St Helen's Church
St Michael's Church
I took our new Bishop of Lancaster to visit Brock Auction Mart recently. She is our first female bishop in the over 1400 years that the church has been present here in Garstang and district, but we soon got down to the brass tacks of pastoral care and mission, as you would do regardless of identity. It was a busy day as usual, Belgian Blues and Aberdeen Angus were going through well, the price of lambs had fallen, nobody seemed to want to take them home to rear them on grass that was simply not growing because of all the sunny weather we had been having and the consequent shortage of water. Bishop Gill seemed interested as the director of the auction explained that many farmers are having to use their supplies of winter feed now because of the near drought conditions.
So, why were we there? Well, Bishop Jill has a brief as our rural officer and the auction is the place were, in farming terms, it all goes on! It is important for those of us in rural ministry to understand the unique challenges and opportunities involved in the rural economy. For example, it was important for me to point out that the picture postcard view of this part of Lancashire is nowhere near the full picture. Attractive as it may seem, farming is a solitary way of life, it is also a dangerous one with the statistics for both categories showing that stress and industrial injury are in fact the most serious in the UK. There is also hidden poverty. Bishop Gill was surprised to learn that many of the houses on our small local authority housing estates are occupied by farm labourers who, while working in an asset rich economy and driving vehicles costing many tens of thousands of pounds during the day find it extremely difficult to buy property in the area. Of the couples whose weddings I celebrate I find a surprising amount, when they return to bring their children for baptism, have had to move to urban areas such as Preston in order to be able to afford housing.
We had a good and informative day, but one after which I hope, as one of the few professionals still left both living in and serving rural communities, the wider church and community might be more informed about where food on their plate comes from, and how it got there. Bishop Gill asked a farmer what he would like her to pray for and I think we all need to pray for our rural way of life, especially our young people, that they might find fulfilment and satisfaction in the area in which they were
brought up as children and that society might come to fully appreciate what debt is owed to those who feed us. The parables that Jesus taught were often inspired by livestock and arable farming, but life was no theme park then and it isn’t now. The issues may be hidden but they are real.