The Claybanks United Methodist Church is a rural church. Recently, I have found myself thinking about how we, as Claybanks UMC, will continue to serve our community and selves into the future. I have found myself doing some reading and writing in preparation for an educational opportunity that I will be participating in come November. The last Sunday in August, we worshiped outside and celebrated our church’s history over the past many years of being a part of the Claybanks community. Many people come from rural church backgrounds and many people return to rural churches in the later stages of their lives.
Jesus was a country boy. He was a rural person who came from a rural place, the little hamlet of Nazareth which is thought to have had a population of about four hundred during Jesus’s time there. Jesus was known as “Son of Joseph from Nazareth,” which elicited the following jest from the would-be follower Nathaniel: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1: 46). Most of Jesus’s ministry took place in the rural context. And Jesus spoke in a language and in parables contextually appropriate for rural people.
When Jesus did notable healing miracles, many of them took place in small communities such as Capernaum. As soon as Jesus and his disciples left the synagogue, real church began. As were many other stories where Jesus healed the sick, Jesus would heal those who had addictions and those who were spirit-possessed one by one, according to Mark in chapter one. Who knew that the Church of Jesus would take place in ordinary places like on a front porch or under a tree or on a hillside. So much of what Jesus spoke to people, his love actions and his healings, were expressed in a setting that we would describe as country. It has never been more evident to me that in our rural setting, where we find Claybanks United Methodist Church, we experience the circle of life.
From the Disney film “Lion King” hear these words of a song the “Circle of Life.”
Some say eat or be eaten. Some say live and let live. But all are agreed as they join the stampede. You should never take more than you give.
In the circle of life, it is the wheel of fortune. It is the leap of faith. It is the band of hope, till we find our place on the path unwinding in the circle, the circle of life.
Some of us fall by the wayside, and some of us soar to the stars, and some of us sail through our troubles, and some must live with the scars.
There is far too much to take in here, more to find than can ever be found, but the sun rolling high through the sapphire sky keeps great and small on the endless round.
In the circle, the circle of life on the path unwinding, yeah in the circle, circle of life.
Rural churches are not unlike the circle of life of people. We sustain hope, we stampede through life and at times we find ourselves trampled and trampling the land. In our rural communities, we work hard to build relationships in extended distances that we call neighborliness. We strive to live in harmony with the land and with our neighbors and we work hard to put food on the tables for our country by which we eke out a substance for living. Our life is not always like a bowl of cherries in the woodland. Some of the same problems that exist in the cities are parts of our lives here in the country. But there is also healing here too. We build circles of trust when conversation and care can take place. Jesus did some of his best work in the rural setting such as in Capernaum which was an isolated community. In that rural church setting, there was space for connection where people gathered and created church sanctuaries in their homes and out of the way places. As I have been preparing for my educational program in late fall, I came across an article that I needed to understand as I prepared. The article looked at three attributes of a community.
1. It must be accessible: communities form in normal spaces where people gather and speak plain truth for all people. The only requirement for membership is a desire to flee the wrath to come. The church is not closed to our neighborhood, and we speak a common language, just as Jesus did when he “Came and made his home among them.”
2. Communities must be safe: our communities meet in small, intimate groups. All people from all the different walks of life must be welcomed and harmful behavior will not be tolerated. It is a place of healing, not harm, an environment of grace, an inclusive space where the “Good News” is made available to all.
3. We must be people who are real. People are invited to come to terms with their lives in whole or as broken as they may be. We as a church community must be able to say, “How goes it with your soul?” People are to be invited to be a part of a community and must know there is mutual support. We must be willing to be a part of the pain that people in our community may feel by bringing love, prayer, and healing to them.
We know Claybanks United Methodist Church is a place that embodies hospitality. We are a community that is accessible, safe, and so that people know that there is space for their struggles, to find healing and express their joy of life. Rural churches are charged with providing persons in their community a place to be a part of the circle of life. We as a church, are a critical artery for the life of those in our community and we must be the Body of Christ to the community in which we live.
For the past six years, I as your pastor am blessed to serve in retirement at the Claybanks United Methodist Church and have tried to lead from the middle. Knowing that the members of our church have been and will be at the Administrative Council and Committees leading from the front and the members of the church, as a body, leading from behind with their encouragement for the whole church. By leading from the middle, I have tried to embody the life of Jesus as I have allowed the church to continue doing those things that Claybanks United Methodist Church has done so well over the years on their own. I have worked to insert myself only in the areas where there is a need and my abilities and strengths have added to who we are as a church. Scripture points out to us that first Jesus sent out twelve and then seventy-two ahead of him. Jesus was preparing those who followed him to continue his ministry. It has been, and will continue to be, my ministry to emulate Jesus by training, teaching, praying, and leading through scripture and by assisting and leading the Claybanks church community into the future. My prayer is that I will remain empowered to coach and encourage, to be a disciple and to mentor where needed.
The Claybanks church, like other congregations, is a community. When we become involved in our church activities, extend our involvement into other community events we become disciples of Christ in tangible ways. When we have Jesus Christ present in our lives and share him as we engage not only at church and our church functions but in other functions throughout our community, we are expressing to others in our community who we are as followers of Jesus Christ and committed members of the Claybanks United Methodist Church.