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Church and farms brought together with new Essex chaplain

PUBLISHED: 13:05 13 February 2016 | UPDATED: 09:37 15 February 2016

Rev Janet Nicholls, rural adviser and agricultural chaplain, is pictured at Thaxted Church.

Rev Janet Nicholls, rural adviser and agricultural chaplain, is pictured at Thaxted Church.

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The agricultural chaplain for Essex hopes to bring God and farming together in her new role.

Rev Janet Nicholls, rural adviser and agricultural chaplain, is pictured at Thaxted Church. Rev Janet Nicholls, rural adviser and agricultural chaplain, is pictured at Thaxted Church.

Reverend Janet Nicholls has been appointed to the post, which also includes a role as rural adviser, by the Chelmsford Diocese in recognition of the strong farming community in the county.

Born and raised on a small family farm in Great Bardfield, Reverend Nicholls has a strong agricultural background.

She said: “I grew up there, and although I had my own career like all small farms you were called back at busy times so I always kept my hand in.

“The farm was transformed many times, as they are.

“It gives me a bit of an understanding and insight into the unique concerns faced by farming families.”

Now living in nearby Shalford, her father still lives on the farm which is worked on by her brother and his wife.

Although the diocese, which covers Essex and parts of London, previously had a rural officer when they retired it gave the Church a chance to look at the role – and with Rev Nicholls just finishing her curacy which included an agricultural placement it was the perfect opportunity.

She said: “We found farmers were really appreciating that service, so we could develop it and do something more formal.”

So what does Rev Nicholls, a former local education authority advisory teacher, hope to achieve in her role for the Church of England and farming community?

“My brief is to be the link between rural churches, communities, and the diocese,” she said.

“I hope to bring church and farm together, supporting smaller parishes.

“The church is so critical in rural communities, sometimes the only place where people gather in a village.

“People often think there are a handful of very big farms, but there are also a lot of smaller farms where people are working their socks off to keep going who are not the sort of people to access help services out there. So I will try to keep an eye and ear out for them.

“Harvest Festival is probably the one service of the year most churches will link to farming, but it is also farmers’ busiest time of year so I can be there year-round to support them.”

On a day-to-day basis Rev Nicholls compares her role to that of a hospital chaplain, responding to the needs of farmers, making visits, listening and generally offering pastoral support.

She also aims to be at as many farming events as possible, to introduce herself to farmers and remind them she is there to help.

Rev Nicholls will also be working closely with the Farming Community Network and the RABI charity in the area, as well as the Rural Community Council of Essex.

One of Rev Nicholls’ first jobs in her new position was to organise the Plough Sunday service held at Thaxted Church, covering a number of rural north Essex parishes, and presided over by the Bishop of Colchester Roger Morris.

Plough Sunday, held in January, is a historic tradition where farming equipment and soil is blessed by clergy ready for the year ahead.

Rev Nicholls can be contacted at jnicholls@chelmsford.anglican.org, search “Rural Adviser for Chelmsford Diocese” on Facebook, or call 01371 851317.

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