I am a Rural Pastor by Rev. Bill Dodd of Almont, ND
My congregations: My name is Bill Dodd. I serve as pastor of the Sims-Almont Lutheran Parish. It is composed of two congregations, the Skandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sims and United Lutheran Church of Almont. They are located about 40 miles west of Bismarck, North Dakota. Almont has a population of about 100. Sims was a coal mining boom-town, with a population over 1000 before the year 1900, but is now a ghost town. I am a second-career pastor who worked nearly 35 years as an environmental scientist with the North Dakota Public Service Commission reclaiming hazardous abandoned coal mines. My wife, Cathy, and I were charter members of Peace Lutheran Church of Lincoln, ND, for more than 30 years. We both held leadership positions and saw it grow from a small mission into an active and thriving congregation. I am passionate about the Lord's work in rural and small-town ministry and feel blessed in my vocation.
Years at this call: I began as a pastoral intern at the Sims-Almont Lutheran Parish in 2014 and was called and ordained as the pastor in 2017.
What I love about my call: People at the Sims-Almont Lutheran Parish are devoted to the gospel of Christ. They value their ministry. They are community leaders. They live the love of Christ every day in their kindness, compassion, helpfulness and generosity. They have treated my wife and I very kindly and made us feel like valued members of their community.
What I enjoy about rural/small town life? Many of the people have known each other their entire lives. They care about each other deeply and are willing to help. They also reach out to new members of the community. This spring, a man from one of our churches was seriously injured by a cow during the calving season. He had eight broken ribs and a punctured lung. His family and neighbors all pitched in to help on the farm and are still helping. We pray for him every Sunday and many are including him in their personal prayers and checking up on him regularly.
Advice for other rural pastors or those considering a call: Visit the people of the congregation(s) and get to know them as well as possible. Ask questions about their vision for the future, what they want and need (and what they don't want). Research their history, find out what stories are important to them. Lead a worship service if possible. Pray and honestly consider whether you can adequately meet their needs and they can meet yours.
What I wish people knew about rural ministry: Rural ministry is needed. It is important. It is full of opportunities for strong Christian relationships. A rural pastor can become an essential part of so many families in good times and bad. But rural ministry is not always easy. It can be tremendously rich and fulfilling, but sometimes also tiring, frustrating and anxiety-ridden.
Hobbies and interests: High school sports, social events and rodeo are very important in our rural community. Just last Sunday, at coffee after church, a man told me he will soon be at Mayo Clinic to donate a kidney for a young man he knows from the rodeo circuit. He downplayed his own generosity as though it wasn't anything special. I told him I admire him and will be praying for both of them.