Tuesday Roundup: Rural Congregations

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Pastor Dwight Duhon serves a church of 60 people in a Georgia community of no more than 300 people. He writes about rural ministry, “the land of the forgotten,” for the Associated Baptist Press. 

Pastor Duhon is worth quoting:

In 2009, Time magazine interviewed Daniel Walpert, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Crookston, Minn., about this issue. I sent him an e-mail and he quickly responded.

“I would say that rural America in general is being forgotten, but certainly churches as well,” he wrote. “When I go to work at conferences and events, there is usually nothing about rural ministry. Students who are interested in this subject feel marginalized and ignored and feel pressure to give up their interest. The figures are very grim. Thousands of churches will close in the next decade.”

One factor in the closing of many of these churches is the graying of these congregations. In my church the average age is over 60. These aging congregations, especially in rural areas, lead to higher death rates and rural communities find it hard to attract younger members.

If these areas are to survive and retain their Baptist heritage (which, by the way, began in a small rural church), Baptists need to be intentional in reaching out to rural communities.

These rural communities have plenty to offer. For new pastors they can be a place of learning and loving. The members often provide a sense of family not always present in churches located in larger towns and suburbs. Many pastors will tell you the leadership skills formed in leading rural congregations helped them become better pastors when they moved to suburban churches.

The good news is that this trend can be reversed. Many of these rural congregations that are unable to pay a full-time pastor would welcome a seminary student, retired clergy or trained lay person. With the efforts of colleges, seminaries and urban and suburban congregations, we can work together to ensure that Rev. Walpert’s prediction doesn’t come true. 

• The heat wave on the Great Plains “has turned many rural communities into virtual ghost towns for the last month, and also heightened a sense of isolation among the elderly residents who make up much of their population these days,” the AP reports in a story from Mulhall, Oklahoma. 

People are afraid of venturing out in the heat, so normal meeting places are empty. 

• The Fitchburg (Mass.) Sentinel and Enterprise has a good interview with one of our favorites, bluegrass musician Ricky Skaggs. Skaggs talks about the change in the business, as music has grown more segmented.

“There wasn’t this chasm between bluegrass and country like there is today,” remembers the 57-year-old Kentucky native. “The time period that I grew up, it was just like one hand fed the other. It was just as easy as pie to transition, because the two kinds of music really complemented each other.” 

•A poll of rural Nebraskans finds that 7 out of ten believe that providing adequate space, exercise and social activities are important for animals being raised for food. 

University of Nebraska sociologist Randy Cantrell conducted the poll, which found that rural residents said it was important to supply animals with not only physical comforts, but behavioral care.

•The drought is ruining the oyster harvest on the Gulf Coast. There are no specific predictions, but the takes are low and there’s no rain in the forecast.

The drought has made water in the Galveston Bay, where most oysters are harvested, too salty. Parasites are thriving and are killing the oysters. 

“If we don’t get a break in the drought, I think in Texas we will find when the season opens in November most of our bays will have nothing but dead shell,” said Sammy Ray, a shellfish pathologist at Texas A&M University in Galveston. 

• Tobacco companies are spending less money promoting cigarettes and more on smokeless tobacco products, according to the Federal trade Commission. 

Most of what the companies spend is is price discounts paid to retailers to reduce the cost of cigarettes. Cigarette marketing has decreased 34% to $9.94 billion in 2008 from 2003, the latest year where figures are available. Sales decreased 11 percent in the same period.

Money spent on marketing smokeless tobacco doubled from 2003 to 2008, to $547.9 million. And sales increased 11 percent.

• A writer’s dog dies. He adds up what he’s spent on his friend over 15 years. The total: $36,846.24. 

• Massive flooding in the Mississippi had scientists predicting that the low-oxygen deadzone in the Gulf of Mexico would be the largest ever. The predictions turned out to be wrong, according to an editorial in the New Orleans newspaper. The dead zone is 6,765 square miles, not the 9,400 square miles predicted. 

• It’s been four years since the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster, which killed nine miners — six in an initial implosion and three rescuers in a second collapse.. The federal Mine Safety and health Administration released its report on the mine, owned by Murray Energy Corp., finding that the company ran a mine that recklessly disregarded safety and was “destined to fail.” 

Mike Gorrell at the Salt Lake Tribune reports on what has happened since the August 2007 disaster. The answer is, not much. The investigation drags out and the nation forgets. 

Too often, said former federal mine safety chief Davitt McAteer, “the poor men and women who work in the mines don’t see the improvements that should come as a result of a disaster. That’s been the history of mine disasters and miners’ lives lost in this country.”

 

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