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Rural Hub update

Rural Mission Hubs are an integral part of the calendar for the pioneers, practitioners, and permission givers, as well as those looking to explore rural ministry and mission. They are an opportunity to chat, pray, explore, laugh, and cry together. It is a gathering of like-minded explorers with an open door to anyone seeking community, and as such, invites you to join the journey. Each hub aims to meet two or three times each year and has its own character with no set format. Jon Timms and Jo Allen report back on the first three Hub meetings of this year.

Launde Abbey, Leicestershire  Jon Timms

Mid-February saw the first Hub of the year take place at Launde Abbey. Long time friends of RM, Launde Abbey, host the space beautifully and the grounds provide a wonderful setting to reflect and retreat for the day. For me personally it was a great encouragement to meet and get acquainted with those who frequent the Hub. It is a truly wonderful way to make connections and inspire each other.


After the obligatory morning cup of tea (well, we are British after all), we began the day reflecting on scripture and particularly the ideas around the Hebrew words ‘Shema’ and ‘Lev’. Rooting ourselves in Samuel and Solomon, we explored these ideas. Shema is the Hebrew word for listening. However, there is a slight nuance to the word that isn’t easily translatable into English. Connected to the word is a follow-up action of obeying, doing what we hear. Shema means to listen and to respond, to turn your attention to what is being said. This is why you may find the Biblical prophets saying something like, ‘they have ears but do not listen’. It means they have neglected to respond or to act on what they have heard.


The second word is Lev. This means heart. In much of the Bible the heart is central (Proverbs 4:23) and it makes up much of our inner world and landscape. The heart for Biblical writers is where we feel, think, experience emotions, it is where wisdom resides within us and where life bursts forth from.


So, looking at Deuteronomy 6:4-5: “Hear O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (NRSV)


That means, Shema. Listen to these words, they require a response from you. Listen from the core of my being; listen, respond with love with your whole self.


This set the temperature for the remainder of the day. In all of our conversations and reflections, we found ourselves returning to this again and again. Listen and respond. We each took time in solitude, and this personal reflection time was aided by a glorious winter sun (15°C in February!!!) and the beauty of the natural surroundings. It was wonderful to see folks simply slow down. The pace at which the world demands we live at, is unsustainable for most of us. Slowing down is the perfect antidote for the pressures and demands of life and, unfortunately, our work in ministry.


Group reflection times are encouraging and often inspiring. We were asking ourselves questions about the activity of God in our lives and work, where we’re seeing and witnessing His movements. We asked about ourselves too, where am I right now? Do I ‘shema’ the Lord for my community and my mission, listen and respond to His heart? If I’m honest, not always. But I am learning, and learning takes practice. If we run at the pace of the world we may not have capacity to listen well, let alone respond. My encouragement is to slow the pace a little. Take a walk in the cool of day with God, let the sun shine on your face……and bend an ear to His whispers, with a willing heart of course.

Ashburnham Place, Sussex  Jo Allen

We had a beautiful time together at Ashburnham Place, the first hub in the South East. There was a refreshing retreat feel about the day, bringing those in rural ministry together to encounter God and each other. We asked the questions: where has God been, where is God now, and what is God saying to us about what is coming? Of particular note was ‘Epiphany’: a band who play their instruments whilst listening to God, creating a flowing piece if music speaking to an individual or group of people. At our Hub, they first played music over the whole group and then invited individuals to be the focus of their time. It was beautiful, creative, relaxing, and refreshing. I’ve had the joy of being ministered to by Epiphany before, so I knew the fruit of their work, the joy and encounter with God that it enables, and was excited for others to experience God in this creative way. We were blessed and refreshed by their ministry, helping us to dream with God together. Alongside this, reflecting on Daniel helped us to think about where God has been in the midst of the difficult moments in our rural ministry, in the middle of the fire, and sharing and praying together enabled us to focus on what God is currently doing. Simon now has a pile of cards with our hopes, dreams and what God has encouraged us with on the day, ready to post back to each attendee in the coming months. Hopefully helping us to remember God’s good words to us, and to keep dreaming with him.


