“Challenges Lead to Renewal in Rural Ministry” – By James Ennis
Every summer my family and I go camping to be renewed and re-energized in spirit by a fresh contact with God’s beautiful creation. This summer was no exception as we traveled to the Porcupine Mountains in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on the beautiful shoreline of Lake Superior. One of the planned activities was an eight-mile round-trip hike to a pristine mountain lake. The hike included a variety of terrain with some difficult paths through thick forest and over steep rocky mounds. Sprinkled throughout the journey were periodic outlooks where you could see for miles around. Each outlook filled us with awe and inspiration at how far we had come and also of the majesty and presence of God (“The heavens are telling the glory of God…”1).
There is nothing like taking time to step back and reflect upon our own journey in life to assess where we have been and where we are going. Often life’s journey is difficult and rocky. At times we encounter discouragement in relationships, or feelings of hopelessness and despair in our work or ministry. Other times we experience feelings of emptiness or lack of purpose in life, like walking through thick woods no longer able to see the way through, losing vision for the future. We all need to regularly renew our mind and restore our soul, and set aside moments in our day for a fresh outlook that helps us to see anew both where we have come from and where we are going. The renewing of our mind and the restoring of our soul come through the work of the Holy Spirit as we avail ourselves to Christ, listening and meditating upon his word, participating in the sacraments of the Church, and responding positively to Christ’s call in our lives. We experience rest for our soul. We find fresh vision and inspiration through the love and forgiveness of God. We are then prepared to serve others with joy, able to roll up our sleeves on behalf of justice and peace.
But there are many challenges, especially prominent in rural communities, facing those who labor on behalf of Christ, both religious and laypersons. These challenges include the large geography and the multiple-parishes pastors have responsibility for overseeing, as well as the lack of financial and human resources in many communities. Nationally, the percentage of parishes being served by a priest with more than one parish is 44 percent (or 9,109)2 of the Roman rite parishes and missions in the U.S. Approximately 20 percent (4,408) of the 22,3023 active priests serving in parish ministry had multiple parish assignments. And the percentages are much higher in rural communities. For example in the Diocese of Crookston, Minn., 94 percent of the active priests have two or more parish assignments. In the Diocese New Ulm, Minn., 68 percent of the priests have two or more parish assignments. In the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Iowa, 58 percent4 of the priests have two or more parish assignments. And it is not only priests, but also women and men religious, and laypersons who have many roles and tasks to juggle to meet the needs in rural communities.
In the Summer 2012 issue of Catholic Rural Life, NCRLC highlights several examples of how priests, women religious, and laypersons are following God’s call in their lives to meet both the spiritual and physical needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ amidst very challenging circumstances. We also highlight several initiatives and programs that are bringing new life and hope to the next generation.