Rector’s Letter, July 2023

Rural village churches need your help! Behind that truth lies a lot of complexity. For nearly 1000 years, village churches have been at the heart of their communities. There are now a lot of pressures challenging that. I want in this editorial to look at them and put another side – even while agreeing with a lot of the criticisms that have led to that pressure:

  1. “The church is increasingly irrelevant”. Certainly, some of the issues it seems to get wound up about seem ridiculous to many. But deeper than that outside skin, Christians and the church are at the forefront of issues such as looking after our planet and caring for those most vulnerable. A village church is there for everyone – in their strengths and their needs. A central tenet is loving our neighbour and what could be more about community building and caring than that? A good village church should have in mind the care and needs of all who live around it – and that is why I am called to pray for everyone who lives here – which I try to do – those of faith, those of other faiths, those of no faith, and even those who think it is ridiculous to be praying! Simple prayer -thinking about people before God – is a cement in the building blocks of a church trying to care.
  • “It doesn’t live up to its message”. And that, sadly, is often true. In addition to awful stories of abuse, which is a complete denial of what it proclaims, all too often it behaves like any other human institution. That should not surprise us, because it is a human institution – and, like anything else to do with humans, it is fallible and gets things wrong – as I and you do! Strangely though, this gets to the heart of why we need the church. It does not proclaim a message that we are all wonderful. It proclaims, whilst we can all be very loving, we can also be very selfish – which is why saying sorry is a part of most services. I am aware that is counter-cultural in this age: but, I do believe it is much more accurate than the righteousness of so much of our present, judgemental age. We can only become more loving if we know and acknowledge we also get things wrong – but do so in the context of God’s love and desire to enable new starts.
  • “All that belief stuff has been rendered obsolete by science”. Again, the church has asked for trouble here: whether it be denying Galileo’s discovery through his telescope that the earth is not the centre of the solar system, through to mocking evolutionary theory in the C19th. But my Christian faith, as that of the great majority of believers, has no problem at all with scientific discovery. If there is a force we call God behind the universe, how can science be a threat? How does evolution theory pose a threat? However, we can also make a false God of science: nuclear fission produced much good – but also the nuclear bomb; AI can transform our world – or destroy it. Open-ended and questioning religion and science should, and can, walk hand in hand, trying to make our world practically and spiritually a better place.
  • “We are all too busy to go to church”.  Indeed we are! Frantically busy and Sundays in our manically busy world are precious. But also, if what I read in a wide variety of media is true, we are under more mental health pressure than ever before, with so many negative side effects. Meditation and mindfulness of course can help, but they still largely look for self-improvement. A service can take us outside ourselves, reflecting on the love of God, new starts, God’s love with us, a community round about us. Even if the sermon is REALLY boring, does that matter? It gives time just to sit and not be a prisoner to social media or the myriad of demands made upon us daily. If I knew what everyone is actually thinking about during my sermons………!  But that’s fine.

I have hesitated in writing this article because a book could be written about each of these four points, (both the justifiable criticisms and the responses). Justice cannot be done in one short article.

But your church does need your help! And traditionally village churches have worked on multiple levels. For many, of course, faith: but also, for many others, liking to come together as a community, the regularity of a pattern to the week, liking singing, or just wanting some piece and quiet. Our churches here, have a wide variety of patterns of worship – from ancient, time-tested language, to great informality and easily accessible modern language. Everyone who comes to them says they are friendly and inclusive.

And a final thought, if you move onto the Rambling Rector below, though local churches and vicars are also human with their foibles, you will see much going on to build up both community: but also trying to care for and love one another and nature around us, in our busy and often chaotic world.

With my best wishes


1662 Holy Communion @ St Mary's Slindon
Jun 26 @ 10:30 am – 11:30 am
United Benefice Communion @ St Margaret's Eartham
Jun 30 @ 10:00 am – 11:30 am
Holy Communion @ St Margaret's Eartham
Jul 7 @ 9:30 am – 10:30 am
Matins @ St Mary's Slindon
Jul 7 @ 11:00 am – 12:30 pm
Holy Communion @ St Mary Magdalene Madehurst
Jul 14 @ 10:00 am – 11:00 am