Spreading the word in the Shire: The Archbishop of Canterbury visits Shropshire - in pictures

There was singing, prayers and a lot of laughs on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s whistle-stop tour of Shropshire.

The Archbishop of Canterbury at Clee Hill
The Archbishop of Canterbury at Clee Hill

There were bacon baps on the itinerary for the Most Reverend Justin Welby’s visit to the county, but, to his disappointment, no fizz.

The Archbishop’s first business of the day was to launch the church’s Mission and Mortar toolkit, and he joked: “No one has given me a bottle of champagne – how do you launch anything without a bottle of champagne?”

The project, designed to help parishioners rejuvenate their church buildings, goes hand-in-hand with the way the Archbishop sees the church itself moving with the times.

Ahead of the launch at St Laurence’s Church, the Archbishop spoke about how the modern day church is helping confront some of society’s most pressing issues.

He said: “The churches – not just in the Church of England – all the churches are doing more around the areas of social engagement than they’ve done at any time since 1945.

“The Church of England alone is involved in about 33,000 social projects across England. The particular areas I see are things around county lines, knife crime, the huge number of food banks – almost every food bank has some church involvement and support – and street pastors for making the night time scene safer.

“In a rural county like Shropshire, rural isolation is a really, really serious issue.”

It is an issue being tackled by projects like the Butty Van, a monthly meet-up for farmers in the Much Wenlock area.

The Butty Van started two years ago by local farmers and the Borderlands Rural Chaplaincy, an outreach support service run by Hereford Diocese.

Paul Trenberth, from the chaplaincy, said: “The Butty Van is a safe place for farmers to meet. It is the church going out of its building.”

“Farmers are under terrible pressure at the moment. Many are third or fourth generation farmers and feel like they are letting their great-great-grandfather down. They often feel like they can’t share it with their family because they are too close, so at the Butty Van they can say, ‘can you help me with this’.”

“At the church we would say it’s loving your neighbour.

“As long as they go away feeling they have enjoyed it and realise they are not on their own, it has been a success.”

With a bacon sandwich in one hand and a brew in the other, the Archbishop made his way around the barn at Oakwood Farm that was hosting this month’s event, hearing from farmers about what they have taken away from the unique project.

He said: “I think it’s absolutely indispensable. I was talking to two people who were talking about mental health issues and issues of depression and stress and pressure for farmers, so this kind of event tackles that.”

“It brings people together, it gives them company. With the chaplains here, they can be guided to find support.”

“The other side of it is that it’s an opportunity for celebration. You shouldn’t need an excuse to have a party amongst a group of people who live in the same area and are involved in the same business.

“They can complain about the things that annoy them they can say they’re pleased with the things that are going well, and it just lifts morale.

“You just have to look behind us – there’s a barn with a huge crowd of people in there, eating, chatting, catching up with the news. At the same time it’s got a number of chaplains there and underneath it all they’re caring for people, they’re looking after people, they’re finding out who’s struggling a bit, they’re finding out where things are going really well, who’s better than they were, who might have been struggling, and all those things are brought together through the community.”

The Archbishop went from the farm to Sutton Hill Community Centre in Telford and then on to Clee Hill where he joined young people from Cleobury Mortimer on a prayer walk.

He finished the day back at Ludlow, with a nightcap at Ludlow Brewery.

His visit coincided with the imminent retirement of Bishop Richard Frith, Bishop of Hereford. Speaking at St Laurence’s following the Archbishop’s service, he said: “It is a great encouragement to the whole diocese that he is here.

“He is throwing himself into all sorts of different events and this one here in Ludlow has been very special. It has brought a lot of people together from across the diocese – the frustration is that because it’s such a big diocese he can’t meet everyone.”

Reverend Kelvin Price, rector of St Laurence’s said: “To get an Archbishop to come to any church, but especially one you are looking after, is a real blessing.”

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