Green ribbons sprouted on the lapels and shirts of hundreds of assembly participants, symbols of concern for the financial adversity of family farmers. Many pinned them on after attending the overflow hearing on rural concerns.
Sandra LaBlanc, ELCA director for rural ministry resources and networking, opened the session with a bleak assessment: "In a word, the state of rural America is 'horrible.' " That affects people in 48 percent of all ELCA congregations.
It wasn't news to the people who told of their disasters — from debt to drought. Leroy L. Simonson, Western Iowa Synod, said, "I've got four children. None stayed home. That's what farmers export today: Our children. We're losing them."
Montana Synod Bishop Mark R. Ramseth observed, "Farmers have a reputation for saying how bad it is. Now they don't say anything. That's how bad it is."
LaBlanc told of the networking begun since spring when she started in the rural position that was created at the direction of the 1997 assembly. A study of outreach ministries of successful churches in rural ministry will be shared. Representatives of 26 rural congregations also will meet this fall in Chicago to discuss their ministries.
The assembly pledged to support family farmers and rural communities through prayer, education, advocacy with government, and support of groups that help people gain access to social services.
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