‘Encounter’ is the key word for this hub – a place to come and encounter God and each other, to refresh ourselves to continue God’s mission in our own contexts. Encounters with Jesus come in all shapes and sizes; the woman at the well encountered Jesus as she was doing her daily tasks, Zaccheus whilst up a tree, Mary and Martha in their own home and Nicodemus actively sought Jesus out in the night. Each encounter, transformed, refreshed, and began to release God’s mission in their lives. It is, however, always curious to me that Jesus, God incarnate, still had to hide away with his Father to have a precious moment of encounter. This is an age-old rhythm of hiding away with God and actively ministering, hiding, ministering, hiding, ministering. In Luke 5:17 Jesus ‘withdraws to desolate places to pray’ during a busy season in his ministry, and again in Luke 6 Jesus spends his night praying, but his daytime ministering to the sick and choosing the disciples, and then in Mark 6:31 Jesus teaches his disciples to do the same. The rhythm of work and rest is important to mission with Jesus. Something that retreat centres like Ashburnham Place recognise well.


It’s what’s going on when we rest and retreat that’s important - encountering God in an intimate way, meeting him face-to-face. It’s resting in God’s presence, having our sharp edges softened and being anchored in our identity as children of God. Being restored in this face-to-face encounter enables us to continue the mission he’s called us to out of a place of love. One of the moments that stands out in Jesus’ journey of rest and encounter with his father is the Garden of Gethsemane. When we read and sit with that precious moment of prayer, it’s clear that this time brought Jesus close to his father, reminding him of his call as God’s child, being a place of honesty in which his emotions could be held and heard, and a source of comfort, strength, encouragement and direction. We could all do with some of that, a tonic for the soul you might say.


But it’s also when we encounter each other, that we are able to think outside our own situation and dream bigger. Like Peter and Cornelius in Acts, there’s the conversations which can happen so easily in the safe space of a hub where the Holy Spirit challenges us to walk in each other’s shoes, breaking down our assumptions and drawing us closer together. I love those encounters. Then there’s the deeply encouraging encounters. I’ll never forget my first hub with Launde Abbey, when I met another pioneer priest called to encourage others, we chatted for a long time and I came away encouraged, inspired and feeling like I wasn’t on my own. The conversation was tonic for my soul.


St Cuthbert’s Centre, Holy Island, Northumberland  Jon Timms

Mid-March saw the first North-East & Borders Hub of the year take place on a wild and windy day (quite predictable for this time of year) on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. Folk from Northumberland, the Borders and East Lothian gathered at St Cuthbert’s Centre for a day of reflection, story and learning from each other.


Once again, the room is filled with ministers, pioneers and missional practitioners, each with a story to tell about how God is meeting them, stirring them and moving in their towns, villages and countryside. We began with tea and cake (of course!), followed by prayers and a reflection from Luke 10 led by RM’s Simon Mattholie.


What I love about the Hubs is the fact that the agenda is loosely set and held very lightly. Space is given to the Holy Spirit to move among us, to lead and guide us. When the floor is opened to reflection, prayer, comment and free conversation, it’s the stories and experiences of those in attendance that bring form and shape to the day. What stirs in each of us as we read this passage? Where is God leading us to linger a little longer? What does that mean for each of our lives and contexts?


Each person’s response to the scripture was different but provided each of us with a launching pad for further individual exploration, alone together. And so the day unfolded, discussion in one large group and also in small groups, helped us unpack with each other where we’re seeing God right now and where our hopes are for the future of the context we’re living and ministering in.


This Hub also hosted a few people who were in a place of transition, where they are sensing a call into something but are unsure of what form that may take; or they are presented with an opportunity but unsure of how to go about it. In my own experience of participating in these hubs, it is exactly times like these that help and inspire us, when we hear the stories of others and get their perspective. That is kind of what this day seemed to be about. Sometimes in our own lives, church buildings and geography, our seeing and hearing can get a little cloudy. Heading out somewhere new to think, pray and discern, away from all that is familiar and routine, clears the fog and creates a spacious place in our hearts and minds. It allows us a larger view of any given situation and we’re able to move vantage point and see clearly from a different perspective.


I left the Hub inspired and encouraged. God is doing incredible things in our region. Sometimes it’s sudden, most of time it’s slow, all of time it is sacred and holy.


Whichever way we encounter more of God and more of each other, let’s do more of that, and let’s incorporate the rhythm of work and rest to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. These hubs could be helpful in setting that rhythm of work and rest, where we (RM, the retreat centre, and other generous leaders involved) seek to encourage people to reflect, encounter and retreat - tonic for the soul. What’s particularly important for us is that these encounters lead us to be more confident in the gospel and sharing more of Jesus in our context. Come along and join in at one of the Hubs. You can find more details on our website 

Jo Allen & Jon Timms

Rural Ministries

First published in MOSAIC Issue 13, May - August 2024


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