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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

postheadericon A Theology of Active Presence

In the book, Rural Ministry: The Shape of the Renewal to Come, the authors seek to develop a theology of rural life. Part of their theology focuses on God as actively present in rural life. They write, "At their best, rural Christians have had a deep certainty that God is present and active in the world" (133).
This, of course, leads to the question of how do rural Christians see God as present and active in their lives? Perhaps it is easiest to reflect here on God as Creator, as the One who creates and sustains life through the creation. God is present and active in the land, the sky, the clouds, the sun, the wind, the warmth, and the cold. God is present in the growing crops and the livestock. God is present in the harvest as we celebrate the gifts that come from the land. The praise psalms such as Psalm 147 and 148 give voice to praise of God in God's creation.
Additionally, God as Redeemer can be seen as the restorer of relationships, restorer of what has been broken; the One who brings beauty again out of what has been made ugly, and the One who brings fullness out of what had been barren. We may think here of God at work in the patient attending to the well being of the land through planting of crops not for production but for the healing of the land. We may think here of the important work of crop rotation and of farming in ways that resist erosion and the depletion of the soil.
Finally, God as Sanctifier may be seen in the enlivening power that sustains us through the hardships and toil of life. God here is the quiet strength of love over fear and hatred, the ongoing mystery of the victory of life over death. We are empowered to live faithfully to God's call in all areas of our lives through the power of God's Spirit in our lives.
In all of these ways, and more, God is present and active in our lives. Perhaps a daily practice for each of us is to seek to be open to this active presence of God in our lives.
Thursday, October 13, 2011

postheadericon What is "rural"?

Ever wonder what makes a church a "rural" church? Is there something that "rural churches" have in common? Kent R. Hunter in The Lord's Harvest and The Rural Church offers this definition, "A rural church is a congregation of Christian people who live an agriculturally oriented life-style." A more complex analysis developed by R. Alex Sim and discussed in Rural Ministry: The Shape of the Renewal to Come (Shannon Jung et. al.) identifies four contexts of "rural ministry":

1. Ribbonvilles: small towns in the country that are changing from a free-standing town to part of city that has gobbled them up. Farmers are selling and moving. Sometimes there is a relocation of older urban churches to new suburban territory. There can be a challenge to old denominational identities and dominance. And a major concern is how to respond to increasing diversity as the transition from rural to urban takes place.

2. Agravilles: here the economic base is primarily agriculture but may also include mining, forestry, and related industries or small industries. These are often farm service towns where Wal-Mart has arrived. They are often further out on highway corridor from cities, beyond Ribbonvilles. Educational, health, government services have tended to consolidate into these towns. Still likely to have a dominant denomination, a church that is the largest and most influential.

3. Mighthavebeenvilles: these encompass the many thousands of six-mile hamlets, villages, and small towns that have fallen under the domination of an Agraville. Once thriving towns these are shrunken versions of their former selves as resources migrated to Agraville. Their former down towns are mostly abandoned, board up. Mighthavebeenville churches are often first pastorates for person out of seminary and the members often older and discouraged. They face a primary problem of how to pay the pastor and how to keep the church going given the cost of doing so.

4. Fairviews: Rural communities whose economic base is grounded in recreational activities and/or institutional towns serving a college, prison, military base. Here there are more city refugees, or urban folks who came here to work. Some Fairviews are reborn Mighthavebeenvilles or Agravilles. The churches need to address long time residents and newcomers, visitors. New congregations may be forming meeting a “niche” need such as retirement community that is growing. Such areas also attract people to low-paying service industry jobs and these jobs may interfere with regular church services scheduling. There may also be issues of economic justice for these workers.

postheadericon There's an 'App' for That

Good resource for rural news, The Daily Yonder,
Friday, October 7, 2011

postheadericon Mental Health in Rural Areas

I'm often struck by the connections between rural and urban life. I think it is safe to say that there is a close relationship between the two, with rural folks probably more aware of the relationship than urban folks. The obvious connection from an urban perspective is that those of us who live in urban areas mostly rely upon food production done in rural areas. But today I want to point to one area of shared concern: mental health. Below is a resource discussing mental health in rural areas. I'm aware from working with homeless persons in Memphis that mental illness plagues many of the homeless. And, a number of these folks come from rural areas.
I'm hoping churches might play a role in urging mental health resources in rural areas.

postheadericon Harvest Celebrations

I'm wondering what folks are doing to celebrate the harvest. I went around searching various websites and a few of the resources I found are below. But what I'd really like is to hear from pastors and people about harvest celebrations in their local congregations. What are you doing? Why? Do you have any long-standing traditions as part of your harvest celebration?