Churches in rural and remote parts of the United States have unique needs that often require distinctive strategies to yield appropriate ministries and missions.
That’s why the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) synods of Alaska-Northwest and the Rocky Mountains applied for and received funds through the Heiserman Grant program, and why conversations and brainstorming continue to find ways to meet their churches’ needs.
The Rural/Remote Mission Strategy Initiative is the result of discussions about how to better serve rural situations like those found in Washington State and Idaho, and remote locations like those off-road in Alaska, said the Rev. Curt Karns, executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Yukon.
“We recognize that some of our training doesn’t necessarily serve rural-remote communities,” he said. The idea was to look at “what could we do to improve that.”
Funds for the Heiserman program came from a bequest made in 1966 by Geraldine Heiserman, who was the widow of a Yuma, Colo., farmer and landowner named Lemont Heiserman. The bulk of their estate was left in trust to the church.
The GAMC divided more than $990,000 of that gift among 16 synods to encourage mission projects that reflect partnership between or among two or more synods and-or the GAMC.
The Rural/Remote Mission Strategy Initiative has been budgeted for $65,000 in Heiserman Grant funds.
The Synod of Alaska-Northwest has 268 churches that range from large, inner-city congregations to small Native Alaskan village churches. The Synod of the Rocky Mountains has 241 congregations, and of those, 36 percent have less than 100 members and 5 percent have more than 900 members.
Among the goals of the initiative is to develop an annual training and networking event that includes pastors and commissioned lay pastors. This is an opportunity for those doing ministry to receive training as well as “to share best practices,” Karns said.
Additionally, the initiative will “give elected presbytery leaders a chance to listen and learn, so that rural-remote ministry strategies can be clear, flexible and robust across the West and Alaska,” the Heiserman Grant application said.
Leaders hope that participants will form learning groups at home to continue encouraging one another, Karns said.
“For the person in the pew, what this means is that small community churches would be empowered to begin putting together their own training programs and learning groups,” he said.
Conversations are still taking place about the best way to facilitate such an event, especially keeping in mind rural agricultural and Native American communities, Karns said.
The synods continue to seek fresh new approaches that include ideas from those within rural-remote areas, he said.
Toya Richards, a student at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, writes frequently for Presbyterian News Service.