Methodists celebrate 40 years of rural work by the Arthur Rank Centre

A year after an agricultural chaplain launched a helpline to support gay farmers, Methodists are celebrating the 40 year anniversary of the Arthur Rank Centre (ARC) at their annual Methodist Conference. The 40 year anniversary of the rural outreach charity, which works alongside other national agricultural bodies in the UK, coincides with the retirement of its Methodist director, the Revd Dr Gordon Gatward who has served the centre for 13 years.
The Revd Graham Jones, Rural Officer for the Connexion, said: "The Arthur Rank Centre is now recognised as an ecumenical resource for work in rural communities. As well as supporting the life of the Church in rural communities, the centre also facilitates the Church's engagement with Britain's wider rural agenda. It has considerable credibility outside the Church as a centre that is committed to the wellbeing of rural communities."

The Arthur Rank Centre was founded in 1972 with support from Lord Rank. It began as a chaplaincy centre to the National Agricultural Centre and the Royal Agricultural Society of England. Over the years it has expanded and is now an independent charity that has strong links with the Church of England, the United Reformed Church and the Methodist Church as well as to Catholics, Baptists and Congregationalists across Britain.

The Revd Gordon Gatward, who has seen the centre through the turbulent times of the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001 and the charity's journey to independence in 2010, said: "When I came to the ARC in 1999 I had over 20 years experience of rural ministry and agricultural chaplaincy and a passion for the countryside, farming and the mission of the rural church. Consequently these 13 years as director of the ARC and chaplain to the RASE have been a great privilege as I've seen how God continues to work in and through countless rural churches and congregations. The ARC has been working alongside them and supporting them throughout and remains committed to fulfilling its objective to serve the rural community and its churches."

The Methodist Church is committed to supporting rural projects. Last year, the Church supported a search for volunteers to staff a helpline to gay farmers. Since its launch in December 2010, the helpline has received calls from 176 people. Following the Church's promotion last year, the helpline now has a team of five volunteers who held their first social event in May. Chaplain Keith Ineson, who runs the helpline, said: "New cases are still coming in as a result of the publicity. It takes a lot of courage to make contact."  

1) The gay farmer helpline number is 07837931894
2) Photo of Gordon Gatward can be found here.