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National United Methodist Rural Advocates

October 2018 In This Issue:











by Sue Grace, UMRA Secretary
As I think back on the years my
RURAL ADVOCATES husband, Roger, served full-time as a
You would not ignore a community more United Methodist pastor, I am reminded
than seven times larger than New York City. of what I would call "rural hospitality".
Yet the rural population in the United States, When he was just out of seminary in
with over 60 million people, is often 1984, Roger was appointed to a 4-point
overlooked because they are not all living in charge in southeastern Ohio. He had
the same area.
expressed an interest in being in rural
areas, so this appointment was a
Whether your church is urban or rural blessing. Upon arrival, we were
church, large or small, the UMRA invites you
to join our association of clergy and laity in
reaching out to meet the needs of people greeted with a
from rural communities, their churches and "pounding"
their pastors.
We provide advocacy at General shower), and so
Conference and Annual Conferences to our journey in
affect rule changes that enable churches to full-time
better minister in their communities, provide ministry was
educational opportunities for the leaders of
rural churches to better serve their church begun.
bodies, and support church leaders in We lived in Racine, Ohio, for 9 years
personal growth and ministry. and sought to be active members of our
community. For us, that meant going to
our sons' activities - church and school-
related, scouts, sports activities, and
community events.
Shortly after we moved to Racine, we
had what to us was a major car
repair. Without our knowing it, our
neighbor, a church trustee, took it upon
himself to raise funds to help, saying he
OFFICERS figured our problems were their
Chair - Randy Wall problems.
- RandyLWall There were many yearly "welcome back" parties for us as pastor and family,
and Christmas brought cards and gifts
Vice Chair - Alan Bolte beyond our wildest dreams.
When we left Racine, we went to a
Secretary - Sue Grace single station church in New Lexington, Ohio,
where we
Spiritual Dir - Peggy
Jeffries peggyx15@y lived in a county
Comm Dir - Michele
Holloway chele101953@gmail

Advocacy Dir - Mollie

Stewart Molliecstewart0128@
setting. Once again, we were welcomed
Membership - Carl Ellis by a new church family as Roger became pastor of First UM Church. Roger's
concern was that the people might not be
as open to laughing with him as the
previous churches were, but we soon
Treasurer - Judy found that was not the case. There was
Hill judyh@pl plenty of laughter over the 6 years we
spent there. What a blessing!!
Visit our webpage @ Upon reflection, I would say we witnessed the love of the congregations
when others experienced hardships or
had joys to celebrate. Roger was
privileged to perform baptisms,
weddings, and yes, funerals, for not only
our congregants, but for others in the
communities, as well.
Were there challenges along the way?
There certainly were , but we came away
feeling loved and appreciated in so many
ways. For this, we are thankful to the
Lord and we hope to always remember
fondly what we saw as "rural hospitality"
at its best.

by Sara Wrona
The first time I had ever heard of Trunk or Treat was about a decade ago. But it
wasn't until I started serving in my current appointment that I first experienced it.

One of the churches I serve is situated in a rural community. We have been blessed
with 9 beautiful acres upon which sits the church building, the parsonage, a large
parking lot and a pavilion.
During the last week of October, we host Trunk or Treat. We
usually have about 20 cars thatparticipate and around 200 people
of all ages that come to enjoy the evening. Most of the adults that
put in a car also dress up to match their car's theme. (I'm still
deciding on my theme for this year) In addition to the children
getting their treats from the participating cars, we give away hot
dogs, potato chips, cookies, hot chocolate, and coffee. In the past
we have had a bouncy house
but have decided to have
various games this year in
place of that.

It is a great time of fellowship and fun that allows

the church and the community to come together
as one. This is an awesome outreach that is a
wonderful witness to all who participate. We have
the opportunity to invite people to be a part of our
community of faith and share the love of Jesus Christ.

Sara Wrona, LLP, Western PA Conference
Two years ago, the Kiski Charge (a two
point charge I have served for 6 years),
decided to look for new ways to engage
inactive members, neighbors, and new
After a small leadership team attended a
seminar about Messy Church. Our group
decided that Messy Church
was something we wanted to pursue!

