New Rural Chaplain commissioned

New chaplain dedicated to supporting those working in the rural business sectors of Kent and Sussex.

New chaplain commissioned to serve rural business in Kent and Sussex

9 September 2016

  • A ‘roving chaplaincy’ around the livestock markets of Kent and Sussex
  • Dioceses of Canterbury and Chichester and the Farming Community Network in partnership

A new chaplain dedicated to supporting those working in the rural business sectors of Kent and Sussex has been welcomed into his post at a special service on Wednesday 7 September in Rolvenden. The Revd Chris Hodgkins is the first person to hold this position which is a new joint venture between the Dioceses of Canterbury and Chichester and the Farming Community Network (FCN), a Christian charity which provides pastoral and practical support to farming families dealing with issues that cause them stress and anxiety.

As well as fulfilling the role of Associate Team Priest in the Tenterden, Rother and Oxney Benefice, in his capacity as Rural Business Chaplain Revd Hodgkins will spend part of his time as a roving chaplain providing a pastoral presence across the livestock and agricultural shows, ploughing matches and farmers’ markets in Kent and Sussex. He will also develop further links with rural food producers and liaise with key farming support organisations like FCN.

Both Kent and Sussex contain a large number of small and medium farm businesses which include many entrepreneurs who are developing businesses on family farms to ensure their future. While there are good opportunities for people to develop these businesses and build employment in rural areas, there are challenges which can place a lot of stress on individuals, their relationships and families.

Contact with good social and business networks can help alleviate these demands, but where these are absent, additional help may be needed. This is where it is hoped the new Rural Business Chaplain will step in, signposting people to helpful organisations and offering a ‘listening ear’.

Before training for the ministry, Revd Chris Hodgkins previously worked in Rolvenden as an Assistant Herdsman and trained at West Sussex College of Agriculture. He said he was delighted that he and his family were returning to the area and that he was going to be able to use his agricultural experience for the work of the Church and the community at such challenging times:

“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. It’s why this post is so essential in order 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.

He continued: “I myself have experienced ill health which meant I could no longer work in agriculture. 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 like the Farming Community Network, to support those in rural communities who, by their very nature, are very isolated.”

Canon Caroline Pinchbeck, Director of the Diocese of Canterbury’s Communities and Partnerships Framework, said that the role would help fill the void left by the decline in traditional support networks, and build on the work already being carried out in rural communities in the Dioceses of Canterbury and Chichester:

“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. We’re really looking forward to seeing Chris develop and deepen the Church’s presence and witness in these vital communities.”

Charles Smith, Chief Executive of FCN, said:

“The creation of this new role couldn’t be more timely. 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. Whilst farms are perhaps the most obvious business in the countryside, our rural communities can only avoid becoming dormitories if we encourage, support and develop a whole range of thriving rural businesses. Together, we can do a great deal to support that aim. Pooling the resources of the Chichester and Canterbury Dioceses along with those of FCN makes perfect sense in these challenging times. We very much look forward to working alongside the Revd Chris Hodgkins as we minister to the vital rural business sector.”

Revd Mark Betson, Rural and Environment Officer for the Diocese of Chichester, said:

“We warmly welcome Chris and his unique cross-diocesan role, working with producers in East Sussex as well as Kent. We recognise the need to support the farming community and can best do so by sharing resources between diocese and the Farming Community Network to increase the support we can give. Chris will be an excellent example of this cooperation in practice.”

For more information please contact Jennifer Ross, Communications Officer, Diocese of Canterbury on jross@diocant.org or 01227 459 401 / 07702 840 074

ENDS

Photos show:

  • The Revd Chris Hodgkins the new Rural Business Chaplain

Notes to editors

  • According to the Kent Rural Delivery Framework 2007, in Kent, approximately 150,000 people work in rural areas, and 36% of businesses are based in rural areas. Many of these businesses employ less than 10 people and developing these businesses and running them with the issues of meeting regulations, marketing and the sheer hard work involved is challenging. For young people and new entrants into this sector the additional challenges of locating and affording land and accommodation is a major bar to their starting in business or in taking a rural job.