On quiet afternoons over the past summer, I found myself in coffee shops doing work. I love the atmosphere. I love the smell. I love coffee. Coffee shops are inspirational places to do work. Glancing around my immediate surroundings, I noticed two middle aged women sitting across my seat. They had their own bibles open and were intensely discussing a particular passage. Their conversation sparked fond memories of college when I would often go to coffee shops and met with my peers to explore how we can live more faithfully in this world. The conversations were sometimes encouraging, inspiring, or even heated. In all, I liked these coffee shops because they created friendly environments or open environments for us to talk about our struggles and our faith.
I know for a fact that I will miss these coffee shops when I start my ministry in rural areas. And I started to wonder, where would I meet with people in rural areas? Where can I find a place that provides a friendly and/or open environment? However, as I thought about this more, this turned out to be a foolish question.
It is not that rural areas are lacking in meeting places. There are plenty of popular local diners in the area that people meet, eat, talk, and fellowship. But, beyond that there are more meaningful places that pastors could meet people to have deeper and rich conversation about our faith in God. In other words, pastors could meet their parishioners in a more effective and more relevant place, a place where we can explore more about faith. That relevant place is the mission field.
Rural areas may not have the most convenient places, which offer open and inviting spaces, but it does have places such as food pantry, community garden, retirement home, or other volunteer-based agencies. For example, meeting people in a food pantry to explore more about our faith may lead to more fruitful and enriching conversations. Serving others while we try to address our own issues and thoughts can enable us to be more introspective. It can actually force us to ask better questions concerning the things that we are struggling with. For instance, a person struggling with the concept of a loving God can meet with Christian brothers and sisters at a local food pantry to see how God’s love is being shown to those who are hungry: the volunteers and staff are empowered by God’s love to serve the needy. These mission places expose us to the reality of where we are, instead of sitting comfortably in a coffee shop trying to convince ourselves that God loves us.
Meeting with others to talk about God in coffee shops is a luxury. But, when our community does not have such convenient places, we, the rural church, can do something more fruitful: meeting at the mission field. By doing this, we are reacting fittingly around our surroundings, not just seeking out something that we want or desire. It also seems more meaningful to be serving our neighbors while wrestling with our own faith.
M.Div. 2015, Rural Fellow