This April we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Victorian Baptist Rural Ministry Fellowships (RMF’s). Rev John Simpson, who still attends the Halls Gap RMF each year, was instrumental in giving birth to RMF’s back in 1983 and we had a chance to celebrate the anniversary with him at the Halls Gap RMF earlier this month.
The idea of RMF’s began to gain momentum around 1978 when John commenced as the BUV Coordinator of Christian Development, a role dedicated to, as John put it “helping people do what they were doing better.” The Secretary of the Union at the time, Trevor Farmilo, told John to just get out there and do what needs to be done.
“So I lived on the road and it was pretty normal for me to rack up a thousand kilometers a week. Over the early years, I pretty much visited every pastor in every manse in the city and around the Victorian country.”
John discovered through his travels that Pastors in regional and rural areas of Victoria were lonely; they knew the other Pastors in surrounding areas but didn’t really know each other. There were no zoom calls, mobile phones or even email in those days and the distance between Melbourne and some of these areas took its toll on frequent visits. Not only were Pastors lonely – they also felt alone in their work.
So, in 1983, 40 years ago, the first RMF was held in Stawell for Victorian Baptist Pastors in the north west region. The value of the RMF was quickly realized and the concept was duplicated in other regions around Victoria.
Part of the purpose of the RMF’s was to bring groups of Pastors in regions together to create links, build friendships, create listening spaces, share and provide opportunity for mutual encouragement. Through his travels John also discovered that for country Pastors and leaders, the BUV office as it was known then, was seen pretty much only as the Melbourne base for insurance and for setting the recommended stipend. Of course, John knew the value of the BUV office was far greater and set about building links between the office and the churches where possible, providing support and service.
After some time in this role, John ultimately realized that he couldn’t live on the road all the time, and so it led to the appointment of the Regional Superintendents or Regional Pastors as we know them today.
“I think the role gave the BUV a face that (and I’m not meaning to talk about myself here – I’m just saying), was a stepping-stone towards the creation of what we have now.”
Today, five RMF’s are held each year covering North West, South West, North East, South East and the Geelong / Surf coast regions with the same goals – to create links between Pastors in regions, build friendships, provide mutual encouragement and create 2 way listening and sharing spaces not only between churches but also the BUV Support Hub. Several BUV Support Hub staff attend each RMF through the year on a rotating basis so that staff can get to know the Pastors and churches and the Pastors can understand what services each team can provide to their church.
“From my perspective here and now in 2023, I look at what the Hub is doing, and I derive enormous satisfaction from that, great delight to think that the years which God allowed me to invest in His work amongst Victorian Baptists has been pursued, followed, developed, and now we have the Support Hub – we couldn’t ask for anything more. So a blessing upon you, upon the Hub folks, keep up the good work.”
We are truly grateful that God chose John and Judith to be instrumental in giving birth to such a great form of ministry. John and his wife, Judith still attend the Halls Gap NW RMF each year.
Click on the video below for a recap of how and why Rural Ministry Forums came about: