The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Finding a mission in rural America

Mere survival is not enough

My friend Andrea's holiday letter gave details about work, children and grandchildren, but this annual greeting also included a description of her congregation's first worship in their new space Sept. 17, 2000. The congregation of 166 managed to build the church — with 70 percent pledged — in an area and at a time when others might not see growth and potential on the plains of South Dakota.

'I love parish ministry in a rural setting. It's my calling,' says Randy Gibbs, driving along U.S. Highway 283 to an ice-cream social at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, Ness City, Kan."The part of the kyrie in our Sunday worship liturgy when I get to say, 'For this holy house, and for all who offer here their worship and praise, let us pray to the Lord,' still makes me feel like crying — tears of joy," she wrote.

When members of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Faulkton, S.D., dedicated their church, Pastor Hoslett wasn't the only one choking up. They knew they were experiencing somewhat of a miracle on the cusp of this new century.

You know these folks, or maybe you're one of them. They aren't so different from anyone else who lives a rural life: in towns once dominated by a grain elevator, or those nestled in New England villages or Pennsylvania hills, among the orchards in the great Northwest or the oilfields of the Southwest.

They're people who love their communities, the land and, yes, their churches. And in some of these places, their churches are merging or closing. The emotions are as diverse as the land itself — from the despair of a lost farm or a closing church, to the joy of a successful building project or a weekly event that attracts many, yes many, youth.

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