Having grown up in a suburban neighborhood in the sixties and seventies, going to college in an urban setting, then serving as a missionary teacher in Hong Kong, one of the most urban, densely packed places on the planet, it was a culture shock to find myself, along with my husband and our two children in his first ordained call in a tiny town of three streets and 100 citizens in Southwestern Minnesota in the fall of 1989.
To be honest, the first year of that call, I was not a happy camper. I felt isolated. I felt like a duck out of water. Why did people I didn’t know wave at me? Why did it seem that all that anyone ever wanted to talk about was the weather?
It took some time, but gradually I started making connections; connections with other young moms, connections with people from our congregations that enjoyed singing and wanted to put together a choir, and connections with another young woman who enjoyed early morning walks. I found out that if I asked a neighbor to till up a plot in the backyard for a garden, I’d make at least one new friend, I’d get plenty of advice on what and how to plant, neighbors dropping by with extras from their own gardens, shared recipes and even volunteer babysitters to play with my kids so I could take some time on my own to plant and harvest. When I waved and smiled back at those strangers, they would often stop in the middle of the road and ask how I was and how my children were? Conversations would blossom when I’d ask about their lives and their farming operations. Could I swing by and pick up a couple dozen eggs? Show my children the chickens and sheep?
At age 50 I began ordained ministry. Though I had been serving the rural church in a variety of capacities already, I think I finally realized that it is no mystery what brings satisfaction and sustainability in a rural call (honestly, in any call).
After 30 years of rural ministry, I’d learned that making deep connections with lay people and especially with other rostered people, asking questions, and then actually listening to the answers, reading authors who have studied rural as another culture (because it truly is), allowing yourself time to enjoy your hobbies and interests (bonus if you can find others who share those hobbies), taking time to explore the fun nooks and crannies in the area, allowing yourself the opportunities to try experiments in ministry that sometimes don’t turn out and more than anything, seeing the light of Jesus shining in the eyes of your people and knowing that they really and truly love you and want you to stay and serve among them – these things will bring you long years of happiness in your call as a rural pastor!