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Rural Life Celebration: Seeds of Hope
 


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Mollie Stewart and Ed Kail emphasize the importance of small churches during the April 26 Rural Life Celebration at the 2008 United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.
GC2008

Mollie Stewart and Ed Kail emphasize the importance of small churches during the April 26 Rural Life Celebration at the 2008 United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. 2008 General Conference
Image by: Mike DuBose
Source: General Conference
A rural life advocate holds a banner during an April 26 celebration of rural ministries during the 2008 United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. GC2008

A rural life advocate holds a banner during an April 26 celebration of rural ministries during the 2008 United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. 2008 General Conference
Image by: Paul Jeffrey
Source: General Conference

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
A procession of banners with 25,000 butterflies--each one representing a rural United Methodist church--kicked off the celebration. Another banner procession followed, representing numerous United Methodist organizations that support rural ministries. Rural churches are located in villages, towns, and small cities with populations up to 50,000, or 250 or fewer per square mile.

"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 noted several issues that limit the effectiveness of rural churches:

  • Using membership size as the primary sign of faithful ministry
  • Viewing appointments to small or rural congregations only as a step in career advancement
  • Enforcing salary structures that are based on market value rather than on missional value
  • Promoting a hierarchical and vertical understanding of connectionalism
  • Marginalizing small congregations by excluding them from denominational structures like the Connectional Table

Bishop Carder proposed that rural ministry be seen as requiring a lifetime commitment and deserving of appropriate denominational support.

Renewal
"We don't talk about small churches, but "small-membership churches,'" said Sally Chipman, representative for the North Central Jurisdiction for Town and Rural Ministries. She said they work to focus on abundance rather than scarcity.

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.

Learn More
The Rural Life Celebration and Town and Country Fair were organized by the General Board of Global Ministries' Town and Country Advisory Team and the United Methodist Rural Fellowship. To learn more about rural United Methodist churches, visit www.townandcountryumc.org.

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.

Bishop Kenneth Carder's Address: Rural Life Celebration

More General Conference 2008 News

* Michelle Scott is the communications director of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).


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See Also...

Topic: Rural United Methodist Church
Geographic Region: United StatesWorld
Source: GBGM Press Releases
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Date posted: Apr 26, 2008