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Available: one rural Church...

... a doer-upper, and an investment opportunity for the committed enthusiast.

Last week, I suggested that the Church should not be afraid to confront the reality of death and how the hospice movement might help us reflect on the concept of dying well. For balance, I would like to explore the notion of church restoration this week.


Kirstie and I like watching shows that renovate damp, rotting houses, turning them into cosy homes. After a long day, we watch them together while eating and relaxing by the fire. Invariably, one of us falls asleep, leaving the other to wake them before the final reveal and explain what happened. It struck me as I was thinking about this week’s reflection that house restorations may be a helpful metaphor for many rural churches besides physical dampness, rot, and fabric issues. Could the rural Church be a ‘doer-upper and investment opportunity for the committed enthusiast’?


In many house restoration shows, the building must be stripped back, with paint, plaster, and wallpaper removed, and the property returned to its basic structure. Invariably, this means removing additions and improvements from the 1970s and 1980s, such as bathrooms and kitchens. Visualising removing and repurposing items that are no longer functional or useful in our churches while thinking about ways to maintain the essential elements might be a helpful way to gain insight. This way, we can make sure that what we practically offer is appropriate for the culture and context of today. I am not suggesting turning our backs on Biblical truths, but rather understanding that God has gifted us with enormous freedom when it comes to the Church. It is traditionalism that has limited us. (Remember, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living, whereas tradition is the living faith of the dead.) Perhaps some rural churches secretly hope that what they offer will someday become popular again, like the 1970s kitchen.


I am studying modern monasticism (a movement of Jesus’ followers committed to a new way of life in community) and I was struck by what such a movement might offer the Church regarding what we need to strip back to, removing years of programmes and practices that no longer fit today. The monastic’s embrace of authenticity, community, and hospitality seems to model an approach that many would find relatively easy to adopt and one that may resonate with society, too. Equally, it is a model that speaks as powerfully to the emerging Church as it does to the inherited.


Many things set modern monasticism apart, such as living in forgotten and marginal locations, sharing resources, providing hospitality, lamenting racial, gender, and social divides, and actively working toward peace. Holding a common rule of life, caring for God’s earth, and supporting the local economy are other attributes alongside peace-making and conflict resolution within communities and a deep commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.

What might these characteristics look like if they were outworked in our Church? We already talked about how we can’t compete with many of our cousins in towns and suburbs regarding the number of programmes and resources they can access. Still, we can ‘out-relate’ them by showing them how to care, offer hospitality, and build community. How might our services differ if we read and discussed the Bible over coffee or tea, each sharing what they got from the passage? What would it say to our community if we completely rethought our resources, perhaps selling the silver communion set (deep breath) and giving the money to those in need? What might adopting a daily rhythm of prayer in our homes do to our faith and understanding that God is still in charge and doing amazing things today?


The insights and lessons from the monastics and their potential benefits for Churches are not a new or unique train of thought. Still, it is a train of thought that deserves a second hearing. It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who, back in 1935, said,


“The restoration of the Church will surely come from a sort of new monasticism which has in common with the old only the uncompromising attitude of a life lived according to the Sermon on the Mount in the following of Christ. I believe it is now time to call people together to do this.”


The modern monastic movement may be the best source of hope for the rural Church (aside from Jesus!) The restoration of the rural Church will be complex; there will be tears, and we may feel like giving up halfway through. Nonetheless, carefully reading Acts 4:32-25 and Matthew 5:1-12 may provide insights into how we might embrace a form of monasticism that will enable us to live relationally and be the rural Church today.


Simon Mattholie CEO, Rural Ministries

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