Imagine a vicar negotiating with a brewery to stop the closure of a village pub, or chatting with an isolated farmer over a bacon butty at 6am at the livestock market, or organising a Tractor Run with 70 vehicles of all vintages around the boundary of the parish for Rogation Sunday – and you have a glimpse into the life of some of the ministers who live in the 80% of Wales that is described as ‘rural’.
Whilst the farming and other land-based industries that – literally – shaped the Welsh landscape no longer dominate the economy and provide work as they once did, 80% of Wales remains rural in character. 60% of the country is classified as ‘deep rural’ – which means a community of no more than 180 households, lacking such things as a shop, Post Office, petrol station, cashpoint, or even a bus stop – and is at least 30 minutes’ drive away from a larger settlement. In many villages, the church is the only community facility remaining, and the contribution that the church makes to community life is vital. To advise on the particular challenges of rural ministry and flag up issues impacting on rural life so that wider action can be taken – whether that’s reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, the price of milk to the farmer or petrol at the pump, threatened closure of schools and disappearing bus-services – each Diocese has appointed a Rural Life Adviser. Revd Richard Kirlew (RLA in Swansea and Brecon Diocese) is also National Lead Rural Officer, and flies the flag (and drives the tractor) for rural Wales in policy fora within and beyond the church at national and UK level.
In April 2013 the Church in Wales’ Governing Body recognised the vital importance of rural communities and rural ministry in voting to establish a national Rural Group (link to Rural Life report to GB), which will draw together representatives from across the country and from different sectors to focus on rural issues.