Cullowhee UMC Highlighted in Faith & Leadership

October 13, 2015

by Allen T. Stanton in Faith & Leadership (This article was featured by UMNS on Monday of this week) [caption id="attachment_3967" align="aligncenter" width="450"]woodpile-workers_tp Volunteers from Cullowhee United Methodist Church collect and chop firewood and deliver it to homes across the community.[/caption] In conversations with people across North Carolina, I’ve noticed that people speak about rural communities in one of two ways. The first is in idyllic terms, with rural communities romanticized as relaxed, simple and honest places. The second often comes from a place of pity: rural life is seen only as a world of lagging economies, failing school systems and poor access to health care. The truth is, our rural communities do face deep challenges. In my job as the rural church fellow at the Institute for Emerging Issues at North Carolina State University, I spend most of my workweek driving from rural community to rural community, and it’s not hard to spot the many problems. Our rural communities are in decline, young adults are moving away, and rural economies and demographics are in a state of transition. But it is also true that these same communities are places with deep and bountiful assets. I work with churches to increase civic engagement in their communities. I’ve found that if we can tap the right people for the conversation and identify the unique gifts of these communities, then innovative solutions have a way of popping up. As a member of the clergy, I believe that one of the biggest assets of rural communities is the church. Despite the issues that rural churches -- and the rest of mainline Protestantism -- face, they are some of the only viable institutions in these communities. More importantly, they are trusted institutions. According to the North Carolina Civic Health Index, people in North Carolina are more likely to volunteer in the church than in other organizations. Churches are places where people from across job sectors, with varying backgrounds and opinions, all come together for the common purpose of serving Christ. This presents an amazing opportunity for the rural church to engage and strengthen the wider community, which in turn strengthens the church. One example I’ve encountered is Cullowhee United Methodist Church(link is external), a partner church in the Thriving Rural Communities Initiative(link is external). It sits on the side of a mountain in Jackson County, where 20 percent of the 40,000 people live in poverty. Though it likely will never be a megachurch, Cullowhee UMC is viable, with two morning services and an average worship attendance of just over 260. Read the entire article at Faith & Leadership