Faith and Rural Life Conference to be held at Mount Olive College

MOUNT OLIVE- A significant event for churches in the region is being planned for April 4-5, 2011 at University of Mount Olive.   A conference called Faith and Rural Life: Down To Earth Ministry will draw clergy and laity in Eastern North Carolina to explore the shape of Christian community and the nature of Christian missions in a small-town, rural context. The event is sponsored by the Thriving Rural Communities initiative at Duke Divinity School, the Mount Olive Ministerial Association, the Presbytery of Coastal Carolina, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina, and the Barrow Advisory Committee at University of Mount Olive.

The two-day conference will include lectures from Dr. Ellen Davis, the Amos Ragan Kearns Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology at Duke Divinity School, and Dr. Norman Wirzba, Research Professor of Theology, Ecology and Rural Life at Duke Divinity School. The conference will also include workshops on a variety of topics related to rural ministry, including evangelism, pastoral care, health and wholeness, and immigration issues.

“The aim [of the conference] is to draw together Christian leaders from the theological and denominational spectrum to explore the meaning and shape of Christian faith in our particular context,” says Dr. Timothy Beach-Verhey, adjunct faculty member in the Department of Religion at University of Mount Olive and one of the event coordinators. “We hope that it may lead to deeper ecumenical relationships and ministries more suited to the gifts and needs of life in rural communities and small towns.  The Christian faith, like the life of a congregation, always takes shape in a particular context. This conference provides clergy and laity in eastern North Carolina the opportunity to deepen our faith and revitalize our churches by attending to the rural, small town context within which we live.”

The conference will kick-off Monday night at 7:00 PM with guest speaker Ellen Davis speaking about the agrarian context of scripture. The title of her presentation will be “The Way of Manna:  Hearing the Agrarian Voices of the Bible.” Her comments will be interspersed with Bluegrass renditions of the Psalms performed by FolkPsalm.

“It will be both an entertaining and informative evening,” Beach-Verhey stated.  “We hope that not only pastors, but also laity will become to these events.”

Registration will begin Tuesday morning at 9:00 AM in the Lois K. Murphy Regional Center, followed by morning workshops beginning at 9:30 AM. The workshops are aimed more at clergy and church leaders covering topics as diverse as creating community gardens, pastoral care in a rural setting, immigration and migrant worker issues, to creating vibrant Christian Education programs in a small church.

A worship service led by the Reverend Tim Reeves, pastor of three churches of the Bladen Charge, will be held at 11:00 AM in Rodgers Chapel, with lunch and panel discussion to follow at 12:00 noon in the Hennessee Room of the Lois K. Murphy Regional Center. Afternoon workshops will begin at 2:00 PM.  The conference will conclude in the evening with a lecture by guest speaker Dr. Norman Wirzba at 7:00 PM.  Wirzba will reflect on the relevance of Christian faith to contemporary life in an agrarian context.  The title of his presentation will be “Life on God’s Farm.”

“We are very, very pleased with the quality leadership we have been able to draw to this conference,” Beach-Verhey said. “It will be a remarkable opportunity for anyone who comes to the lectures or registers for the workshops.”

The events are free and open to the public.  Guests are asked to register in advance for the workshops by calling 919-635-2787 or by emailing Laura Getz at  Lunch will be $5.000 per person.

University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The College, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Goldsboro, Research Triangle Park, Washington and Jacksonville.  For more information, visit