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Flying Padre takes international leadership role

Flags from IRCA member nations hang symbolically from a cross
Queensland McKay Patrol Minister Rev Garry Hardingham, has been appointed as Secretary of the International Rural Churches Association (IRCA).

IRCA is a world wide network of Christians with a passion for rural communities who share stories of struggle and hope.

Over 100 delegates from 16 countries gave a world-view of the challenges and hopes in rural ministry at the International Rural Churches Association 4th Conference in Canada.

Under the theme of “Cry of the Heart: How Can we Find Hope in the Rural Landscape?” the conference explored the issues of mono-culturing, environmental degradation and corporate colonialism in many rural settings around the world.

Key note speaker was John Ikerd, a former professor of economics, and author of a number of books including “A return to Common Sense”

Professor Ikerd spoke of the tragic effects of economic rationalism upon the culture and sustainability of rural communities.

He said in many instances, multi-national corporations have become the new ‘colonisers’ of the rural landscape, buying up farming communities and implanting a corporate regime that seeks only to make profit even at the expense of rural culture or sustainable farming practices.

Mr Hardingham said one key theme arising at the Conference was the perceived indifference of many city-based denominations to see the value of rural congregations as a cohesive part of the rural landscape.

“Many complained that whilst in years gone by denominations supported rural ministry as a sign of their commitment to people in these regions, today support is often gauged against economic viability of rural churches and ministries.

“There was also a strong call for denominations to take seriously the possibility of including rural training into their curriculum for the training of ministers and a stronger effort in recruiting ministers from the rural context.”

Mr Hardingham said the placement of ‘city-raised’ ministers in rural communities of which they have little understanding has left a litany of destroyed congregations and burnt out ministers. This has become a world-wide phenomenon.

“Whilst this 4th Conference has demonstrated the need for IRCA, for us to gain credibility as a world-wide organisation, we need to become a much more formalised and constituted entity,” said Mr Hardingham.

“The Worldwide Council of Churches (WCC) will only listen to us if we have some international recognition from member church denominations.”

Chairperson Rev Lothar Schullerus from Romania said IRCA needed to ask the World Council of Churches and church denominations to state their policies on rural issues.

“Often, poor, ill-informed decisions are made on behalf of rural churches by city-based committees and whilst in good intentions, often these decisions have ramifications that undermine the original intent,” Rev Schullerus said.

“It is also important that the issues facing, say the Church of South India, may also have been faced by the Lutheran Church in Iceland.

“IRCA needs be an organization that can make these links possible to help rural ministry across the world.”

Photo : Flags from IRCA member nations hang symbolically from a cross