Messy Church is a new way to DO and BE

the church. It is a multi-generational experience that is designed to reach people
who would not normally attend on a Sunday morning. Messy Church provides a way
for churches to reach out to and engage with those on the fringe of the church family,
and has proven to be an effective way of 'being church' in rural, urban and suburban
contexts across different denominations and in different countries. Messy Church
values are about being Christ-centered, for all ages and based on creativity,
hospitality and celebration.

We meet on the first Monday of every month from 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. We begin with a
time of hospitality that introduces our theme for the evening. We then share a meal
together followed by our celebration time. During celebration we learn the Bible story
for the day and how to apply it to our lives. We conclude the evening with craft time
that relates directly to our story.

For the first year and half, we met in the small town church in Vandergrift. This past
summer, June - September, we met at the other church on our charge outside of
town where we have a pavilion and multiple acres. This was a great opportunity to
introduce new people to our Messy Church experience.

Every time I talk about Messy Church to one of my friends she always says "I hate
that name. Why do you have to call it Messy Church?" Messy Church is a great way
to experience the love of Jesus Christ in a hands on and personal way. If you haven't
experienced Messy Church for yourself, I encourage you to give it a try!


by Sarai Rice
In my part of the Midwest, small-town populations are shrinking. Younger
people are moving away, jobs are disappearing, and community services are hard
to find. The decline has been going on for decades and is unlikely to be reversed in
most communities. However, not all shrinking towns are the same. Some thrive
even as their population shrinks. "Shrink-Smart" communities have something to
teach congregations about how to thrive where population is declining.
According to research on rural towns by sociologists at Iowa State University,
some shrinking small towns thrive in quality of life, as measured by the perceived
quality of health care, public schools, housing, and local services. The study calls
such communities "Shrink-Smart," and places where the quality of life declines as
population falls, "Shrink-Poor."
Shrink-Smart communities
Shrink-Smart and Shrink-Poor towns are similar in many ways:

• Geography does not seem to be a major factor. Shrink-Smart communities

are often close to ones that are Shrink-Poor.
• Surprisingly, the two kinds of communities are similar in terms of
employment. More people in Shrink-Smart towns work in agriculture jobs,
but such jobs declined rapidly during the study. Shrink-Smart towns show
faster growth in goods-producing jobs, but have fewer full-time and full-year
jobs, slower job growth in other sectors, and slower growth of high-skill jobs.
• The proportion of minorities, elderly persons, or people with no high school
degree are similar in Shrink-Smart and Shrink-Poor communities. Shrink-
Smart towns have more children under 18, fewer single-parent families, and
more college graduates.
• Shrink-Smart and Shrink-Poor towns are essentially identical in both income
and income inequality.
The study did find that Shrink-Smart communities have a few key

• Shrink-Smart towns have stronger bridging ties, defined as ties between

very diverse and unfamiliar people. (Bonding ties, which are emotional ties
between very similar people such as family and close friends, were basically
the same in the two kinds of communities, although rates of bonding ties
were stable in Shrink-Smart towns while falling in Shrink-Poor towns.)
• Residents of Shrink-Smart towns are more engaged in groups within and
outside the community.
• Shrink-Smart towns are notably more open. Residents rate their
communities as safer, more trusting, better kept, and more open to new
ideas. They are also slightly more supportive and tolerant of others, and
those positive perceptions have grown stronger over the past two decades.

If we had a similar study of congregations, I think we'd find that some could be
described as Shrink-Smart and others as Shrink-Poor. Certainly in most shrinking
communities, some churches thrive while others suffer. The differences between
Shrink-Smart and Shrink-Poor communities suggest that similar factors might be at
play in congregations.
Congregations with strong bridging ties, for instance-willingness to form
relationships with unfamiliar people-respond to decline in a smarter and more
resilient way than other congregations. Even our most rural communities offer
opportunities for bridging. I talked today to a colleague who, on a trip to see the
"American Gothic" house, came across a soccer complex full of players from all
over the world!
Congregations whose members stay engaged, both locally and outside the
community, are more apt to thrive as membership declines. Some of the smallest
congregations in my presbytery send members to El Salvador to work with sister
congregations there. Those members return home with a fresh perspective on their
church's mission they could not have achieved easily by staying home.
Small congregations that work to stay open-to keep trust with one other by
exposing themselves to new ideas about worship or hospitality or justice-find new
and healthy ways to keep faithful even as their numbers fall.

