Story by Hannah Shepperd
Communications Associate, Mountain Sky Conference of The United Methodist Church
According to the Rural Chaplains Association (RCA) website, rural chaplains are people "from diverse backgrounds, with varied education and life experiences, that uniquely equip them to serve rural persons, families, institutions, communities and congregations in challenging and productive ways." RCA is a United Methodist partner organization that welcomes clergy and laity from all careers to participate in their mission to connect and engage those living in rural areas.
RCA maps out an annual event to engage members called Focus, a multi-faceted conference focused on identifying and tackling challenges facing rural America. Participants visit a rural area for an immersive experience regarding the community's health, farming, social and cultural issues.
Focus 2019, will convene in Southeastern Colorado from Aug. 7 to 10. This year's event will focus on the question, "what is important/necessary for rural communities to be healthy and safe in today’s world?"
The group will begin in Pueblo, and will visit SonRise, Ordway and Rocky Ford United Methodist churches during their visits to the region's diverse communities.
Rev. Keith Hudiburgh of Ordway United Methodist Church in Ordway, Colorado has been a member of RCA since 2009. In addition to his other leadership roles within RCA, Keith serves as a member of the planning team for Focus 2019. As an on-site member of RCA in Southeastern Colorado, Keith has been charged with contacting local leaders in farming, religious, health and other fields to present at the event.
"First and foremost, we want participants to come away from this experience with a renewed sense of hope with regard to the many challenges facing rural America today," shared Keith. "Many of the participants will be coming from areas which, while different in geography, possess the same problems we face in Southeastern Colorado."
Some of the events for Focus 2019 include visiting an irrigated farm, learning about the impact of legalized marijuana and discussing community outreach in regards to homelessness and prison ministries.
"We will do our best to help participants discover situations where individuals/organizations are thriving in the midst of the challenges," Keith expressed. "Once aware of these 'Bright Spots' we hope participants will be able to apply some of these ideas in their own settings. Secondly, we hope the presenters/leaders will feel encouraged/affirmed in their day-to-day efforts by being invited to share their stories/insights with people from across America and beyond."
Along with these learning experiences, Focus also serves as a networking event for rural chaplains. Participants will be able to make connections while exploring a different rural area of the country and investing in the local tourism economy.
When asked what he hoped participants would take back to their communities, Keith was hopeful: "It’s anybody’s guess...but we hope they will gain new insights during their time out west, and take with them the realization they can apply some of these new learnings to their own situation."
The Mountain Sky Conference has several rural chaplains. If you would like more information on the organization, please email Dr. Judy C. Matheny at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Download the Focus 2019 event brochure