Last year, I was sure I was looking for a curacy in an urban environment. After all, I’d thoroughly enjoyed a stretching placement in Stockton, and I’ve spent my life in towns and cities. However, while I was at New Wine I had a bit of a nudge towards rural ministry. Although I was not particularly confident in discerning the Lord’s will in this matter, I knew this one was easy to test.
The first step was discussing it with friends – and I had a shock. I found everyone enthusiastically agreeing that rural was the right direction for me. “The thing is”, opined Dave Doughty, “you’re not urban. You don’t wear your baseball cap round the wrong way, and you’re much more likely to say ‘oooh arrr, that’s a badgerrr, that is'”. A few moments later I bumped into Andy Pestell, who’d arrived in Newcastle a month before I left Durham, but we had not realised we’d overlapped up there. He tried to explain where his church was, that it was close to the central monument, and I thought, “why would I know where the central monument is in Newcastle?”. It then occurred to me that throughout my two years in the north east I had never voluntarily gone into Newcastle, and spent almost all my days off going to bird hides or up hills – and that there might therefore be something in this rural nudge.
My only previous experience of rural ministry had been a ‘faith-sharing weekend’ in West Durham, in a former mining area. I therefore decided to acquaint myself with some rural parishes near Cheltenham, so spent Sunday mornings visiting churches in the Coln River benefice, in villages such as Andoversford, Dowdeswell and Sevenhampton. I began to realise that the population is quite different to what might have been expected before: there is far less employment in agriculture, and many are arriving from outside, working in IT from home, or in Cheltenham, or even travelling to London.
As I began to explore the possibilities of rural ministry, the Gloucester DDO (Diocesan Director of Ordinands, who has oversight of ministers in training) contacted his counterparts in Hereford and Worcester dioceses. The upshot was that I was put in contact with David Sherwin, who oversees three parishes a few miles west of Worcester – Martley, Winchenford and the Lower Teme Valley.
In the last couple of months I have visited the area four times and have gradually got to know the ministry team, the wardens and lay readers, and other vicars in the area. I have thoroughly enjoyed this experience, and right from the start felt that this is a congenial environment in which to serve as a curate. Hence I was delighted when earlier this week David offered me the post – which I have duly accepted. It’s a post that will start in July after the ordinations at the beginning of the month. I am excited about it: it’s a place where I will enjoy learning and serving.