We Can Do It
The rural sociologists who wrote the study think that Shrink-Poor towns can
intentionally become Shrink-Smart. By seeking opportunities to reach out across
dividing lines of class, race, ethnicity, and gender; by initiating projects that engage
residents locally and beyond; and by making it a practice to support each other and
consider new ideas, Shrink-Poor towns can break the cycle of despair and get
smarter about dealing with a situation where many of the numbers go down rather
than up.
All this is good advice for congregations, too-and not only in declining rural
towns. Many urban and suburban congregations find themselves in situations
where traditional church growth is an unlikely path. But when one path is closed
off, another opens: by bridging, engaging, and working to be open, even shrinking
congregations can find faithful ministry to do.

Sarai Rice consults with congregations on a variety of issues including planning, program
development, and governance, and offers coaching for clergy and lay leaders. She has a passion
for work across the lines of faith traditions, especially in areas involving community ministry and
social justice, as well as a deep commitment to the notion that human institutions should work well
for the people they serve.

from Randy Wall, UMRA Chair
I have been thinking in
recent days about barn-
raisings. You will find a picture of a
barn-raising with this article. A
barn-raising was a community
event in rural communities many
years ago. Neighbors would come
together to help a fellow farmer built
a barn on their property where they
would keep livestock,
farm equipment, harvested crops,
and the like. None of the neighbors would be rewarded with any pay for their labors,
but they would know that sooner or later the neighbor they helped would help (or
already had helped) them. This sort of endeavor is not commonly done in most
rural communities today though I am told that the Mennonite and Amish communities
still make this a common practice.

I have been thinking of the "barn-raising model" these days as I have watched the
devastation that Hurricane Florence and its remnants have caused to the Carolinas
and other places. The cities and places that I have seen on the national news
overwhelmed by raging flood waters are not just places far away, but they are near
my home. They are places I have visited or where people I know and love live. I
am certain that friends and neighbors from near and far will come together and help
providing time, talents, money,and other resources. People will help these
Carolinians raising not a barn, but raising hope and raising homes.

It will be a long recovery process.

In a conversation with my daughter who lives in Houston recently, she shared that
friends in their church who lost their home in Hurricane Harvey last year had just
recently got back in their home. Last year, people like you and I helped our fellow
citizens facing natural disasters in Texas, Puerto Rico, and other places. Several
years ago, people of faith and others helped folks who knew the wrath of Katrina on
the Gulf Coast.

In Luke 10, we read of a time when Jesus is asked the question: "Who is my
neighbor?" Jesus then proceeds to tell a story about a man left for dead on the
Jerusalem to Jericho road where we see a Samaritan reaching out not only to a
neighbor, but acting quite neighborly. This is a time for us to reach out and be
neighborly to people in the Carolinas and beyond. This is a time to help the people
of the Carolinas and beyond to rise up and out of the flood waters.
To paraphrase Mr. Rogers: "Won't you be a neighbor?"


While Minneapolis and the greater
United Methodist Church gear up for
General Conference 2020, the United
Methodist Rural Advocates (UMRA)
have already started the ball rolling.

Meeting in Minneapolis October

2-5, 2018, UMRA got busy with
legislation to bring before the General
Conference. From Oregon to
Oklahoma and North Dakota to North
Carolina, more than thirty-five people
who are passionate about small membership churches and rural church ministries
gathered to begin the work.

From the UMRA Statement of Values: "The health, vitality, and sustainability
of each local congregation should be held as the primary value of the
denominational structure. Healthy local churches make new disciples for Christ
and the transformation of the world. Legislative changes should: first, do no harm,
and second, do all the good possible for the local church."

For more information about UMRA, please check out the



by The Rev. Dr. LaGretta Bjorn
Loving God, Creator of all that has been, all that is, and all that is
to come;
You made us human and gave us hearts to love you and follow
We thank you for the many blessings you have given us over
this past year.

