Checking in with the Rural Church

Facilitated by Rev. Dr. Peter Bartlett, Eastern Ontario Outaouais Regional Council, Regional Minister Supporting Visioning with Communities of Faith, Clusters, and Social Justice and Outreach Networks. January 19, 2023

A very balanced group of 34 participants from east to west attended this workshop. Thank you for attending and sharing your thoughts and feelings.

Peter introduced the group to the diagram of the General Council Strategic Plan, and asked us to discuss in small groups, “Can you see yourself in this new vision” and “if so, how – if not, why not”.

The ensuing discussion covered many aspects of the Strategic Plan. Some people focused on the vision of the Church as bold, connected and evolving, united in deep spirituality, inspiring worship and daring justice. People talked about the inspiring worship of rural churches, when they reach outside their regular congregations for community participation, for special services like Christmas (Bethlehem Market), Easter (sunrise services) or musical sharing. On the other hand, so many communities of faith do not have regular ministers but depend on pulpit supply, and so they may regularly have quite traditional services.

Some looked at the commitments and honestly admitted to many challenges for some rural communities to work on right relations, becoming anti-racist, affirming, accessible, intercultural. Other rural communities are farther ahead on these issues; perhaps it depends on how diverse the community is, for many rural communities are very homogeneous (white). Even the most homogeneous, though, are beginning to have residents from many countries and races, and our churches are well situated to reach out to them. We need to keep in mind, when we think of attitudes, there is a wide diversity in communities and experiences within them.

Other people on Zoom that day were very critical of the Strategic Plan itself. They did not see the connection of the Plan to the rural context at all, where churches struggle to keep their doors open and how to be relevant to their communities. In the call to be inter-cultural, there is no recognition that rural is a culture of its own. In the call to daring justice, there is no call to the justice so immediate to rural communities, food production and sustainability, loss of farmland and corporate takeover.

Friends, would any of you reading care to comment on the United Church’s Strategic Plan? What are your opinions as rural folk? Let us know your thoughts at

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