I recently got back from my third trip to the Convocation of the Rural Church sponsored by the Rural Church program area of the Duke Endowment in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Equal parts learning and relaxation, it’s one of my favorite yearly events. Over 150 rural United Methodist clergy and their families from across North Carolina gathered to learn about “The Power of Welcome,” an incredibly timely theme for faith communities helping guide their parishioners through heavy news cycles, uncertain futures of congregations, and the stresses that pull them in every direction during the course of ministry.
Can I be so bold as to say the Convocation of the Rural Church is life-changing for me? I reflected throughout the course of the conference how many unique relationships it produces. The event is held in partnership with Duke Divinity’s Thriving Rural Communities program, led by the Rev. Brad Thie. Throughout my two years with the Institute for Emerging Issues, Rev. Brad has been an incredible colleague, guide and friend. He works with faith leaders in seminary preparing to serve rural congregations and communities in ministry, and is always sharing profound stories of friendship and successes of those “in the field.”
The Duke Endowment has brought many partners into the space of working with rural faith leaders. They lead with deep intention, flexibility and humor.
As IEI prepares to host our first of six ReCONNECT NC forums on Sept. 17 in Asheville (hey faith leaders! Have you registered yet?) on civic engagement, I see how North Carolina is made infinitely richer by the civic gifts of these faith leaders and Duke Endowment partners. At the conference, I talked with faith leaders about their families, their moves to new rural areas in North Carolina, and their visions for partnering with their community. While working with rural United Methodist leaders is not the only part of my job, it has been a place where I see values of respect, welcoming, friendship and connection with people across the state.
Some of my takeaways:
- I’m grateful to Duke Divinity, the Duke Endowment, and this group of faith leaders for letting me learn with them for another Convocation.
- I learned deeply from leaders like the Rev. Jenn Bailey of Faith Matters and Eddie Gonzalez of On Being.
- I cried when Ismael Ruiz-Millán of Duke Divinity shared the gratitude of being a recent US citizen working in ministry.
- I loved teasing Rev. Jim Jones of Mount Pleasant for not having signed up yet for our ReCONNECT to Community Forum when he told me he would!
- I clapped excitedly when I found out three clergy I love would be participating in Youth Empowered Solutions’ (another Duke Endowment partner) new youth empowerment pilot.
And the biggest takeaway of all . . .
- I love connecting with faith leaders across the state and IEI is grateful to faith communities of all kinds throughout the state who help us make our work stronger, well-rounded and . . . fun!