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Rural churches face daunting challenges

Catholic Rural Life
Rural churches face daunting challenges. Young people move to urban settings, remaining parishioners are aging, and pastors are stretched in their time and energy. There is an uneasy sense of what the future holds. Within all this, the Church and dioceses must avoid the loss of connections between rural and urban.
A call goes out to urban parishes to rethink their assumptions about rural churches. It is possible to make a difference in the rural areas of our dioceses through acts of solidarity. Some may believe that rural churches are lost causes for growth. Yes, there is the challenge of limited resources, but we must avoid stereotypes and recognize the gifts of rural parishes and spread word of pastoral successes.
A decline in numerical growth of a parish does not automatically mean a decline in faith, strength and Godly leadership. Creative thinking, timely partnerships and decisive action can bring rural churches back from the brink of pessimism and loss. In some of the more active parishes, we learned about their partnerships with parishes overseas. These “sister parishes” (generally in Africa) inspired thoughts about such connections between urban and rural parishes within a diocese. This is a kind of diocesan geography of faith to offer solidarity to our brothers and sisters so distant in our thoughts, yet no further than a county away.
There are myriad ways to reach out to rural parishes close to home and connect our gifts in community services, parish projects, liturgy and pastoral support. Although CRL does not have specific programs for urban-rural “sister parishes”, we do try to make connections through our Green Ribbon campaign in support of family farms.
Could we not look to the assets within our own parishes to identify the many skills, crafts, services, enterprises and products that could be offered to each for the good of the whole? We believe such connections can be made through “buy local” food networks, among many other ideas.
Some of our partner groups in Canada and Europe tell us about their “farmers forum” and annual farm visits to help encourage people in the urban church understand better what was happening in the countryside. These are gatherings for people who have lost connection with the land and how their food is produced.
Both here and abroad, agricultural festivals in rural churches are still common. Perhaps this is an opportunity to reach out to urban parishes and celebrate the season harvest in worship and communal suppers. For those in a deanery of both rural and urban churches, this could be the start of much closer connections. Make this an opportunity to build links, exchange social capital, enjoy fellowship, reconnect people to each other and bridge the urban-rural divide.
Here are other acts of urban-rural solidarity:
•Pray regularly for our brothers and sisters in rural parishes. Prayer must always be the starting point and foundation for our work of solidarity.
• Preach and teach on the challenges facing the Church in isolated areas. Consider organizing an annual educational “Rural Life Sunday”.
• Visit a rural parish and spend time learning about their daily life. Such visits can transform attitudes and improve understandings. There is no substitute for seeing with one’s own eyes, or better yet to walk in another’s shoes.

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