A Word from the Bishop: Our Rural Strength
Listen to Presiding Bishop Hanson speak about Our Rural Strength
As I travel throughout this church, I'm increasingly aware of the challenges facing the many ELCA members who live in rural areas. I've listened to stories of farmers facing a fourth year of drought, and of prices that often don't cover the cost of a fairly decent crop. Many express concern for the future of rural and small-town congregations where, for three, four, five and even more generations, families have gathered to share faith, lives, and community.
Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson
I'm afraid that too often this church takes for granted the vast number of ELCA members who belong to small-town and open-country churches. How grateful to God I am for you, for your faithfulness, for your stewardship of God's creation, and for your commitment to one another and this church. I am so appreciative of Ione's [pronouned ee'-own] and my ancestors who lived on the prairies. They have given us a sense of awe for the beauty of God's handiwork and a happy respect for the mystery of being human.When Ione and I travel to western North Dakota, her homeland, and when we see the shadows of the sunset on the buttes, I know Ione's soul is at home and at peace. I think about those verses from the fifth chapter of James: "Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient."
Our rural people know that this church worships a God who anticipates our needs, who hears our sighs too deep for words, and who calls us into relationships. They know that God hears their distress in times of drought, floods, and low crop prices. God hears their joys at seeing a sunrise, plowing a field, or witnessing a baptism. I am thankful for the leadership of our rural and small-town churches. You are willing to change as our world changes. When it becomes harder to fill pastoral vacancies, our rural congregations have accepted the call to work with synods in lifting up new models of leadership. Multiple-point parishes have been developed that remind me of earlier times of sharing ministries. Together with ecumenical partners you are addressing rural life issues. I see our rural churches as leaders reaching out to the new immigrants settling in their areas as these new neighbors seek opportunities – just as our immigrant foreparents did.
So today we say thanks be to God for the strength of our rural churches who are faithful, yet changing.
Visit Bishop Hanson's Web site