Revd Peter Bowes
Southern Ryedale in North Yorkshire is a rural Church of England deanery in the diocese of York, with a large number of small villages surrounding a market town. With reducing stipendiary clergy numbers and demographic pressures it faces significant challenges. This study explores what (if any) sort of future might be envisioned for the church and the sort of ministry that might be required for that future. Noting that the predominant style of the churches in Southern Ryedale (as in many other rural areas of England) is central, the study explores the nature of central churchmanship as a form of being church that has been - and may continue to be - particularly suited to a rural context. The study seeks to distinguish between the default or inherited form of central that has been prevalent, and a more intentional form that might allow the church to engage with 21st century challenges, not least to grapple with issues of discipleship and mission which may enable it to stem and reverse the decline of numbers which threatens its very survival. A study of two typical benefices within the deanery, one a town benefice and the other a multi-church village benefice, produces evidence that not only matches the central model but also indicates possible hope for the future if embodied in a more intentional model of church. The anticipated further decline of stipendiary clergy numbers will require greater reliance on other forms of ministry, not least that of lay people. The reduced number of stipendiary clergy may well be located in the towns and, ministering from there to the villages, will have an important role in the oversight and support of lay people in ministry.