From the Conference Minister’s Heart:  Why Go To Beatrice on April 23?

     by Heidi Regier Kreider, Conference Minister

I love the country! I love open sky and wide horizons with a visible sunrise, sunset, stars, moon – and the grain elevator miles away.  I love the sight of wheat fields and hedge-rows, prairie grass, a herd of grazing cattle, and a single hawk perched on a fence-post.  I love the smell of cut alfalfa and damp soil.  I love the sound of singing meadowlarks, silence, and approaching thunderstorms.  I love the taste of fresh sweet-corn and ripe tomatoes, and the availability of locally-grown grass-fed beef and free-range chicken.  I love country churches, cemeteries and wide-spot-in-the-road cafés.

My roots are in rural Kansas, where my parents grew up on farms near Whitewater and Elbing.  Their rural background served them well as they went into mission work, first among Spanish-speaking and Old Colony Mennonite German-speaking farm communities in Cuauhtemoc, Mexico (where I was born and lived for two years), and later in a rural development project near the village of Nyanga in Congo.  As a child I fed rabbits, chickens and ducks in our backyard farm, dug peanuts and picked bananas in the garden, and road my bicycle through the sand to the mission station two kilometers away to practice piano at another missionary’s home.  Later as an adult I lived in north-central Florida, where the prairie was home to alligators, and “rural” meant fresh-water springs, cypress swamps, loblolly pines, wagon-loads of fresh citrus at the farmer’s market, and boiled peanuts for sale along the road. These are some impressions that come to mind when I think of “rural.”

What does “rural” mean to you?  The word “rural” may prompt warm feelings of nostalgia, gratitude for God’s good earth, and appreciation for family and spiritual heritage. It might also make you think of computerized technology, center-pivot irrigation systems, migrant workers, and global commodity markets. It might call to mind commercial feedlots and meat packing plants, abandoned farmsteads and ghost towns.  It may raise questions about a changing economy, environment, demographics and religious landscape.

Whatever your thoughts or questions, come join the conversation at the WDC Spring Reference Council, “Being Church in the Rural Context” on April 23, 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. at First Mennonite Church in Beatrice, NE.  All WDC church members and leaders are invited to participate, because the realities facing rural churches and communities in Western District Conference impact our whole conference and the wider church.    We will hear reflections from a panel of pastors working on a writing project about ministry in the rural context, as well as stories from people living and working in the rural context.  Table conversation will explore the unique gifts and challenges of the rural context, and what gifts rural and urban congregations have to share with each other as we partner in God’s mission.

God loves rural churches and communities, and so do we! Come to Beatrice to explore what it means to be the church in the rural context, and how we are all the church together.

 (Later, watch for a future issue of Sprouts to hear why I love the city!  And plan to attend the Fall WDC Reference Council on October 22 in Dallas, TX on the theme “Being Church in the Urban Context.”  More details to come…)