rural churches

The very definition of old news, and what a joy to read: A feature on a 400-year-old church

The very definition of old news, and what a joy to read: A feature on a 400-year-old church

About five years ago, I traveled to rural Iowa to report on a 156-year-old church surrounded by corn and soybean fields and a cemetery where generations of deceased members rest in peace.

The news angle was that the tiny congregation was working hard to survive despite immense challenges facing it and similar houses of worship.

As part of the same "Rural Redemption" project, I spent a Sunday with a 200-year-old assembly in the farming and coal-mining country of southeastern Ohio.

I thought those churches had long histories!

But Washington Post religion writer Julie Zauzmer recently wrote about an Episcopal congregation in rural Virginia that is marking 400 years — 400 years! — in 2018.

The Post's headline pretty much nails it:

This 400-year-old church is older than almost any institution in America

This won't be a long post because my basic message is simple: This is an interesting, well-reported story, and I'd urge you to read it. 

What did I like about it? I'll quickly mention three things.

But first, let's set the scene with the compelling lede:

BURROWSVILLE, Va. — Long before American independence, before the Pilgrims even landed at Plymouth Rock, there was Martin’s Brandon Church.

And now, the Rev. Eve Butler-Gee looks at her flock at the same Martin’s Brandon Episcopal Church in amazement. “They’re faithful. Every single one of them is engaged and active,” she said. But then again, it’s no wonder: “They’ve been doing this for 400 years, and they’re not about to stop now.”

The church, one of the oldest in the United States that still operates, celebrates its 400th birthday this year. And for many families in the rural congregation, the pink-colored house of worship near the James River has been part of their family stories for a very large portion of that time.

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This is what happens when a small-town church embraces an immigrant facing deportation

This is what happens when a small-town church embraces an immigrant facing deportation

The Los Angeles Times has a nice feature this week on a United Methodist Church in small-town Colorado embracing an immigrant facing deportation.

Overall, I really enjoyed the piece.

The writer does a terrific job of using simple language and precise details to tell a real-life story.

Let's start at the top:

MANCOS, Colo. — A small piece of paper hangs above a bed in the pastor’s office at the Mancos United Methodist Church.
It’s a sign-up sheet with the names of local residents committed to watching over Rosa Sabido, a Mexican national who has found sanctuary from deportation in the Colorado church. The residents sleep in the church office, while Sabido rests in a separate room normally used as a children’s nursery.
“We are here in case someone should show up at night or just to comfort her,” Joanie Trussel, a local resident whose name was on the list of volunteers, said recently. “We don’t want her to be alone.”
For the last 30 years, Sabido has lived in the U.S. on visitor visas or by receiving stays of deportation, but she was denied a stay in May and became eligible for immediate deportation.

She is the latest in a series of immigrants whom the government suspects of entering the country illegally or overstaying their visas to seek refuge in a church to avoid deportation. Many others have found sanctuary in big cities like Denver, Phoenix and Chicago.

Mancos, a town of about 1,300 in rural southwest Colorado, is an island of diversity in a largely Republican sea with the motto “Where the West Still Lives.” It’s an eclectic place of cattle drives, art galleries, cafes and coffee roasters.

“People think independently here,” said Silvia Fleitz, lay leader of the church. “You think they are one thing and they do something that totally surprises you.”

I'm not a big fan of the "island of diversity in a largely Republican sea" description. Showing readers — as opposed to telling them — that it's an island of diversity would be preferable. Also, if the Republican Party is going to be made a part of the story, a local party official probably deserves an opportunity to speak.

But that political detour aside, I appreciate how the Times quotes a variety of local sources and lets them explain — in their own words — their thinking on joining Sabido's cause.

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Washington Post wrote about overlooked rural evangelicals; now it needs to talk to them

Washington Post wrote about overlooked rural evangelicals; now it needs to talk to them

Papa Ross was my dad's dad.

He had white hair, wore overalls and loved fishing and hunting. He worked most of his life as a farmer and carpenter. He was a faithful Christian who caused a stir in the 1970s when he and Grandma brought busloads of black children to their small white church in southeastern Missouri's Bootheel.

A veteran of World War II — where he was shot in the face — Lloyd Lee Ross always voted for Democrats until Ronald Reagan came along. He was one of those "rural Americans" who've received so much attention since the unexpected (at least to those of us who live in the Big City) election of Donald Trump as president.

Papa celebrated his 93rd birthday just a few weeks before he died in 2011. What would he have thought about the brash billionaire who'll move into the White House next month? I sure wish he were still living so I could ask him. I have no doubt he'd have a strong opinion — and wouldn't be shy about expressing it.

I thought about Papa as I read Washington Post religion writer (and former GetReligionista) Sarah Pulliam Bailey's thought-provoking piece last week on overlooked rural evangelicals:

In recent decades, white evangelical leaders made the American city their mission field. If you wanted to change hearts and minds, you had to go to cultural centers of power, such as New York City or Washington, where the population was growing. Now some evangelicals are wondering if that shift has caused them to overlook the needs and concerns of their counterparts in rural America.
Donald Trump’s victory put the spotlight on white, rural voters, many of them evangelicals, who were drawn to his “Make America Great Again” message. Even as exit polls suggested that 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump, some evangelicals in urban and suburban areas said they didn’t personally know other evangelicals who vocally supported the president-elect. Although three-quarters of evangelicals are white and lean heavily Republican, they are a huge and diverse group, accounting for a close to a quarter of all Americans, with Latinos making up the fastest-growing segment.
Trump carried nearly 93 percent of rural, mostly white evangelical counties, according to political scientist Ryan Burge. Nearly all of the rural evangelical counties that did not break for Trump were counties in Southern states where African Americans make up a majority of the population, Burge’s analysis shows. Data isn’t available showing how white evangelicals in urban and suburban areas voted.

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