Faith and the Future of the Countryside – review
Faith and the Future of the Countryside, edited by Jill Hopkinson and Alan Smith, March 2012. Canterbury Press Norwich, 144 pages, ISBN 978-1-8482-5117-5. RRP £24.99 (paperback), £17.90 (ebook)
The book Faith and the Future of the Countryside draws together the work of 12 excellent rural theorists and practitioners, and is an interesting mix of business, social, ecological, spiritual and pastoral concerns.
Several of the chapters stress the importance of rural businesses, no less than a million in the UK as a whole. The business which receives most attention, apart of course from farming, is tourism, which in some areas accounts for a very high proportion of income. There is a plea that Churches should work much more in partnership with secular agencies like tourist boards, but also that those secular agencies should take more account of the Churches.
There is considerable emphasis on rural poverty which, it is claimed, has been largely ignored by successive governments. There has recently been some concern in government about the desperate need for more social housing but the recent cuts have set that back. The needs of the elderly, 20% of whom have no car, and the mentally ill are considered, and one chapter dares to raise the issue of reclaiming the land for the people, known as food sovereignty, though the author admits that vested interests would make that well nigh impossible at present in this country.
There is a connection between the business and the ecological in that it is said that a low carbon economy would greatly benefit rural areas and there is stress on the proximity principle that local trading should not be sacrificed to the global along with the unpopular dictum that peasant farmers are “the last line of resistance to the global corporate takeover of the food chain”. (Echlin quoting from Julian Rose) There is satisfaction that at least there seems to be some hope of a sensible policy about our woods which are so vital to combating climate change.
They are also vital to people’s spirituality – “woods draw humanity to see the divine in the ordinary”, and there are several admonitions to Churches to take more account of the spiritual yearnings of the people of this country which can often lead them to being inspired by our church buildings, provided they are open, and enjoying the peace that such rural areas as forests provide.
There is much in the book about the need for Churches to encourage the formation of resilient communities and the book ends with a delightful tale of how the sensitive use of three occasional offices in a small village, which would have been written off by many as having no vibrant Christian life, completely transformed the life of the community and brought into the Kingdom surprising people in ones and twos.
However there is one very important element missing. Just under 30 years ago Professor Leslie Francis brought out a book called Rural Anglicanism with a subtitle A future for young Christians? He traced the way rural Churches had turned from looking after young people to looking after ancient buildings. Faith in the Future has a cover which shows children coming out of a church building, but in the introduction it is stated that it was decided to leave out any mention of young people. It looks as if Leslie Francis’ question mark has not gone away.