Ministry might take place over a fence in a field, a corner of the livestock market or in the cabin of a tractor, so no two days are the same for Rural Chaplain David Gwatkin. His remit is broad and his working relationships sometimes start with a phone call about someone experiencing financial hardship. “Very often it is a third party referral for example Trading Standards, regarding a welfare issue on a farm borne out of a financial difficulty. We’re really the middle men or women for farmers to access financial aid perhaps from some of the bigger national charities so a big part of my job is pastorally responding, caring and walking alongside” David said of his role within the Borderlands Rural Chaplaincy team.
“Sometimes the presenting problem isn’t always the reason you’ve really been invited to come out and see somebody or you engage in conversation and pass the time of day, but as you go to leave the real issue comes up and those real issues are everything and anything really” David informed adding, “People are working long, anti-social hours, they are socially and geographically isolated, they don’t really have anyone to unburden to and with mechanisation, that sense of community is being eroded to a certain extent by one’s ability to function as an individual you know, ‘one man and his ten tractors’ type affair.” Sadly, the taboo that still surrounds mental health issues and depression mean that those needing help wait until it is almost too late before seeking it.
“I think one of the biggest services we can offer is the impartial, confidential listening ear. It’s quite a proud community and I think people are always mightily concerned about what will the neighbours think if they know if my marriage is going down the Suwannee, if the know my business is financially crippled and the fear often means they want someone out of their circle, someone who they know can be confidential, just to talk to.”
“You have people who want to off load and they never want to see you again. But sometimes through these very personal, very painful, very vulnerable one to one encounters a relationship grows.” Asked about the place of prayer within his ministry, David said, “Prayer is essential” but requires considering how appropriate and when appropriate. “Pastoral sensitivity is key and a prayer request doesn’t necessarily mean the chaplain is asked to pray with someone.”
A big question for the farming community that isn’t engaged in church is what can a church do for me? Farmers want to know how the church is showing care, concern and compassion towards them. David sees that a big part of his role is to represent the farming community to the church community and also represent the church’s care and compassion to an isolated sparsely spread community industry.
Having now spent a significant period familiarising themselves with the farming community, Borderlands now want to address how the organisation is perceived, recognised and understood and focus on long-term service provision.