Since we’ve started the ReCONNECT series at the end of 2018, I’ve been too excited for our Rural Faith as Anchor Institutions (RFCAI) Conference that we host each spring. Rural faith leaders from across the state gather to discuss and brainstorm how we can become even more faith community assets in our rural areas.
The ReCONNECT theme brought up important questions around the process and impact of faith leaders work to bring people together during tough times. And, we mean tough times. The situations faith leaders deal with every day is daunting: addiction, isolated areas, loneliness, food insecurity, housing shortages, and more. Tasked with being a spiritual leader, community developer, funder, and cheerleader, clergy and lay people across the state have enormous responsibilities to “fix”.
As we prepared for 2019’s RFCAI conference, held May 14-15th, 2019 in Burlington, NC with over 100 rural faith leaders, we asked pastors, partners, and rural residents about the resources they needed to hear about AND the expertise they were willing to share. Because faith leaders aren’t in our communities to “fix”, they’re there to live into the core values they helped choose for our Conference.
NC Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green started off our time together at Front Street United Methodist Church with a call to explore you “human museum”. Before we “reconnect” our communities, are we checking in to make sure we’re connected with ourselves? Faith leaders were invited to visualize their life journey, to explore “rooms” in their museum and to connect to to motivations in community ministry.
This self-awareness was continued in thoughtful engagement with our 8 workshops, all subjects chosen by faith leaders on topics like the environment, aging, mental health, and the racial wealth gap.
“Listen and lead, together” continued with our interactive panels on May 15th, with faith leaders sharing from the stage and their table their experiences.
What does rest look like? How do I manage stress?
What has my last community relationship looked like?
How do we talk about hard things at my congregation?
What does leadership look like with our people?
In the midst of these meaningful conversations, over 15 partners worked one on one with faith leaders on assets they could uncover in their communities. Our faith communities don’t have to do it alone, and groups like IEI and other partners are here to listen and lead alongside them as they partner with their rural communities.
This summer, we’ll be following up with RFCAI attendees about what this “reconnection” looks like in their area. We’ll continue looking for ways to connect faith groups to community partners, and use data and asset-based community development as frameworks for our relationships. As we turn our sights towards our fall Emerging Issues Forum on Economic Opportunity, we’re thrilled that rural faith leaders are leading the way in what ReCONNECT looks like on the ground in North Carolina.