As we prepare for Rural Mission Sunday 2020, we find ourselves in uncharted waters. We – in common with communities across the world – have been living in lockdown for a significant proportion of the early months of this year, living with a level of disconnection that many, if not all of us, have found unsettling and unprecedented.
As we have supported rural churches through COVID-19, and listened to stories of the impact the outbreak has had, we have become convinced that Rural Mission Sunday 2020 offers a timely opportunity to take stock and reflect, to engage intentionally with the changes of perspective that we have experienced in recent weeks.
In Exodus 3 we read of an encounter between Moses and God at the burning bush. Moses is going about his normal, everyday life when he catches sight of a bush that’s on fire. This is a fairly ordinary occurrence for him, but he’s paying sufficient attention to notice that the bush isn’t burning up. What follows is an exchange that transforms not only Moses but the future of the whole people of God.
Many centuries later, the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning reflected on this simple act of ‘noticing’:
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.
This Rural Mission Sunday, we want to create space for you to stop and ‘notice God’ in a new way, to find, in George Herbert’s glorious phrase, ‘heaven in ordinary’.
The simple premise at the heart of Rural Mission Sunday remains as relevant this year as it always has: to encourage you and your church congregation to celebrate another year of faithfully sustaining an effective Christian presence in your community. As ever, we’ve provided resources and suggestions to help you shape Sunday worship in a way which enables you to do this, and this year we’ve considered how you might do this as a gathered or as a dispersed congregation.
As we compile this material it is difficult to predict the extent to which we will still be impacted by social distancing restrictions by the time Rural Mission Sunday rolls round on 19 July. Where we are in the pandemic response will shape how you might respond. If we’re still in lockdown or social distancing guidelines are still in place you will need to focus on your use of phone or online resources, or on equipping your church family to mark Rural Mission Sunday in their own homes. If restrictions have been partially or entirely lifted, Rural Mission Sunday may be the perfect opportunity to bring your community together to celebrate!