Creating a Rural Life Group
Moving Forward with Faith
Catholic Rural Life seeks to relate Catholic tradition to the rural world. Our history has been to foster programs of service for rural pastoral ministers and serve as a prophetic voice for social justice within the context of care for creation and care for community.
In our experience, a practical way to do this is by facilitating the formation of informal organizations within Catholic dioceses and parishes. These go by names such as Rural Life Conferences (or Committees), Rural Community Networks, or Creation Care Communities – all focusing on rural life issues.
In our occasional surveys of rural pastors, we hear about parish successes that may have started with the actions of a single individual, but were carried to fruition by the work of many hands. Regardless of the issue being addressed, a rural life group or network needs the support of others, both within the parish and outside the larger community. The cooperative nature of church members working toward a common good fosters this support which, through faith and courage, facilitates action. These are common threads in the stories we hear and those of our own network and conference experiences.
The following presents a conceptual framework (one among many ways) for guiding a parish response to a rural issue of concern. It is a blend of basic organizing actions that are grounded in some of the successes reported by rural parishes. That is, we can say it works. This is presented as a way to ignite ideas for other rural life conferences, community networks, or creation care communities.
It is a fact that rural parishes face many issues and concerns. But once a specific concern can be identified and agreed upon by parish leaders, a committee chairperson or network organizer begins the process of identifying potential supporters and resource people. An initial meeting of interested people who share the common concern come together to chart a process. Typically this will be a fairly small group of motivated people. As a group of faith people, they should openly discuss the religious reasons for their involvement and why this is a church concern.
The next crucial step for the organizing group is to increase parish awareness and understanding about the issue. Gaining the support of the wider congregation is a goal of most any parish project. Here are some “awareness raising” ideas shared by rural pastors in recent years:
“Meet Your Neighbor” potluck dinners. Good food continues to be a strong drawing card in rural parishes. Consider a special theme to make it even more interesting than your typical potluck, such as ethnic food or a seasonal harvest.
Share an event with another group – observe a holiday or religious observance together. These could be a youth ministry fundraising dinner, a Harvest Moon cook-out or St. Isidore work day.
Incorporate relevant instruction into adult faith formation.
Bring parents together while they’re waiting for their kids in religious education.
Draw connections with Catholic social teaching and scripture. Present it to the parish in one of the following ways:
- Show related movies, hold workshops and/or invite resource speakers.
- Place articles in the parish bulletin or local newspapers.
- Prepare suggestions for your pastor’s homily around lectionary reading.
- Create a lending library of resources and make them readily available.
After a period of time of building awareness among parishioners and others, it is necessary to move to actions. These are activities that not only continue to raise awareness, but actually address the issue in question and try to make a change. Social action means change, not just talking about change. But it does begin by talking: call a public meeting and gather together as many interested people and stakeholders as possible. Openly discuss and discern what can be done to address the issue. (A good practice is to brainstorm ideas without passing judgment on any single idea. Individual ideas can be evaluated at subsequent gatherings.) It is not necessary that all actions be parish based; local or wider community actions are important.
Here are actions carried out by some rural parishes:
- Creation of joint ministry teams from among clustered parishes to maximize the use of a limited number of ministers.
- Parishioners cooperating to reestablish core businesses in town. Some are even buying their own stores.
- Increasing the number of volunteers by doing a better job of telling people what kind of help we need, making tasks small and manageable, and giving people the training they need in order to do the tasks.
- Developed small faith communities, which increases scripture reading and the number of times people get together around their faith, which in turn leads to more community involvement.
- Parents and young adults are cooperating in a new youth ministry program.
- As a way to enhance the literacy of our Latino parishioners, we started providing classes in English as a Second Language.
- Inter-generational, family-oriented religious education works very well with our limited availability of catechists.
- A tri-parish fundraiser (Mardi Gras) that has utilized the resources from all three parishes. Funds are shared.
- Ethnic festivals that are fun and help build community and understanding.
- We’ve combined human and financial resources with other denominations to improve outreach to disadvantaged.
- The parish funds the travel and registration expenses to send high schoolers to an annual youth rally in another state. They get education and exposure they can’t get here and they’ve become more active in our parish.
Given that direct results vary by the intention of the activity, we list here instead the indirect results that come about when the parish, rural community and Holy Spirit work together. Here’s what pastors said they have seen:
- Increased sense of community; stronger civic and faith community ties.
- Increased number of underprivileged people served.
- Healthier individuals: physically, socially, spiritually.
- Greater connection to God’s creation.
- People more supportive of each other.
- Better Catholic identity.
- Cooperation with other denominations and their pastors.
- A deep faith found in those who work the land; willingness to help those in need because of accident, death, medical issues.
- Rural parishes staying open & going.
- Fostering community with increased youth involvement.
- High schoolers becoming more active within the parish.
- A parish come back as a spiritual community.
- A growing sense a trust and cooperation from the people.
- People practicing their faith and building a faith community.
- Astonishment with what God does in and with people.