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2022 RFCAI Faith & Community Conference Summary and Upcoming Engagements

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By Ellen Beasley & John Parker, RFCAI

Since the fall of 2015, IEI has been a student of the historic and current efforts of rural ministries. As one of the few remaining institutional assets in communities, congregations are often the place-based home for “everyday leadership” within the state’s “emerging issues”.  IEI’s initiative cultivates faith communities to become increasingly connected, collaborative, adaptive, and thriving, even within an increasingly fractured and polarized society. Rural congregations working on change need to be connected to other change agents, potential partners, and to one another. Through bigger convenings, smaller conversations, peer and place-based networks or interest groups, and relational check-ins, we co-develop unique strategies and tailored support, based on their contexts, assets, interests, and energy.  

We also encourage civic engagement and community collaborations through supportive guidance, technical assistance, engaging gatherings, and convenings for mutual learning, sharing, and partnership opportunities.

From the comfort of our own favorite chairs in our homes and offices, on February 15, faith community leaders, partners, and friends gathered together for the 2022 Rural Faith Communities as Anchor Institutions Conference (RFCAI). Fueled by the 2022 Emerging Issues Forum the week prior, we continued dialogue on Educational Attainment and Workforce Development where Rev. Julia Trantham Heckert from HIGHTS and Rev. Dr. Dawn Baldwin Gibson of Peletah Ministries shared the ways in which their organizations are bridging the gaps between faith communities and the broader community with education and workforce training and support, while being culturally competent, trauma informed, and healing centered. Starting with their “Big Easies”, tackling quicker issues that lead to progress, our follow-up discussion covered ways in which faith communities might be able to jump into the worthwhile work of supporting their communities to have access to what they might need in order to live a more fulfilled life and discover career opportunities. 

During the afternoon session, an update was given on the work of the Faith and Communities team at IEI over the past year as well as what we are looking to moving forward. Updates were shared from partner organizations in attendance. With our facilitation, engagement, and partnering, we support faith communities to engage collaboratively at the intersections of community, program, and policy. We are looking forward to the upcoming year and work that will be kicked off with the new ideas we received from our gatherings! 

In March, we are surveying our network to coordinate and co-facilitate our peer networks and interest groups with partners moving forward. Later this spring, after we attend and engage RAFI’s Come to the Table Conference and the NC Rural Center’s Rural Summit we are co-convening or participating in at least 5 regional faith and community oriented gatherings. In addition, we are offering weekly virtual lunch meet-ups and monthly virtual network gatherings through May. If you are not receiving our Faith & Community newsletter or program invitations to engage, and you’d like to be in the loop, please contact program assistant Ellen Beasley.