|Rural Life Celebration: Seeds of Hope|
by Michelle Scott*
Fort Worth, TX, April 26, 2008--"We are the heirs of exuberant, extravagant sowing of gospel seeds by countless small rural congregations around the world," said a bishop who grew up in a small east Tennessee town.
Bishop Kenneth Carder, currently a professor at Duke Divinity School, preached at the Rural Life Celebration during the April 26 morning plenary of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church. The denomination's top legislative body gathers every four years at this meeting.
The hour-long celebration of town and country churches was led by Mollie Stewart, member of the Town and Country Advisory Team, and Ed Kail, president of United Methodist Rural Fellowship. The Rural Life Celebration preceded a Town and Country Fair, complete with barbeque, corn dogs, and a gospel choir.
The theme, "Seeds of Hope," addressed the potential of rural churches for ministry. Worshipers were each given a packet of zinnia seeds to shake as rhythm instruments during songs and in response to statements like, "Shake your packet high if you grew up in a town and country church." Most of those present shook their packets.
The Last Voice of Faith
"In many places we are the last voice of faith," said Carol Thompson, executive secretary for Town and Country Ministries. During the plenary more than a dozen people spoke on the impact of rural ministry in their lives and in their communities. The long reach of The United Methodist Church is enabled through these small congregations spread out across the United States.
The Rev. Marvin Taylor, pastor of the three-point St. Thomas Charge in Huger, South Carolina, says that in many places, "the church is the lifeline of the community." He cited the deep needs in his area that the church can help meet through, for example, free health clinics.
Denominational Policies Limit Effectiveness
Bishop Carder proposed that rural ministry be seen as requiring a lifetime commitment and deserving of appropriate denominational support.
Renewal was a theme that went alongside hope during the celebration. The Town and Country Comprehensive Plan, Born Again in Every Place, is being called an "action guide" to help revitalize churches. It helps them to identify their assets and focus their ministries around what they already have.
The Plan also encourages small-membership congregations to partner with other small-membership congregations to accomplish more than they could on their own. The Rev. Carl Litchfield of Litchfield United Methodist Church, Michigan, calls Born Again in Every Place an "exercise in raising the church's self-esteem."
"A small-membership church is not a failed large-member church," says Clay Smith, president of the Hinton Rural Life Center. The Center, located in Hayesville, North Carolina, specializes in helping smaller congregations find their strength.
To support the National Comprehensive Plan for Town and Country Ministries, give to Advance #982008. Checks can be mailed to GPO, PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. Please write the Advance number and name on the memo line of your check.
* Michelle Scott is the communications director of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
Date posted: Apr 26, 2008