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When the Tui Calls: Rural Ministry – Origins and Futures

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By Bill Bennett

Review by John Thornley for Tui Motu Magazine. Issue 219 September 2017

“Described as an “essay”, this 65-page book provides an informal and readable introduction to rural ministry. Parts one and two cover the historical origins in Roman and Celtic religion, embedded within parish and monastic structures, moving through the Reformation and Evangelical revivals, from a post-medieval to the 18th-century industrial, to the urban world.

The story comes to New Zealand in the third part, “Clash of Cultures”, which covers the missionary and settler activities of Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and Catholic developments. This section concludes with the treatment of Māori Missions and Pastorates and with the independent Māori ministries in partnership models which emerged later in the 20th-century.

In Part Four, “Changing Patterns of Rural Ministry in the 20th- and 21st-Centuries”, the subheadings highlight the interplay of religious and secular conflicts and compromises that have been central to the story of rural ministry from the beginning. They include, “Rural Prosperity and Adversity”, “Affirming the distinctiveness of a rural ministry theology”, “Minita-a-iwi”, “The Impact of Political and Economic Changes”, “Rural Religion and Politics”, “Local Shared Ministry” and “The Near Landscape and Beyond”.

Bill Bennett is the ideal writer of this book. As an Anglican Pākehā minister he has been a major mover and shaker in the development of a rural ministry theology and praxis in Aotearoa New Zealand. Much of his ministry has been in rural parishes in the Diocese of Waiapu as well as in Norwich and Lichfield Dioceses in England. His publications of prayers and hymns (both lyrics and music) are a taonga for ecumenical and bicultural worship services.

I strongly recommend this book for ministry formation, seminary and pastoral theology libraries and as a resource for lay and ordained ministers throughout New Zealand.”

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Book Review by Stephen Donald in Waiapu News August 2017

“The tui, voted inaugural Bird of the Year in 2005, is highly adaptive, has a distinctive call, is protective of its domain, and is an imitator of song and speech. As common in exotic nectar-bearing trees and shrubs as it is in indigenous vegetation, the tui is an enduring example of survival and adaptability. Bill Bennett’s extended essay on rural ministry reflects on its long evolution in England and New Zealand, current challenges within the present context, and continuing viability for the future in Aotearoa New Zealand.

My first contact with Bill and Wendy Bennett was at a rural ministry conference held at Waerenga-a-Hika near Gisborne in 1979 when he was vicar of the newly amalgamated Waipaoa parish. I was a lay person, new within adult involvement in my local predominantly-parish, one of the first in the diocese to not have a vicar, and not even sure now how I even came to be there. This was early days in the ‘movement’, and the first time I had heard of the notion of rural ministry being a distinctive sector of the mission of the Church.

These were in the optimistic days before Rogernomics, large-scale forestry plantings, farm amalgamation and rural depopulation, the large-scale amalgamation of parishes or Local Shared Ministry, and an increasingly secular and indifferent society, although if we had looked the warning signs were all there. The Treaty of Waitangi was something in the historical past for many Pākehā New Zealanders, and te reo Māori was mostly spoken on the marae and decreasingly in a few homes, and certainly not heard in the mainstream media. The Bishop of Aotearoa was suffragan to the Bishop of Waiapu, and the notion of a three Tikanga Church was more than a decade away.

Although Bill’s study mostly concerns ministry to and by Pākehā, he sets this within the context of our rich missionary history, the Land Wars of the 1860s, and twentieth century developments such as growing Māori aspirations in Church and society. He traces the developments of minitā-a-iwi in this diocese and beyond, and the revised constitution of 1992, with a resultant ‘re-framing’ of the Church of the Province of New Zealand to become the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.
Bill highlights some key issues and opportunities for rural ministry today, including:
  • Maintaining identity as a rural community and Church.

  • Being forums for wider community discussion on current issues

  • Re-vitalising the Church’s ministry of hospitality

  • Ensuring those responsible for worship leadership are well-trained and that that worship gives expression to what is actually happening in the rural community

  • Developing strategies for on-farm, at-home visits or sub-regional get-togethers

  • Offering theological college students short residential stays to help them understand time-work seasonal relationships, and how rural people view life and society.

In the words of Bishop Andrew Hedge, who wrote the foreword of this small book, “The  work  you  have  in  your  hands  is  an  invaluable  insight  into  the  roles  that  faith and  Christian  ministry  offer  to  rural  life,  born  not  only  out  of  Bill’s  experience,  but also with the depth of the history of the life of the Church in word and sacrament. Bill provides the Church today with a pathway back into our history that will help us to identify the roots of our ministry in rural life that enables us to navigate our present and near future.”

A huge thank you needs to go to Bill for this distillation of a lifetime spent within the Anglican Church within the Diocese of Waiapu. His great wisdom, depth of understanding and thoughts for the future give us much to ponder on. This is a book for lay and clergy alike, and comfortably sits alongside the hymns, reflections and practical ministry so prayerfully offered to the Church and community over many years.”
An article about the book launch and tribute to Bill also appears on page 10 of the August 2017 issue of Waiapu News here: http://www.waiapu.com/assets/WN-Issue-75-Final.pdf
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Book Description

This essay on rural ministry reflects on its long evolution, its current challenges, and its continuing viability for the future in Aotearoa New Zealand.
The Tui (Parson Bird), with its tuft of white feathers at the neck, is highly adaptive, has a distinctive call, is protective of its domain, is an imitator of song and speech and is an enduring example of survival and adaptability.
Bennett highlights some key issues and opportunities for rural ministry today, including:
  • Maintaining identity as a rural community and church

  • Being forums for wider community discussion on current issues

  • Re-vitalising the church’s ministry of hospitality

  • Ensuring those responsible for worship leadership are well-trained

  • Ensuring that worship gives expression to what is actually happening in the rural community

  • Developing strategies for on-farm, at-home visits or sub-regional get-togethers

  • Offering theological college students short residential stays to help them understand time-work-seasonality relationships, and how rural people view life and society.

“The work you have in your hands is an invaluable insight into the roles that faith and Christian ministry offer to rural life, born not only out of Bill’s experience, but also with the depth of the history of the life of the Church in word and sacrament. Bill provides the Church today with a pathway back into our history that will help us to identify the roots of our ministry in rural life that enables us to navigate our present and near future.” From the Foreword, by Bishop Andrew Hedge


About the Author

Bill Bennett comes from a Southern Hawke’s Bay farming background.
He has served much of his ministry as an Anglican priest in rural parishes in the Diocese of Waiapu as well as in the Norwich and Lichfield Dioceses in England. He worked as Ministry Enabler and twice as Regional Dean in Hawke’s Bay between 1994 and 2015.

His interest in rural communities is reflected in his publications: God of the Whenua (an overview of rural ministry in New Zealand), Seasons of the Land and The Shepherd’s Call (both being prayers and liturgies for rural communities). He continues to write hymns and songs (words and music).

He is on the Editorial Board of the international periodical, Rural Theology. Till its demise recently he was tutor in Rural Ministry Studies for the Ecumenical Institute for Distance Theological Studies (EIDTS).

He and his wife Wendy live in retirement in Napier, New Zealand.
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