A partnership between the Farming Community Network (FCN) charity and the church has led to the appointment of a rural business chaplain to serve farmers.
The joint venture between the FCN and the dioceses of Canterbury and Chichester has given the Reverend Chris Hodgkins a “roving chaplaincy” in Kent and Sussex.
As well as being associate team priest in the Tenterden, Rother and Oxney Benefice, he will provide a pastoral presence at auction marts, livestock and agricultural shows, ploughing matches and farmers’ markets.
He will also develop links with rural food producers, liaise with farming support groups, provide information to people about helpful organisations and offer a “listening ear”.
“Threats to sustainability are being experienced by both the rural church and the communities they serve as they face changes in technology, the decline of services and discerning the foundations that can be laid for future generations,” says Rev Hodgkins who trained at West Sussex College of Agriculture.
“This post is essential to provide encouragement to those facing these challenges, as well as offering a channel through which concerns and ideas can be expressed to those shaping the local, regional and national agendas.
“I have experienced ill health, which meant I could no longer work in agriculture,” added former herdsman Rev Hodgkins.
“I remember not wanting to talk to anyone about how I was feeling, so I fully appreciate the need for a post like this, and for the work of organisations such as FCN, to support those in rural communities who, by their very nature, are very isolated.”
Canon Caroline Pinchbeck of the Diocese of Canterbury said the role would help fill the void left by the decline in traditional support networks.
“Quite often in rural areas, the traditional hubs of community like the village shop, school, and the pub have gone, but it is the local church that still remains – helping plug the gap.
“This might be through hosting the local post office, farmers’ markets, a library, or providing meeting opportunities, and supporting local businesses.”
FCN chief executive Charles Smith said: “With farm incomes plummeting 29% in just one year, farming families are facing significant financial pressures, putting their businesses and family lives under immense stress.
“While farms are perhaps the most obvious business in the countryside, our rural communities can only avoid becoming dormant if we encourage, support and develop a whole range of thriving rural businesses.”