God, we thank you for all of the blessings you have given us
throughout our lives:
Food to eat,
Clothes to wear,
Shelter from the storm,
People who love us unconditionally.

We thank you for their love because we recognize that their love
for us is a reflection of your love.
We acknowledge that there are times in our lives when we,
ourselves, feel unloved and unlovable.
Give us the grace to love others, even when they are difficult.

We trust in your faithfulness to carry us over the rough

places of life.
We trust in your love to walk with us through the difficulties
of our days.
We trust in your promise of life everlasting and put all of our
hope in you.

We thank you for Jesus.

We thank you that he died so that we might have eternal life.

Forgive us for our sins:

The things you asked us to do and we failed to do
As well as the things you told us not to do but we did

We are sorry and we ask that you will strengthen us

So that we will always follow you.
We pray that your Holy Spirit will be felt by people who are in pain
in mind, body or spirit.
help them to know that you are with them
and you are able to carry them through their trials.

Bless our church family.

Bless our community.
Bless our nation.
Bless our world.

Enable us to live so that your will might be made manifest in the

world around us. Amen.
A 21st Century Worship

Submitted by Debbie S. Rice, Ph.D., MSW
Director of NETworX USA
NETworX-Securing Well-being Together

Measurable outcomes, measured at six-month intervals throughout NETworX

participation, include:

• Increase in income to at or above 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines,

• Decrease in use of public assistance,
• Decrease in revolving debt from credit cards, rent-to-own, or predatory
• Increase in assets,
• Increase in safe, supportive, and nurturing relationships, and
• Increase in perception of overall quality of life.

If you are interested in hearing more, contact Alan Rice, a member of the
UMRA Executive Committee at 336-239-1526 or visit


by Judy Hill, Treasurer
The national organization, United Methodist Rural Advocates, is pleased to
announce we have a limited number of scholarships to offer for attending programs
or trainings that can enhance rural ministry. An applicant can be considered for a
scholarship of up to the lesser of $400 or one half of program/event fees, etc. It is
through the UMRA IGNITE fundraising campaign that these scholarships are being

Please contact Treasurer Judy Hill to learn more. Contact information is listed below.

Judy Hill, Treasurer UMRA

3642 Road D
Joes, CO 80822

Cell Phone: 970-630-0320


We Want To Hear From You
Are there ministries and outreach in your churches that you want others to know
about? We celebrate the truth that rural/town and country churches are vital and
active within their communities and we want to share that information around the
country. Do you have a story of joy or hope that you would like to have shared
here? There are others who could greatly benefit from what has worked for you and
even what hasn't worked but that has allowed you to grow. Send stories to Michele
Holloway at and your stories will be published in
upcoming editions of this eCommunication.
This newsletter is published every other month: February, April, June,
August, October, and December. Please send all submissions to the above
email address no later than the 25th of the month prior to publication.

Memberships are available in the following categories:

Limited Income (What you can afford.)

Student $10.00
Basic One-Year $30.00
Church One-Year $40.00

Two Easy Steps to Membership

1. Please fill out membership form:Â

2. Pay Membership Dues through PayPal

For more information or membership, contact:

Carl Ellis
590 120th Street
Fort Scott, KS 66701 785-445-2595

A Note from Carl K. Ellis

Membership Secretary

Five Reasons to Join UMRA

5. Network and collaborate with other rural groups and agencies around issues of concern for the
rural church and rural places.

4. Utilize technologies which will help us build relationships, share information and resources, and
connect rural leaders.

3. Discover and learn about sustainable, effective, replicable, generative ministries.

2. Be part of an organization which creates and advocates for General Conference legislation that
has had a positive effect on the rural church; such as NOW (Nurture, Outreach, Witness) leadership
format, development of "Born Again in Every Place," and the Certified Lay Minister. An
Organization which will continue to create and advocate for General Conference legislation that
may affect ministry in town and churches and their communities.

1. Together we can make a difference as we advocate for the work of Jesus Christ in rural and town
and country communities.

UMRA membership provides not only voice and vote in the organization, but also includes a
subscription to the UMRA E NEWSLETTER.

Michele Holloway, Editor

Advocating for the work of Jesus Christ in rural communities.