering is my biggest challenge – I don’t have access to a volunteer bank that is confident in delivering any kind of work with different ages. I’m leading, praying and calling people, acknowledging and sharing what gifts I see in them, building their confidence.

Cheryl Govier, Growing Faith Foundation, Partnerships Lead and Diocese of Bath and Wells, Growing Faith and Everyday Faith Adviser:
A challenge I encounter is a perception that youth and children’s work has to be all singing and all dancing. That it’s not good or successful unless it has big numbers and big worship bands. Because of that, we have volunteers who say, ‘I can’t do that!’.

Fergus Stewart, Licenced Reader, Hardington Vale:
It can be a challenge to establish things with sustainability in mind. We run ‘Youth Space’ once a month. We’ve been really fortunate, with eight committed volunteers turning up every time, and an average of 20 kids coming – it must be about the whole teenage population of the village. 

We’ve had a few saying, ‘Let’s do this every week!’ I help them recognise that people might turn up for three weeks and then realise they’re giving up an unsustainable amount of time. We’re trying to build something for the long run. I learnt from a life spent in education that what kids feel so keenly is when people start things and then let them down.

The Joys

A practical joy of rural ministry is that deep sense of community. People know their neighbours, they know who lives three doors down. I think that was particularly evident during the pandemic, that rural communities were able to continue doing some of their Messy Churches through things that landed on doorsteps because they knew exactly where their families lived because of that sense of community. 

One of the ways rural ministry is successful is when you really seek to understand who your community are and then build the work that you do around them.

When I arrived two years ago, I realised that the head teacher of the local infant school had been finding it difficult to collaborate with the wider community. I contacted our local Youth Centre, which was feeling the same. I had the opportunity to bring key community figures around the rectory table. From that something called Team Around The Parish birthed, which draws together the village’s two schools, the youth centre, the local police and the church, serving our whole community. 

We pool funds to provide things like Christmas hampers so that families have got food at Christmas. We work together to make referrals to social care, so our safeguarding referrals are conducted as a joint process. We’ve used the rectory garden for a school fete. I think if we weren’t a rural village, that wouldn’t have happened so easily.

I think children’s work and youth work really does give an opportunity to nurture relationships within a small rural community because people really appreciate that somebody’s doing something for young people.

It’s an amazing ministry for unlocking gifts in people. Many that think that they’ve got nothing to offer for young people, but they come along and realise that being in charge of making hot chocolate at every gathering is a gift, that young people are not quite so scary and alien, they’re just like their grandchildren, actually.

It’s ultimately the church that’s got to reach its own community, and so to be able to unlock the gifts of people in church congregations, to engage with young people and families, this is absolutely critical. You can’t outsource that.

One of the joys is seeing people finding their own joy and realising that they have gifts that they can use.


In any ministry, rural or urban, we can face huge discouragement. Keep going. God will be doing amazing work. Persevere. Keep believing that God’s going to change lives.

Go for anything that you feel God is showing you. Don’t be afraid to take a chance. Mossy church,  Messy church, any outdoorsy activity. Open the space up and take a gazebo somewhere, give it a go. 

God will surprise you if you take the plunge. It sounds like a massive cliche, but I can tell you things from the last six months which I don’t know how they happened. Really just incredible. 

This article was printed in Multiply 2024: The Manual, a publication that accompanied the programme of Multiply 2024, which explored multiplying a younger church. You can find related content below.