Supporters of the 25,000 rural congregations across the United States want a seat at the table.
That is why United Methodist Rural Advocates filed a legislative petition before General Conference 2016 to add a position to The Connectional Table “able to represent the variety of rural ministries in the United States and the breadth of issues facing rural America.”
The Rev. Roger Grace, a West Ohio Conference delegate and outgoing president of Rural Advocates, admitted that a similar petition in 2012 was not successful, but said the organization wanted to give voice to the 2.9 million United Methodists in the U.S. who live in rural areas.
Helping homeless at GC2016
United Methodists are helping homeless people in Portland dine with dignity during General Conference.
Members of the United Methodist Rural Advocates are distributing cards made by children in churches across the connection along with meal vouchers to the Sisters of the Road Cafe, a local nonprofit that is working to end poverty and homelessness by providing nourishing meals in a safe, dignified space.
“We hope delegates and visitors will take a card and a meal voucher and share it with someone on the streets here in Portland and it will be a sign of Jesus’ love for them,” said the Rev. Laura Beach, a United Methodist Rural Advocate from the Western North Carolina Conference.
In fact, the petition related to the Connectional Table was “not supported” by the legislative committee considering it, according to the May 13 edition of the Daily Christian Advocate.
Other legislation filed or endorsed by Rural Advocates includes a call for denominational support for NETWorX, a national holistic movement to reduce poverty measurably, and encourages local congregations to establish NETWorX initiatives
Another petition would update Paragraph 2549 in the Book of Discipline on the “Disposition of Property of a Closed Local Church.” The update would include the option to make a gift of the property to a nonprofit with values consistent with the denomination that “will begin, enhance or continue the work and vision of ministry with the poor in that community.”
When an urban church closes, Grace pointed out, “the Discipline states that the money stays for urban ministry.…The same thing is not true for rural churches when they close.”
Not every rural community has another United Methodist organization to continue the ministry lost when a church closes. To offer resources to another nonprofit “would be in the spirit of keeping the money in the community,” he said.
Grace still finds that the denomination often ignores rural churches, even though they may be the heart of their small communities. “Much of our focus seems to be on numerical growth,” he said. “In some of the rural areas, there is not a lot of potential for numerical growth, but there is still a need for the church to minister to and with the community.”
Their presence in Portland
When United Methodist Rural Advocates met in Portland in October 2014 to prepare for General Conference 2016, the group’s encounter with the city’s homeless population as they walked back to their hotel from the convention center sparked an idea for a hands-on ministry with the poor in the Portland area.
The result was #GC4JC, organized by two young clergypersons in the Western North Carolina Conference. General Conference participants can pick up one of more than 1,700 cards made by children that hold meal tickets for Sisters of the Road Café and share them as they strike up a conversation with a local homeless person.
United Methodist Rural Advocates raised more than $5,000 for the project, all of which remains in Portland, Grace said.