Faith and Rural Life Conference Planned For Feb 27 at Mount Olive College

Rural eastern North Carolina is full of churches. These churches are all different—different sizes, different denominations, different theological commitments, and different racial and ethnic memberships. But what they all share in common is their rural location and a deep desire to grow in faith, to serve their neighbors, and to share the gospel.  Rural eastern North Carolina is an agricultural area and, as Dr. Sandy Maddox, director of the Agribusiness Center at University of Mount Olive and member of the Conference planning team, said, “If agriculture isn’t faith-based, I don’t know what is.” Bringing together faith and rural life in eastern North Carolina is the aim of an upcoming conference for pastors, church-leaders, and people in the agricultural field.

The second annual Faith and Rural Life: Down To Earth Ministry Conference will take place at University of Mount Olive on Monday, February 27th. It will provide opportunities for participants to explore the relationship between the gospel of Jesus Christ, the agricultural context of eastern North Carolina, and the small-town rural culture of this region. “We are very excited about what we have planned for this year,” said Dr. David Hines, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at University of Mount Olive.
North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler will speak on the topic “From the Tractor: Thoughts on Agriculture in North Carolina.” Billy Ray Hall, president of the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center, will speak on “The Rural Challenge Needs Your Church.” And Fred Bahnson, who helped start the Anathoth Community Garden, a church-supported agriculture project in Cedar Grove, North Carolina, will talk about “The Church as God’s Extension Agent.”
In addition to the lectures there will be workshops on a variety of topics including: “Growing Food, Growing Community: Feeding Rural Neighbors with Local Food;” “Serving At Risk Children in Our Communities;” “The Practice of a Fit Faith;” “The Pastor as Spiritual Guide;” “Place of Possibilities: Becoming a Missional Church that Blesses Your Community;” “The Present and Future of Agriculture in North Carolina;” and “Becoming the Church Together: Immigration, the Bible, and Our New Neighbors.”
The conference will be built around an ecumenical worship service. “It is always wonderful when Christians from diverse backgrounds come together to worship God,” said the Reverend Tim Strickland, pastor of Jones Grove Pentecostal Holiness Church and president of the Mount Olive Area Ministerial Association. The service will be led by members of the Mount Olive Area Ministerial Association.  The Reverend Jeremy Troxler, a United Methodist pastor and director of the Thriving Rural Communities Initiative at Duke Divinity School, will preach.  Elizabeth Bahnson, a fiddle player and member of the band FolkPsalm, will be the musical accompanist. “I am really looking forward to this rich and wonderful worship service,” said University of Mount Olive Campus Chaplain Carla Williamson.
“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, pastor at Faison Presbyterian Church and adjunct faculty member in the Department of Religion at University of Mount Olive,. “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.”
For more information about the conference and to register, contact Laura Getz, at 919-635-2787 or The events are open to the public. There is a $15 registration fee which covers both lunch and dinner expenses. There are a small number of scholarships available for those who find the cost prohibitive.
Registration will open at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, February 27th, in W. Burkette and Rose M. Raper Hall. The conference will open with worship at 9:30 a.m. in Rodgers Chapel and end with the keynote address by Billy Ray Hall, “The Rural Challenge Needs Your Church,” in the Lois K. Murphy Center at 7:00 p.m.
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