If Glenmary is anything, it’s rural ministry. As you surely know, we’re devoted to building the presence of the Church in small town and rural America. Our missioners come from both urban and rural backgrounds. We asked some of them what makes rural ministry stand out. Here are their answers.
Father Tom Charters, originally from Dayton, Ohio:
1. Closer to the people. There are fewer parishioners and we get to know them well. We attend their family gatherings, sacramental gatherings both in the Church when celebrated and in their homes afterwards. Visitors are easily recognized and made welcome after Mass.
2. Lots of ecumenical sharing. The Ministerial Association becomes a time of very good sharing. I have noticed over the years that some deep personal issues have been shared. Because there are few Catholics we are involved with many people who are not Catholic. A lot of our ministry is not parochial as it would be in a large urban parish.
About 100 miles across the mountains, Father Neil Pezzulo, a New Yorker, offers:
3. Having a relationship with the people and place. In an urban environment I do not believe people are as rooted to place. The relationships seem more transactional than personal. I believe that much of rural ministry is rooted in people and place.
From our southeast Georgia missions, here’s what stands out to Philadelphian Father Mike Kerin:
4. Lack of resources. One of the challenges of rural ministry is not having the resources that are available in a metropolitan area. The challenge, though, helps us to be creative to meet the needs of the poor and the marginalized in our area.
5. Regular contact with nature. That’s a joy of rural ministry. It certainly is more life-giving than living in a concrete jungle!
6. Smaller numbers of people. I agree with Father Tom! This makes it easier to get to know the members of the parish well and to know people in the community.
Finally, back in Erwin, Tennessee, we heard from Glenmary lay missioner Kathy O’Brien, herself from a small Wisconsin village:
7. Culture with a slower pace. That gives us time for deeper relationships with the working poor, for simplicity, for welcoming people. It seems that might be the common thread among these missioners: love for the people, and gratitude for the time to be with them.