It’s a challenge sometimes for a church to do ministry given a complex political landscape that fixates on whether someone lives in a “red” rural or “blue” urban community. How do you offer the Gospel amidst a heated debate about whether your church is too left or too right, too political or not political enough? Brian McLaren in a recent article, in the Christian Century, “How to be a Purple Church in a Red State” says that “many people in congregations are formed spiritually by sources outside the church, by media outlets on the left and right. If a sermon agrees with what they already think, it’s not political. If it challenges their current views, suddenly it is political.”
Against this challenging political backdrop, communities of faith can be afraid to touch certain subjects. We sometimes shy away from offering the Gospel that meets the real needs of people in our congregations and communities while addressing structural injustices. In every parish, however, there is great need. In rural, urban, and suburban, parishes, for example, there are people faced with bankruptcy because their business can’t meet payroll, or because they can’t afford basic housing or pay for health care or a nursing home. Some might struggle with opioids or face deportation. Do we paper over what parishioners present to us or can we find caring, multi-faceted and courageous ways to pastorally respond? Immediate pastoral and charitable strategies must be combined with approaches that help to address structural injustice. But to do this work, congregations need a variety of biblical, theological, and worship-based approaches suitable to their community, which help them be of good courage and shape their pastoral care in a complex political landscape.
New York State Council of Churches is holding a Conference entitled Bridging the Urban-Rural Divide to help congregations draw on theological and practical tools to do justice and care for people in their community. The Conference will be held July 18 to 20 in Johnstown, New York. The event will feature a variety of speakers, both religious and secular, to help us develop models for community ministry. Some of the speakers include:
- Dr. Alison Collis Greene, Associate Professor of History at Mississippi State University. Dr. Green wrote an award-winning book, No Depression in Heaven, documenting how churches across the theological and racial spectrum in the Mississippi Delta advocated for the New Deal during the Great Depression.
- Dr. James Evans, Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology and former President of Colgate Rochester Theological Seminary and Senior Pastor of St. Luke’s Tabernacle Community Church in Rochester, who will help stimulate how we think theologically about outreach. Dr. Evans is author of We Have Been Believers: An African American Systematic Theology.
- The Reverend Karina Feliz, Pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Highlands will discuss approaches to hospitality and ministry with immigrant populations and rural communities.
- Dr. Dusty Swanger, President of Fulton Montgomery College will explore business and educational approaches to job creation and improving our communities.
- Katie Cook, a high school teacher, farmer and rural activist from Condon, Oregon and a member of Condon United Church of Christ.
- Mark Emanation, Senior Field Coordinator of Capital District Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO.
Come join the conversation. Help us bridge the divide and learn how you can be more effective in your ministry. Register for the Conference at WWW.NYSCOC.org. You can also email New York State Council of Churches at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 518-436-9319.
Note: You can also find more information on our
Calendar Event: Bridging the Urban-Rural Divide
Peter Cook is Executive Director of the New York State Council of Churches that is committed to helping congregations attend to the needs of the poor and disenfranchised. We also certify and support chaplains in the state prison system and provide opportunities for people of all ages to grow in their Christian discipleship. Reverend Cook is ordained in the United Church of Christ and, served as a pastor in three congregations before assuming his position at the Council.