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Celebrating the impact of rural churches

Rural church building

Rural Life Sunday is set for September 10, and churches can honor our rural heritage by receiving an offering to support rural ministry in the Michigan Conference.

Content Editor

Rural Life Sunday is one of the five Conference Special Sundays that celebrate the life and ministry of the Michigan Annual Conference. Churches collect offerings on these Sundays to fund specialized ministry grants and programs. Gifts remain in the conference.

September 10 is this year’s Rural Life Sunday, but churches may choose another date that works better for them. Churches are encouraged to receive an offering that will be used to fund rural ministry grants as well as scholarships and training for pastors serving rural congregations.

According to The United Methodist Book of Worship, Rural Life Sunday calls us to celebrate the rural heritage of The United Methodist Church, affirm the people who work with and on the land by raising food and fiber, and recognize the ongoing crisis in rural areas of the world today.

Lighting in a church
Crystal Valley UMC in Hart, MI, in Oceana County, will be replacing all of their lighting with new LED lighting, thanks to a ministry grant funded by the Rural Life Sunday offering. Pastor David Pratt says, “Having an older congregation means we need good lighting. We currently have T8 fluorescent bulbs used indirectly off the ceiling. Two-thirds of the congregation is sitting where it is very hard to see our hymn books. Old eyes have a hard time, especially in the winter when we have the blinds closed to save heat.” ~ photo courtesy Crystal Valley UMC

Churches honor our rural heritage by blessing those who work on farms and in agricultural professions and asking for God’s blessing upon the earth and its crops. The economic impact of rural United Methodist churches on communities cannot be overlooked, as recent research has shown (click here to read an interview on the economic “halo effect” of rural churches).

Another way to celebrate Rural Life Sunday is to have a service of blessing for animals. This may coincide with local fairs or harvest festivals in the summer or fall months.

When United Methodist churches here in Michigan receive gifts for the conference-wide Rural Life Sunday offering, the Michigan Conference Town and Country Ministries uses these financial resources to assist rural churches in three primary ways. They financially support (1) various ministry grants, (2) continuing education scholarships for pastors serving rural or small congregations, and (3) annual events that help rural pastors with specialized concerns they face.

Pastor talking on phone at church
Pastor Dave Freeland of Fostoria UMC, Tuscola County, is appreciative of the new phone line and Internet in his rural church, made possible thanks to a grant funded by Rural Life Sunday offerings. This enables Freeland to work from the church office, now. ~ photo courtesy Fostoria UMC

Rev. Carol Freeland, pastor of West Forest UMC in Millington and West Vienna UMC in Clio, is chair of the Michigan Conference’s Town and Country Ministries. She notes that $1,000 ministry grants are available to any church with a membership of under 100 people. A church doesn’t have to be in a rural community or small town.

What can these ministry grants be used for? Freeland states, “These monies can go to any need the church may have, whether it be a building repair or maintenance request, technology or communications upgrade, or ministry and program funding.”

Recent ministry grants were given to three congregations: Crystal Valley UMC in the Western Waters District and Fostoria UMC and West Forest UMC, both in the East Winds District.

Crystal Valley UMC, east of Pentwater, received a building maintenance grant to update the lighting in the sanctuary to all LED lights. The second grant was a technology grant given to Fostoria UMC. As of July 1, 2023, Fostoria is a single-point charge with a quarter-time pastor. This is their first time on their own, and they were not equipped to furnish a dedicated pastor’s office in the church. Internet and a phone were needed in the church building. The third was a ministry grant given to West Forest UMC, northeast of Flint, for updated resources to assist a GriefShare program to minister to those grieving after a personal loss.

Church ice cream social
Members of West Forest UMC enjoy ice cream and pie outside on a beautiful summer day. West Forest recently received a ministry grant for an updated grief support group. Lay Leader Rita Mumford leads a GriefShare program at the church, but the materials are now outdated. The money will be used to update the materials and provide participant books at little to no cost for a couple of groups. ~ photo courtesy West Forest UMC/Facebook

Continuing education scholarships are also funded by Rural Life Sunday offerings. Freeland says, “Michigan Conference Town and Country Ministries is able to provide $1,000 scholarships to seminary students from small communities as they pursue a Master of Divinity and $500 scholarships for those taking Course of Study to be local pastors.” The scholarship fund created is named for Ed Mohr, a much-loved licensed local pastor from the West Michigan Conference who died suddenly in a bike crash in 2012. Ed was an enthusiastic supporter of Town and Country Ministries (read more in this story).

The third way Rural Life Sunday offerings financially support pastors serving rural and small churches is through the annual Michigan Conference Town and Country Circuit Rider Retreat. Freeland notes, “This important offering supplements our annual retreat, which offers help and direction to pastors and their spouses in leading small and multiple church charges.”

This year’s Town and Country Circuit Rider Retreat will be held in Birch Run on November 6-8, 2023. The keynote speaker will be Rev. Elbert Dulworth, senior pastor at St. Paul’s UMC in Rochester. Dulworth will share insights he learned while walking the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage of about 500 miles across northern Spain. These insights will illustrate how you can find strength for your ministry. Learn more and register on this web page.

Last Updated on August 22, 2023

The Michigan Conference